Between you and me

His life makes for a fascinating story even if the current spy movie is mediocre. “The Catcher Was a Spy,” tells of Morris “Moe” Berg, baseball player, and his remarkable intelligence and exploits, especially during World War II. Born in Harlem, not far from the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, Berg began playing baseball at age 7. He was to be called “the brainiest guy in baseball,” and Casey Stengel, a baseball player and manager who was something of an eccentric himself, referred to him as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Berg’s story, captured in Nicholas Dawidoff’s 1994 book of similar title, is also the story of the times in America in which he lived. Born in 1902, he begged to go to school at age 3 1/2. The third and youngest child of a pharmacist and a homemaker, Berg graduated from high school at 16, then Princeton magna cum laude in 1923, as an outstanding scholar-athlete playing baseball all along the way. He also grew up as an outsider, marginalized there because of modest finances and as a Jew at a time of deep bigotry. He majored in modern languages and spoke some half-a-dozen fluently, including eventually Japanese.

Upon graduation, Berg was signed to a contract by the Brooklyn Robins, soon to become the Brooklyn Dodgers and he seemed to be just so-so at bat but a good clutch hitter with a strong and accurate arm in the infield.

After that first season, Berg traveled to Paris, where he enrolled at the Sorbonne and read several newspapers each day. By January 1924, Berg was not thinking of going back to spring training to develop himself as a hitter but rather found the idea of travel irresistible and went on to tour Switzerland and Italy. When he finally did return to the United States, he was optioned off to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association minor league. He was to play for four American League teams throughout his baseball career, primarily as a catcher, ending with the Boston Red Sox as player and then coach in 1941. “Good field, no hit,” was how Dodgers scout Mike González, characterized him. Berg distinguished himself for his putouts stealing percentage, double plays by a catcher and assists by a catcher.

However, throughout his baseball life, which he so clearly loved, he was a true Renaissance man. In between seasons, and sometimes missing the first couple of months of the new season, he studied law at Columbia University, passing the bar in 1929 and finally earning his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1930. Interestingly, he was sent with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and a handful of other all-stars to play exhibition games with the Japanese in 1934 — Berg’s second trip there. Although certainly not of their star caliber, he spoke the language and was probably included on the squad for that reason.

While in Tokyo, he donned a kimono and pretended to bring flowers to the American ambassador’s daughter, who was a patient in the Tokyo hospital. He went up to the roof instead, and from the top of one of the tallest buildings he used his 16-mm Bell & Howell camera that he had concealed in the folds of his garb to film the city and harbor. He never did visit the daughter but he did provide American intelligence with rare and invaluable footage later on. He supposedly did this in anticipation of the war that he was sure, from his various readings and Far East travel, was coming. He went on to join the Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA; was parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia evaluating which resistance groups should get U.S. support — he chose Tito’s group; and became involved in the frenzied effort to determine if the German scientist Werner Heisenberg was close to developing the atomic bomb with orders to assassinate him if so — Berg decided not. Otherwise, he was of immense value to the U.S. as he moved throughout Europe in his dangerous and exciting life.

The former ballplayer turned down the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor to the war effort, during his lifetime but the medal was awarded posthumously. In American history he is a mysterious footnote.

July is truly upon us, and that means half the year is gone. Those who deal with numbers are busily tallying up all sorts of statistics for the first two quarters. Business people with large and small companies alike are checking to see how the numbers compare with last year, and what they can do to improve the depressed
bottom line — or maintain the improved bottom line for the next six months. And for those of us in the stock market with pension plans or investments, there will be half-year statements coming to let us know how we stand.

As we are taking stock of our stocks, there is this interesting bit of news to consider. According to a recent article by Matt Phillips in The New York Times, we are getting an important signal from the bond market. Now there are all sorts of predictors about which way stocks will move, from who wins ballgames to the length of hemlines, and they are often as wrong as the Farmers’ Almanac about the coming winter weather. But there is one telltale that is surprisingly accurate: the bond-yield curve. And that yield curve is “flashing yellow.”

Here is what the yield curve means. The yield curve is the difference between interest rates on short-term government bonds like those maturing in two years compared with those maturing further out, like 10 years. Remember that a bond is a promissory note to repay a debt that the government has incurred, along with interest on the debt, for a set period of time.

So, if the government borrows $10,000 from you and pays it back in two years, you will also get interest on that sum in return for lending the government the money. Normally the longer you agree to lend the money, the higher the interest rate you get in return for taking additional risk concerning the health of the economy. A healthy economy usually encourages inflation, which is countered by higher interest rates — hence an increased long-term rate, including the built-in risk compensation.

Lately, long-term interest rates on government bonds have been slow to rise, predicting a less healthy economy on the horizon. The short-term interest rates on government notes, as these instruments are called, have been rising, however, because inflation seems to have started. So the difference between the interest rates, short-term and long-term — the yield curve — has been decreasing or “flattening.” The difference between the two-year and 10-year interest rates is now about 0.34 percentage points, and the last time it was so little was just before the 2008 recession.

Does that mean a recession is coming?

If the trend continues, and the long-term interest rate dips below the short-term rate, this is called an “inversion.” An inversion is, according to the way John Williams — the new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — told it earlier this year, “a powerful signal of recessions.” The Times article indicated that every recession in the last 60 years has been preceded by an inverted yield curve, when short-term interest is higher than that for the longer term. Only once was there a false positive, in the mid-1960s, when there was only a slowdown in the economy. That is why economists and those on Wall Street are watching the yield curve so closely these days.

This concern does seem to fly in the face of the present economic conditions. Unemployment is at a low, consumers seem to be happily spending and corporations are reinvesting in their companies. However accurate the yield-curve predictor may be, it cannot precisely tell us when a recession will occur. In the past, the falloff of the economy could happen in six months or two years after the inversion.

There is always another side to every story. Because central banks own massive amounts of government bonds, which they bought not so long ago to try and stimulate the economy by providing liquidity, that may be keeping long-term rates low. And the Federal Reserve has been tightening monetary policy lately to keep
inflation in check, hence higher short-term rates. So, who knows?

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Sunday was a magical night. After a full year of work, we offered you, our readers and viewers, the initial screening of “One Life to Give.” Our first full-length film, the story is set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War more than 200 years ago, and is about Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington and the events leading up to the founding of the Culper Spy Ring. The location for this screening was the 1,000-seat Staller Center off Nicholls Road within Stony Brook University, and to my amazement and delight, we filled the auditorium to the point where our general manager had trouble finding a seat just before curtain time. This full house by itself is a most gratifying testimony to your regard and to the pulling power of our newspapers and digital media, especially competing as we were with graduation day at the local high school.

It’s also a lot more. In these chaotic and divided times, I believe we yearn to understand our common origin as a nation and the history that we share. History after all is glue that holds us together and, to the surprise of many students who hate social studies in school, is also the series of fascinating stories about people, personalities and events that help define who we are today. And since our film is focused on local people and events, we share a pride of place. Our area has been dubbed the “cradle of history” because of its brutal occupation by the British, the activities of the spy ring and the military skirmishes during the war. Long Island, in fact, endured the longest occupation of any part of the colonies because its farms and forests, livestock and fish made up the unwilling breadbasket for the major British garrison in New York City.

So viewers came to see the history and the authentic local scenes and events, and the familiar faces of many residents as they served as extras on screen. Also some were simply curious. And by the time the movie was over, I believe there was an enriched sense of community among those in the room. As much as we want to know where we came from, we also enjoy a sense of belonging to a community. One viewer from farther away came up to me at the end and said he wished for that pride in his city. That particularly pleased me because we as publishers of the hometown paper have always sought to strengthen those ties. Strong communities can be a powerful force for good. They also want to get the latest local news by reading the local papers, which is not so bad for us.

Making a film was a new experience. My eldest grandson, Benji, the director of “One Life to Give,” aspires to be a professional filmmaker as his career progresses, and as we saw he has already acquired many filmmaking skills in college, where he is now a senior. He also brought to us for this venture a remarkable hardworking and talented crew of young professionals in front of and behind the camera. Thanks to our local connections, which included local historical societies and carefully preserved sites, we were able to put together an authentic venue for the shoot. The weather was wondrously cooperative, and actors and historic re-enactors of considerable skill joined the team. Local restaurants, costume outfitters, dry cleaners, scenery designers, makeup and special effects people and SBU, among others, made in-kind contributions. Muskets and cannons were procured and brought to the filming site, often among hilarious circumstances. One rule became obvious: No day would go exactly as planned.

A number of generous local businesses helped us meet costs by agreeing to be sponsors, and for their help they received credits before and after the film. Their names will be seen near and far as a number of groups have asked to show the film.

My major contribution was offering my house for the 15 young people and their equipment throughout the shoot. I can tell you there was not a clear view of floor or rug during those 16 days. It was great fun with high excitement but on their next film, the shooting of which starts in two weeks’ time for release next year, they will definitely stay in a hotel.

When I think of my dad, I am reminded almost immediately of his loving nature and his playfulness. Now many dads I have met behave lovingly toward their families, so that is not what set mine apart. It was the other half of my description: His instant readiness to play and his aptitude for making up games on the spot.

My dad was an ambitious businessman, and he worked long hours every week. But Sundays were his day to relax and his unconstrained self would emerge. No wonder Sundays were my favorite day. He would begin the morning by getting up somewhere before 6 a.m., and start rustling around in the kitchen. The son of a farmer, he got up early all his childhood, and just because he moved to the city in his teens he wasn’t about to change the diurnal cycle that had been hardwired into him.

He was one of nine children and referred to himself when he was growing up as “Middle Child.” To hear his siblings tell of him, he was the one who routinely organized the pack into daily games in between their farm and school chores. Isolated on a large farm from other children and certainly without any municipal playgrounds in their lives, they created their own fun. That skill served him well not only for us, his children, but for the entire neighborhood. He was the undisputed Pied Piper wherever we were on any given Sunday.

Sundays belonged to my mother. My dad made sure of that. He would concoct a huge breakfast that was never the same from one week to the next. Into a dozen eggs, he would toss whatever leftovers he could find from the fridge, cook the mixture slowly with generous amounts of onions and other veggies and “mystery spices” and present the masterpiece to the salivating family gathered around the kitchen table. I always tried to sleep in on Sundays, but the marvelous smells that filled the apartment unfailingly coaxed me out of bed. Only my mother was impervious and slept through the ruckus of our trying to identify the ingredients as we ate.

My dad would then take us out to the park — Central Park that is — and we would roam over hills and dells, always yodeling in the many tunnels along the pathways. The echoes were hugely satisfying. He would set a rock on top of a boulder, give us each five small stones, and ask us to knock the rock off the boulder from 10 paces.

We’d have a vague destination within the park each Sunday, anywhere from the carousel to the rowboat lake, to Shakespeare Garden to Sheep Meadow with its multitude of baseball games in progress. He was good at pitching horseshoes, and as we strolled by the quoits section the men would offer him a turn. If we had thought to bring a basketball, we might shoot some baskets on the courts.

When the weather was bad, we would wander through the Metropolitan Museum.

Wherever we went, regulars in the park usually recognized us because my younger sister had Down syndrome, a condition that was almost never seen in public places. We stood out, I guess, and my sister, who loved to watch the baseball games and came to know some of the adult players by name, would cheer loudly with each solid hit.

As the day wore on, my dad would buy a box of Cracker Jacks from a park vendor and we would share the contents. By the end of the afternoon, we would head to a predetermined grove of trees where my mother would be waiting on a blanket with supper. I remember how happy my parents were to see each other — you would have thought they had been separated for weeks. Maybe it was just the prospect of some homemade dinner that sealed the day with joy for all of us.

So much for well made plans. It was to be a milestone high school reunion this past weekend, a classmate was coming from Denver to stay with me, and we would attend the reunion together. I have known her since seventh grade, and for whatever reasons apparent only to middle school kids, we had nicknamed each other then “Salmon” and “Clambroth.” We giggled about that over our cellphones, temporarily traveling back in time 60 years, as we arranged the logistics for the coming event.

She had been one of the shortest girls in the class and I was one of the taller, so our classmates inevitably referred to us as “Mutt & Jeff” as we walked the halls. Would anyone besides us remember that? More than 50 women out of the original 225 in our all-girls school were coming into New York City or already there, and it promised to be a grand gathering.

My friend was already flying east Thursday morning when I climbed out of the shower and fell on my back in the bathroom. The pain was sharp and immediate. In an instant the much-anticipated weekend evaporated before my eyes. Never mind the weekend. I was going to be lucky if the bones on the left side of my body — my shoulder, elbow, forearm, ribs and hip — weren’t broken. None of the surfaces in the bathroom are forgiving, and I had cracked against the wall of the tub. The vision of walking into reunion was replaced by my coming home from the hospital in a body cast.

I realized I was screaming as I lay on the ceramic floor and had been for a number of seconds to no avail. There was no one else home. I screamed some more, just because I could, then began the miles-long crawl to my bedroom. For some unaccountable reason, I thought I would feel much better if I could get into my bed. Silly me, I couldn’t even stand. Nor could I stop shaking. I was able to pull the phone off the table, however, and I called a dear friend who fortunately was home and had rescued me before. Together we drove to the hospital.

That was only a 10-minute trip, but I felt every pebble and bump in the road. The hospital personnel were wonderful. They wheeled me into the emergency room, and after some inevitable paperwork but not much of a wait, I was helped onto a bed between two curtains and my date of birth corroborated several times with the paper bracelets on my wrist. An empathetic physician’s assistant greeted me and asked what had happened. Then came the X-rays.

Of course they were going to X-ray the places that hurt, and I tried not to scream during the many rearrangements of my body. The process seemed to go on forever although I had no idea of time, and then it was over. I joined my angelic friend between the two curtains and squirmed in bed, searching for a pain-free
position as we waited for the results.

The PA came with good news and bad news. My shoulder, elbow, arm and hip were badly bruised but not broken. In fact they were already turning colors of the rainbow amid the swelling. But my back, the area of greatest pain, had what seemed like a new compression fracture. I had endured that trauma before, and the PA couldn’t be sure it was a new or old injury. And there wasn’t much the PA could do except recommend a painkiller, preferably Tylenol, and send me home.

Imagine the reaction of my Denver friend when she completed the 2,000 mile trip to my house, only to find me laid out in my living room and still shaking. She did go the different events of reunion weekend, and through her descriptions and the texts and emails from those gathered, I was able vicariously to enjoy hearing what they talked about. I think before the next milestone reunion, I won’t shower.

According to what I recently read, over half of the high schools in the United States are doing away with recognition of the highest achieving students. They are no longer naming valedictorians and salutatorians at graduation. I find that shocking.

No, I was neither valedictorian nor salutatorian at my high school graduation, so that is not the cause of my
disappointment at this latest piece of participation trophy news. No one is hurt if there is no “best.” Everyone feels good about himself or herself, and there certainly isn’t any unhealthy competition, right? Everyone gets the same diploma. Everyone is equal.

How idiotic! Everyone is not equal just because everyone showed up. Some put more effort into the learning process than others. Perhaps some were not as gifted as others but had a greater drive to learn and to excel. Shouldn’t those top students be rewarded with the recognition they deserve? Shouldn’t they be regarded as role models? They will often go on to be the leaders of our country at the end of the day.

Class ranking is also being abandoned. This is just another example of dumbing down America. In our vast and rich continent, our most valuable resources are the education and knowledge, along with the drive and motivation of our population. When we declare that all men (insert “persons”) are created equal, we mean we have equal rights to excel and should be given every opportunity and encouragement to do so.

I did graduate from a highly competitive high school. I had to pass a test to get in, and I had to pass innumerable tests over the years to stay in. We all moaned about how competitive the school was. Our final grades were posted on the main hallway walls at the end of each semester, along with our rank in our class. “So terrible,” we said, “so unhealthy.” But you know what? I worked harder, studied longer, learned more, because I wanted to see my name higher up on those lists.

Englishman Roger Bannister didn’t break the 4-minute mile alone in 1954 at an Oxford University track. He did it because there were two other runners in the race, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, who challenged him for the lead. The competition spurred Bannister to give his best and then some. And when he did break the long-standing barrier, the magic 4-minute figure, he thanked his pacemakers, Chataway and Brasher.

Some disagree that winning a prize or trophy of some sort is what we should be encouraging. They say instead we should inspire an internal desire for learning and self-betterment. But if both work together, an external reward system and an internal drive, we have the best combination for success. Take away the external and the fizz goes out of the drink.

We can teach students how to make competition work for them, rather than tell students that competition is bad.  Competitors make worthy colleagues. Sometimes they make best friends.

Part of what we supposedly teach in schools is preparation for what we call “the real world.” Now everything about our world is competitive: What school we get into, which college we attend, what job we will be able to beat out the competition for, which of us will get promoted, get pay raises, even who we will marry. Heck, will the hometown team win the ballgame tonight?

Now some people refuse to play the competitive game, and that’s all right too. They get jobs that pay them enough to get by, they don’t aspire to the conspicuous consumption of much of our society, and they live solid lives with perhaps relatively less stress. Not everyone wants to be a record-breaking athlete. Just getting by is enough. They have the right to the pursuit of happiness according to their own wishes. But sooner or later they have to compete for something — or someone. It is the way of the world, and it is a skill that can be learned without damaging our students. The consolation to not being the best is that everyone is special in some way, not that everyone is equal because they all showed up.

Here are some chuckles from the internet. Hope you enjoy them.

1. Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.

2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”

3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

4. A dyslexic man walked into a bra.

5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says, “A beer, please — and one for the road.”

6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

7. “Doc, I can’t stop singing ‘Green, Green Grass of Home.’” “That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome.” “Is it
common?” “Well, it’s not unusual.”

8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, “I was artificially inseminated this morning.” “I don’t believe you,” says Dolly. “It’s true, no bull,” exclaims Daisy.

9. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

10. Déjà moo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.

11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn’t find any.

12. A man woke up in the hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, “Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs.” The doctor replied, “I know, I amputated your arms.”

13. I went to a seafood disco last week … and pulled a mussel.

14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, “Dam!”

16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Not surprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it, too.

17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office, and asked them to disperse. “But why?” they asked, as they moved off. “Because I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer,” he explained to them.

18. A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt, and is named Ahmal. The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him Juan. Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, “They’re twins. If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal.”

19. A dwarf, who was a mystic, escaped from jail. The call went out that there was a small medium at large.

20. And finally, there was the person who sent 20 different puns to his friends with the hope that at least 10 of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in 10 did.

Lucky me, our Mother’s Day celebration this year included a trip into New York City to see “My Fair Lady.” Now this show, which I first saw on Broadway in 1956 just after it was launched, was a trip down memory lane for me. It was also a bellwether for how much our culture has changed. At the time of its premiere 62 years ago, the play was the “Hamilton” of its time, creating the adulation and frenzied response for tickets that we are familiar with today.

“My Fair Lady” was a different sort of musical for its many-layered themes and clever, witty lyrics. It stood apart from the golden era of Rodgers and Hammerstein marvels like “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!” that had preceded it. This wasn’t in the mold of a romantic musical but rather one about personal transformation and English class rigidity.

The play, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, had as its inspiration from the ancient world, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” and more recently George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” This is the story of a sculptor, talented but alone, who carves a beautiful woman out of stone and then falls in love with her. He prays to Venus to bring her to life, and the goddess of love hears him. The statue becomes flesh and blood beneath his hands, and what comes next is the essence of the story.

In the Lerner and Loewe iteration, two high society phoneticians named Henry Higgins and retired army Col. Hugh Pickering make a bet over whether the way English people speak — their accents — lock them into their class and station for their entire lives. Higgins feels that if he can teach a low-born pupil to speak the King’s English, he can change that person’s life. Now we are in the time of Edwardian England, and the person who overhears the conversation and offers herself up for self-improvement is Eliza Doolittle. A Cockney flower girl in Piccadilly Circus, she is both terrified of what is to come and palpably ambitious, insisting that while she is a “good girl,” not looking for anything carnal, she desperately wants to learn.

So Higgins takes her into his elegant home and professorial life and works intensely with her in his laboratory for months while Pickering looks on and offers help wherever he is needed — after being assured by Higgins that there will not be any hanky-panky involved. Higgins vehemently asserts to Pickering that he is not interested in emotional relationships. The experiment between the high-born cerebral bachelor and the “guttersnipe” pupil thus begins. Will Higgins succeed and win the bet?

We know Eliza will succeed, even as we watch her anguished attempts to learn what Higgins is working so hard to teach. There are testing moments for her progress and teaching opportunities that include a riotously funny visit on opening day to Ascot Racecourse. Fun is poked unmercifully at the pretensions of the upper classes.

Finally, the big test arrives, a ball where Eliza is going to be introduced to and judged by those swells
assembled. She, of course, pulls it off and is thought to be of Hungarian royal blood. But is she congratulated? Well, you have to go see the play. I’m not about to spoil the ending for those unfamiliar with the plot.

But her triumph is not the point. Her future is. What is to become of this person who has transcended her class, with its freedoms, grime and penury notwithstanding, and is now locked into the bourgeois rules for women in an ossified society? Is she to become Higgins’ mistress? And what about him? She has now awakened emotions in him that he has long walled off from his daily life. Will he ask her to marry him? He, too, has been transformed.

The answer is that 1956 was quite different to 2018. Can you guess?

From the time I was a young girl, I wanted to be a mother. The urge to hold and to love a baby, my baby, was a conscious one. I also had professional ambitions, so in those days, before women expected to be able to do it all, there was a bit of a conflict in my head. Curiously, while I don’t remember telling anyone about my maternal urges, I did mention it on my first date to the man I eventually married. He told me that he too looked forward to having children, so the rest is history.

When I did have my first child, I was quietly terrified. I was the caboose child in my parents’ families, meaning that my parents were older, and everyone in my generation was already born before I came on the scene. There were no babies for me to practice on, I had never given a baby a bottle nor changed a diaper, and I was afraid I was inadvertently going to do some terrible harm to a helpless infant. It wasn’t until the baby’s one-month checkup, when the pediatrician exalted about how his development — size and weight — were “off the charts,” that I began to relax and believe the baby would survive my ignorance.

After that the parenting urge was so fulfilling that we did it twice more in record time. Judging from my friends’ tales of their children, we had it easy with three boys. They were exceedingly energetic but never moody, didn’t hold a grudge for more than three minutes, weren’t particular about what clothes they wore and could be entertained with a generous supply of miniature trucks on rainy, “indoor” days or any ball game on “outside” days. Baseball on our dead end street was their favorite, and I became a pretty good pitcher, if I do say so myself.

They didn’t much like it when I started the first newspaper and was away from the house a great deal. They were all in elementary school by that point and they came to accept the new arrangement, even were infrequently pleased with my new occupation. And since my office was only some five minutes from the house and three minutes from their school, I felt I could get to them quickly if they needed me. I was able to look in on them in the course of each day. In fact, I had more trouble convincing my mother than my
children that it was acceptable to work both inside and outside the home. I just could never understand how all three unfailingly picked friends who lived on the farthest ends of the school district and had to be driven back and forth. That and the constant car pooling for games and music lessons made me grateful that I had learned to drive — not a typical skill among my urban classmates when I was growing up.

I weathered their teenage years as best I could, sometimes marveling that only my children could make me scream (and my mother). At the same time, my husband and I vicariously enjoyed the children’s various successes: academic, musical and athletic. They were blossoming into young adults and we were regularly irritated by them and immensely proud of them.

As the children reached their later teenage years, the family dynamic shifted. My husband was terminally ill, and the children were forced to deal with death. My mother and my father had both passed on by then, and the boys had been deeply touched by their loss, but the death of a parent at a far younger age than expected for either their father or themselves struck me as a cruel trick. Somehow we had not lived up to our part of the parenting contract.

I guess that was when my children started to become my friends. It probably would have happened around that age anyway, but we became allies in the face of adversity. And then life’s wonderful joys unfurled. … They graduated, got jobs, found their loved ones and eventually made me a grandmother. That’s a club one can’t apply to oneself, but having arrived there, I can endlessly sing its praises.

Bottom line: How ultimately satisfying it is for me to be a mom.

For those of us who remember the savage Korean War (1950-53) and the various attempts at a peace treaty over the years, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un’s pirouette from warmonger to statesman is astonishing. All of us remember the test missiles that were fired from North Korea, some over Japan, into the sea as recently as last year.

We also remember the bellicose rhetoric about being able to reach the continental United States from North Korea with those missiles.

What happened?

First there was President Donald Trump’s equally bellicose rhetoric, some of it personally aimed at North Korea’s leader, referred to as “Little Rocket Man.” Trump was severely criticized at the time for sounding like a schoolyard bully rather than a diplomatic leader. The world watched in horror, wondering if we were on the edge of nuclear war. All the while North Korea’s ongoing tests were apparently successful. Probably the most concerned was South Korea’s new leader, Moon Jae-in.

Next came the Winter Olympics serendipitously and President Moon’s invitation to the North Koreans to participate under one flag. This too was unprecedented. Kim accepted and perhaps more tellingly sent his sister as his representative. She seems to be one family member he trusts. We all witnessed the diplomatic success at the Olympics.

In retrospect, something seems to have changed after that. Was it a new perspective for the two Koreas as a result of the games? Or did it have some connection to the subsequent visit Kim made to China in the middle of one night? I believe that was Kim’s first trip out of his country, and of course it is significant that he chose to visit Premier Xi Jinping. Was Kim invited or did he request the meeting? What advice was he given by the powerful Chinese leader, who seems to have established a rapport with Trump? What will the Chinese, with their long-term view, want to happen now?

At this point, Kim has been counseled, Moon has been galvanized and the tenor of the Korean debate begins to shift. Kim invites Trump to meet with him, and over the objections of our diplomats, Trump immediately accepts. There is no doubt that Trump is partially responsible for this shift.

The two Korean leaders then enter into a diplomatic choreography with lots of positive dialogue that plays well for the people of both Koreas, and the rest of the world for that matter, who want peace. In war, it is humankind that suffers terribly, and the people can only hope and pray for their leaders to keep the peace.

So what does North Korea want, as far as we can tell? Certainly Kim wants to stay in power as the No. 1 priority. So far his most visible achievement is his development of nuclear missiles. He also professes to want an improved economy. In fact, he was surprisingly forthright about the woeful condition of his roads and infrastructure in talking with Moon. When North Koreans went to the Olympics, they were apparently impressed by the South’s trains — and probably everything else that attests to a good economy.

The South wants to eliminate the threat of nuclear war and confrontation. And perhaps it wishes to invest in the economic recovery of the North, where there will be money to be made. The Chinese would like to see the United States leave the Korean Peninsula. I would be keenly interested in what else China expert Henry Kissinger thinks the Chinese want. Undoubtedly the South would also like to see us go if peace is
somehow assured. There are some 30,000 American troops still stationed in South Korea.

And what would we like? We would first like the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea and finally a formal peace treaty ending the 65-year conflict.

Those goals have seemed irreconcilable until now but perhaps what we will get is a prolonged peace.

Where is the Invisible Hand of China in the Current Korean Dance?

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