Robert Stein 1924-2014

Contact Information

If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to send a private message to the family at robertstein@optonline.net.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fake Bonhomie Is Alive and Well

As a respite from All Boston Bombers All the Time, cable news turns to happy talk with the George W. Bush Library dedication and the annual Correspondents Dinner of media strivers basking in their own celebrity with fake self-deflation.

It’s enough to make an old journalist cry (Tom Brokaw stifled his tears by staying home rather than hobnobbing with Lindsay Lohan.)

With production help from Steven Spielberg, the President got more laughs than Conan O’Brien (“Some people think I don’t spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell ?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”)

The cable networks covered the speeches live but, for the full flavor of the event, C-Span showed the preening and mingling for hours before as would-be media stars and has-been pols babbled while looking over one another’s shoulders for bigger game. (Mrs. Newt Gingrich with her helmet of hair was towing her smiling mate like a beached whale.)

After the event, attendees left with a Hollywood junket-like swag bag of fragrance, snacks, candy, headbands  and other goodies.

Impressive, yes, but fake bonhomie had peaked earlier in the week at the Bush Library dedication where the former Presidents vied to rise above themselves in the glow of irrelevance while W maintained his “What? Me Worry?” smile with the certitude that his standing has nowhere to go but up, even as his mother blurts out about "too many Bushes" on TV.

All this may be cathartic, but why does it hurt so much when we laugh?


Monday, April 22, 2013

Week of Insane Fame

At 2:50 Boston fell briefly silent after seven days of shocked babble over madness that erupted from two young minds and brought America back to 9/11 and the vulnerability with which we live today.

Then, on TV screens an industry of terrorism “experts,” lawyers and politicians resumes billions-of-word explanations for the inexplicable, to create an illusion of making sense out of what defies sense, the inner darkness that now has the technological means to hold society hostage to its expression.

After the Newtown shootings, all eyes were on the victims and their grieving families, but the Marathon massacre has given the media what it truly craves—-explosions, smoke, crowd panic, surveillance pictures, urban lockdown, carjacking, a deadly cop shootout and finally a bloody prime-time TV climax to resolve their fears.

Now that imminent terror has subsided, obsessive rehash of the week’s details, speculation about the legal process to come and apparently rational dissection of what all the irrationality means will go on ad nauseum to distract Americans from what government can truly do to make life safer and fairer.

Already, Lindsey Graham and the political vampires are out to demand that the justice system re-brand two naturalized citizens as “enemy combatants” and skip all the civilized niceties as they themselves hold Washington hostage on gun control, immigration reform and undoing the damage of the sequester to air-traffic control and other public safety measures.

The lethal insanity of two murderous young brothers will continue to distract us from that of hundreds of politicians who have been elected and are being paid to do everything they can to keep us safe and secure.   

In my ninetieth year, I recall what happened in 1933, shortly before FDR was sworn into office. As the President-elect was being driven through Miami, a feeble-minded immigrant named Giuseppe Zangara stood on a wobbly folding chair and fired five shots at the open car. The Mayor of Chicago, riding on the running board, was killed.

In those days, we were shielded from news by the sparse details of radio bulletins and the delay of reading about it in the next day’s newspaper.

Zangara was arrested, tried and executed two months later. By then, FDR had been inaugurated and had launched his legislative push to repair the damage of the Depression.

We are so much better-informed today.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Bombers Inspired by Netflix?

What sets off disordered minds? As the Tsarnaev manhunt winds down, a question arises about parallels between this week’s horrors and the 1997 movie, “Peacemaker,” which ends with a pair of Slavic brothers attempting to blow up the UN with a nuclear bomb.

Living and studying in Boston, could the Tsarnaevs have been inspired by a cultured figure in the film who teaches classical piano and is sent over the edge by the murder of his family in Bosnia and acquires a bomb for his backpack and with his brother slips into Manhattan to blow up the United Nations?

“I am not a monster,” says the bomber in a farewell tape, to explain his motive in bringing Muslim pain to America.

Bad art often inspires life which, unlike movies, has no George Clooney and Nicole Kidman to avert disaster at the last moment.

When the crisis is finally over, someone should check the Tsarnaev Netflix account to see if they watched “Peacemaker,” directed by a Steven Spielberg protégé and the first movie released by his Dreamworks studio 15 years ago.

If they did, we are a long way from ET and Close Encounters with amiable aliens.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Imbalance of Terror

Thousands who sweated and strained so long to train young bodies for excellence are overwhelmed in the national mind (who actually won the Marathon?) by the evil of one soul (certainly no more than a handful) exploding pressure cookers stuffed with nails and ball bearings.

The lopsided imbalance of life and death in Boston can never be redressed, despite the President’s emphasis on the courage of victims and responders as the search for the guilty goes on.

There can be no balancing of the books with retribution for such mindless murders and maiming, no matter what the identity or motives of whoever caused it.

The low-tech trappings suggest “amateur” terrorists rather than organized, but there is little consolation in considering how much worse the toll might have been at the hands of such as those who perpetrated 9/11.

In an interconnected world, there is at least faint hope of detecting in advance the movements of many. From one dark mind with knapsacks, there is nothing.

Those who ran the marathon will return to their homes all over the world, their usual joy in accomplishment forever shadowed. The rest of us will forget the race and await an explanation for the inexplicable.    

Update: As the search zeroes in on figures with knapsacks, the identity of the Marathon killers comes closer to the surface, but the heart of their darkness will remain elusive.