A Spokesperson For The Ages

Normally, you would think that a public official would pick a spokesperson based on that person’s ability to shape and convey positive and persuasive messages that advanced the public official’s agenda.  And when the “public official” in question is the President of the United States, whose every move is put under a microscope, you would think the careful messaging requirement would be even more essential.

So how in the world did Sean Spicer end up as the White House press secretary?

trumpSpicer’s comment yesterday that suggested that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was in some ways worse than Adolf Hitler, because “You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” is unforgivably ignorant — because, of course, Hitler did use poison gas to kill millions of Jews during the Holocaust.  Children are taught that fact during their world history classes, and the national Holocaust Museum is only a mile or so away from the White House.  How can you be the press secretary for the President of the United States and not be aware of the fact of Hitler’s poison gas executions and avoid making a comment that suggests that you are a know-nothing fool?

Spicer later apologized, but the entire incident raises questions about Spicer and his staff.  Spicer’s abrasive style clearly rubs the press the wrong way, and it has been hilariously lampooned by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live.  There’s nothing wrong with having a combative press secretary if that is the President’s way of sending a message to the media, although Spicer often seems over the top for my tastes.  But you can’t have a press secretary whose behavior and comments make him the story that distracts from, and undercuts, the President’s goals.  Don’t Spicer and his staff prepare for his press conferences, and carefully consider the arguments he is going to present before he goes before the country and makes them?  If so, how could his staff not recognize the fundamental, underlying idiocy of his comparison of Assad and Hitler?  And if they don’t vet his arguments, and Spicer just “wings it,” then he’s an incompetent whose instincts are obviously ill-suited for the job, and it’s just a matter of time before he makes another thoughtless and stupid comment that sets off another firestorm or provokes an unintended international incident.

Either way, Spicer should be replaced as press secretary.  President Trump might like his two-fisted way of dealing with the press that Trump seems to hold in contempt, but he’s got to realize that Spicer is a huge liability who is just going to step into it again, and again, and again, and make the Trump Administration as a whole look like amateur hour.   That’s not the kind of messaging you want from your press secretary.

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April Showers Bring Mass Murder

Gentle April — when the earth thaws and spring flowers bloom!  April, which moved Shakespeare to write:  “As oft ‘twixt May and April is to see, When winds breathe sweet, untidy though they be.”  April, when the optimistic promise of spring is finally realized and the month ends with sunshine and warming breezes on our faces!

So why has April become the month that violence and domestic terrorism experts are calling the start of “the killing season”?

Let’s face it:  April’s recent track record really sucks.  From the Oklahoma City bombing to the Columbine killings to the Virginia Tech mass murders to the Boston Marathon attack, April has a history as bloody as a Quentin Tarantino film.  It’s painfully apparent, and not just for people like me who have April birthdays and notice the awful things that seem to happen, with distressing regularity, during my natal month.  Experts are wondering why.

ahitlerThey think it may have all started with Adolf Hitler.  He and I share the same April 20 birthday, and his legacy is so bloody and terrible, with its toxic mixture of racial purity and brown-shirted fascism and institutionalized genocide, that it has attracted wackos and racists and nutjobs eager to make a name for themselves long after Hitler killed himself.  It wasn’t coincidence that the Columbine shootings also occurred on April 20 — just one of the many bad things that happened on that date, so much so that some people say it’s the worst day of the year.  One of the Columbine shooters was obsessed with Hitler and planned the attack to occur on his birthday.

Unfortunately, the experts say, the crazies among us apparently pay attention to such anniversaries.  Timothy McVeigh specifically planned the Oklahoma City bombings for April 19, which was the same day that the FBI stormed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and 76 people were killed.  More recently, other killers have planned their attacks to recognize or emulate McVeigh, or the Columbine shooters, or one of the other lunatics who have turned the April calendar into a horror show of evil and carnage.

So keep your eyes open.  If recent years are any indication, something really, really bad is going to happen this month.

Poor April.  It really deserves better.

Holocaust Survivors

Richard has a fine story in the Post-Gazette about a meeting of Pittsburgh-area survivors of the Holocaust. We can’t imagine what they’ve been through, but it’s heartwarming to know that they meet, remember, and worry about whether that especially unforgivable, murderous chapter in the sordid history of the human race can happen again.

Reading Richard’s story reminded me of the first time I focused on the fact that I met a Holocaust survivor. I was traveling through Europe and encountered a vivacious older woman, probably in her 50s, with flaming red hair and an outgoing personality. We were talking, she shifted in her seat and moved her arms, and a crude numerical tattoo that I hadn’t noticed before was exposed. I looked at it and realized what it was, and she saw that I had seen it and decided to tell her story.

Her name was Bella and she was from Poland, she said. When she was young, the Nazis came and took her family away. She never saw her father and brothers again. She was separated from her mother, and she and her sister lived in one of the Nazi death camps. Her sister died, but somehow she survived. When the war ended and she was miraculously freed, she found that her entire family had been killed — but she felt it was essential that she live on. She related her story in a flat voice, and you could tell that she lived with those horrible ghosts and memories, but there was a definite steeliness to this woman who had endured so much.

Talking to her, I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be a member of the race that could commit such a monstrous act. I also was uplifted, however, by her positive attitude and by her view that, by surviving and going on, she was spitting in the eye of Hitler and the Nazis and their idiotic notions of an Aryan “master race.” There is still much to be learned from victims of the Holocaust.

The Hitler Brand

What is it about Adolf Hitler that causes businesses in foreign countries to use his name to market their products?

First it was “Fuhrerwein” being sold in northern Italy, now it’s a Hitler clothing store — complete with a circular swastiska dotting the “i” — that has opened in a city in western India.  The owner says that he didn’t know that Hitler was the name of a Nazi dictator who gave the order to kill millions of innocent Jews.  Instead, he claims, “Hitler” was just a nickname given to the “very strict” grandfather of a friend.  Really?  And the very strict grandpa dotted the “i” with a swastika?  Give me a break!

It turns out that Hitler is popular in certain parts of India, because he is viewed as giving “dignity and prestige” to Germany.  Apparently Indian schoolbooks don’t teach people that he was a mass murderer whose bloody dictatorial reign made Germany a pariah state that, even now, 70 years later, is still trying to to live down the inexplicable horror of the Nazi years.

But hey . . . if using the name Hitler and the swastika brings curious people into the store and results in a few purchases that might not have occurred otherwise, what’s the harm of trading on the name of one of history’s most evil figures?

 

Mein Kampf, And Combating Speech With Speech

Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s feverish biography and racist Nazi manifesto, has not been published in German since 1945.  That will change soon, when an annotated edition will be published for students to read.

The book has not been banned in Germany.  However, the state of Bavaria controls the copyright, and it has not consented to any publication of the book in more than 65 years.  The copyright ends in 2015, and Bavaria has decided to publish a scholarly edition to preempt the field before Mein Kampf passes into the public domain — and also to “demystify” the book for Germans who haven’t been able to read it in their native language.

If you’ve never read Mein Kampf, don’t bother.  I had to read it for a college class, and it was dreadful — badly written, ranting, nutty, and boring.  Reading it was a long, hard slog.  Having read it, I wondered how in the world Hitler could have captured the imagination and loyalty of the German people in the years before World War II.  There certainly was nothing in the book that explained it.

Books can be extraordinarily powerful.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, may have been the most effective means of changing the views of Americans about slavery in the 19th century.  Fearing books and trying to suppress them, however, only enhances their power.  Far better to let hateful speech like Mein Kampf remain available, and respond to it in ways that demonstrate its appalling lunacy.

I’m convinced that those Germans who read Hitler’s diatribe anew will recognize it for what it was:  the rantings of a misguided madman.  Let them read it, and draw their own conclusions.

Unknown

Kish and I went to see Unknown on Saturday.  We both like Liam Neeson and were in the mood for an action-adventure film.  Unknown met those requirements — but not much else.

Unknown is a story of a man who is knocked unconscious in an accident, lapses into a coma, and is surprised to learn when he awakens that he has been replaced, in every facet of his life, by another man.  It is the kind of movie that asks audience members to completely suspend their reasoning faculties and tries to maintain such a break-neck pace that you don’t have time to consider the plot holes and implausibilities.  It features a big twist toward the end, and I won’t spoil it for anyone who wants to see the film.  However, it is the kind of twist that renders the overall plot so improbable that I, at least, felt a bit cheated.

With his craggy face and physical size, Liam Neeson is a believable action hero who looks like he could throw a punch and absorb a beating.  His character is helped by an illegal alien taxi driver, played by Diane Kruger, and a former East German spy, played by Bruno Ganz.  (Ganz is an accomplished actor and turned in a fine performance, but as I looked at him I couldn’t help but think of his performance as Adolf Hitler in Downfall.  His depiction of Hitler, as Der Fuehrer is advised that the Russians are closing in, has been turned into countless YouTube parodies in which a subtitled Hitler supposedly reacts to unexpected results in sporting events.  Whenever Ganz was on screen I found myself thinking of Hitler talking about his TO Dallas Cowboys jersey.)

Unknown is no great film, but it’s not an unpleasant way to spend a few hours on a cold and rainy day.

The Latest From Adolf

I admit that I have enjoyed the Adolf Hitler youtube take-offs — all of which feature the same clip from a German language movie of the Nazi kingpin in the Fuhrerbunker with his remaining staff, getting bad news from the generals and then ranting as the Russians closed in.  In each of the take-offs, the subtitles address a different topic, and always with a lot of humor.  The first one I saw, I think, was Hitler ranting about the Dallas Cowboys unexpectedly losing a playoff game.

The latest entry is the Fuhrer fulminating about Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election for the U.S. Senate seat that opened up after Ted Kennedy’s death.  It is a worthy successor to a long line of Hitler videos.  I am sure it has been posted all over the internet by now, but I just can’t resist.