Friday, July 30, 2010

Zero Tolerance

Zero tolerance is a laudable policy when abhorrent behavior is clearly visible in black and white. But as we’ve seen in the recent, sad affair surrounding Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department official wrongly accused of racism and fired before all the facts were evident, reality is nuanced with shades of grey, making hasty judgments and actions suspect.

One Friday afternoon about five years ago, a frantic Human Resources person called to tell me we had to immediately fire one of my editors. His crime? A review of computer logs—a common, legal practice in many companies—revealed he had visited a pornographic Web site. Zero tolerance dictated swift, non negotiable action, I was told.

Whoa, said I. First, I couldn’t afford to release him that day. He still owed copy for our next issue. More importantly, deeper investigation seemed in order. As our Internet retailing editor, his beat was Web commerce, and, like it or not, pornography is the best seller in cyberspace. Perhaps he was just doing, ahem, some research. Beyond that, I asked if we knew how long he lingered on the offensive site? Maybe his computer accidentally was forwarded to that Web page. If corporate skulduggery showed he quickly escaped the site, that would show his intent was honorable, not sleazy. HR agreed on a stay of execution, pending more investigation. When the tapes were studied over the weekend, the editor was cleared.

The stakes in the Sherrod fiasco involve more than just a job lost. The Obama administration is quick to point out this incident is a “teaching moment.” Hopefully, one of the lessons the administration (as well as the NAACP and the media) learned is that rash decisions, even if done with good intentions, must be incontrovertibly supported by all the facts. Let’s further hope that President Obama finally gets that no matter what he does, he will never do enough to satisfy the conservative opposition. He should stop pandering and start acting presidential, not deferential.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Night at the Opera

Tonight at 8, PBS will broadcast a performance of Der Rosenkavalier from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

I’ve never seen this comic opera written by Richard Strauss (, but it has special significance in my life. On their first date in the summer of 1942, my father took my mother to see this opera.

They had met days before, at his store on Orchard Street. He was standing on a rolling ladder, the type you see in libraries, when, by pre-arrangement, my mother came to meet him. At the sight of her, he nearly fell off the ladder. She had the most unruly, frizzy hair. Ever the gentleman, Dad went through with the match and agreed to take her to the opera Friday night. When he arrived at her parents’ apartment Friday evening, a beautiful woman opened the door. Knowing she had three sisters, he asked for Sylvia. My mother smiled and said she was Sylvia. They were married Labor Day weekend, six weeks later, September 6, 1942. Their marriage lasted 53 years until her death in 1996.

It is almost exactly six weeks before Labor Day. I think I’ll watch, or at least record, Der Rosenkavalier, tonight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Major, The Navy, and a Simple Word

The celebration of the late George M. Steinbrenner III continues, with some of his admirers advocating his immediate election to the Baseball Hall of Fame rather than making the legendary, controversial owner of the NY Yankees wait several years as other mortals must.

The last two weeks have been particularly sad for Yankee fans. Aside from Boss George, we lost Bob Sheppard, the longtime “voice of the Yankees.”

Equally poignant was the death of Ralph Houk, the Major, a true World War II decorated hero, who managed the pinstriped boys in The Bronx for 11 years, winning three straight pennants (1961-63) and two consecutive World Series (1961-62). Houk’s first three years as Yankee skipper spanned the last glory years of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris. He returned for a second stint as manager during the nadir of the franchise, taking over in 1966 and staying until the end of 1973, Steinbrenner’s first year as owner. It’s no coincidence Houk left the Yankee dugout when he did. His managerial philosophy could not have been more diametrically different than Steinbrenner’s.

“I don’t think you can humiliate a player and expect him to perform,” Houk was quoted as saying.

The bottom line is this: when Houk was given great players, the team won. When his roster had aging or mediocre talent, like Horace Clarke, the team failed. The same can be said for Steinbrenner’s bullying manners. When he paid for the right players, they won. When he bought the wrong players, they failed to win.

Ask Not...: It’s a very simple word. Only three letters. A-S-K. But this word is among the most mispronounced in the English language. Listen, not even too carefully, and too often you will hear someone say “aks” instead of “ask.” Education or socio-economic environment or race doesn’t typecast offenders. One of my former staffers made this egregious mistake, and believe me, when a reporter/editor says in an interview, “May I aks you a question?” it doesn’t reflect favorably on the publication or the writer.

The Navy in Afghanistan: It’s upsetting to learn two U.S. sailors ventured into harm’s way in Afghanistan, with one killed and the other taken prisoner by Taliban forces. First question that came to mind—why is the Navy represented in a landlocked country? Second question—why would these sailors voluntarily travel into a danger zone?

The NY Times tried to answer the first question with the following sentence in a Sunday article: “Although soldiers make up the lion’s share of American forces in Afghanistan, which is landlocked, most bases have a mix of service members, including from the Navy.”

My hypothesis for the second question is these sailors were part of a Special Operations unit. Otherwise, I can’t figure out why any sailors are there.

The frantic efforts to find and retrieve the captured serviceman will give Americans a greater appreciation for what Israelis are going through the last four-plus years, since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas and taken to the Gaza Strip.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Valley of Remembrance II

How many television stations do you have access to? Hundreds, if you have a cable or satellite hook-up.

Hard to recall a time when the public did not always have access to a TV station smorgasbord, especially for those living relatively close to New York City.

As cable operator Comcast’s pending acquisition of NBC-Universal moves closer and closer to closure, I am reminded that when Gilda and I moved to Seymour, Conn., after we married in January 1973, we were media-deprived. Though living less than 90 miles from the media capital of the world, and just a dozen or so miles from New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury, our television, like most others in the Lower Naugatuck Valley, could receive just one station, the New Haven-based ABC affiliate. That meant we didn’t get any NFL football games except Monday Night Football. No Johnny Carson. No Yankees or Mets games. No Baseball of the Week game. No World Series. No Walter Cronkite. Or 60 Minutes. No Masterpiece Theater. Not even the Channel 11 Christmas Eve Yule Log.

While I went off to work as a newspaper reporter (see, Gilda’s political science degree offered little interest to local employers. But she did find an office job with a new company hoping to make an impact in the Valley. It was the local cable franchise. For less than $20 a month, customers could get all the New York City-based networks as well as several Connecticut affiliates. From having just one station, customers would have immediate, crisp reception from 10 channels with the promise of more to come.

It was, simply, the easiest sales job anyone could imagine.

It also serves as a reminder that proximity to information is no guarantee it will be accessed or used intelligently. The U.S. is in danger of losing its superpower status because we are not cultivating a culture of knowledge. Sure, we have a near monopoly on Nobel Prizes for most sciences and economics. Our universities and colleges are among the best in the world. But few would argue that our public school standards are slipping. Sure, there are hundreds of TV stations to choose from, but people, in my opinion, are just getting dumber and dumber. Perhaps it’s because, I fear, they are becoming more conservative, and in my mind conservatives have a narrow-gauge view of the world, often a selfish view.

I’m not going to argue the point with you here. Rather, I’ll quote Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, an animated comedy that airs on Fox and often satirizes, offensively, public norms (for the record, I’ve never seen Family Guy, though one of its writers, Andrew Goldberg, is the son of friends). Commenting in an article in Tuesday’s NY Times on a banned TV episode of Family Guy, MacFarlane said, “People in America, they’re getting dumber. They’re getting less and less able to analyze something and think critically, and pick apart the underlying elements. And more and more ready to make a snap judgment regarding something at face value, which is too bad” (


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer of '77

News stories have a way of intertwining events. And, as has been evident to loyal readers of this blog, often my life has a strand woven into the fabric of a story.

George Steinbrenner died last week. His first championship season as owner of the New York Yankees came In 1977. That season coincided with the Summer of Sam, the months David Berkowitz, the self-proclaimed Son of Sam, terrorized New York with random shootings. On the day Steinbrenner died, The NY Times ran a profile of Berkowitz’s life behind bars, his born-again Christian status and the efforts of his “admirers” to make over his image (

Gilda and I returned to New York in mid-1977 after spending four-plus years in Connecticut. Not wanting too long a commute into the city, we looked at communities within a 30-35 minute train ride into Grand Central Terminal, a short walk from my office at Park Avenue and E. 55th St. We visited apartments along the Hudson, along the Sound but finally settled on a two-bedroom unit on Lake Street in White Plains. At the last moment, before signing the lease, I saw an ad for a two-bedroom co-op in Yonkers.

We drove down from New Haven. The building on North Broadway was a magnificent Tudor-style structure. The apartment was beautiful. Oak floors. Window views of the Hudson. Modern kitchen. A garbage shoot to the incinerator off the kitchen. Fireplace in the living room. Priced within our budget. Impulsively, we committed to buy the co-op. We left a deposit. Within a day, buyers’ remorse set in. Did we really want to live in Yonkers? Though the seller wanted to hold us to the contract, a firm letter under my brother’s legal stationery resolved the conflict. We took the Lake Street apartment and have lived in White Plains, happily, ever since.

When they finally caught David Berkowitz in August 1977, turned out he, too, was a commuter. During his 13-month reign of terror, he drove from his Westchester home to New York City to kill six people and wound seven others. Berkowitz commuted from his apartment on Pine Street in Yonkers, around the corner from the co-op Gilda and I almost bought. It still gives Gilda and me chills to think we almost had Son of Sam as a neighbor.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Rejection is a common, if not welcome, part of many a life. Last night’s CBS Evening News with Katie Couric featured a story on a new book, “Other People’s Rejection Letters,” that will amuse, or pain, you, depending on how thick your skin is. Here’s a link to the story:

After four years as a reporter with The New Haven Register, I was eager to move on. I looked up the name of the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal in the directory edition of Editor & Publisher and sent him a letter and resume. I did not receive a rejection letter. I heard nothing back. No matter. Shortly thereafter I began my 32-year career with Lebhar-Friedman, almost all of it with Chain Store Age.

I did, however, find out what happened to my overture to The Journal, courtesy of one of my former colleagues at The Register who did secure a job with the paper, owned by Dow Jones at the time. My letter was reproduced in Dow Jones’ annual yearbook of achievements and noteworthy events. Seems when I copied the name of the managing editor of The Journal my eyes must have shifted over to the adjacent column, onto a listing for The Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper. The Journal staff found it very amusing to have a communist as head of the nation’s pre-eminent capitalist business newspaper.

Have you stopped laughing yet?

All I can say, to save some face, is that I got a lot of satisfaction in subsequent years when The Journal quoted me in stories about retailing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BP Strikes Me Again

BP continues to torment me.

Already embarrassed and anguished because I own BP stock (inherited from my parents, as if that in any way lessens my shame at being a polluter—, I am newly tormented by revelations implying that in exchange for oil drilling rights off the Libyan coast, BP influenced the British government to release last year Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

For me the story is personal—one of my cousins was among the 270 people killed by al-Megrahi.

Mark Alan Rein was the treasurer of Salomon Bros., the Wall Street firm. A 1965 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, my cousin was just 44 years old, married, the father of two children, Nicole, 12, and Alexander, 9. He was returning from a trip to England before going on a vacation with his wife, Denice, to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.

In truth, though Alan was just five years older, I have few memories of him. His father, Moe, was my father’s first cousin. But they rarely socialized. One memory I have is visiting their apartment, as Alan’s mother suffered from multiple sclerosis. I also remember being proud I had a cousin attending Annapolis.

Alan’s funeral was held at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. It was the first and only time I have been inside this edifice, considered the largest and one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world. Almost all of its 2,500 seats were occupied. Alan’s older brother, Bert, delivered a eulogy. I don’t remember much else about the service.

About a year ago, I read an article about Bert’s representation of a corporate client before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a founding partner of the well-connected Washington law firm of Wiley Rein LLP. My family pride was tinged with melancholy, however. Bert’s politics are decidedly more conservative than mine.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Questions to be Resolved, and More

When did it become so hard to blow up a beach ball, or a baby pool? Or deflate them, for that matter. When did the science of inflation/deflation go 21st century?

I bought Gilda an inflatable beach ball. She believes resting her feet on it would make long airline flights more tolerable. Trouble was, neither of us could blow up the beach ball. I replaced the “defective” ball with another.

Finley (and parents) came down for the weekend, so I bought an inflatable kiddie pool. Though small, it was not the type you’d blow up without mechanical help. The instructions cautioned against using a motorized pump, but the hand pump I first used proved useless. Cautiously, I inflated the pool with an electric pump. It held firm. After Finley went home Sunday morning, I unplugged the valve to let the air out. Nothing happened. Hours later the pool was as rigid as before. Only by twisting the valve and pressing down on the pool would it deflate. You really have to be a mechanical engineer these days...

Where Did All The Lint Go? It’s several weeks since we installed our new front-loading washing machine and dryer. No complaints. Indeed, we’re raving about them. But we do wonder, how come each wash produces less lint than before? Same clothes, same towels. Yet neither the washer nor dryer extracts any quantifiable measure of lint compared to our discarded machines.

The laundry is coming out cleaner. We’re using less water. Less energy. It’s not a complaint, but I really would like to know what’s the deal with the disappearing lint?

Why Didn’t I Think Of This Before? I spent almost four hours swimming in a pool Saturday. Now, I do not know how to swim. Thus any extended period in water, especially water deeper than five feet, would be highly unusual. But heat will make you do strange things, so there I was doing the backstroke in Benny and Bella’s pool.

I can’t claim sudden aquatic powers. Rather, I took advantage of Benny’s idea to wear a flotation device, in this case, a life preserver vest. Sure, I looked rather dorky (I’m grateful now I don’t include pictures with this blog). But the alternative of sweating on dry land or restricting myself to the shallow end of the pool was easily trumped by buoyancy and the confidence I wouldn’t drown. I’ve almost drowned three times, so trust me, feeling secure in the water is more preferable.

I have my own life vest from the time I took a water aerobics class with Marty several years ago. All I have to do is remember to bring it with me next time one of our pool-friendly friends invites us over. I’ve also got to remember to leave my ego at home that day.

Garden Update: Grass is sprouting where Gilda and I dug, raked and seeded a week ago. Haven’t seen the woodchuck recently, but the mailman did tell me Friday about another neighborhood sighting of a coyote.

Sunday Reading: Two articles in yesterday’s NY Times attracted my attention. The first showed New Yorkers tooling around aboard big three-wheeled tricycles (check out the video with this link as well:

Before I learned to ride a two-wheeler at age 40 (ok, so I grew up not knowing how to swim or ride a bike. Wannamakesumtin’ of it?), I had a tricycle, the type seniors pedal in retirement communities. Who knew I was decades ahead of the curve, which, by the way, you have to negotiate carefully on a trike lest you tip over.

You also need more than a little oomph power to make those babies move. Central to their success, and appeal, is a flat terrain, as in Florida, Arizona and most of New York City. Or you need to attach a low horsepower motor.

The second article, “A Long Jump to Manhood,” captured the excitement of Bronx teenagers jumping 30 feet or higher off cliffs into the Hudson River (

A fairly innocent story about growing up and the rites of passage in the city, except that Gilda’s orthopedic spine practice had two recent patients who went cliff-diving with less than optimal results. A 21-year-old man broke four vertebrae being a daredevil in New Zealand; a 20-year-old woman required surgery after diving off a cliff in Malta.

As one of the Bronx jumpers said, “There’s no safety net here. It’s your own decision. You’re taking your own risk.” One parent acknowledged the risk but didn’t forbid her son from participating. I guess she has a different set of parenting values, or fears, than I have.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yankee Corner

East 55th Street and Lexington Avenue became my unofficial Yankees Corner. It was there, down the block from my office on Park Avenue, I said hello to Johnny Damon (twice) and Shelley Duncan. I could have greeted George Steinbrenner but reacted too sluggishly when our paths crossed about 10 years ago as he was crossing north and I walked south along Lex. He was wearing his signature white turtleneck sweater under a blue blazer, but what surprised me at the time of our fleeting encounter was his height. I had always envisioned Steinbrenner as a giant of a man, equal in size to his ego. He was a larger than life character, but he stood just six feet tall. My height.

George, King George, The Boss, will be missed, but, in truth, he hasn’t been around for at least three years. I’m not talking about his body. I’m referring to his presence. His ability to control a dynamic. It’s a testament to him that the Yankees won their 27th and most recent (it would be wrong to call it their “last”) championship adhering to the principles he espoused.

I started going to Yankee games back in the 1950s. One of my father’s sales representatives, Mr. Schaineman, with offices in the Empire State Building, would give my brother and me tickets to games. We’d take the subway up from Brooklyn to The Bronx. Back then, after the final out, you could walk across the outfield grass as you exited the Stadium through the gates behind the center field monuments of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Miller Huggins. One year we went to the Mayor’s Trophy Game, an exhibition game between the Yanks and the Dodgers (I can’t remember if Da Bums had already moved to Los Angeles). Gil Hodges hit a ball that landed behind the monuments, 468 feet from home. Hodges lumbered around the bases, but he was a slow runner and was nailed at the plate as he attempted an inside the park home run.

I attended perhaps one or two games during my teenage years through my late 20s, until I returned to New York to work for Lebhar-Friedman in 1977, the year of the first championship won by the Yanks under Steinbrenner. Like Steinbrenner, Roger Friedman, the L-F president, had attended Williams College. Roger was an avid Yankees fan; until the devastating economic downturn of the last few years the company purchased season tickets to four box seats some 12 rows behind the Yankee dugout. They were great seats. I was lucky enough to secure those tickets to one and sometimes two games a season for almost 30 years. I was supposed to take clients, but in truth I mostly took family and friends. I took Dan and Ellie to their first baseball games.

I never ventured out to Monument Park in the old stadium, and have yet to enter the new Yankee Stadium. I’m sure that when that time eventually comes, a sixth monument honoring George M. Steinbrenner III will join in grace those of Huggins, Ruth, Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Price Glory?

Baseball has always had more than its fair share of colorful, if not controversial, team owners.

Calvin Griffith famously, infamously, moved the Senators from Washington, DC, to Minneapolis to become the Twins because he was under the impression no blacks lived in Minnesota. Walter O’Malley broke the hearts of Brooklynites by moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles, while orchestrating the shift of the Giants from Manhattan to San Francisco. In so doing, O’Malley brought major league baseball to the west. Charlie Finley and Bill Veeck were unique in their times; Finley transplanted the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland and won three straight World Series, 1972-74. He was an early proponent of inter-league play and using colored baseballs. Veeck was no promotional slouch—he originated exploding scoreboards after home team home runs and once sent a midget up to bat, telling him to crouch real low and, under penalty of being shot, not to swing at any pitch. He walked on four pitches.

Even before his death Tuesday at 80, George M. Steinbrenner III was acknowledged as the most renowned and influential team owner, of any sport, of the last three decades. He and his fellow investors bought the once proud but foundering NY Yankees for less than $9 million in 1973. Today, after 11 pennants and seven world championships, the team is said to be worth more than $1.6 billion. The papers and airwaves have been full of mostly fond remembrances of Boss George, of how he changed the face of sports, of how he brought a business mentality to baseball, of his “win at all costs” mantra.

As I write this on the night of July 14, it’s appropriate to recall this is Bastille Day, the commemoration of the start of the French Revolution when the peasantry and middle class rebelled against the tyranny of the privileged aristocracy. Boss George, or should I say, King George, treated all who worked for him as serfs. It doesn’t bother me that he made Oscar Gamble shear off his afro, or Johnny Damon his long locks. Anyone fortunate to play a child’s game and consider that a profession, a profession that pays them way beyond the income of the average wage earner, should swallow hard and live with such petty demands. But no one should be fired because they delivered coffee 20 minutes too late for their boss’s patience, as Steinbrenner once did to a secretary. It’s permissible to require discipline and accountability, even to have no tolerance for critical mistakes. But no one should lead an enterprise where everyone works in fear.

I’m an avid Yankees fan. I relish the titles won in 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 during the Steinbrenner years. But at what cost? At what price of human dignity? Too many Yankees fans are either too young or too forgetful to remember how Steinbrenner shamelessly dumped Dick Howser as manager after the team won 103 regular season games but lost three straight in the playoffs to the Kansas City Royals. How he publicly ridiculed players like pitchers Ken Clay and Jim Beattie after poor games. How he tormented Billy Martin by demanding he fire his friend, pitching coach Art Fowler, how he undermined the authority of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, how he tried to discredit Dave Winfield, how he fired Yogi Berra after 16 games despite promising his job was safe for the season. Too young, too forgetful, or maybe too caught up in following a winning team instead of following a winning philosophy of life.

Yes, there are legions of stories about Steinbrenner’s charity, about his giving a second chance to people like Steve Howe, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, and to those he offended. Even Yogi forgave him. I’m not ready, just yet.

Winning at all costs. That’s the same credo behind Nixon’s Watergate, behind the current GOP’s anti-Obama strategy of roadblocking all Democratic initiatives even if it means the masses suffer and the country stays mired in economic turmoil. Winning at all costs was behind Madoff and other recent financial debacles.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe being over 60 means I just want people to respect each other. I want to respect people considered to be icons. It’s okay for them to have some warts. They’re people, after all, and nobody really is perfect.

Watching an ailing, aging George Steinbrenner pass from vibrancy to slow death was grim spectacle. My parents, similarly, lingered beyond productive, cognizant years. I can relate to the Steinbrenner family’s feelings of loss. But Yankee fans need to step back and view in perspective the pact they made with Boss George. Just as we continue to debate the wisdom of the bombings of August 6 and 8, 1945—the ultimate win at all costs actions—so too must we weigh the reign of King George.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Take My Job, Please

Gilda turned me into a day laborer Sunday morning. She didn’t pick me up off a street corner. She graciously let me sleep in till almost 9. But as soon as I was cognizant, she pronounced our morning activity would be turning hard topsoil of a 250 sq. ft. section of our yard that had been particularly resistant to grass cultivation. She was convinced we could do a better job than our gardeners.

We had hoped to make short work of the plot with a gas roto-tiller borrowed from Marty. Two things conspired against that plan: First, we couldn’t figure out how to start it (Marty later acknowledged it is kind of tricky). More importantly, we feared the tiller would nick some of the underground piping in the area, either part of the sprinkler system or the evacuation line from our basement sump pump. So we decided to use good old fashioned muscle power, a phrase not usually associated with my, shall we say, lithe body.

We started early enough to avoid the heat of the day, yet it was well into the 80s with high humidity just minutes after we began churning the dirt. The groundbreaking work took about two hours to complete, time no doubt lengthened by my persistent complaints, water breaks, overall lack of enthusiasm for the task and repeated recommendations that next time Gilda needed yard work done she should hire some “illegals” we’re hearing so much about. They’re more than welcome to take my spot on the Gilda gardening assembly line. They, of course, would not share some of the creature comforts I had—access to an indoor bathroom inside an air conditioned house.

How many “real American” jobs are being supplanted by illegal immigrants? Hard to say, though it is generally recognized that a large portion of the farm workers in California’s San Joaquin Valley are not legal residents. Even Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, admitted as much on The Colbert Report last Thursday. Without illegals willing to work in 100 degree temperatures and other horrid conditions, our agricultural industry might not flourish, Rodriguez asserted. To demonstrate that illegals are not taking American jobs, the UFW has embarked on a new campaign, “Take Our Jobs,” inviting U.S. citizens to work in the fields. So far, just three people have signed on, said Rodriguez, though Stephen Colbert did “volunteer” to work a farm, preferably one with air conditioning.

Rodriguez also suggested produce prices could “skyrocket” next winter as it might be “difficult” for the workers to travel to Yuma, Ariz., to pick the crop because of SB1070, the state law that encourages law enforcement officers to stop and question anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. Here’s a link to the interview on The Colbert Report—you'll have to either watch the full show or shift down to the 16:25 minute mark of the program ( and another link to an article from the Texas Tribune on the Take Our Jobs campaign (

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Too Much Information

Did you see the story last week about a treasure hunter who found 52,500 Roman coins while puttering around a field in Southwest England? Using a metal detector, David Crisp discovered a cache of third century coins worth an estimated $5 million. Here’s a link to one story about the amazing find:

It’s not uncommon to see treasure hunters, young and old alike, wandering around public spaces, metal detector in hand, earphones propped atop their heads. They’re listening for the telltale ping of metal. When it comes, they dig with their trowels until the object is revealed. Usually it’s just a bottle top or some other bit of detritus. Occasionally it might be a ring. Or some coins. Sometimes the coins may be valuable.

When I was a bureau chief for The New Haven Register in the city of West Haven, Conn., some 34 years ago, I was driving around looking for an interesting Sunday feature when I came upon a treasure hunter on the city green. He was a quirky looking dude, just a little more presentable than a homeless man might appear. He was bent over his metal detector. It was a few minutes before he realized I was standing next to him.

After identifying myself and asking if he would be willing to talk about his hobby, I proceeded to find out he had been moderately successful at this enterprise, having released from the earth many rings, a necklace and bracelet or two, plus valuable coins. His treasure was worth close to a thousand dollars, he estimated. I concluded the interview by taking his picture and recording, as was the requirement of The Register for any article, his name, age and address.

You’ve probably guessed where this story is going.

Sure enough, two days after the article appeared, I noticed in the police blotter a stolen property report. The scavenger’s house had been burglarized. Gone was his treasure trove lovingly dug up over many years. If he hadn’t already lost it, also gone were his innocence and sense of trust in his fellow man.

I have few regrets about my years as a reporter. But I do regret adhering to the newspaper’s policy of printing addresses. Sometimes, too much information is a bad thing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Muddled Joy in Mudville

Or in this case, Prague.

It took another U.S. Team, Sockeye from Seattle, to finally hand Dan’s team, Ironside, a defeat in the World Ultimate Frisbee Championships. In quarterfinals play. In overtime. 17-15.

Sockeye will play for the championship against another U.S. team, Revolver, on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Ironside won its next two games to finish fifth in the world.

Hard to be sad when you can say your son plays on the fifth-ranked Ultimate Frisbee team in the world. But I know how disappointed Dan must feel considering the OT loss to Sockeye. Close losses always are harder to get over than blowouts.

Needless to say, Gilda and I are very proud of Dan and his teammates.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lost Advantage

It was too hot to go to the movies yesterday.

I had been planning to catch the 2:15 pm showing of Toy Story 3 at the Clearview Cinemas in Yonkers, part of my free film Tuesday series, courtesy of our Optimum Rewards membership. After bringing Ellie’s and Donny’s gear from a long weekend on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to their apartment in Brooklyn and returning to Yonkers in time to deliver meals to the homebound, I was ready to spend a couple of hours relaxing in air conditioned comfort.

Unfortunately, the Jeep I was driving was not too keen on bleaching out in the 100 degree sun on the totally exposed parking lot. Whether it was the triple-digit heat or a malfunctioning, underperforming a/c system, my morning drive confirmed Ellie’s report that the 12-year-old Jeep was not the most comfortable conveyance to be cooped up in, all the more so if it had several hours to bake in one spot. I reasoned Toy Story 3 would probably be around next week and that a visit to the dealership for an a/c tune-up Thursday would be a more prudent approach. After hearing a news report last evening that a car parked in the sun could have its interior temperature elevated by 50 degrees, I have no doubt I took the correct course of action.

Lost Advantage: Has Mariano Rivera jeopardized the NY Yankees’ chances for a 28th World Championship?

Because of nagging injuries, Rivera has backed out of this year’s All-Star baseball game next week in Anaheim between the National and American Leagues. The All-Star game winner determines home field advantage during the World Series. If the American League wins, it would mean games 1,2, 6 and 7 would be played at Yankee Stadium (I am assuming, of course, the Yanks will represent the American League. To presume otherwise would be heresy).

As the premier closer in baseball, the pitcher responsible for securing the last outs of a game, Rivera has never faltered at Yankee Stadium in the post-season, so gaining home field advantage would be a tangible and psychological advantage to the Yankees. While “Mo” has been stellar in other ballparks, he has four times failed to safeguard a lead during post-season away games—the 4th game of the 1997 Division Series in Cleveland won the next day by the Indians, the 7th and decisive game of the 2001 World Series in Arizona won by the Diamondbacks, and Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series in Boston eventually won by the Red Sox.

Now, I don’t begrudge Rivera wanting a few days off during the All-Star break. His right knee and left oblique muscle are bothering him. But caution now could backfire in the World Series. Yes, there are other worthy closers on the American League roster. But every other closer blew a lead during last year’s post-season; only Rivera’s record was spotless. When that happens, the Yankees generally win.

There is no certainty the All-Star game would even be close enough to require Rivera’s appearance on the mound. So his injured body might not be taxed. Taking away the Rivera option has surely diminished the American Leagues’, and thereby the Yankees’, margin for success, next week and in three months.

Woodchuck Invasion: Peering out the kitchen window while cleaning some potatoes for this evening’s dinner, I spotted a woodchuck waddling across our side yard. He stopped to munch on some leafy plants. I raced outside to shoo him away, but he was back a few moments later, only to amble off to our neighbor’s lot.

Perhaps it’s this woodchuck that moved some sizable stones surrounding the bird feeding station in our yard. Yesterday I noticed several stones had been overturned. The birds didn’t do it. I have my doubts the coyotes we’ve been reading about did it. I thought maybe a raccoon, but upon seeing the woodchuck I have a new suspect.

No doubt Gilda will demand immediate repulsive action (that’s repulsive as in keeping it away, not as in doing anything repugnant). The woodchuck control web site lists several remedies, each one bullet-pointed with the paw of a woodchuck (cute, yes? Not really, when one considers the reason why one has landed on this web page).

Speaking of bullets, that’s one suggestion, though not one I would consider. Trapping is another option my ancestors might have employed. Engaging a professional pest controller is a little too much for now. The most appropriate remedy might be using a repellant with predator odors, such as coyote urine. Hopefully, those odors won’t attract real coyotes. I’ve emailed “ask-the-peeman” for an answer.

Frisbee Update: Dan’s team has won all its games so far at the World Ultimate Frisbee Championships. Only one more contest Thursday before the playoff round begins Friday.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Games, Songs, Films and Sales

World Cup Update: No, not the soccer, er, football, matches in South Africa. I’m talking Ultimate Frisbee Club Championships in Prague! Dan’s team, Ironside, is one of five representing the U.S. at the quadrennial competition featuring 48 squads from 29 countries in the Open Club division (overall, there are 136 teams from 37 countries participating in four classes: Open, Women’s, Mixed, and Masters).

Five of the top six Open teams are from the United States. Ironside is seeded fourth in the world, behind two U.S. teams and one from Japan. In the preliminary round, Ironside has vanquished its three opponents, teams from France, Germany and Slovakia. Tuesday’s foes include a team from Great Britain and another from Germany, on Wednesday it will be Australia and Finland, followed by another team from Down Under on Thursday.

Keep checking for updates, or, if you’re really into Ultimate, here’s the web site:

Felipe Melo, I feel your pain: For those who don’t know who Felipe Melo is, he’s a star midfielder on the Brazilian World Cup soccer team who accidentally headed a ball into his own net in a loss to The Netherlands last Friday. Although upon further review the benevolent soccer gods credited a Dutchman with the goal, Melo and everyone else in Brazil and around the world know his mistake in letting a shot glance off his head cost his team a goal. When you lose 2-1, that really hurts.

I made the same mistake when playing intramural soccer back in college, but in a much more lopsided loss ( Felipe, don’t worry, you get over it in, say, 30-40 years. At least that’s the time span for intramural play. Heaven knows what the recuperatory period is for World Cup f---ups!

Born in the USA: Gilda and I went to the White Plains fireworks extravaganza at the high school last Thursday. A local band did a lot of covers of Bruce Springsteen songs, capping their performance with "Born in the USA" as the fireworks started exploding. This anthem to working class values and a search for connection to the government and family pulsates with the title refrain. It’s transcended any meaning Springsteen might have had for the song into a form of national anthem.

I couldn’t stop wondering as "Born in the USA" reverberated in my ears—what does it say about immigration policy? Is only someone “born in the USA” kosher, capable of feeling the patriotism devotees of the song have adopted? I can’t believe Springsteen would want his song co-opted by anyone who believes, as they do in Arizona, that illegal immigrants are deliberately causing crashes on state highways; that they are beheading people and leaving corpses in the desert; and that they are all “mules” carrying illegal drugs across the border.

I am glad, I am blessed, that I and the rest of my family were born in the USA, that my parents were allowed to emigrate here. “Born in the USA” should be a mindset, not a requirement for citizenship. It should be a reminder that we are a nation of immigrants, that tolerance has distinguished our country from all others.

Prescient Quote: Flipping through TV channels a week ago I stopped momentarily on the movie The Wind and the Lion. It’s a rousing tale based on a true incident in 1904 when Berber chieftain Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (the lion) kidnaps an American and President Teddy Roosevelt (the wind) sends a rescue mission to Morocco. In real life, Raisuli took a man and his son into custody. For the Hollywood version, Raisuli, played by Sean Connery, kidnapped Eden Perdicaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children.

During the course of the film, Raisuli and Perdicaris develop an understanding relationship. But it starts out, as might be expected, rather strained. Riasuli, after all, did kidnap her and her children, in the process killing many of her servants and a guest while trashing her home. Moreover, at their first stop after fleeing the city, a well owned by Raisuli, he summarily executes two of four men who drew water without his permission.

In explaining his actions, Raisuli says, “You see the man at the well (one of his loyal band). When one bucket empties, the other fills. It is so with the world. At present, you (meaning the Western countries) are full of power, but you are spilling it wastefully and Islam is lapping up the drops as they spill from your bucket.”

Hearing that matter-of-fact explanation of global transformation curdled my brain. How easily the dialogue could have come from Osama bin Laden. How prescient of the screenwriters. Keep in mind, The Wind and the Lion came out in 1975!

I brake for...tag sales. I am regressing, going back to the years when our children were young and we stocked their playpens with cheap finds at garage sales. The fountain of youth is a grandchild, at least as far as backyard commerce goes.

This past weekend I scored major finds, several Fisher Price/Sesame Street trucks, a Play and Speak animal sounds toy, plus a riding front loader, all for just $5. Also, a huge wooden pick-up truck for $3. I was in a feeding frenzy. I would have bought more, but calmer minds (Gilda, in other words) prevailed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Day to Remember

Happy Fourth of July!

Arguably the most memorable U.S. Independence Day celebration in recent history was that of 1976, the 200th anniversary of our nation’s founding. For New Yorkers, the thrill of the day was crowned by Operation Sail, the majestic parade of tall ships into the harbor, passed the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River.

Gilda and I missed it all. We were out of the country. But don’t be disappointed for us. We were witness instead to perhaps the most delirious, wondrous celebration of all—the return of the hostages to Israel from the raid on Entebbe (just in case you’re too young to remember the details, here’s a Wikipedia link:

Part one of our vacation was to culminate that morning with a flight from Ben Gurion Airport to Rome. Our Israeli friends Yakov and Chaya drove us to the airport but it was nearly impossible to gain entry, even with Yakov’s military pass. It seemed half the country had converged on the site to welcome home the 103 rescued hijacked Air France hostages and the 100 Israeli commandos who miraculously freed them at the Ugandan airport while suffering only five injuries and one death, that of Jonathan Netanyahu, brother of the current Israeli prime minister.

Regrettably, we couldn’t stay too long to enjoy the moment. Before boarding our flight I bought an Israeli newspaper and haltingly deciphered some of the mission details for Gilda. In Rome we marveled at the headlines and pictures describing the rescue in the Italian newspapers. We felt very proud—proud to be Jewish. Proud to be American. Proud to be part of two democracies that have stood up against tyranny.

Lots of water has flowed over the proverbial dam during these last 34 years. The Iran hostage crisis. Intifadas. Lebanon. Iraq. 9/11. Al-Qaeda. Afghanistan. Gaza. Somalia. Serbia. Croatia. Too many wars, too many battles, too many disappointments, and too many points of contention between Israel and the United States. It is not easy being optimistic. I think I’m hot-wired as a journalist to be pessimistic, cynical, on public events. But I still must believe that for all their differences, Israel and the United States will find common resolution to their individual and joint problems. They do, after all, share the joy each year of July 4.