Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exciting Day


Too Much CSI? Experienced a little excitement in the ‘hood this morning. Around noon our neighbors’ housekeeper rang the door bell. Seems she couldn’t unlock their front door as she’s been doing for 35 years. The lock was a-kilter, angled 45 degrees to the left as if someone had tried to jimmy it. The cylinder wouldn’t accept her key. What’s more, their golden retriever was barking in a strange way, and when she went around back she discovered the sliding glass patio door was ajar.

After checking out all her details, I advised we call the police. Neither of us desired to enter the house to discover anything untoward. We’ve all seen too many TV crime shows. They weren’t going to find my fingerprints in that house. 

We waited 15 minutes for a patrol car to arrive. After hearing our story, the policewoman called for backup. This was getting real interesting. 

We waited another 15 minutes for the second squad car to arrive. As we cooled our heels in the backyard, the officers entered the house, searched all the rooms, looking under the beds and in the closets, even in the crawl space in the basement. No bodies found, nothing tossed about, they declared the house safe to enter.  


CNN’s Worst Nightmare: In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning issued a ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Obamacare. 

Want to know who missed it? Or more precisely, who got it wrong? CNN. And Fox News.

At 10:09:03, CNN sent out a “Breaking News” email alert with the following message: “The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care—the legislation that requires all to have health insurance.”

All that planning for the biggest story of the year to date and CNN, which has billed itself as “the most trusted name in news,” got it WRONG.  It took nine full minutes before CNN corrected itself. And then it compounded the error by making another mistake, this time not saying the Medicaid extension provision had been declared unconstitutional: “Correction: The Supreme Court backs all parts of President Obama’s signature health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all to have health insurance.” 

(My thanks to Casey for sending me these email alerts.)

Not to be outdone, Fox News also reported the individual mandate had been declared unconstitutional. 

Interestingly, as I was watching special CBS News coverage of the decision from 10 to 10:30 am, I wondered how NBC News and ABC News were handling the story. NBC, turned out, was airing a segment of The Today Show on swimming pools, while Rachael Ray was in the kitchen on ABC (sorry, I didn’t linger long enough to discover what she was cooking).  

I guess the news business just ain’t what it used to be.


And neither will women’s tennis, if a no-grunting rule is implemented. There’s no agreement on the civility and gentility of players grunting when stroking a ball, but the Women’s Tennis Association  “plans to launch an initiative in conjunction with the International Tennis Federation and the Grand Slam Committee—timetable to be determined—to teach young players breathing techniques to avoid grunting and to eventually adopt a rule against noises deemed too loud, with the help of a decibel meter to be designed for use by chair umpires,” ESPN reported.

Women grunting has been around at least since 1962, but those who feel it is unseemly can’t wait for a new generation of players who are silent on the court. I hadn’t given it much thought till now, but I don’t agree with those who believe some sports, like tennis and golf, demand absolute quiet from fans when a serve or shot is taken. 

Are golfers and tennis players lower forms of athletes than basketball players, baseball players, and football players that they need total silence to focus all of their concentration on the serve or shot at hand? After all, taking a free throw with the game on the line is one of the more tension-filled moments of a basketball game, as is lining up a game-deciding field goal, or pitching a baseball with the bases loaded, yet we don’t expect fans to sit placidly as the action unfolds. Let’s stop coddling these so-called “athletes” who stare down talkers. Let them learn to zone out the noise, be it from the stands or from their opponents across the net. 

Grunting may not be feminine, but if that’s what it takes for some women to play hard and win, let them do it. 



Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Graduation Day


Fifty years ago I graduated from Yeshiva Rambam, a Jewish elementary day school in Brooklyn, the most notable feature of which was its playground on the roof of its building at 3121 Kings Highway. Thirty-one boys, 13 girls were in my eighth grade class, some of whom have gone on to notable careers, previously mentioned in this blog entry: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2012/01/elementary-ties.html

We studied Jewish material—Bible, Talmud, Hebrew language, ritual practices—in the morning, English subjects in the afternoon. Classes began at 9; by the time we were in eighth grade they finished at 5. It was a long day, interrupted only three times, for 20 minute outdoor recesses on the roof in the morning and afternoon plus a 30-minute hot lunch in the school auditorium. 

I was among the youngest in my grade, my birthday falling as it did in March. Just 5-1/2 years old when I entered first grade, by rights I should have been placed in kindergarten. But with the leverage of paying for two other children at Rambam, my mother insisted I be a first grader. 

Rambam was just under three miles from our home on Avenue W. When I started, my brother, sister and I rode a school bus to Rambam. As a first grader, however, my dismissal was at 3, theirs at 5. That first day I boarded the bus for the return trip home all by myself. The next thing I knew I was back at school. I had slept through my stop and did not awaken until the bus had returned to school for its next round of deliveries. Being disoriented, I panicked. Fortunately, my sister arrived on the scene to calm me down. (In case you’re wondering, my mother had gone back to work so she wasn’t home when the bus pulled up in front of our house.)

By second grade I had matriculated with my siblings to public transportation, the B-49 Ocean Avenue bus, a block and a half from our home, to Kings Highway where we transferred to a bus going east to 31st Street. We had student bus passes which, if I remember correctly, cost $1 each month for unlimited rides. 

Two things made those rides memorable. First, it was a lot colder back in the 1950s. I know I sound like our parents and grandparents who would regale us with tales of their slogging through the snow to get to school. But trust me, it was colder when I grew up, especially if you had to stand waiting for a bus to arrive. There were no bus shelters along our route, no stores you could pop into to catch a few moments of warmth while you waited. 

Second, books were heavier back then. I used to shlep to school each day a big leather briefcase packed with thick textbooks. My family teased me that the weight of the briefcase was the only thing keeping me grounded against strong gusts of wind given my skinny-malink status. 

My first grade English teacher was Mrs. Malka. She was probably just around 25 at the time, but seemed older to me. Years later, some 40 years later actually, on Rosh Hashanah eve in our temple in White Plains, I sat behind a fellow congregant whose sister was visiting him. It was Mrs. Malka. She looked the same. I’d see her every year. She passed away a few years ago.

Second grade introduced us to corporal punishment. Our English teacher exacted discipline by either pinching your nose tightly or by bracing your arms while standing behind you and thrusting her knee into your back. When we complained to our parents they, naturally, sided with her, reasoning we must have done something bad to merit such cruel punishment. 

Our third grade English teacher opted for solitary confinement as her preferred means of discipline. She’d place you in a dark coat closet, a practice the administration ultimately forced her to abandon after she forgot to liberate a student when the dismissal bell rang and he was left at school. 

Her Hebrew counterpart was much beloved, especially for the concertina he would play. His most memorable foible was not allowing you to use the footrest in the back of the desk in front of you. “When your feet go up, your brains go down,” he would admonish us. 

Almost all of the Hebrew teachers were either Israeli or from Europe. Our eighth grade Hebrew teacher was thin, bespectacled, with an air of Peter Lorre about him. He’d break cigarettes in half and smoke them in class, holding them like a pincer in his forefinger and thumb, just as we’d seen too many Germans do in too many World War II movies. It gave us the willies.  

There are lots more memories, but this blog, no doubt, already has exceeded most of your tolerances. The elementary school is no more, the building transformed into a wing of Kings Highway Hospital. Yeshiva Rambam, as the saying goes, was very good to me.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Mother's Vindication and Muscle Bound


A Mother’s Vindication: Gilda doesn’t normally read the sports pages, but she sent me an article the other day that must have found its way onto the most emailed list of The NY Times. The article recounted how many parents, including professional and retired athletes, are reticent about allowing their children to play football because of the fear of injury, especially head injury. 

“How nice that people are coming to these conclusions about football 30 years after I said I would never allow Dan to play!,” she wrote in a note to Dan and me accompanying the article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/sports/football/with-fears-about-safety-football-faces-uncertain-evolution.html?_r=1). 

Can’t say I fault her for crowing and being clairvoyant.

The article even quoted Hall of Fame quarterback and football analyst Terry Bradshaw predicting within 10 years football would be “eclipsed in popularity by soccer and other sports.”

Of course, playing soccer is no guarantee a child will be injury-free and mothers will be worry-free. Case in point: Dan played on a travel all-star soccer team from the time he was nine years old. Except for most of that first fall season, he was the goalie, which was rather startling as he was a less than determined player when he played defense. You might say he was the most accommodating defender there ever was. If the ball was between him and a player from another team, his politeness gene kicked in. He deferred to his foe, giving him free rein to kick the ball to the goal. 

As soon as Dan was shifted to goalkeeper late that first all-star season, he underwent a transformation. Perhaps it was realizing he was the last line of defense, Dan became downright protective of his space. He would fling his body towards the ball, even running headlong into an advancing forward. He did not give up goals lightly. One weekend tournament he played four games before the coaches realized he had fractured his wrist. His team won all four of those games.

At another tournament when Dan was around 12, this one attended by Gilda as well, an opponent took a shot from about 30 feet away. Screened on the play, Dan nevertheless made the save—with his face. Down he went. Play stopped as his teammates and coaches gathered around his dazed body. 

Standing on the sidelines, Gilda’s maternal instincts took over. She started to rush onto the field, but was restrained by the referees. To no avail she cried out, “What kind of game is this where a parent can’t run to her injured son?” Dan recovered soon enough and completed the game. His team won that one, too.


Muscle Bound: Ever been to Muscle Beach, that stretch of surf and sand in Venice, Calif., made famous by body builders including Arnold Schwarzenegger? I have, though a look at my frame would not immediately conjure up images of muscles. The closest I’ve come to enjoying muscles is partaking some steamed mussels along with a basket of crisp French fries, otherwise known as moules et frites. But I digress.

A front page article in The Times the other day brought to light the concerns of Venetians that their honky-tonk world is under threat. Seems Google, and even the ex-guv Arnold himself, might be buying up properties to reshape the terrain away from street people, body builders, drop-outs, skateboarders, medical marijuana dispensaries and the homeless (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/20/us/bodybuilders-flinch-at-googles-venice-beach-incursion.html). 

Gilda and I have been to Venice Beach, just down the way from Santa Monica, several times, but it was only during our most recent trip to California, last November as part of the time we spent in Los Angeles for our nephew Ari’s wedding, that we opted to stay at the Venice Beach Suites and Hotel, in a third floor room overlooking the boardwalk and beach. It was lovely watching the setting sun from our window. I wouldn’t say we were fearful of the street people. Cautious would be a better word. We’re generally adventurous tourists, but quite content to say “been there, done that” once the experience is over. I doubt we will rebook a room on Venice Beach.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sound of Silence, Broken


Six days. Betcha didn’t think I’d be able to stay silent six days without a word about politics. I could’ve lasted longer, but the pursuit of the Latino vote by Mitt Romney and Barack Obama left me with little resolve to remain mum. 

I’m not surprised Mitt wouldn’t give specifics about his immigration reform policy should he become president. Though his tone might have been softer than what he conveyed during the primaries, Romney cannot promise relief to illegal immigrants and the Latino community for a simple reason—the right wing of his party would not stand for it. Not that they’d vote for Obama, but they could become less supportive if he espoused a softer line. If elected, Romney will have no more success mustering Tea Party members behind a more progressive immigration policy than House Speaker John Boehner has had trying to herd these cats into compromise budget positions. 

The lesson to be learned: voting for Mitt will be like buying a pig in a poke. You won’t know what you are getting despite his lofty rhetoric.


Here’s what passes for political reporting these days. Last week WCBS 880 news radio aired a clip of Romney saying he would win Wisconsin and Michigan on his way to the White House. What a surprise! Real news would have been Romney conceding he wouldn’t carry a state, but then that would mean getting Mitt to say something honest.

Over the weekend Romney hosted hundreds of fat cat supporters at a retreat in Utah. The monied set got to mingle with the candidate and his advisors, giving them a piece of what’s on their minds. I wonder, how many advocated for improving the lot of workers? How many lobbied for more aid to families under financial stress? How many suggested that providing affordable health care for all citizens should be a priority? How many sought more food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, aid for dependent children? How many volunteered that perhaps their success living the American Dream brought them to the realization that the super-rich could afford to pay more taxes to help those less fortunate? D’ya think any of them pressed for greater scrutiny of the financial sector? Of pharmaceuticals? Of food and product safety? How many of them figured out that cuts in police, fire, teachers and other municipal workers put everyone’s quality of life and safety at risk?

I’m not holding my breath that any of them asked for anything more than lower income taxes, lower capital gains taxes, lower estate taxes and the elimination of regulations that protect the public. I’m also confident Romney was all ears. He was, after all, rubbing elbows with his type of people. 






Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day (plus one) Edition


Did you get one of those kitchy SodaStream carbonated water makers for Father’s Day? 

I didn’t. Not that I was pining for one, despite my friend Lloyd’s rave review (actually, I think Lloyd would give anything from Israel a rave review, but that’s between him and the maker). Anyway, hearing all those recent ads for SodaStream evoked memories of Brooklyn in the early 1950s.

Back then, during my pre-school days, vendors stopping by our attached row house on Avenue W were a big deal. The truck of the knife and scissors sharpener would clang its way through the neighborhood about once a month. Every two weeks or so the blue-uniformed man from Brighton Laundry arrived with clean, starched sheets, pillow cases and tablecloths wrapped in a blue paper package. Before heading back to his truck he’d tie our soiled linens in a bundle and throw it over his shoulder.  

No visitor was more welcomed to our home than the seltzer man, with six or more bottles in a wooden crate leveraged on a shoulder. Clear glass bottles, or blue glass, green glass, even the occasional red glass bottle. Inside, vacuum-packed carbonated water, with a nickel-colored metal push lever at the top to discharge soda water for wine spritzers (a standard Friday night libation), scotch and sodas and home-made egg creams made with U-Bet chocolate syrup and milk (for the uninformed, an egg cream has no egg content). 

Whether true or not, I always thought his name was Mr. Seltzer. My brother says it was Chesler, which to a toddler could easily be construed as Seltzer. Anyway, Mr. Seltzer/Chesler was a wiry man, usually unshaven, with a bent to his frame no doubt a condition from always toting heavy cases of seltzer on his shoulders. He was a genial man, usually stopping to gossip a little with my mother.

Perhaps in an economy mood, or because of something he saw on one of his trips to Israel, my father in the late 1950s or early 1960s decided to buy a re-usable water carbonator. The cylinder had a metallic outer layer, with a space at the top for a carbon dioxide canister that was screwed into the dispenser. It was a novelty he showed off a few times to friends. By the time he lost interest in it, Mr. Seltzer/Chesler had retired. From then on we bought bottled seltzer. 


Gilda sent along a link to a story about birth photography in the delivery room (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/us/now-in-the-delivery-room-forceps-camera-action.html?_r=1). As she pointed out, we were 30 years ahead of the curve.

When Dan was born 33 years ago we were too dazzled to give much thought to taking pictures. We had gone through Lamaze classes for natural childbirth, but were really unprepared for secondary preoccupations. Three years later, however, when Ellie arrived, we were pros and ready for action. I took some great shots of Ellie’s first moments outside the womb. They’re not for the squeamish to see, but they did capture the thrill. 


For those who didn’t get Father’s Day cards, or received some mushy, sentimental card, here are two I opened. The first paid tribute to my nightly sound machine: “It’s Father’s Day. Time to ponder that immortal, philosophical question ... If a dad falls asleep in the woods, does he drive all the woodland creatures insane with his snoring?”

Gilda gave me this card: Happy Father’s Day, Honey! Today belongs to you. No, really. 364 days are plenty for me.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sewer Commissions and Other Noteworthy Beats


Over the course of many years as a journalist I’ve been approached by numerous students and recent graduates enamored with the idea of becoming a reporter. In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, I attributed it to the Woodward and Bernstein effect. Everyone wanted to be a crusading investigative reporter, exposing their own Watergate scandal to topple an administration. In the most recent decade interest in journalism has been jump-started by the Internet. With a laptop, or even a smart phone, anyone who could master technology could become an on-the-spot reporter.

When asked about the profession, I would counsel that most practitioners struggle to make a living, that the life of most reporters is one of drudgery, of going to one sewer commission meeting after another. Not that sewer commission meetings aren’t important. They are extremely vital to homeowners who desire to rid themselves of septic tanks by hooking up to the municipal waste system. It’s just not a very glamorous beat. 

But leave it to Linda Greenhouse, the former Supreme Court reporter and current blogger for The NY Times, and now a senior fellow at Yale Law School, to plumb the depths of a sewer commission dispute from Indianapolis to cast some perspective on how the Court may rule in the most important case before it, the validity of health care reform commonly called Obamacare. She doesn’t project how the Court will rule, but her analysis is intriguing. Here it is: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/when-enough-is-enough/


Weariness has overtaken me. Though an admitted political junkie, I need a break from the never-ending cycle of presidential election news, especially when Romney refuses to provide specifics about his programs and the press lets him get away with it, the most recent case being their inability to pin him down on whether he would repeal Obama’s executive action not to deport under-30 illegal immigrants brought into the United States by their parents when they were young. Barring any action that may demand immediate commentary, I plan to step back from tossing more pabulum onto the pap pile until the nominating conventions. 

I’ll be more than mildly surprised if I adhere to this intention. Perhaps to make up for leaving you with less than a complete plate of political goodies, I’ll link you to commentaries I find interesting (in other words, ones I agree with). Here’s the first, from Timothy Egan: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/the-clown-and-the-cop/


If I’m not going to write about politics, will sports assume more importance? Nah, but I do have to admit I was guilty a few weeks ago of not remembering the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Back on May 22 I lamented how long a season it might be considering how poorly the NY Yankees were playing. 

Fast forward to today. The Yankees are in first place in the American League East. They’ve won eight in a row. Their pitching has been exceptional. As soon as they really start hitting (that means you A-Rod, Teixeira and Martin), they have a real shot at justifying their big salaries. Saturday they finally won a game without the benefit of a home run. The summer is looking better with each passing day. 



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Nepotism and Consumer Facts


The last episode of this season’s Mad Men ended with Don Draper employing nepotism to secure his wife a featured spot in a television shoe commercial. During my tenure as an editor and publisher I practiced nepotism four times, placing Dan when he was three years old in a Pac-Man sweatshirt for a picture accompanying a story we did on licensed merchandise, a second time 10 months later later dressing Dan and 13-month-old Ellie in kids’ overalls for an article on childrenswear, a third time five months later posing Ellie in a stretchie for an advertising supplement for Gerber baby products, and the last time enlisting Gilda’s sister’s family for an advertising supplement on activewear.

That last bit of nepotism turned out to be part of a cruel exchange of modeling time for a few pieces of apparel. The supplement was going to run in early spring, so we needed to shoot in January. Outdoors. By the ocean. Barbara’s family at the time lived in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. We agreed to photograph them one sunny day. 

Sunny it was. But with the wind chill it was below 20 degrees on the beach. The activewear tops and bottoms provided scant protection to the biting cold for Barbara, her husband and their three children, ages 5, 10 and 12. I know because I was out there on the beach as well. Bundled up in my winter coat, hat, earmuffs and gloves. Freezing my bejeezus off. We had to stop shooting after about 45 minutes. The photographer’s camera froze. 


As long as we’re talking media and advertising, here are some interesting “facts” culled from several press releases and articles:

According to Buyology, Inc., a market research firm that studies “the deeper, non-conscious, 85% of human decision-making that drives customer preference for brands,” the political differences between Democrats and Republicans extend to the consumer brands they prefer. For example, in the category of most desired coffee shop, Democrats favor Starbucks; Republicans savor Dunkin’ Donuts. 

Among the 200 brands studied by Buyology, here’s how the parties split on seven other categories: 
Most desired car—Jeep for Dems, BMW for GOP
Most desired insurance—Progressive for Dems (could they have been influenced by the name?), Allstate for GOP
Most desired electronics—Sony for Democrats, Sharp for GOP
Most desired TV channel—Animal Planet for Dems, History Channel for GOP (figures)
Most desired restaurant—Wendy’s for Dems, Subway for GOP
Most desired gaming system—Wii for Dems, Xbox for GOP

Democrats and Republicans found common ground on the following: Coca-Cola as their favorite beverage, Visa their most desired financial service, Google their most desired Internet brand, Apple the most desired technology and Olay the most desired beauty brand.


Here’s what passes as startling news these days: A survey by Harris Interactive of 2,212 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, done on behalf of CouponCabin.com, found nearly three-in-four (72%) would be more likely to buy organic food items if they were less expensive than regular grocery items. 

Duh! How’s that for discovering consumers would buy something if it cost less?

By the way, according to Grocery Headquarters magazine, 52% of dads say they are the primary food shopper in their households. I’ve been part of that majority for years, even before retirement.

With Father’s Day approaching this Sunday, another coupon Web site, RetailMeNot.com, is out with a survey claiming 77% of adults feel moms receive more attention on Mother’s Day than dads do on Father’s Day. Moreover, just 54% of the 1,005 adults surveyed jointly with Ipsos Public Affairs typically purchase a gift for dad, compared with 71% of survey respondents who tend to buy Mother's Day gifts for mom. 

The numbers sound reasonable to me. The preferred Father’s Day gift, said 40% of the men surveyed, was quality time with the family, such as an outing or dinner. I guess I’m normal—when Gilda asked me earlier today what I wanted to do on Father’s Day I suggested eating out. And that’s from someone fortunate enough to be married to a gourmet cook.

  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Out in San Francisco Bay


One of the best guided tours Gilda and I ever took was back in 1978, at Alcatraz, the island prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It’s most appropriate to recall this tour today as tonight marks the 50th anniversary of the only escape from the prison-on-the-rock that might have succeeded (for details, read: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/us/anniversary-of-a-mystery-at-alcatraz.html?_r=1).

We journeyed to Alcatraz as part of our first trip to California. After visiting my sister in Los Angeles, and taking a trip down to San Diego, we drove north along the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco, stopping along the way in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Simeon (the Hearst Castle), Carmel and Monterey.  We had heard about the Alcatraz tour and arranged tickets for the 15-minute boat ride to the island. 

Today, visitors are given headsets to listen to audio descriptions of Alcatraz as they walk at their leisure around the former federal penitentiary. Back in 1978, Park Service Rangers provided live commentary as they guided tour groups throughout the facility. 

Though it was the middle of summer during our visit, Alcatraz was chilly, with a dampness that invaded our bones. Weather conditions, we found out, were part of the unique punishment meted out to incorrigible prisoners who earned a stay in solitary confinement, what the inmates called “the hole.” There were six solitary confinement cells, as distinct from 36 segregation cells where prisoners were confined throughout the day. Their only relief from the segregation cells was one visit per week to the recreation yard which they “enjoyed” individually.  

To make them as uncomfortable as possible, prisoners were stripped naked before being placed in the dark, lightless hole, the Park Ranger told us. The walls and floor of the cell were stone because stone would not become warmer from contact with the body. Rather, the wind blowing in from the bay would keep it cold, so prisoners would try their best to maintain a position that exposed the least amount of skin to the surface. They did that by squatting down on their haunches and balancing themselves with a few fingertips for hours on end, he said. He invited us to step inside a cell and assume the position. It was not a comfortable experience.

“Guests” of the hole received one meal a day. As the government had to provide a minimum number of calories to each prisoner per day, the guards concocted what became known as an “Alcatraz cocktail.” All the food from each day was blended together to form what I’m sure was not a savory drink. 

As we walked through the shower room where inmates were showered three times a week, to our surprise the Park Ranger said the showers used hot, not cold, water. His explanation made perfect sense. Prison officials had no desire to acclimate their charges to the frigid bay waters. If they were going to try to escape by jumping into the bay, they wanted them to be shocked by the cold water. 

One final tidbit of information—The “Birdman of Alcatraz,” Robert Stroud, made famous by a biography and a movie of the same name starring Burt Lancaster, actually was the Birdman of Leavenworth. Leavenworth didn’t have the same panache as Alcatraz so  the location name was changed even though Stroud never kept birds in Alcatraz after being transferred to the island from Leavenworth, Kans., in 1942. 

If you’re ever in San Francisco, visit Alcatraz. I’m sure the trip will be fascinating, even if it’s electronically described.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Political Offspring


Should Mitt Romney find himself sitting in the president’s chair next January, he would have done more than just unseat an incumbent. He would have ended three straight White House presidencies exclusively populated by distaff offspring. Indeed, six of the last 12 presidents sired daughters-only. Romney has five sons. 

Fathering daughters-only is a bi-partisan effort, though Democrats have done it more often than Republicans, four times to two. 

Dividing up male progeny by political party is harder as Ronald Reagan had five children, including two sons, while still a member of the Democratic Party. He didn’t shift to the GOP until 1962, four years after his youngest child, Ron, was born. Not counting Reagan’s output, Republicans spawned eight sons to just five for Democratic presidents.

Here’s the listing of the last 12 presidents and their offspring:

Harry S. Truman—Mary Margaret
Dwight D. Eisenhower—Doud Dwight, John Sheldon Doud 
John F. Kennedy—Caroline, John Jr., Patrick
Lyndon B. Johnson—Lynda Bird, Luci Baines
Richard M. Nixon—Patricia, Julie
Gerald R. Ford—Michael Gerald, Steven Meigs, Susan Elizabeth
Jimmy E. Carter—John William, James Earl III, Donnell Jeffrey, Amy Lynn
Ronald W. Reagan—Maureen, Michael, Christine, Patti Davis, Ron
George H.W. Bush—George W., John E., Neil, Marvin P., Dorothy
William J. Clinton—Chelsea
George W. Bush—Barbara Pierce, Jenna Hager
Barack H. Obama—Malia Ann, Sasha

If you’ve been fascinated this far into the blog, here’s another offbeat trend I’ve noticed—the daughters of prominent Democrats seem to have a passion for Jewish men. 

Last week Ashley Biden, daughter of Vice President Joseph Biden, married Dr. Howard Krein. A year ago Chelsea Clinton married investment banker Marc Mezvinsky. Caroline Kennedy married Edwin Schlossberg, an exhibit designer, in 1986.   

Perhaps they are all taking a cue from Caroline’s mother, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who had a 15-year liaison with Maurice Templesman, a businessman and diamond merchant, until she died in 1994. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Look for the Union Label


I never really knew any of my grandparents. My father’s parents perished in the Holocaust in Poland. I was barely two when my maternal grandfather died in New York. The only memory I have of my mother’s mother was a visit to a hospital room a couple of years later to see an old woman lying in a bed encased in a clear plastic oxygen tent. She died shortly thereafter.

The closest person I had to a grandmother was Bessie Trachtenberg. When my father came to America in 1939, he roomed with her family in Brooklyn for a while. She remained in his life, and ours, for more than three decades. We’d see Bessie every few weeks or so, usually for a Friday night or Sunday dinner. Though the meals were invariably at our home, Bessie would don an apron. She was a good cook. She made the best breaded veal chops. 

Bessie worked in a clothing factory. She was an active member of the ILGWU, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. And that, dear reader, led to more loud discussions at the dinner table than any other topic. You see, my father owned and operated a non-unionized clothing factory. By all accounts he was a benevolent boss, his workers never once even organizing for a union vote. Bessie, on the other hand, helped the ILGWU establish union locals. She had a much more jaundiced view of management. So they would argue over and over about the value of unions.

Which brings me to this week’s news from Wisconsin that Governor Scott Walker had beaten back efforts to recall him because of his anti-union stands. Let’s also not discount the votes in San Diego and San Jose on Tuesday to scale back benefits for unionized municipal workers, including police and firemen. It’s not an easy time advocating for organized labor. There’s no doubt some unions have acted in less than savory means. Some union executives have become as domineering and untrustworthy as corporate executives. But it is also true that without unions uniform and equitable working conditions, for all employees, would not be as safe and progressive as they are today. 

It’s become acceptable to blame teachers, emergency services personnel and other municipal workers for the skyrocketing public debt of many government entities. In the past, union workers made concessions on wage hikes to secure more golden retirement pension and health care benefits. The politicians who approved those contracts were only too glad to pass the expense on to later generations. 

Clearly something must be done to solve the solvency problem of government outlays. But let’s keep in mind that the workers we are subjecting to Draconian cutbacks many times are the foundation of our present and future. I’d argue teachers are no less important than parents in molding a child’s character and behavior, let alone the quest for knowledge. Are you ready to step outside each day to protect our safety from man, beast, the elements and other unknowns? How’s about riding on the back of a truck collecting garbage in the heat of summer, the frigid blasts of winter? 

We’ve become content with paying these essential workers, along with military personnel who guarantee our freedom and security at the risk of their lives, wages and now benefits that are not commensurate with the value they provide our society. A nurse in a unionized city hospital distributes more tangible, societal value than a hedge fund manager. A fireman contributes more human value than a stock trader. Even a janitor who keeps a school building clean has a job with more positive impact on society than someone crunching derivatives just to make money for money’s sake. 

Being a union member did not confer on them that pedigree. But it didn’t hurt, either.

I was a manager for more than 30 years in a non-union publishing company. I think I treated my editorial and sales staffs fairly, giving them above average salaries, incentives and bonuses to supplement and reward their efforts. I was under no obligation to do so. Indeed, many a year I had to fight upper management for the right to reward my editorial staffers with extra remuneration. 

When I began as a reporter at The New Haven Register in 1972, I earned $150 a week (that’s $7,800 a year for those mathematically challenged) plus a Christmas bonus of a 15-pound turkey, which priced out to about $7.50. After we voted in the Newspaper Guild two years later, my salary was frozen at its $200 a week level ($10,400 a year) during the negotiation period, which lasted more than two years. I left the Register before a settlement was reached. Under the terms won by the union, I would have earned $19,760 a year. Yes, some of that increase would have gone to pay union dues. But no one can convince me it was not the collective efforts of the Guild, representing union and non union workers, that brought financial dignity to the newsroom. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

If Someone Comes to Kill You ...


Most Tuesday mornings from October through early June I participate in a Bible study class at our temple. We’re making our way through Exodus this year. Part of today’s lesson from chapter 22 of Exodus dealt with the concept of self-defense. If a home invasion happens when it is light, it is not permissible to kill the intruder as it is presumed he would flee or surrender if discovered. However, if a thief enters a home at night, a resident may kill the intruder with impunity as it may be presumed the criminal would have had murderous intent if confronted. 

This reasoning led to a long-accepted rabbinic maxim, “He who comes to kill you, kill him first.” 

Today, June 5, was a most appropriate time to consider this precept. It is the 45th anniversary of the Six Day War, Israel’s pre-emptive strike on Egypt and Syria. (Interestingly and coincidentally, today the United States confirmed Al-Qaeda’s second in command had been killed Monday, presumably in a drone attack inside Pakistan.)

The 1967 crisis in the Middle East had been building for months. Egypt expelled United Nations peacekeepers who guarded the Sinai border with Israel. It closed the Straits of Tiran to ships bound for Eilat. A blockade is considered an act of war. Arab countries vowed to drive Israelis into the sea, to dismember the Jewish state. 

Jews the world over feared another Holocaust. Anyone with relatives or friends in Israel were doubly worried. My sister, Lee, was in Israel, studying at Hebrew University. For the last few weeks she had been packing crackers for army rations. 

Monday morning, June 5, 1967, I drove from our parents’ home to Brooklyn College, taking up my usual position at the Knight House “fraternity” table in the Boylan Hall cafeteria. Around 10, word started to trickle in that war had broken out. This was not the era of instant worldwide communications, of CNN or cell phones, of 24-hour news cycles. Israel controlled the dissemination of news from its territory. In those first, terrifying, stomach-churning hours, the only reports we heard were those coming from Egypt, communiqu├ęs about Arab troops advancing on Tel Aviv, of Zionists falling in a jihad of epic proportions.

It was not until well into the afternoon or early evening that the true picture of the day’s events became known. The startling revelation of Israel’s air power superiority, coupled with its armored division successes, exceeded even the most optimistic expectations of the 19-year-old country’s supporters. 

Sometimes it is hard for contemporary observers to fully comprehend the fragility of Israel’s existence. From being considered a David facing the Arab Goliath in 1967, the roles have been reversed in the ensuing 45 years. Yet even today a visitor to Israel cannot be anything but wary when hostile borders surround the state, which is but a speck of green in an otherwise sandy expanse. Artillery fire could easily reach Israel’s population centers back in 1967. As it can today. It’s too much to expect friendly neighbors. Secure, peaceful borders, however, are legitimate demands. But if one side is still determined to annihilate you, rising up early to kill them is not just a biblical injunction, it’s a present day imperative. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

News from the Weekend


One of the recurring themes of this year’s presidential election is the effort to portray Mitt Romney and family as being more than slightly different than the average Joe, Jane and their children. The Romneys do, after all, have a net worth in the $220 million range.

Nonetheless, I have no doubt Mitt and Ann can identify with coupon-cutting families across the country. Of course, the coupons Mitt and Ann are clipping are from zero coupon bonds, but what the heck, they have to cut along the dotted lines, as well, to get their money. 


Chilly enough for you (at least those of you in the northeast)? With temperatures barely in the 60’s, with the skies mostly overcast, I think I may have jinxed the weather for everyone by removing our heated mattress pad on Saturday for a summer hiatus. Who knew the weather gods would react so quickly? Please, accept my apologies.

The weather cooperated over the weekend, first for a Prospect Park picnic Saturday in honor of soon-to-be-son-in-law Donny’s 30th birthday (Ellie cooked delicious fried chicken with several homemade salads) and then on Sunday for Ellie’s bridal shower at our friend Linda’s house. The rains held off until the ladies had retired from the tented garden patio to the comfort of the living room to open presents and eat some scrumptious desserts.

I did the unthinkable Friday night—I switched from watching a NY Yankees game to a NY Mets telecast.

The Yankees had bulletined Johan Santana’s bid for a no-hitter had entered the ninth inning. How could any baseball fan resist being a witness to history? I must say, I was emotionally involved when Santana ended the no-hitter with a flourish, the way it should always end, with a strikeout. 

Santana’s exploits notwithstanding, I’m not ready to abandon the Yankees. But it was heartwarming, for one night, to share in the joy of the “faithful,” long-suffering Mets fan. 


One of the last decisions I pondered while at Chain Store Age in 2009 was to cut the frequency of our monthly magazine down to nine times a year. I bring this up because of an article in today’s NY Times about the choices several daily newspapers have made to trim publication down to several times a week (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/business/media/as-newspapers-cut-analysts-ask-if-readers-will-remain.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=business).

As it was for me, the decisions tried to balance reduced advertising revenue with the need to cultivate and inform readers on a consistent basis. Ultimately, my management team determined we could not provide monthly publication frequency. I retired before the cuts could be implemented the following year. 


Another Times article caught my eye over the weekend. It too involved my former employer and “gaydar,” the ability to detect someone’s sexual orientation by merely looking at them (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-gaydar.html?_r=1).  

In the early 1980s one of the vice presidents of our company thought I needed an executive editor. He brought a woman candidate to my cubicle for an interview. She was very experienced, but not really interested in business journalism. I enjoyed hearing her background, but we agreed it would not be a great match.

After she left the vice president settled into my office to ascertain my reaction. These were semi-"Mad Men" days, so you’ll pardon his crude choice of words when he asked “if she and I could get into bed together” (possibly in his defense, keep in mind that publications are “put to bed” when they are printed).  

Anyway, I responded “I don’t think so, besides, she’s a lesbian.” How did I know that?, he asked incredulously. Simple, she told me, including the fact she had a relationship with Betty Friedan. 

That was the last time he ever recommended any candidate to me.