Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rockwell Paintings, Hunting Knives, Dilbert, and Negotiating with Iran


                   

Norman Rockwell and Anti-Semitic Hunting Knives
A friend recently eMailed me a collection of Norman Rockwell paintings, most of which initially appeared as Saturday Evening Post covers.   Rockwell’s detailed and often sentimental realism captured the essence of what America was all about more than half a century ago.   This was part of my life, and now, it is part of history.  It is an America etched into our memories, but probably not recognizable by most of those under age 50 today.





There is an American story behind each of these covers.  My favorite is the “Freedom from Want” poster, featuring a grandmotherly woman putting a roast turkey on the table.  Another favorite is “The Runaway,” which shows an understanding police officer and diner counterman befriending a boy whose efforts to leave home they have obviously thwarted.  Could this happen today?   View the full collection at 


Back in those days, my father brought the Saturday Evening Post home every week.  It filled a need now met by TV and other electronic media.  We stopped reading it, however, when it published a strongly anti-Semitic article in 1942.  Certainly, Rockwell’s paintings cannot be associated with anti-Semitism.

This brings to mind something that happened at the time the article (“The Case Against the Jews”) appeared.  The Post was in the habit of asking kids to go door to door selling subscriptions, and rewarding them for doing so with prizes.  At that time, the prizes included a steel hunting knife which came in a leather case, attachable to one’s belt.  Some kids I knew were selling the Post and already had one of these neat knives (which couldn’t be taken on board an airliner nowadays).

Well, an uncle or older brother of one of our gang came up to us one afternoon after school, and said that Jewish boys should not be selling subscriptions to the Post, and to reward us for not doing so, he was going to give each of us one of those same hunting knives they were offering as prizes. (In retrospect, it very well might have been that he was connected to one of the Jewish "mafia" groups such as that run by Longie Zwillman at the time which had gone after local pro-Nazi clubs in the Newark area with baseball bats.)  I got one of the knives which my parents confiscated as soon as they saw it as something far too dangerous for a ten year old to have.  Those Norman Rockwell paintings reminded me of this sideline on history.

Jack Lippman



Iranian Negotiations
Over the past few years, long before our government and the press became obsessed with it, I have written about the relationship, or the lack of one, between the United States and Iran.  Much of what I wrote was influenced by the geopolitical writings coming from Stratfor, an independent intelligence gathering company run by a gentleman named George Friedman.

The current negotiations between Iran and Western nations, including the United States, deal with limitations on Iran’s nuclear research program and the economic sanctions imposed on that country.  It is important to note that Iran is not just another piddling Middle Eastern country.  Actually, it is a "real" nation, and not just a collection of tribes with a flag as some countries in that region are.  It is large, with 80 million people and while Muslim, it is not Arab.  Its people are Persian, and the Islam practiced there is of the Shi’a variety.  Iran has a Western-style economy and many well educated people. Until the excesses of the Shah resulted in his overthrow in 1979, Iran was our friend.

Whatever agreement is reached, two things are certain.  A.  Iran cannot be fully trusted to live up to what they agree to.  B. Iran will still consider the West, particularly the United States, to be an enemy, since the sanctions are basically an American tool.  But they are necessary to keep Iran in line since they really ultimately want to be the controlling power in the Middle East.

Oddly, even though the U.S. and Iran are on opposite sides of the negotiating table, we are on the same side in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which puts us with one leg in bed with Iranian-supported Bashir al-Assad in Syria.  In other parts of the Middle East, we oppose Iranian backed insurrections in places like Yemen.
 
The most important thing which will come out of the negotiations is the fact that we have been talking to people to whom we hadn’t been talking to for over 30 years.  If this is all that is accomplished, it is progress.  Bear in mind there are strong opponents to these negotiations, hoping they go nowhere, in both Iran and in the United States.

The conservative Iranian Republican Guard, and at times the Ayatollah Khameini, who seems to be in charge, seem to be undermining their negotiators.  In the West, many in Congress feel the same way. And of course, so does Israel.  This is understandable since Iran still talks about destroying Israel.  All of the above would shut down the negotiations immediately.   

But the only alternative these detractors in Iran and in the West have is military action.  Wiser heads on both sides want to avoid that.  And regardless of what agreement is, or is not reached, it is better to talk to opponents rather than slug it out with them.                                                                                                                                  JL


Wally on the Economy
One of my favorite comic strips (yes, I still read the funnies … or at least four of them … each day) is Dilbert, written and illustrated by Scott Adams.  Dilbert is an engineer for a tech company managed, in his opinion, by idiots.  One of the characters in the strip is Wally, another engineer, who prides himself on accomplishing absolutely nothing but manages to look busy.

   Dilbert and Wally       

In a recent strip, the company’s PR people asked Wally to contribute something for publication about the economy, about which Wally knew nothing.   Between Wally and the writer, they wrote an article consisting totally of meaningless economic gibberish.  It turns out that the article accurately predicted the way the economy would behave far, far better than any other economic prognosticators.  

This confirms what I have been saying about economists for years.  If two economists, each with Nobel prizes and high academic stature, can express diametrically opposite opinions, there is no need to read any further than Dilbert in the comics to know about how business, and the economy, operate.     JL




 



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Jack Lippman