Recently, a national columnist asked a question to help observe the release of my new book, The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House—the first to exhaustively explore the tie between America’s two great institutions: the national pastime and the presidency.
A movie in which Jerusalem symbolizes religious oppression while Berlin represents freedom and liberty is a particularly obscene type of propaganda. Europe frequently compares Israelis to Nazis, claiming that the Jewish state does to Palestinians precisely what the Nazis did to Jews - a blasphemous comparison that an educated person should be ashamed to utter. Yet, here we are viewing “The Cakemaker” and watching Shabbat become synonymous with narrow-minded, even violent religious Jews - people who don’t trust non-Jews and punish those Jews who don’t subscribe to strict orthodoxy. In actuality, only 8% of Israelis identify as ultra-orthodox while 20% of Israelis are Arabs.
On Thursday, June 21, the Times offered a front page article entitled “Incivility Infests Life in the U.S. on Trump’s Cue” , along with a heads-up about “The Art of Hooking Up” that appears on the front page of its Arts section. That review is of an installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale devoted to the “places and practices of casual sex,” specifically gay hookups with “colorful condoms and other sexual accoutrements” scattered on the floor of the pavilion. Although there are 71 participants in this biennale, in keeping with the Times’ devotion to promoting all things gay, this is the one it chose to highlight. More items deemed newsworthy on that day included violence in Nicaragua, the Taliban killing of 30 in Afghanistan and the omission of “horrific details” from the UN report on Syrian chemical attacks.
In its ongoing mission to “epater le bourgeois,” the NYT Style section features an essay by a woman who decides to give sado-masochism a try. (Wanting to Be Dominated, But Not Quite Like That, Aly Tadros 6/10) She tells us about her previous travails - boiler-plate issues with an immigrant father who didn’t understand her, his illness and death, her drinking and her rejection by a previous boyfriend - none of these either extraordinary or interesting. The woman claims not to be a masochist yet she is willing to be bitten hard, whipped with a belt and treated as just one of this man’s submissive playthings outside of his relationship with the woman he lives with and presumably loves. Part of it is explained by her having the freedom to scream, cry and release all the emotions she previously hid or submerged in alcohol, but part is also the titillation of Fifty Shades of Gray and the ongoing acceptance of deviancy as a suitable subject for mainstream media. The subtext is that it’s restorative to behave like a child whose tantrums will be tolerated rather than a grown woman who is expected to control emotional outbursts and deal with common life situations.
In keeping with the logic of Mayor de Blasio and his school chancellor, who both believe that a good solution for black and Latino minorities to get ahead in school is simply to eliminate the standardized test to get into New York’s toughest academies, why not do the same with the La Guardia school for the performing arts? Let’s forget about auditions and portfolios and try to even the number of boys who are admitted since only 26% of the student body is currently male. Why give priority to talent if you believe that intelligence and discipline, as reflected in the ability to ace a standardized test, are not essential pre-requisites for advanced academic work And why not insist that Asians are proportionately represented at La Guardia even if they don’t express as much interest in music and art. Or that girls, who currently account for only 40% of Stuyvesant are similarly favored to even their quota there.
This was Virgil’s opening line in the Aeneid and it came to mind in the brief clip of Morgan Freeman, the latest celebrity apologizer, as he sat across from a comely tv interviewer wearing a short, tight, sleeveless, v-neck dress that had climbed to mid-thigh while she was seated. Unsurprisingly, he stared and commented on its brevity and when she stood and pulled it down, he pleaded with her not to change the object of his gaze She giggled flirtatiously at the time, but apparently thought twice when MeToo seemed a better route to follow and now 80 year old Morgan is in hot water too
Now that the hoopla over the Royal Wedding has simmered down, it’s time to question why - with all the party planners, all the experts at royal protocol, and all the santimony over how old rules were being boldly ejected in favor of a newer more inclusive era - Doria Ragland, the black mother of the Duchess of Sussex was allowed to sit alone throughout the church ceremony. If Prince Charles could walk his future daughter-in-law down the aisle in a show of familial warmth, why wouldn’t he insist that Doria be seated next to him and his wife during the ceremony? And where was Meghan when these plans were made? For an assertive woman who refused to say the word “obey” in her marriage vows, why wouldn’t she demand that her mother, who represented her only relative at this event, be treated like a member of the newly joined family instead of being seated alone like an outcast.
Comedian Tig Notaro, interviewed in the NYTimes, had this to say about the possiblity of disgraced men of influence returning to their various jobs: “If a janitor was so great at cleaning the building but also tended to masturbate in front of people, would the people at that building be like, “yes, he masturbated, but I’ve never seen anyone clean so thoroughly, and I was just wondering when he’s going to get his job back, he so good at it.” No it would be “that’s not acceptable.” It’s fame and power that people are blinded by.” (NYT 5/19)
One of the 21st Century’s most successful advertising campaigns was “The Most Interesting Man in The World” for the Mexican beer, Dos Equis. The ads featured a stylish, bearded middle-aged man and described his fascinating life. It ended this year after a 12-year run and a failed transition to a younger lead actor. But that “interesting man” was a fictional character. If I had to select the real-life “Most Interesting Man in the World”, it would have been Gustav Born, a 96-year-old medical pharmacologist who died last month. His story reaches over centuries and involves some of the world’s most prominent people and events.
Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are certainly not alone among married politicians when we talk about affairs of the heart. In 1958, only one Democrat in Congress lost a seat, and the loser was a woman. There were no steamy revelations about former Rep. Coya Knutson of Oklee, Minn. But there was a conflict of interest even in those innocent days before the Monkey Business and the “Hart” went out of Congressional romance.
Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman and Charlize Theron sound like an unbeatable team of irreverence and straight-shooting. The trailer for Tully similarly manages to cull the smartest dialogue and best reaction shots - so what could go wrong?
You needn’t be an orthodox Jew to feel the insult to religion in this movie. It helps to keep in mind that its writer/director is Sebastian Lelio, the same man who gave us The Fantastic Woman, an Oscar winning film about a transgender woman, but in truth, this movie could have been endorsed by the LGBT movement or the prevailing secular progressive arm of liberal American politics. The plot is simple and revolves around a rebellious drop-out from the orthodox Jewish community in London, the daughter of a renowned rabbi who relocates to NY where she becomes a photographer of society’s fringe inhabitants. Played by Rachel Weisz, we immediately see that she’s a chain smoker - shorthand for cool bad girl - but she returns to London for the sudden death and funeral of her father. Though she presumably lived with her parents until she was a young adult, she shows little familiarity with or tolerance for the rigid customs of this community. This is seen immediately as she reaches out to touch her father’s designated successor, a bearded young rabbi who is not allowed to touch any women but his own wife. We discover early on that Ronit (Rachel) became persona non grata due to a previous lesbian liaison with Esti (Rachel McAdams) who is now the rebbetzin sporting a suitable wig and clothes.
With particularly myopic arrogance, Jesse Green, theater critic of the New York Times, lauds the new production of My Fair Lady as the best one ever because it serves as “an ur-text of the #MeToo movement (NYT 4/20/18) Never mind the genius of George Bernard Shaw or the combined brilliance of Lerner and Lowe - it took director Bartlett Sher to show us “how history -even if it took 100 years - would eventually start to outgrow its brutes, and how it still might do so compassionately by teaching them a lesson.” We all know the famous quote (falsely attributed to Samuel Goldwyn) “If you want to send a message, call Western Union,” but apparently for Jesse Green, a lesson is even more valuable than a message and we can all go to school on the collective wisdom of such luminaries as Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan.
Horror films usually fall into two categories: those that are filled with monsters that threaten us from the outside, and those that are full of psychological resonance and an important interior logic. In the second category belong films by Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick - master manipulators of the form. John Krasinski’s new box office hit belongs squarely in the realm of the arbitrary imposition of an alien force on a defenseless population. A Quiet Place concerns a family with three children trying to survive in a state with blind predators who resemble aliens or dinosaurs and respond only to sound, instantly devouring what they hear and conquer. The family must use sign language to communicate and clearly exist in a state of perpetual fear.
Walking on water—that’s the surreal feeling I had at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in the Texas Hill Country. I arrived late evening to a welcoming, delicious picnic meal—a hint of what was to come! My cabin, one of 40, had a private fountain garden in the rear and a terrace facing the lake. Once I opened the bath salts, the fresh lavender aroma filled the comfy room. The soaking tub faced a lush garden outside and fresh flowers inside, perfect for a tranquil night’s sleep.
Austin has often been called America’s favorite city with its vibrant music and downtown renewal. Like many other guests I was so relaxed at the world class spa resort that once there, I didn’t want to leave—not even for a 30-minute car ride (or water taxi) to check out the downtown music scene. There’s something about the serenity of a lake, the ripple effect, and ions—in this case, the 19-mile long river—that adds another dimension to spa life, wellness and healing.
START THE DAY RIGHT
Although not a breakfast person, I couldn’t resist the avocado toast with crisp bacon and juicy tomato topped with a sunny side up egg in the lakeside Astor Café in the morning. I learned, too, that it was Michael McAdams and William Bucks who purchased the neglected 19-acre property and transformed it into a destination luxury spa and wellness retreat. That was twenty years ago and today it continues to provide excellence in health and wellness. The activity schedule includes not only water activities but also tarot classes, drumming for full body strength, hoop dancing, Pilates, floating meditation or acoustic guitar meditation: Self-improvement in all areas of life for those of us open to learning and unplugging. As difficult as it may be, leave your digital devices at the door. You’ll be relieved you did. You can do as much—or as little—as you wish. Chill in a hammock lakeside, embark on a mindful hike or work with an individual trainer.
After a morning yoga class in the tree house, I felt a call to the lake. Here, during a river cruise, Captain Chuck pointed out Blue Herons nesting in pecan trees along the shoreline during a river cruise. One side of the water is a nature
preserve and the other dotted with handsome limestone houses and a matching two-story boathouse and decks. Later, while peddling a hydro-bike, I watched a lone coot swimming against the lush green landscape. Also available to guests are Howie leg-powered stand-up pedal boards, stand-up paddle boards, and kayaks. Don’t miss this opportunity to walk on water.
HEALTHY INSIDE OUT
Hunger pangs are quickly satisfied: Fresh fruit, smoothies, and homemade frozen yogurt are available anytime—banana cream became a favorite. Enjoy lunch in your robe on the patio by the spa or in the main restaurant, which has the intimate feel of a friend’s lake house. Of course, calorie counts are listed, after all this is a spa resort. Executive Chef Stefane Beauchamp’s nutritiously creative preparations would lead you to think five-star restaurant rather than a spa. The bison burger was delicious at lunch as was the locally caught redfish followed by gluten-free key lime pie at dinner. The organic produce and herbs including 45 varieties of basil are grown on the property or sourced from local purveyors. Be sure to drop in for one of the winning French chef’s fun cooking classes with ample tastings.
Spa treatments are amazing, and like the classes and activities, try one
or all? The Neroli Blossom Sensory Massage and Texas Starry Night Massage were tempting, but I opted for the Weekend Warrior, one of the newly introduced body treatments—80 minutes of a customized deep tissue massage combined with assisted gentle range of motion exercise. My tight muscles felt like putty in the hands of the skilled therapist. Treatments focus on energy healing, organic skin care, water emersion therapies and oxygen facials. After your spa treatment, be sure to relax in the soothing Blue Room with gardens hand-painted on linen wall panels and while there experience meditation through coloring.
Lake Austin Spa has superb personalized service, activities, and treatments without “attitude” for the savvy guest. It’s a healing place for body, mind, and spirit. A piece of that energy is now a part of me. After a few days of pampering, I returned home with a feeling of renewal and a package of the fresh lavender bath salts to mimic that wonderful Zen feeling as though I was immersed in the organic lavender field overlooking the lake. . . What a delightful way to spend Congressional recess.
There is a tendency among critics to assume that an inscrutable, disjointed, overlong, tendentious film with characters bearing the names Bloom and Dedalus - must be paying homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses and must therefore be deep. There is also the tendency to give a pass or the benefit of one’s doubt to a director who has achieved some prominence with past work. So this rebuke is meant for movie-goers only - do not fall into the same trap as the pro’s. Ismael’s Ghosts, starring Matthieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg - all first rate French actors - is a mess. It asks viewers to do the work of turning a grab-bag of plots and characters into a coherent narrative - something the screenwriter is supposed to do way before filming begins.
Aristotle said it first but no one cared to remind Anderson Cooper or Sixty Minutes of that saying when they headlined Stormy Daniels’ appearance on the show as Porn Star’s Affair With Trump. Turns out to have been Brief Encounter more than Affair to Remember, specifically a one time experience. For many $130,000 would have seemed more than generous remuneration, even for a woman with a sense of self as inflated as her chest, but Stormy has been fortunate in receiving even bigger offers for her ability to add to the media’s hate campaign against the truculent tweeter. The serious journalists who have occupied seats on Sixty Minutes must be chagrined at having Stormy earn the show its highest ratings in years. As for Anderson, he seems to have become the reporter with a specialty niche of asking former Playboy centerfolds and current porn-hackers whether they or their johns used protection during sex. One wonders whether he would ask a gay compatriot a similarly salacious question and whether his concern was for the spread of venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy or just to experience the frisson of rudeness.
This version of the famous Israeli rescue of hostages from the hijacked Air France plane should be known for its hard-left slant and its glaring omissions. Written by Gregory Burke and directed by Jose Padilha, its main purpose is to humanize the hijackers and to trace all of Israel’s current problems to ITS failure to negotiate with peace-loving, occupied Palestinians. Here are some of the facts this movie does not contain.
NY State has just granted parole to one of three killers in the Black Liberation Army who in 1971 shot two cops in the back, shooting one 22 times as he pleaded for his life. The three member State Parole Board claimed that the 70 year old prisoner had finally taken responsibility for his actions and expressed regret and remorse for his crimes. Think of that standard compared with the Metropolitan Opera firing 74 year old James Levine for incidents of purported sexual harassment which took place many decades ago and were not reported until years after. Think of the 83 year old architect Richard Meier whose exhibition of collages was just canceled by Sotheby’s and whose gift to his alma mater Cornell was similarly declined due to allegations of sexual harassment, which included the affront to one of his assistants in having to look at images of female genitalia in the collages.
Currently, whites still comprise the majority of our population; Hispanics are over 17%, Blacks are 14%, Asians are 6% and Native Americans are 2%. But if Mr. Scott is referring to how this country looks, he should consider that at least 33% of our population is obese, 8% are disabled, 3% are LGBTQ and 3% are anorexic. If we’re insisting that diversity represent an accurate picture of America, then surely the 33% obese demands greater representation in our films than the handful of actors he can name. And surely there should be many more of these people in all walks of life, just as we have insisted on portraying blacks, gays and women.
Viewing this movie right before the Oscars and anticipating all the virtucrat blather about MeToo, TimesUp and Parkland, one is forced to react strongly to the heavy dose of pornography and violence on screen. Don’t see this if you might be upset by people having their limbs broken, their heads and torsos bashed with a heavy metal object, their skin flayed, their bodies raped, their necks choked, and of course lots of shooting to kill. In fact, this movie is the equivalent of the assault rifle capable of discharging ten or twenty times more firepower than you ever thought possible.
The Mt Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery has induced lactation in a transgender woman who has not had sex-reassignment surgery or breast augmentation; in other words, a biologically correct man who was taking hormones and wanted to nurse the baby born to ze’s partner who is female but didn’t want to nurse. The staff at Mt. Sinai advised this couple on how to acquire and use domperidone, a drug that is not FDA approved, not available in the U.S. and one for which the FDA has issued warnings against serious cardiac problems including death. The team leaders who directed this experimental procedure are an endocrinologist who is committed to the health of the LGBT community and a nurse-practitioner who is an activist transgender woman herself.
A mere 90 miles from the US mainland but seemingly worlds away! There’s a mystique about Cuba! Havana, an architectural gem and culturally rich destination, was founded under a large Kapok tree. It’s coffee beans and cane sugar, salsa and jazz, its warm people and rich culture were long forbidden fruit for Americans. As regulations loosened during Obama’s presidency, regularly scheduled commercial flights from the US made it easier for Americans to discover the lure of this enticing and emerging destination. Although restrictions were still in place, Americans could join sanctioned tour groups as long as they didn’t spend dollars there.
It’s time to admit that the Women’s March is a misnomer; it should be called Women Democrats Marching to Impeach Our President. As a collective of many far-left organizations, including Black Lives Matter, the Arab-American Association of New York (headed by Linda Sarsour who favors sharia law), the National Action Network (founded by Al Sharpton), The Gathering for Justice (founded by Harry Belafonte) and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice - a group concerned with the “occupation of Palestine,” Islamophobia and freedom of speech for BDS on campus. The March is the indirect recipient of some of the 246 million dollars donated by George Soros to 100 of the Women’s March Partners.
In her op-ed column in Wednesday’s Times, Bari Weiss, staff editor and writer for that section, reacts angrily to a recent addition to the #metoo complaint catalog, an account of someone’s hookup with Aziz Ansari. The young woman who posted her grievance objected to the comedian’s ignoring her non-verbal cues and her discomfort with his advances. There was no molestation, no assault, just a young woman with some unsatisfactory sex. Bari Weiss objects to the fact that the woman didn’t act on her own feelings, that she relinquished her own agency and then was blaming someone else. Surprisingly, Ms. Weiss doesn’t mention an article that preceded this one in the Sunday Times entitled, “For a Hookup, Just Use Your Words” by Gabrielle Ulubay, a writer who recently graduated from college. Here, the author is not offended at being used just for sex since she herself had invited the man over only for that purpose - her discontent is that he confused her with his disarming compliments such as calling her “smart, funny, creative and the girl of his dreams.” He told her that he’d see her later but never called again. This naive young woman is is asking not for better sex or more intimacy but less flattery and ghosting (disappearing without explanation). How someone can be comfortable with the zipless sex first described by Erica Jong (Fear of Flying) but hypersensitive to the eternal lack of truth in seduction is a by-product of the message with which young women have been indoctrinated since the 70’s.
Recently, I finished a book to be published this spring on the relationship between the Presidency and baseball. As it nears the final date of editing, an author becomes reluctant to let go— searching for a better phrase, a finer word, above all, to be true to the English language in all its shades and meanings—trying to use it, and be faithful to it.
J Paul Getty might have had all the money in the world but neither all the king’s horses nor all the king’s men can save Ridley Scott’s movie again. Some viewers will remember the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s 16 yr old grandson and the gruesome amputation of his ear after the richest man in the world refused to pay the ransom, but especially for viewers who weren’t around then, this movie will make little sense We begin with Michelle Williams as the mother of four Getty children sired by one of J Paul’s sons They soon divorce and in that settlement she agrees to take no money on condition that she get sole parental custody In rapid order, we see that her ex-husband has descended to the depths of drug addiction in Morocco where her oldest boy, Paul, loves to hang out. Yanked back to Rome where mother and siblings live, we see little of his lifestyle but from his long unkempt hair, we can guess that his father has been an unfortunate role model. He is seized off the street by a Calabrian gang that sets their opening ransom at 17 million dollars. The patriarch refused to pay anything, claiming that we he to succumb to this blackmail, there would be 14 other opportunities for kidnap and extortion, and Paolo, as he is known, is left imprisoned by the gang for many many months.
In the course of preparing a meal, I found myself needing my husband’s help in opening a bottle, a jar and a plastic container. He in turn required a box cutter, a pair of scissors and a jar-opening utensil. Neither of us has palsy, severe arthritis or any other disabling condition - we are simply seniors who are being overly protected against a container of pineapple chunks, some sake and a small jar of relish. Undoubtedly many readers will have experienced similar frustration with common food products that are treated with greater prevention tactics than most opioids This got me to thinking about the tragedy of 12 people dying in a Bronx building fire and four more in critical condition - all because a three year old child was fiddling with the knobs on the kitchen stove
I always yearned to find an appropriate occasion to use the phrase “luxe et volupte” and after seeing The Phantom Thread, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I have found it. From the scene of a chiseled, sleek Daniel Day Lewis performing his morning ablutions and carefully dressing himself, to the extraordinary mise en scene of his homes, his staff, his elegant sister, his breakfast menu and finally, his exquisite couture, we are in a world of voluptuous beauty As Reynolds Woodcock, the celebrated go-to dress designer for royalty and the super-rich, Lewis’ movements are disciplined and exact His female staff are all attired in white coats and their workspace is as sanitized as a hospital, their stitching as precise as a surgeon’s. Plot develops when Woodcock goes to his country house, stopping to eat and finding himself engaged by the young waitress serving him. Alma is fresh-faced and reticent, a far cry from the world of high fashion, but strangely, he is entranced by her and in short order, invites her to live in his house and work as his model and muse.
Some people, especially in today’s social media environment, crave public recognition. For those who actually achieve fame, it often turns out to be nothing more than “a barren reward” as it was characterized by the 17th Century English poet John Dryden. The recent deaths of three “famous people” illustrate that fame can bring a life of sorrow, and occasionally become a sanctuary for unadulterated evil.
In a serendipitous bit of typesetting, two opposing views of human nature are posted in Saturday’s Times. On the op-ed page are Gail Collins and Greg Weiner, each propounding the justice of forcing Al Franken to resign; the former stressing his refusal to accept total responsibility for his vaguely remembered misdeeds, the latter insisting that a statesman’s character is paramount in his calling and his role is to “refine and enlarge,” not simply reflect the public’s views (Federalist 10 NYT op-ed 12/9/17) Then, on the back page is an article about Judge Jack Weinstein calling for more alternatives in sentencing violent offenders facing prison.
Call it a case of unfortunate timing, but there are three scenes of Churchill, as played by Gary Oldman, behaving in a way that we are now calling sexual harassment of an employee. The first shows his young, pretty secretary (Lily James) ushered into his bedroom where he dictates to her from his bed; upon finishing, he throws back the covers and tosses his bare legs up in the air as he propels himself out - the camera moves to her shocked reaction. The second has him dictating to her in what looks like a dressing room - we see his bare legs exiting the bathroom as he announces that he is coming out of his shower in a state of nature - she hurries away. The third has him taking a seat next to her at her desk and staring at her intensely; after a few moments she squirms uncomfortably and asks if anything is wrong - he states that he is just looking at her.
Three Billboards, written and directed by Martin McDonaugh, has a cover story of a mother’s insurmountable guilt and grief over the murder of her young daughter who was raped while dying Compounding the tragedy of this brutal crime is the apparent inactivity of the police dept in working this case and finding the culprit. The mother, played by a fierce Frances McDormand, hatches a plan to challenge their complacency by calling out the police chief and reprinting the police report on three prominent billboards right outside the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. Several factors complicate this plan: the expense of the billboard rental, the fact that the police chief is dying of pancreatic cancer and the reaction of the town to this public disgrace.