Commentary & Opinion | WAMC

Commentary & Opinion

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Pedagogy And Prophecy

Jul 16, 2020

In addition to my full-time job as a congregational rabbi, I teach Jewish religious studies to middle school students twice a week at our community’s parochial day school.  I’m there to help my young charges understand – and maybe even appreciate – the vast rabbinic tradition of Judaism, which successfully interpreted the Bible and created the foundation for what we call Jewish religion.  Under the best circumstances, this is a supremely difficult task. The distracted and all-too-concrete middle school brain is at striking odds with the often abstract and demanding literature of the ancient Jewish sages.  The ears of a contemporary American teenager are so attuned to what they deem to be relevant and modern, that they are often deaf to the authentic yet ancient voices of the old-time faith.  Under the current circumstances of COVID isolation and Zoom learning, I approached these last few months with my students in anxious anticipation of dismal failure.  In a strange and sweet surprise, my students proved my fears unfounded.  Nearly all of them showed up to class, on time, every session; they brought their more relaxed social selves – pajamas, breakfast and all – onto our Zoom sessions, and, perish the thought, they dug into the demanding projects I assigned them, not despite our classroom’s new-normal, but because of it.

Stephen Gottlieb: Our Human Constitution

Jul 14, 2020

Recently I spoke with a class of high school girls. They asked me to talk about the Constitution and we agreed I’d talk about how we interpret it. I wasn’t advocating any particular method. In fact, I referred to the late Justice John Paul Stevens, adopting an observation by the then sitting president of the Israeli Supreme Court, that a judge does best who “’seek[s] guidance from every reliable source.’”[i]

Lawmakers return to Albany this week and both houses will be holding a joint hearing on the state’s redistricting process.

A recent article in the New York Times raised an important question about “How deadly is the Corona Virus?”.  We have all had the opportunity to review enumerable statistics which have not necessarily brought clarity to the question.  We know now that cases are rising rapidly, that hospitalizations are increasing (in many places to capacity), and deaths are significantly lower than prior experience would indicate.  The authors of the article did an in-depth analysis and touched on a couple of points that I think are important.  First, who’s currently being infected, and what impact does age and overall health have in either having a mild, if not asymptomatic case, will those who are infected transmit it to others so that the more vulnerable population is again attacked by the virus, and ultimately, the question becomes what, if anything, can we do to stop the spread?  We have all heard the mantra of mask, social distancing, washing hands and avoiding large, particularly indoor groups.  If the public is going to persist in going unmasked, failing to social distance and attending large indoor events, then the likelihood is that the rate of contagion will continue.  Ultimately, the question that the public has to ask itself is, are they prepared to go into the unknown without any protection, it seems like a large number of people are and we are going to have to wait and see how many of the people that they care about become significantly ill, and possibly die.  The authors concluded that statistically the worldwide rate of deaths is less than 1%, but if you multiply that percentage times the people in the world or in the United States, it is a very large number, well into the millions in the United States and the tens of millions in the world.  Are we prepared for that outcome?

Ralph Gardner Jr: The Lost Sports Of Summer

Jul 11, 2020
Final of the ladies' lawn tennis single tournament at the 1908 Summer Olympics, at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon. Dorothea Douglass vs. Dora Boothby.
Illustration in the "Fourth Olympiad 1908 London Official Report" published by the British Olympic Association in 1909 / Public Domain - Wikimedia Commons

A year ago today, or yesterday or tomorrow I’d be doing what I always did on a beautiful summer day during the first couple of weeks of July. I’d be indoors, glued to the TV – with occasional fresh air breaks – watching Wimbledon.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Case For Black Reparations

Jul 7, 2020

Many years ago, one of my professors at law school, Boris Bittker, wrote a book called The Case for Black Reparations. Bittker was known mostly for his work on taxation, but he cared and wrote a great deal about race. One year at Reunions, he took my wife and me to see a pair of very interesting films about the confinement of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast in internment camps during World War II, and the experience of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, many of whom served in the American military. Bittker’s book on black reparations went through the issues in a very lawyerly way as if he were arguing to a court. But let me describe it on a very human level.

The Wheel, set to perform at the Jericho Drive-in Tuesday, July 21.
Frank Cavone / Mirth Films

TROY – This time last year, community concerts like Albany’s Live at Five, Troy’s Rockin’ on the River and Saratoga’s On the Roof at the Tang Museum were just a few of the free concerts available almost any night of the week and in every town. Free music was abundant, fun and it united communities.

Blair Horner: Rebalancing New York's Democracy

Jul 6, 2020

A hallmark of American democracy is the concept of political power balanced among the branches of government.  This system of “checks and balances” was baked into our representative form of government so that no one branch could operate without constraints.  And while that system has evolved over the years, that balance is still central.

On the topic of Canadian trade there is mixed news.  The USMCA went into effect on July 1, the White House threatens tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, while at the same time, being more welcoming to certain business visa holders (L-1s, etc.) coming in from Canada; the border remains closed, and in my view, given the uptick in cases in the United States and the irrational activity of the administration, it is unlikely that Canada will agree to an opening at the end of July.  The fact that Canadian business people will be able to travel to the United States lessens the pressure for the border to fully reopen since they are asking and others are not. Damage, however, is being done to our tourist economy, both along the Canadian border, and if this persists for many months, it could well impact Florida and Arizona in the Fall and next Winter.  Mr. Lighthizer in his recent testimony talked tough about how the US would enforce the USMCA. 

We at WAMC are living in the same times you are. None of what we are going through with the COVID-19 pandemic or the Trump presidency is easy for any of us. Luckily, we have an incredible staff at WAMC who have made the weight of our task lighter.Take someone like Ian Pickus, our wonderful news director. Ian must balance a large staff spread out in so many directions and integrate the work of the news division with everything else going on at the station.

David Nightingale: Toothpick Technology

Jul 5, 2020

No internet now for three days.

I’d reluctantly called the company – reluctantly because I usually try to sort these things out myself – and had now done all the things the disembodied recording had told me to do. Unplug this, unplug that, wait two minutes, re-plug, etc. And the voice had asked me if it was now working, press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Watching The Seasons Go By

Jul 4, 2020

Before this March the longest uninterrupted stretch of time I spent at our home in Columbia County – dating back to childhood when my grandparents owned the place – was a week or two at a time.

On June 23, David Brooks published an article on The Atlantic website entitled “Bruce Springsteen’s Playlist for the Trump Era.”Brooks introduced the article thusly:

Bryan Griffin: The Values Of A Conservative

Jul 1, 2020

In 1964, future President Ronald Reagan was addressing a crowd of conservatives about the upcoming presidential election. He had recently switched from the Democratic Party, and this speech would launch him into national prominence. He told these conservatives:

I wanted to deliver this last week but Trump’s use of the military against domestic protestors had me fear for the future of our republic and I put this off.

Fred Kowal: What Have We Become?

Jun 30, 2020

How many must die to satisfy the malevolent narcissism of one man?

Blair Horner: New York Holds A Primary In A Pandemic

Jun 29, 2020

Last week, New York State held its primary elections.  What made this election unique was that it took place during the coronavirus pandemic.  As a result of a gubernatorial decree, all eligible New York voters received paperwork that allowed them to request an absentee ballot due to the possibility of infection from the virus.

Andrew Pallotta: Education - An Avenue To Equality

Jun 29, 2020

Our hearts were broken this spring by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, racial and economic inequalities within our nation were already laid bare. And with his death, the need for change took on new urgency. We at NYSUT were heartened that New York State lawmakers responded quickly to widespread calls for change by instituting criminal justice reforms in June.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Let's Hear It For Customer Support

Jun 27, 2020
A Ring security system selfie
Ralph Gardner Jr.

Placing an online order, or calling for technical support only to be asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey seconds later can be annoying. What am I saying? Typically these days you’re asked whether you’d be willing to take their survey even before they connect you to a representative.

My heart wants to talk about the momentous things happening in our country but the disloyalty of this president is too frightening to talk about anything else. 

Over the weekend the planet achieved a new milestone:  A small Siberian town hit temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  While that region of the world is noted for its wide range in temperatures, the reading is the highest ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle.

Let’s start out with something positive, the Clinton County Fair Grounds which will not be open for the fair this year has decided to utilize its facilities for a drive-in theater.  Many of us remember those venues in which we had fun as children and even more fun later on. I am pleased that they are demonstrating their creativity, flexibility and a desire to make people happy.  The first night was a resounding success as reported by the local media.  I am hoping to get out soon to see a movie for some fun in a difficult environment.

Bob Goepfert: Lack Of A Unifying Song Of Protest

Jun 21, 2020
A man burns an American flag Saturday in Albany.  May 2020.
Jackie Orchard / WAMC

TROY – Throughout American history there have been many moments of powerful social protest that led to change. And, in most of them there was a song that unified the emotions and illuminated the goals of those protesters.

Ralph Gardner Jr: A Pandemic Birthday Party

Jun 20, 2020
A socially distanced birthday party.
Lucy Gardner

I’ve always believed in celebrating one’s birthday. The basic reason is that life gives us ample opportunity to be sad and disappointed so why not seize any excuse to have a party?

Michael Meeropol: The Promise Of Juneteenth In 2020

Jun 19, 2020

June 19th is an important date in American history.  For my brother, myself and our families, it is the anniversary of the judicial murder of our parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, 67 years ago.   What he and I lived through as a six-year old and a ten-year-old back in 1953 never goes away.   [Calling it murder is not hyperbole.   For the facts underlying the reasoning behind this conclusion as well as details of what actually happened in the case, see Meeropol, Michael, “‘A Spy Who Turned His Family In’: Revisiting David Greenglass and the Rosenberg Case,” American Communist History Volume 17, Issue 2 (May 31, 2018) .]

Rogovoy Report 6/19/20: In Praise Of Mixed Nuts

Jun 19, 2020

I like mixed nuts. I don’t know how they do it, but someone has figured out the perfect ratio of different kinds of nuts – the best-tasting proportion of Brazil nuts to filberts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, and peanuts (technically not a tree nut but a legume). I love blindly reaching into a bowl of mixed nuts and coming up with a delightful, satisfying blend of varying flavors, textures, shapes, and sizes.

Bryan Griffin: The Picture Of The Progressive Left

Jun 17, 2020

In Oscar Wilde’s famous novel The Picture of Dorian Grey, a man is beset with a unique curse. Invincible to harm and age, every ailment or injury that befalls him is transferred to a portrait of himself. If he views it, the wounds would then become his own, so he avoids it. Not knowing what his portrait holds, in time, he becomes dangerously unconcerned with what he has become. His inability to see the portrait of his true self is his undoing.

Stephen Gottlieb: To Reinvent The Cops, Disarm Them

Jun 16, 2020

The Governor wants us all to reinvent policing in our own communities. Let’s pull that apart. He wants each separate community to have a conversation about policing and reset everything. Sounds good. Community is a lovely warm word. But I think the reality is a lot different than it sounds.

Blair Horner: A Nation Of Laws And Democracy

Jun 16, 2020

Americans pride themselves on living in a nation governed by laws, not the whims of those in power.  Those laws are determined by representatives elected by us.

A Bloomberg article reported that Wall Street was warning corporations to gather as much cash as possible as we drift into the second half of the year. The obvious concern is the number of people who are unemployed, and the likely decrease in spending which that will cause even if another pandemic relief package is passed by Congress. This dire warning coincides with many other economist views that the fall, September, October, November and December could be particularly treacherous, and thus, the acquisition of cash could be very important, not only for corporations but individuals. Something more to think about as part of this difficult period.