Missing Airliner Brings Back Fear of Flying
Apr02

Missing Airliner Brings Back Fear of Flying

Endless fascination with the Malaysian airliner goes on, rippling out to TV commercials unseen now for decades: courses for those afraid to fly. The condition has a scientific name, pteromerhanophobia, afflicting the famous from football commentator John Madden to comic Whoopi Goldberg, and bringing back memories of my own struggles with the condition. Briefly in World War II, when I was doing clerical work on a B-17 bomber base, my...

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Harlem Fire: Paul Ryan’s Racial Blindness
Mar14

Harlem Fire: Paul Ryan’s Racial Blindness

A building explodes in Harlem, leaving the dead so badly burned they cannot be identified, but we know they are not white. At the same time, a leading GOP thinker Paul Ryan, who has been on government payrolls since college, proclaims that young “inner city” men are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work” because they rely on government assistance to survive. In 1963, my high-school classmate...

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The View from 90: Havoc and Hope
Mar10

The View from 90: Havoc and Hope

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated. It was my ninth birthday. In April 1945, I was a 21-year-old foot soldier on the floor of a German farmhouse when someone shook me awake to whisper that FDR had died. Now, at 90, I am inevitably shaped by those years after a working lifetime as writer, editor and publisher trying to explain the world to others—-and myself. The scenes around me today are filled with human...

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CNN Wins Worst Timing of the Year Award
Feb17

CNN Wins Worst Timing of the Year Award

Program note: Chris Cuomo’s extended sitdown with George Zimmerman will air today instead of tomorrow as planned. Cynical observers may see a connection with the Michael Dunn verdict, but has teenage murder become just another chess piece in the media ratings game? Is crazy racism to be sold between commercials for mouthwash and erectile dysfunction? What happened to Jordan Davis in a Florida parking lot when he went there for gum and...

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Blizzards of Misinformation, NY and DC
Feb15

Blizzards of Misinformation, NY and DC

Cable news crawls about the worst storm ever are as accurate as their political hyberbole, that is not at all, at least for New York and its environs. The Great Blizzard of 1947, which brought the Northeast to a standstill, dumped 26.4 inches of snow on Manhattan during Christmas week. Plows stacked up piles as high as ten feet, some of which did not melt for months. It was described as the worst storm in history since the fabled...

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Shirley Temple: Tot Idol to Cancer Heroine
Feb12

Shirley Temple: Tot Idol to Cancer Heroine

The woman who died yesterday at 85 takes with her a world that is unimaginable today. Shirley Temple became a movie star at three, won an Oscar at five and was more popular in the 1930s than FDR. Her charms escaped me then because I was only a few years old older, but after undergoing mastectomy in 1972, she wrote a McCalls article about it for me after holding a press conference at her hospital bedside to encourage preventive...

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Tales of Hoffman: The Price of Keeping It Real
Feb03

Tales of Hoffman: The Price of Keeping It Real

The actor who died yesterday gave me an experience I have had only twice on screen—-coming face to face with the reincarnation of a close friend. In the 2005 “Capote,” for which he won an Oscar, he was the title character not only in looks and manner but essence. Four years later, in “Julie and Julia,” Meryl Streep created the same effect as Julia Child. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman at 46 is a wrench, and pairing him with...

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Is New Republican Robot Paul Ryan in Drag?
Feb03

Is New Republican Robot Paul Ryan in Drag?

GOP white coats are thisclose to getting it right. Previous prototypes like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann blew up after leaving the launching pad, but Cathy McMorris Rodgers is in orbit as their new Matron of the Year, full of empty catch phrases with no content whatsoever but friction-free. Only SNL or the Daily Show would be mean enough to parody a nice farm girl, first in her family to attend college, who worked at a fruit stand...

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Immigration Reform: Cruz, Boehner Vie for Less
Feb02

Immigration Reform: Cruz, Boehner Vie for Less

After building the most powerful nation on earth by welcoming those around the world who want a better and freer life, a significant number of Americans now want to slam the gates. Sorting out and integrating millions of illegal aliens is no easy matter, too long delayed, but John Boehner and Ted Cruz are taking off the masks that Republicans donned after losing the White House in 2012 largely because of the minority vote. Shackled by...

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State of the Union: Super Bowl on Empty Field
Jan30

State of the Union: Super Bowl on Empty Field

The sharpest commentary was a repeated cutaway to John McCain smirking as the President went through a laundry list of ways to improve the State of the Union, mostly by executive action, inviting the GOP to join the game with him. But with John Boehner visibly reacting only to the reference to himself as the “son of a barkeep” who attained high office, the Republicans refused to suit up. It was like the Super Bowl, with one team...

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Governors Gone Wild: States Vie for Crazy
Jan22

Governors Gone Wild: States Vie for Crazy

Mediawise, running a state used to be a boring job. Mostly signing papers and posing at the opening of small town rec centers. But no more. On the heels of the Christie circus comes word that Sen. David Vitter wants to go back and govern Louisiana. Surely you remember Vitter: Since being outed seven years ago as a frequent flier on the DC Madam’s joy circuit, he has been busy lowering his profile in the Senate with such landmark moves...

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Christie Apes Nixon: Enemies Lists,  Dirty Tricks
Jan21

Christie Apes Nixon: Enemies Lists, Dirty Tricks

In New Jersey Chris Christie is on the career path of the only US president to be driven from office for criminal behavior in the last two centuries. With each new revelation, Christie evokes Richard Nixon who divided the world into friends and enemies and, with ruthless helpers, punished those on the wrong list and played dirty tricks on them. In his first run for national office as Eisenhower’s VP, Nixon had to make a mawkish TV...

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MLK at 85: Person of the Century
Jan20

MLK at 85: Person of the Century

He was no plaster saint, this remarkable man who brought a race out of American darkness with soaring words and body rhetoric more muscular and effective than any mob uprisings might have been. In his 39 years on earth, Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolence to the oppressed. “Our weapon is love,” he told them, and he used it with stunning force. At the dawn of TV, he brought into American homes images of peaceful protesters...

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Curbing NSA: What Price to Prevent Another 9/11?
Jan19

Curbing NSA: What Price to Prevent Another 9/11?

The Founding Fathers are often cited in the debate over government surveillance vs. individual freedom, but we don’t have to go back that far to disentangle rhetoric from reality. In the aftershock of 9/11, the bipartisan commission found ample evidence that the FBI and other agencies, out of sloppiness or squeamishness, kept ignoring evidence of Arabs enrolling in American flight schools to fly commercial airliners without too much...

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The Moral Heart of “Downton Abbey”
Jan18

The Moral Heart of “Downton Abbey”

In life, a minor character can assume a crucial role. For one who has experienced this phenomenon often, so too in popular art, as the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, who has figured in all 34 episodes of “Downtown Abbey,” increasingly comes to the heart of conflicts that beset other characters. That someone who has willingly suppressed her own passions in the service of others should be in this position is not an unexpected irony for those...

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After Obama, Can a Real Person Be President?
Jan16

After Obama, Can a Real Person Be President?

In 2008, Barack Obama told Tim Russert with a worried smile on “Meet the Press” that his wife and friends thought he was still there behind all the hype and on 60 Minutes admitted that the “attempt to airbrush your life…is exhausting.” Five year later, we can still see an authentic person in the Oval Office, the man himself not buried in all the sludge that has been heaped on him by rabid opponents. The contrast comes up with...

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Christie’s Niche in True Believer Hall of Fame
Jan14

Christie’s Niche in True Believer Hall of Fame

Size matters, but so does moral essence. Snarling bridge traffic out of political pique may be petty compared to aiming airliners at tall buildings, but the dazzling human disproportion between ends and means, the reckless assault on innocent people and the subjugation of life to self-serving abstractions are inescapable, the mark of what Eisenhower’s favorite philosopher, Eric Hoffer, called “The True Believer.” Hoffer’s prototype,...

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Grimms’ New Fairy Tales for  GOP Faithful
Jan12

Grimms’ New Fairy Tales for GOP Faithful

Just when Republicans were getting some traction with their “Chicken Little” yarn about Obamacare, the sky falls on them from different directions. Call such cautionaries from the new Brothers Grimm’ canon, “The Elephant and the Weasel,” as Chris Christie and Robert Gates personify why the pachyderm party just can’t seem to get a break in the realm of instructive narrative. Christie is on an opinion-poll roll in Santa Claus disguise...

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Gates Opening Up: Long-Hidden Ego Has Landed
Jan08

Gates Opening Up: Long-Hidden Ego Has Landed

The first question about the former Defense Secretary’s memoir is timing. For someone who prides himself on patriotism, why now? In a flurry of leaks, advance excerpts and reviews, Robert Gates has put the President and his White House on the kind of political griddle he professes to abhor. In his book, Gates says he “bristled at what’s become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too...

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Downton Abbey’s Season Opener Yard Sale
Jan08

Downton Abbey’s Season Opener Yard Sale

Phew! Avoiding spoilers for those who watch later, it’s hard to recover from the weekend’s Season 4 opener of everybody’s favorite gilded guilty pleasure without at least a warning about what mastermind Julian Fellowes is up to now. Key cast members gone, the two-hour Downton premiere is stuffed with not only surviving lead actors but what looks like a lawn sale of forgotten characters from past years returning for whirlwind reprises....

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