Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thomas & Friends…And Me

Even in our Sunshine State there is rain. With due respect to the folks in Edina, Minnesota, who have to hunker down from ice, wind and snow, we too have to run for cover when clouds burst over Florida. Happily when I recently found myself indoors channel-surfing, I came across a cartoon series titled “Thomas & Friends.”

Nowadays, Thomas & Friends is familiar to every little boy and girl in kindergarten. Certainly so by the time they graduate in their caps and gowns (!) Still the series remained more or less unknown to those of us of a certain age who came along well before there was kindergarten, let alone television. So I'm glad I found Thomas for now I too am one of his friends. The history of this British/Canadian/American cartoon program reads like a detective story, far too tortured a path to follow.  I'm not sure all that matters.  It is far more important to locate the listing in your TV Guide, then tune in.

Thomas & Friends teaches evergreen lessons not just for little boys and girls but for people of all ages, parents especially.  In addition there are great production values. (Even cartoon figures in the background have detail and movement.) A welcome respite from the endless cut and paste versions we are fed in the endless parade of imported junk that drains any sense of believability from story lines.

Without being patronizing, Thomas & Friends retrieves cherished standards of yesteryear.  Viewers learn the importance of “Thank you”, ”Please”, helping others, not taking credit that belongs to another, apologizing for making mistakes, and a raft of other examples. All of which flow naturally from the adventures facing Thomas and his companions. There are singable songs that accompany footage that nicely ties the cartoons to the real world.

To be sure there is a bit of Britain that is not familiar to most American ears.  Terms like “Sir” and “Madame” pop up in place of “you guys” or “me and him”.  That said, I suggest you try it.  I'm certain you will like it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Sometimes words are simply not enough. They fell way short of expressing our disgust, fury, hurt and outrage when the news came along that Jewish cemeteries are being vandalized in Philadelphia. Yes, that such a thing would happen in my old hometown is an additional wound, but that it would happen anywhere in our country is the point.

None of us is perfect, that's for sure. It is probably true that we all carry bias of some sort in our make-up.  But our better angels manage to keep such demons under control, until they don't.

As a young Army officer I was sent to Germany as part of the United States Occupation Forces. World War II had ended short years before so there was no shooting or open hostility, but anger bubbled just beneath the surface. My assignment to an orientation program in Munich overlapped a weekend so, knowing that the Dachau concentration camp was somewhere in the area, I set out to visit that site. My experience was a searing one; it still remains fresh in my mind.

Unlike today where the death camp at Dachau is a “tourist attraction” in my time it was anything but. The camp was deserted save one single care keeper, a thin, bedraggled older gentleman who pressed a very modest booklet into my hand. We had to wear our uniforms when off duty back then and he was uncomfortable in my presence. Dachau then was much closer in appearance to its years of infamy than it is to today's well-scrubbed site with throngs of visitors. That day was gray, damp with drizzling rain. I went into the gas chamber where supposedly inmates were to shower. Tiled from top to bottom with a triangular opening at the top. Claustrophobic. And the sickening physical fear that someone would close the door where I entered and I would never get out. The opening up top was to provide the lethal chemicals that would snuff out so many lives crawling the walls and screaming in unheard fear and agony. Then to the crematorium where bodies were pushed into flaming ovens. I remember standing at attention and saluting, tears running down my cheeks. There was nothing else I could do then, and but one thing I can do now. 

Which is to remind you that horror really did exist in our past and it does right now. Antisemitism is part of it that horror.