Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Thoughts for 2009

Passing the Blame: It’s almost a year into Barack Obama’s presidency, a little more than three months longer that the tenure enjoyed by George W. Bush before Al Qaeda forever changed airline travel here and abroad. It is eight years since shoe bomber Richard Reid failed in his mission to bring down an aircraft.

We’re hearing lots of righteous chest-thumping from Republicans, mostly, complaining about the Obama administration’s failure to protect our citizens. In Tuesday’s NY Times, Clark Kent Ervin (I’m sorry, but what were his parents thinking, naming him after a comic book character?) raised some thoughtful points about the lack of coordination between government agencies that enabled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a plane bound for the United States ( He criticized the same silo mentality that failed to link the clues left by the 9/11 conspirators.

But when you read “Superman” Ervin’s bona fides, you discover that far from being an unbiased, expert observer, he actually was part of the problem he decries. From 2001 to 2004 he was an important member of the Bush administration, serving as inspector general of the State Department from 2001 to 2003 and of the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2004. (Of course, I am assuming the job of inspector general is an important one and not some comic book position like the one lampooned by the old Danny Kaye film, The Inspector General.)

I don’t want to come off as an apologist for Team Obama, especially since they had their “Great job, Brownie” moment with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano saying the system worked. But have the Republicans no shame? They had seven years to destroy the silos. They didn’t and we’re all less safe because of their failure.

Jewish Blue Jays: I think the birds, at least the blue jays, in my yard are Jewish.

Rather than throw out some leftover challah from the weekend, I chopped it up into tiny morsels and put it out for the birds. Rarely have I seen such a feeding frenzy. Rarely have I seen so many blue jays at one time flock to the feeder.

It’s not so unusual to have Jewish-leaning animals. One of Beth and Lloyd’s dogs sings along with the Friday evening prayer. Linda and Jacob’s previous dog knew when Friday night candles were lit it meant challah was to be served. The dog had a hard time understanding why there was no bread, only matzoh, when the Passover candles were lit.

MASH 8666: When was the first time you heard about a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit? Probably when you either saw the Robert Altman film MASH (1970) or the TV series M*A*S*H (1972-1983).

You probably were as ignorant as I to a Humphrey Bogart-June Allyson movie originally titled MASH but changed to Battle Circus before its release in 1953. It’s a story of MASH Unit 8666 during the Korean War. Bogart plays a surgeon who, like Hawkeye Pierce, enjoys romancing nurses and is a whiz in the operating room.

The parallels to the MASH 4077 film and series are palpable. The anger at the futility of the war is there, as are the frustrations of never being able to get ahead of the casualty rate. Koreans, from the South and North, are treated with respect. Like the newer MASH versions, Battle Circus begins with a helicopter flying wounded into the temporary MASH location.

It’s not a great movie. Kind of sappy, actually. But it’s another example that there are few new stories, just newer treatments of the same material.

Party On, Dude: This is just the second year in the last 15 or more that Gilda and I did not host a holiday party for my staff and other work friends. The only other time we missed this December ritual was 2000 when my then-boss chose to host the party in his home to showcase his wife’s cooking. He left our company right after 9/11, so the rite of hospitality transferred back to us.

Of all the trappings of work left behind when I lost my job, giving up hosting the annual party, I think, has been the most painful. It’s validation I no longer am leader of a community. Sure, I could have prevailed upon Gilda to host an expatriate party and invite current and former company workers. But it would have been wrong to presume the prerogative of the current magazine leadership. Regrettably, no party was held this year.

As with many industries, publishing did not enjoy a favorable year financially. But even in tough times it is important to maintain symbols of continuity and appreciation. The annual party attracted associates and their significant others, about three dozen each year. Cooked by Gilda, the meal cost about $10 a head for hors d’oeuvres, a full buffet dinner, dessert and liquid refreshments. Surely, the state of publishing has not been so denigrated that $360 would break a company’s balance sheet.

Or the party could have been handled as a pot luck dinner, with each attendee bringing some food or drink. That would have reduced the corporate cost to chump change. Sadly, another signpost of better days, past and ahead, lost its place and meaning this year.

Last Call: This is the final posting for 2009. Here’s to a happier and healthier 2010!