Allen Abel

  • Honour, free of prejudice

    WASHINGTON -- Libman and Kravitz were young men from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, living the postwar idyll of nickel drafts, dames, and the Dodgers, when U.S. President Harry Truman decided America had gone without a war long enough. That was in the summer of 1950, as Kim Il-Sung, the Putin of Pyongyang, sent waves of fighters to unify the two Koreas by force. Truman responded with the Eighth United States Army and things only got worse from there, with the might of the Soviet Union, Red China and People's Korea arrayed against the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the United Nations, seven-eighths of them from the U.S.A.
  • Most miserable state in the union

    BOLIVAR, W.Va. -- The mayor of the happiest village in the saddest province in the U.S. is a large man, 163 kilograms. When I arrive, Robert J. Hardy, age 72 years and 11 months, is contained in an old blue recliner in the front room of his antique shop on the main street of this riverside hamlet, whose name is pronounced to rhyme with "Oliver" and not the proper Castilian way. Just outside the door is a bronze bust of the Great Liberator Simòn José Antonio de la Santsima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco wearing a pendant with an image of George Washington on it, presented to this tiny town by a president of Venezuela himself (though probably not by the late Hugo Ch°vez). Below is the Shenandoah River, fat with snowmelt, racing to meet its destiny in confluence with the Potomac, a few kilometres downstream.
  • Trump's in front row for Hillary 2017

    WASHINGTON -- No one is going to have a better view of Hillary Clinton's inaugural parade in 2017 than one of the lunatic Republicans who might blow a billion bucks to run against her. That would be Donald John Trump Sr., the periodically bankrupt zillionaire who has leased the gorgeous Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, directly overlooking the quadrennial presidential walkathon. The Donald's intention is to turn this Romanesque masterpiece into a luxury hotel for tourists willing to pay about $500 for a room just so they can see his name on the towels they steal.
  • Say, what asteroid you on?

    WASHINGTON -- In gratitude for not having been pulverized to extinction by Asteroid 2000-EM26 two weeks ago (it missed us by a whisker, only 3.4 million kilometres), the people of planet Earth have been requested to join the mailing list of another mini-planet named for the Egyptian heron-god Bennu. "We'll put your name aboard a spacecraft that will travel to an asteroid and back, making you an active participant in humankind's exploration of the solar system. How cool does that sound?" throbbed Bill Nye the Science Guy in an email.
  • Last Rockefeller's final crusade

    WASHINGTON -- The old dude in the black Escalade with West Virginia plates who is blasting his horn behind you is the son of the son of the son of the greatest robber baron who ever lived. "You need to understand -- I'm pretty hardline on this," he is explaining to a squirming roundtable of lesser lords and geniuses, most of whom are half his age. "If it were up to me, cellphones in cars would be illegal."
  • Jail not big enough for D.C. mayor

    WASHINGTON -- It is time for the kickoff event of the 2014 campaign for mayor of Washington, D.C. In a few moments, we shall have the opportunity to watch the incumbent prostrate himself before us in shame, and then ask us to vote for him. We are inside a shiny, new community arts centre in one of the most economically polarized communities in the country. As the hall fills, a woman who gives her name as "Miss Pat" is handing out flyers in support of the sitting chief executive of the District of Columbia, a slender, 71-year-old widower with dark dyed hair named Vincent Condol Gray. "From the day I graduated college to this morning when I greeted the new day, I have worked on behalf of you and the neediest among us," the handbills quote him as saying.
  • Birds on minds over the holidays

    MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. -- On Christmas Day, someone shot a bald eagle a mile from our house and left it to rot in a field. "Police with the natural resources agency are scouring Montgomery County," reported the Washington Times, when the bird was found. But they came up empty-handed, even after offering a reward.
  • Taming the pit bulls of Wall Street

    WASHINGTON -- "The pitchforks were out in the street with the white heat of anger," the ex-Congressman was saying, recalling the free-fall on Wall Street in the fall of five years ago. "I thought we might lose control of the government." "As a former banker, I was disgusted by some of the things I saw," the former finance pharaoh, sitting alongside, decried.
  • Will our kids never die?

    The drones of the 22nd century burst into the cafeteria, exuberant and famished, granted a brief respite from their long day of using 20th-century tools (desktop computers, erasable markers) and mastering 16th-century skills (telling time, counting coins). These four hundred pupils at a suburban public elementary school – my eight-year-old daughter among them — are either the luckiest or the unluckiest children ever conceived. They are destined to live and labour with purpose and wisdom into their 15th decade and beyond; or doomed, conversely, to suffer in debility, dementia and penury an 80-year retirement, or endure a 100-year marriage to the same, nagging spouse.
  • 100 years later, the question remains

    NEW YORK -- The former president of the United States galloped into the exhibition of painting, printmaking and sculpture, adjusted his pince-nez, and ejaculated, in his famous soprano yelp, "THAT'S NOT ART!" But it WAS art, no matter what Theodore Roosevelt said. It was Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Cézanne, Rousseau, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Brancusi, Munch, Duchamp, Braque, Kandinsky, and many more, some of them brandishing their heresies for the first time in the New World. It was Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Modernism, Futurism and Fauvism, crazy lines and coloured squares and curlicues and naked babes with big balloony boobs. It was a blast.
  • 'Prissy' decree condemns U.S. stamps

    Washington -- Somewhere near Buffalo, N.Y., as you read this, 30 million U.S. postage stamps wait anxiously on death row, pacing their cell and gnawing on their perforations, soon to learn if they are going to be pardoned or if they are going to be pulped. The guilty parties are panes of 15 "Just Move!" stamps that depict children engaged in various athletic activities, created to encourage young Americans -- as a U.S. Postal Service publication enthused when the issue was previewed last January -- to "Run! Jump! Leap! Spin! Climb!" There is a boy dribbling a basketball on one stamp, a girl skipping rope on another, and so on. But then they abruptly were expunged from the USPS calendar before they could be offered for sale.
  • Season of sadness and 'madness'

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The glamour of Gotham has pretty well worn off by the time Duke Ellington's fabled A train burrows its way from Manhattan to the Brooklyn-Queens border and lurches into a green-tiled depot at Grant Avenue that smells of urine and unfulfilment. Kennedy Airport is a few blocks to the south, with brick duplexes, body shops and chicken shacks filling the middle distance. I grew up a couple of miles away and thought it a daring safari to ride my bike out here, circa 1965.
  • Kennedy is, you know, an ambassador

    WASHINGTON -- Fatherless since an awful day in Dallas, motherless these past 19 years and brotherless since a handsome scion of Camelot banked his little plane into the sea, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy comes to Congress to accept a cherry-blossomed sinecure, the American ambassadorship to Japan. The murdered president's daughter is 55, a wife and mother of three grown children, a lawyer, fundraiser, editor and advocate for education, a soft-voiced, hesitant and sometimes self-damaging speaker, a woman little-known to the general public despite her eminent bloodline, a liberal Democrat by genetic predestination, and an early and wealthy supporter of Barack Obama, which, in the way that too many diplomatic appointments are decided in this town, is pretty much all that matters. So the Senate foreign relations committee goes through the requisite pantomime of grilling a woman with not much to say.
  • Dodging bombs and rejecting war in Sudlersville

    SUDLERSVILLE, Maryland — Just to keep in shape while they waited for their boss to make up his mind about making war on Syria, the United States Air National Guard warmed up by bombing a bar called Darlene’s. It was 17 minutes after nine on a Thursday evening in late August when an A-10 Warthog from the 104th Fighter Squadron, cruising over the Queen Anne’s County cornfields on its way back to base from a training mission, pooped out a finny little blockbuster, hollow, inert, and bluish-green, possibly by mistake.
  • Commander Obama's younger sister embodies soft power

    WASHINGTON -- While her brother was arming the cannon of August and aiming them at a Damascene despot, Barack Obama's sister-from-another-mister was all rainbows, roses and moonbeams. "Great ideas come gently as doves," she said, quoting Camus, but the cooing was scarce heard amid the guns below. We had come to the Center for American Progress, a well-funded left-wing wellspring, to see and hear the raven-haired Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng, MA, MA, PhD, the Jakarta-sired, American-mothered, Canadian-espoused younger sibling of the first Nobel laureate since Henry Kissinger to make more war than peace.
  • Salt-water mayors sandbag rising ocean risks

    OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. -- Two salt-water mayors and a state legislator egressed from the Mercedes and urged me to the sea. We walked along a boardwalk that led us to a haunted house that was tilting on stilts above the plangent green ocean, with sandbags where its backyard used to be. Here, it seemed, was stark proof of a dawning epoch of melting ice caps, millennial warming, raging storms and a rising Atlantic. But the mayors and the solon from the State House of Representatives were quite proudly having none of that.
  • Canucks dreaming with the boys of summer

    MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina -- The music man plays Mozart as the shortstop comes to bat. We're at the best place in the world -- a minor-league stadium on a summer evening. A sultry breeze is waving goodbye to the ocean and tickling the flapping flags. There is nothing in the hitter's resum© that suggests much of a threat. He's small, even for a middle infielder, a 34th-round Baltimore draft choice with a .214 average batting ninth and last in the order for the visiting Frederick (Maryland) Keys, and his Orioles-orange No. 6 jersey looks like he bought it at Gymboree. Moreover, he is Canadian, and what do Canadians know about playing the game of baseball?
  • Doors founder slept here

    ARLINGTON, Va. -- A cute little bungalow where crazy dreams once grew poses at the apex of a quiet cul-de-sac. There is an open house today on Evergreen Street, and the 65-year-old grey-brick Cape Cod with the dormer windows and the plunging ravine in the backyard looks like a steal. Where else can you find a renovated four-bedroom this close to Washington for only $949,900? Inside, there is no trace of the former occupants, a Pentagon family whose dad rose to the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and whose tenure in Arlington was only one stop during a peripatetic career that took him from Georgia to Pearl Harbor to Florida to Virginia to Korea to New Mexico to California and to Vietnam to help start a war.
  • There is no final frontier

    WASHINGTON -- A tiny piece of God's design for the universe had been orbiting the cloudy blue planet Neptune for three or four billion years before a scientist named Showalter "discovered" it last week. Mark Showalter, PhD, is the principal investigator at the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in California. (SETI's professional and amateur investigators have been harkening to music from other worlds since the 1980s and haven't heard a single semiquaver, but that is no reason to stop listening.) The previously unrecorded pebble, which Dr. Showalter noticed while analyzing photographs of Neptune's rings taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, awaits an official name from the International Astronomical Union.
  • Twinkie, Twinkie, little star

    WASHINGTON -- The Return of the Twinkie is modern America in a see-through wrapper: decadent yet indestructible, industrially processed, relentlessly hyped, and raised from the abyss by a shipload of cutlass-swinging Wall Street billionaire corsairs, while 15,000 unionized bakers and drivers join 20 million of their overfed countrymen on the unemployment line. The little golden cake with its cream-like filling -- 39 grams and 140 calories of high-fructose corn syrup, bleached flour, "vegetable and/or animal shortening," polysorbate 60, sodium stearoyl lactylate, Yellow 5, Red 40, and nostalgia -- returns to supermarket and convenience-store shelves across the United States on Monday after an eight-month hiatus during which its manufacturer, Hostess Brands, "won" a decade-long battle with its defiant workforce by turning off the ovens and going out of business.
  • Hillary challenger has, shall we say, room to grow

    WASHINGTON -- Some 316,368 people already have Liked the Facebook page Ready For Hillary 2016, but the good-looking left-winger we've come to see this morning probably isn't one of them. We are at the unveiling of a policy paper entitled Progressive State Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class at a Washington think-tank, a report that, like the man at the podium, lands with a good-natured thud.
  • Dizzy's legacy: Nation trumpets race

    WASHINGTON -- The late Dizzy Gillespie's B-flat Silver Flair trumpet, with its unmistakable up-curved bell, rests on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Next to this famous instrument, in a display case on the museum's second level, is Duke Ellington's bandstand, and on the wall behind these objects is a portrait of Ella Fitzgerald. Just around the corner, on the same floor, is the relocated lunch counter from the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., which, in February 1960, four African-American university students refused to vacate after being told they would not be served on account of their race. This defiant stand triggered six months of non-violent protests in Greensboro and helped lead, after many more years of confrontation, to the desegregation of the public spaces of the South.
  • Lapse in sanity fuels ammo conspiracy

    DALE CITY, Va. -- The Great Ammunition Conspiracy Theory of 2013 holds that the United States government -- and in particular the many-tentacled and inscrutable Department of Homeland Security -- is stockpiling a tremendous quantity of weapons and ammunition in preparation for armed conflict against "the people." According to a recent survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 44 per cent of Republicans -- and 18 per cent of Democrats -- sign on to the belief that "armed revolt might be necessary." These are the insurgents against whom Homeland Security presumably would be securing the homeland.
  • 'Most hated man' in Senate

    WASHINGTON -- The shy Canadian emerges from the caucus room in a grey summer suit and blinks his basset hound eyes. Dozens of reporters are waiting for him in a hallway of the United States Capitol. We corner the Canuck against an elevator door and press him on this and that. "Something something the Constitution something the Constitution something something Second Amendment the Constitution the Constitution," I can make out from the back of the scrum.
  • Gnawing at nature in beaver country

    FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. -- Northern Virginia's War of the Beavers pits human sprawl against Castor canadensis in a swampy morsel of fauna and flora surrounded by concrete, cars and money. The setting is a miniature utopia called Huntley Meadows Park in privileged Fairfax County, half an hour south of the White House. This is a swampy second- and third-growth woodland choked with cattails. It is described, nevertheless, in a brochure available at the Visitor Center, as "a rich, natural island in the suburban sea."


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