What a wonderful night for journalism, at the end of the Academy Awards, to see “Spotlight” honored as best picture. The film shows how the Boston Globe pursued a history of abuse by priests in the region.
Yes, journalism is still being practiced at some of the surviving journals in the United States, the ones that devote precious time and money and staff to finding stuff out, and publishing it.
However, my pride in colleagues is tempered by the realization that not enough people read the information – and opinion – in the surviving fringe of American journalism.
I occasionally talk at colleges and high schools and generally get blank looks from students when I ask how many people read newspapers.
Even on line? I ask. Some nod yes, but cannot give examples. They like things that jump around. But apparently so do their elders.
A frightening swath of Americans seem to think Donald Trump knows how the world works. Because people do not read newspapers, in print or on line, they do not know that he is generally regarded with a shrug and a smile in New York, the town that knows him best. Oh, that guy.
This reality was brought home recently by two articles in The New York Times about Trump’s reputation (marginal) in New York real estate circles, and how he bled investors in a golf resort in Florida.
This is who the guy is; this is how he operates. But unless people delve into the details – that is to say, read – they will never know. This is where we are going.
Here are two stories most of America will never read:
Now Trump is threatening to suppress newspapers when he becomes President. Perhaps he will send his Brown Shirts to crowbar the printing presses.
Here’s another look at Trump, from 1990, by Marie Brenner in Vanity Fair -- the attention-deficit playboy-builder we knew before he unleashed his public bully.
I also recommend two current articles on Hillary Clinton and Libya, stemming from what is obviously weeks of work:
One last thing about journalism: Margaret Sullivan is leaving her post as public editor at the Times to become a media columnist at the Washington Post. In my now-outsider’s opinion, I wish the Times had found a new gig for Sullivan, the best public editor the Times has had.
I hope these links work in your system. If not, the stories are easily looked up. As a proud alumnus, I am glad the Times values its work by charging for it on line. It costs a lot of money for the Times and Globe to cast their spotlight.
The most diabolical aspect of the FIFA election was the little stipulation in the bylaws left behind by Sepp the Devious.
The rules stipulated that any new president must have been active in world football in two of the past five years.
This guaranteed that all five candidates would be insiders, by definition.
Two years of “service” guaranteed that candidates had been in the vicinity of envelopes crammed with American bills, being slipped to some FIFA delegates. . (See: Qatar, 2022.)
Two years of recent “activity” meant that candidates had pondered – or even known -- how Chuck Blazer of New York had afforded that colorful parrot on his shoulder, or lodgings at the Trump Tower and warmer climes, and how Jack Warner of Port of Spain was able to use development money from FIF to build facilities on land belonging to him.
Normal human curiosity might have compelled any FIFA official to ponder, “Hmmm, I wonder how that guy does it.”
For all the new rules for "reform," the two-year rule guaranteed that the lords of FIFA, now under world scrutiny for the first time, could not even dream of hiring a total outsider, somebody who had never cozied up to the elegant troughs of FIFA.
Insurgent members could have gone outside the fraternity and sought out people of broader public service, like Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, or Angela Merkel, nearing the end of her third term as German chancellor. Think big.
Or they could have gone to executives from relatively clean corners of business and sports – Dick Pound of Canada and the IOC and WADA, perhaps, or Dick Ebersol, formerly of NBC, or John Skipper of ESPN, or David Stern, former NBA commissioner, or even Mitt Romney, who did a fine job cleaning out the stables of the Salt Lake City Olympic committee.
Now they have elected Gianni Infantino, whose only flaw may be that he worked with the double-digits’ worth of banned soccer “leaders,” including the suddenly free-for-lunch Sepp Blatter. This is in no way an accusation of Infantino. But if ever an organization needed a thorough hosing down, FIFA was it. And still is.
* * *
One last note: none of this would have happened but for that annoying muckraker from the United Kingdom, Andrew Jennings, who pestered Blatter and his cohorts so much that they tried to ban him from open meetings. Jennings made a lot of charges, some of them ultimately devastatingly accurate. Well done, mate.
We don’t go to the movies much. My main reason for watching the Academy Awards every year is not to root for films I have not seen but rather to watch glamorous women in bright outfits in late February – just as restorative as baseball spring training, if you ask me.
However, my wife and I did pro-actively go to the movies the other day, and were touched by “The Lady in the Van” with Maggie Smith.
The movie works out the question, “Am I my mother’s keeper?” And how far outward that responsibility goes.
The movie is a “mostly true” telling of the woman who parked herself and her foul painted van in the driveway of Alan Bennett in Camden Town, London – for nearly 15 years.
Maggie Smith plays the mysterious homeless woman with a phobia against music. Dame Maggie was not nominated for the Academy Awards on Feb. 28 – a pity, because she commands the screen, without ever camping it up. No winks at the audience as if to say, “Just slumming from Downton Abbey.” Her every facial gesture captures the rage and mystery of the unbalanced.
In the movie, two Alan Bennetts fuss and fidget about her from inside an old town house. The Bennett who goes out in the world occasionally does kind deeds for his pungent guest, against his innate squeamishness.
He has already ducked his mum, now ensconced in a quite nice nursing home – private room! view of the sea! – and his guilt is as evident as the forelock that flops over his fertile brow.
As it happens, Bennett and Smith are twinned in our London experience:
-- My friend Sam rides his bike from Islington toward central London and sometimes sees Bennett pedaling along the same route.
-- My wife and I once had tickets for two Bennett one-act plays, one starring Maggie Smith, in a tiny theatre near Haymarket. Just before curtain, it was announced that Miss Smith was ill, and we could have a refund, but that Bennett himself would discuss the play, on stage. Of course, we stayed. Forelock flopping, he sat in a straight-back chair and charmed the audience for nearly an hour.
So we felt we already knew Bennett before we saw the film, which cuts deep for anybody who has faced the reality of somebody who needed care. Let me add: some of us are less good than others.
The neighbors generally recoil and patronize. Frances de la Tour, with her marvelous plummy contralto, does a turn as Ursula Vaughn Williams, the widow of the composer, who lives up the block.
When one neighbor delivers a Christmas-morning gift – crème brulée –the resident of the van silently snatches the dish.
Near the end, Bennett (Alex Jennings) observes as social workers and ambulance and hospital workers get up close and personal with this difficult person. (The unspoken message for a couple of Yanks is: oh, yes, observe that awful socialism at work.)
The mysteries unravel near the end as Bennett acknowledges his guilt. (The movie also serves as a coming out of sorts by the film character and the real Bennett.) Two aged hands play the piano, quite skillfully.
Not giving anything away, but there is a cathartic scene, inducing cheers and applause, right near the end.
While reviews were respectful, particularly toward Smith, my wife and I both felt the movie cut deeper than we had expected. When I watch the Blanchetts and Maras and Lawrences on Feb. 28, I will miss Dame Maggie. She should be there.
Pitchers and catchers. Those words raise the temperature 20 degrees.
I hear the smack of baseballs into many leather gloves.
Smack-smack-smack. Like popcorn popping or bluefish jumping in the bay.
A good sound. A communal sound. Nowadays spring camps feel like medium-security prisons, but maybe you can catch the sound, through the barricades
Ball players limbering up. Bringing life back to us.
I’m not the only one. Out in California, Bill Wakefield heard the same smack, in his head, and instantly remembered 1964, the year he made the Mets, pitched very well, too. One year on a baseball card, and a zillion memories of the funky little camp in quaint St. Petersburg, still there, long renamed Huggins-Stengel Field. Very much the same.
Wakefield dashed off his stream-of-consciousness.
# # #
By Bill Wakefield:
Huggins-Stengel. History Channel.
On Google Earth.
Crescent Lake still looks the same as when the Babe hit 'em into the lake in right field.
The water tower stills looms over the batting cage at home plate.
Herb Norman's soup is hot for the break after morning workout.
The lawn still looks the same as when Dick Young would type down the right field line working on his Florida sun tan.
The trees down the left field line are still there where Hot Rod would take a snooze in the shade before Casey said OK guys take a lap around the field.
Catching a ride to the Colonial Inn with Lou Niss. Nervous, smoking, and "The damn bus had better be on time or Casey gets upset."
Larry Bearnarth telling me "You know it is a privilege to be here . Make sure you tell Lou Niss thanks for the nice dinner last night….A lot of guys just complain."
The porch where Barney Kremenko would adjust his hearing aid and ask,
“What did he say?”
Eddie Stanky coming up to me: "Bill, Pepper Martin died last night in Tulsa."
Jesse Owens. All class and pride. "Good morning, gentlemen," addressing zero world class runners in black Wilson baseball cleats -- at the first base line. It was a privilege to rub shoulders with the great man.
I remember it all clearly.
The fans on top of the field right-field line - and players -- no security. It was a different time.
"Hey Casey, how are you doing today?"
The old clubhouse is still there. "Bill. Casey wants to see you in his office." Wooooops!!! Shuffle off to Buffalo.
# # #
Let me annotate Wakefield’s memories:
Herb Norman was the salty old clubhouse man. .
Dick Young, the great baseball writer, would peel off his shirt and pound away at his large portable typewriter.
Hot Rod Kanehl was willing himself into his third major-league season. He adopted the Stanford kid in 1964.
Lou Niss was the road secretary, shuffled as if wearing slippers. Casey did a wicked imitation of The Niss Walk.
Larry Bearnarth, from St. John’s, hung out with Wakefield.
I don’t think Barney Kremenko of the Journal-American had a hearing aid. He just had trouble following Casey’s syntax.
Eddie Stanky, intense old second baseman, joined Mets front office, spring of 1965.
Jesse Owens, Olympic champion, gave running and life lessons in spring training.
Fans sat 10 feet behind Casey at Huggins-Stengel Field. Looie Kleppel, denizen of the Polo Grounds, kept up a rasping, knowing narrative.
Spring of 1965. After a fine rookie season, Wakefield was sent down. Noticed kids named Seaver, Ryan, Koosman, Gentry and McGraw in the pipeline. Went into business..Now roots for Stanford, his alma mater.
Loves to hear the smack of the ball in the glove.
(My friend Hansen Alexander, frequent respondent on this site, plumbs the primitive id of a certain candidate.)
Q. Why are you ahead of the other Republicans?
NDT: (Not Donald Trump) The camera loves me. The networks place me standing in the middle of the other candidates during the debates. I suck up all the air in the studio and they become invisible. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz and what’s his face from Ohio become mere shadows of the Donald. I’m really the blond bombshell of the year. I’m the Marilyn Monroe of politics.
Q. Marilyn Monroe? Really?
NDT. Heck, Marilyn had some girth around the middle at the end, love handles like me. Not like Rosie.
Q. As a New Yorker, one would think that you are actually a good deal more liberal than you talk.
NDT: I believe strongly in whatever my speechwriters compose that day.
Q. You’ve called for no taxes for people who make less than $50,000. How are you going to make up for that loss of income in your budgets?
NDT. Look, that’s way too complicated to explain to the American public. Only experts at the Congressional Budget Office understand these things.
Q. Your plan to build The Great Wall of America on the Mexican border seems to be popular in some quarters.
NDT: The Donald knows what voters want. You can’t have a bunch of little brown banditos coming to New York City like barbarian hordes and doing all the preparing, cooking, and waiting on tables in our restaurants. They would take all the jobs away from my fellow Wharton grads.
Q. How did you calculate the 8 billion figure for this great wall?
NDT: Look, the American people trust the Donald to figure out these things because he’s a real estate genius and can say “You’re fired” to foreign leaders who disagree with him. And as I’ve made clear, I’ll simply call up the leader of Mexico, whoever the hell that is, and tell him to put up the wall and pay for it himself.
Q. And Mexico would just do that?
NDT: You’ve got to understand that when the Donald says jump, other world leaders and members of Congress are simply going to ask, “How high?”
Q. Speaking of Congress. You have no experience whatsoever in government.
NDT: I’m going to be more successful with Congress than LBJ. And here’s why! Every Republican in Congress owes me big time from contributing to their campaigns. All I have to do is call the up and remind them of my generosity, and they will vote for anything I demand.
Q. And if they don’t?
NDT: I’ll bring in the heavy artillery. I’ll have Regis and Kathy Lee and Michael and my lunch partners at the Plaza pressure them.
Q. You’re coming from a background in high society and reality TV. Why are you so popular with some regular people?
NDT: World Wide Wrestling. As David Brooks pointed out recently, I was a huge success working with World Wide Wrestling, which you know has more cash than any sports media related business.
Q. How could you possibly beat a candidate such as Secretary Clinton, since you probably can’t even win your own state of New York?
NDT: I don’t even know why Hillary is running against me because she loves me so much. Like most women, she daydreams about playing footsie with me under the table at dinner. She and Bill even came to my wedding, I forget which one.
Q. Besides building The Great Wall of America, what do you intend to do in foreign policy, should you win?
NDT: Well, of course besides keeping the Muslims and Mexicans out, I’ll do the easy stuff first, such as imposing peace in the Middle East.
NDT: The first thing everybody needs to know about the Donald is that he’s a master negotiator. Build a few hotels on the Gaza strip, a few new shopping malls for Tel Aviv, presto---an Israeli-Palestinian peace. I expect the new capital of Palestine will be called Trump Town.
Q. How are you going to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq? And will you send more ground troops to Iraq to deal with ISIS?
NDT: That’s a tough question. Got an easier one?
Q. Not really.
NDT: Oh, all right, I’m not going to be PC here because that would ruin my image, but those war things are really too complicated to explain. They are better explained by our war planners at the Pentagon. And you can bet if things go wrong in Iraq when I’m President, those things WILL be explained by the Pentagon.
Q. And if they go right?
NDT: It will prove, of course, what everybody already knows. The Donald is a genius.
Q. You don’t like tough questions. How will you handle the White House press corps?
NDT: If the news media at the White House asks biased questions, which I define as ones that don’t make me look good, then goodbye, don’t hit your butts on the way out the door. Read my lips, no more presidential press conferences. You’re finished. You’re fired.
---Hansen Alexander is a New York attorney and author of six books. The latest, "The Life and Trials of Roger Clemens," will be released by McFarland in the fall.
Donald Trump thinks Pope Francis is “too political” because he will visit a camp of migrants during his stop in Mexico.
This comes while Trump is seeking – and getting! – support from Christian voters. I bet he hates the idea of the Pope building showers and toilets in Rome for the homeless – those loafers – and speaking with tolerance about gays, asking “Who am I to judge?”
It seems clear to me that Trump does not have normal human compassion. His success with Americans as a sneering tyrant on a reality television show has further emboldened his unchecked infantile impulses.
Yet some Americans, professing religious values, fall for him.
He’s their kind of guy.
Trump’s criticism of Pope Francis reminds me of another papal trip to Mexico, which I covered, oh my goodness, 37 years ago.
The new Pope, John Paul II, in his first overseas trip, arrived in the Zócalo, the center of ancient Mexico City.
The Pope issued a call for the Catholic clergy of Latin America to get back in uniform and deliver the sacraments and not bring some semblance of self-determination to the poor. Don’t be political, in other words.
The coded words sent a message all over Latin America, allowing governments to clamp down on activism toward the poor, including in Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s native Argentina. This Pope has seen repression up close, has been deeply scarred by it.
The latest Trump outburst reminds me of Mexico in February of 1979 when I twice met Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador, who spurned luxuries and slept in a peasant hammock and encouraged help for the poor.
I wrote about my encounters with Romero a year ago:
I asked Romero whether the words from Mexico City did not put religious activists in trouble all over Latin America. His response was a somber yes, without any sign of fear or weakening. A year later he was assassinated while saying Mass.
Trump has surely never heard of Oscar Arnulfo Romero. I assume he knows nothing of the desaparecidos, the thousands of Argentines who were taken away, never to be seen again.
Trump knows gold-plated bathrooms and tactical bankruptcies and serial marriages.
The Pope builds toilets and showers for the homeless. In an ancient ritual of humility and service, he washes and kisses the feet of Muslims and convicts.
Trump wants to build a wall. Boasts that Mexico will pay for it.
And many Americans professing religious leanings are charmed by him.
* * *
(Terrific article about Trump's world view:)
Weekend Update: The debate was a ghoul show. Saturday Night Live was ecch, as we say in New York. Rather than expend more good energy, I ducked the Super Bowl. It just didn't exist. Watched political history on C-Span. Listened to classical on WQXR-FM. Read a great New Yorker piece on Chechnya. What a clean feeling to wake up Monday, like getting up early on Jan. 1 after not drinking. But the news says Trump and Cruz and El Joven are still with us. Yikes.)
Nevertheless, my household is hooked on the presidential primaries: Steve Kornacki explaining stuff on MSNBC and Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd with all their enthusiasm and Chris Matthews never letting his guests get in a word.
(What is Brian Williams, with his pomaded network stiffness, doing on cable? As the subway guy bellowed in the movie “Ghosts:” “Get off my train!”)
Plus, the primaries beat the heck out of football, which I always knew was bad for the brain, anybody’s brain.
As of Saturday morning, I was not at all sure I would watch the Super Bowl. I had already seen one NFL game this season. Yes! It happened two weekends ago, after I gloated about going a full season without seeing a single down.
Having made that boast, I went to a family gathering two Sundays ago for (a) home-grilled wings, (b) the NFL doubleheader and (c) glimpses of the grand-daughters. (The girls ate the wings and promptly vanished downstairs to watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”)
As a sociologist in a strange land, I did observe:
*- NFL broadcasters no longer chortle how tacklers “rang his bell.” I wonder why.
*- Deep loathing of the Patriots. One family member hates Brady because he retains a resident chef.
*- Football has not changed much since the last time I took a peek – sporadic running, passing and kicking, plus commercials.
*- My wife – not a sports fan – noticed Peyton Manning’s craggy face on the sideline: “He’s the one who sings about chicken parmesan on TV.”
*- Speaking of commercials: the ones for football are aimed at active younger people (cars and fast food) whereas the commercials for my age group push health insurance, stair lifts, vitamins for arthritis, ringing in the ears and upset stomachs, plus pills that involve couples splashing around in water.
*- With the game dragging, some of us discussed the delightful prospect of Barbara Bush going to a primary and kicking Trump in his posterior, while sneering, Not our type. Go, Granny, go.
With two minutes left, fear and trembling took over. Laura, the sports and political columnist, cautioned that Bill Belichick, master of dark arts, might still think of something. The behemoth named The Gronk plucked the ball out of the air to bring the Patriots within 2 points. The onside kick skittered harmlessly. Game over. Cheers. Civilization saved.
I came away from my annual NFL game comparing candidates and coaches:
*- Chris Christie and Rex Ryan, of course. But Rex had better lap-band surgery.
*- Jeb! and Dick Kotite. Nice guys who….
*- Trump reminds me of a fan in a goofy costume, who makes brave noise from the stands but doesn’t understand the game.
*- El Joven de Florida reminds me of boy wonders who get a job somewhere and are immediately over their heads.
*- Clinton does not conjure up a football image but I could not help thinking of baseball manager Gene Mauch, a verbal lifer who knew the game inside and out. (You know the rest.)
*- Cruz and Belichick. One delivered a chop block to Ben Carson's knees. The other has a perp list of dirty tricks.
*- Bernie Sanders and Tom Coughlin, two apparently grumpy old men who lightened up. (Coughlin won two Super Bowls. Just saying.)
I planned to watch the GOP Frolics followed by Larry David and Bernie Sanders on SNL, to clear my head.
As for the Super Bowl, MSNBC said Jeb! was planning a Hail Mary Pass: an expensive commercial starring The Old Decider. We've seen how that one works.
It is Black History Month, which means I always learn something.
This Black History Month has caused me to re-think my position on the first woman, or women, who should be on an American bill. But first:
Three years ago, Terrance McKnight of WQXR-FM did a documentary on a composer I had never heard of, Florence B. Price.
The other night, PBS ran a visual documentary on Price, and by now her music was more familiar to me, ranging from traditional classical to black gospel.
One of the experts (mostly black, via Arkansas Public Television) compared her to one of my favorites, Antonin Dvorak, who used folk music (in the deepest sense of the phrase) of two worlds, Bohemia and America.
Artists generally have it hard, but black artists have it harder. The PBS documentary showed how Price was inspired by classical music but segregation and economics held her back. She always had to be double good. (Sound familiar?)
In one pathetic episode, already accomplished, Price wrote a letter to Serge Koussevitzky, the legendary director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, asking to compose for him, and she felt the need to call attention to being “Colored.” He never wrote back.
Yet she had her triumphs. Mainstream conductors and critics and performers took her seriously, notably in her adopted home town of Chicago.
In one of the great moments in American history, Marian Anderson performed at the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939, after Eleanor Roosevelt had forced the issue. Anderson sang a hymn by Florence B. Price, her friend.
In the Arkansas documentary, an elderly black woman recalls, half a century later, being young and seeing a black woman singing to 75,000 people. The old lady daubs her eyes with a handkerchief. I bet you will, too.
How hard it was, how hard it is, to be black in America. Just look at the dignity of people who have been poisoned in Flint, Mich., because of the incompetent and heartless regime of a latter-day plantation massa, Gov. Rick Snyder.
But there are triumphs. Look at the lovely front-page photo of President Obama, speaking at a mosque in Baltimore, calling for a cessation of prejudice, as children smile in awe. We have seen those smiles on black service members when Obama visits the troops and on black citizens when Obama goes out in public. So there is that.
But Black History Month reminds us how hard America has been on any black who aspired. That is why I am wavering in my position that Eleanor Roosevelt should be on a bill. I think she may be the greatest woman yet produced by the U.S.A., but her greatness may have been in her advocacy of the underprivileged, for people of all colors.
Now I think the next bill (lose Andrew Jackson off the 20, not Alexander Hamilton off the 10) should be a tribute to the great women of color in America.
Who? How many? I leave that to historians. But when that glorious bill arrives, somebody should play the classical music of Florence B. Price.
Below: The multitalented Terrance McKnight accompanies Erin Flannery in “To My Little Son,” by Florence B. Price:
Oh, there's nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you
Which we may not do at all.
-- “Iowa Stubborn,” Meredith Willson.
Thank you, Iowa (as the politicians say.)
One of the best movies ever made about America -- right up there with Brooklyn movies and LA Noir movies and Deep South movies - - is the musical "The Music Man," written by the great Meredith Willson (two Ls, cantankerously), originally from Mason City, called River City.
The movie is about another time and place and a flimflam man carrying a cheap suitcase, alighting from a smoky passenger train.
Somebody asks where he is going and he says, "Wherever the people are as green as the money."
Now they come on chartered jets, but they still want something, in this case votes,
from clusters of Iowan in gyms and halls, earnest and dressed for winter (with the occasional Bernie t-shirt.)
I recalled covering a few stories in Iowa (including Pope John Paul II’s visit to a heritage farm, charming Lutherans) and for one of the rare times since I retired I actually wanted to be working, talking to people in those clusters.
I kept thinking of wily Robert Preston, calling himself Prof. Harold Hill, and heartbreakingly lovely Shirley Jones as the librarian, and Buddy Hackett, for goodness’ sakes, settled down in Iowa, and all the characters, the puffed-up men and hormonal teenagers and cackling wives who were smarter than their husbands, of course.
And there was Trump, roaring in on his own jet, selling hot air out of an empty suitcase and empty mind. The Iowans asserted themselves in a few directions, going for Sr. Canada first and El Joven third and leaving Trump in a very loser-like second. (And what about his bluster that he can get things done?) He got on his plane and went east, unlike The Music Man, who…but heck, rent the movie.
The Iowans also went 50-50 for Clinton and Sanders, now joined at the hip like the couple in the Grant Wood painting, “American Gothic.”
All those people, coming out on a wintry night, did not settle much, but they did firmly establish that Trump did not get the girl in River City.
For a different metaphor of Trump, the pro-wrestling bozo, I urge you to read David Brooks’ brilliant column in the NYT.
I loved watching Iowans in their clusters – the Iowa-stubborn female vet who cursed the VA live on MSNBC, the Iowa-stubborn young man who held out for Martin O’Malley in his final hours as a candidate, the Iowa-stubborn voters who cheered Cruz and Rubio and Trump and Clinton and Sanders as they vanished into the night, leaving Iowa to Iowans.
And we're so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
-- "Iowa Stubborn," Meredith Willson.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.