Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brooklyn Days of Yore

Power Broker: Stephen J. Solarz got my father involved in politics.

The nine-term U.S. representative from Brooklyn passed away Monday at age 70. Solarz taught political science at Brooklyn College when I was there (1968-69), served six years as a state assemblyman (1969-74) and began his congressional service in 1975.

Though always interested in politics, my father never involved himself in any campaigns, other than the presidential elections of the Ocean Avenue Jewish Center (OAJC) in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. From the late 1960s through the early 1980s, my father was either president or a power behind the presidency of the synagogue. Solarz recognized his importance and sought him out when he decided to run for office.

Dad forged a paternalistic attachment to the dark-haired future congressman. He was almost 30 years older than Solarz, who, in turn, was only five years older than Dad’s eldest child. Dad would become a ground-level sounding board for Solarz. After he closed his business, Dad would help out the Solarz campaign by stuffing envelopes and other assorted tasks in the office.

Sweaty Anticipation: It was during my father’s glory days at the OAJC that the noise level in the gymnasium would build to ear-piercing extremes. Excitement would grip all those present. Moans would go up after every call. Shrieks of, “Just one more,” would reverberate against the cement walls.

No, a basketball game was not being played (I can’t remember any athletic contest ever happening in the gym). Rather, the sweaty anticipation and exhilaration emanated from the hundreds gathered for the weekly bingo game.

Bingo was a major fundraising endeavor for the OAJC back then, with my parents in charge, mom in the back room watching over the money, dad working the floor. They even enlisted me, first as a bingo card salesman and then as a game caller.

With $1,000 in prizes ($500 for the jackpot game), OAJC bingo drew players from miles around. They were a quirky lot. Mostly middle-aged women, they would engage in good luck rituals. Before the first game, some would run a lighted match under their game cards. Others would scratch their behinds to coax out desired numbers from the air machine that popped out the numbered ping pong balls. Several played a dozen or more cards by sight and memory—no chips over the numbers of the hard-backed board cards or a dab of colored ink on the the paper game sheets spread before them.

Calling the games was the most fun. I’d sit on a platform at one end of the hall, under one of the two electronic scoreboards that lit up each called number. Next to me would be another volunteer. He’d hand me the balls when they were pushed out of the machine. I’d announce the number, wait a second or two and announce it again. As the jackpot game progressed, tension in the hall would become palpable. Forty years ago, $500 was a considerable sum.

I-22, G-53, O-69, N-37. As the cards filled up, with no number producing the cry of “Bingo,” excitement would build. Despite the microphone, players would shout they couldn’t hear the numbers. It was time for the one decorum-producing remedy you could do but once a night. “The next number,” I’d intone, “is, B-Quiet.” For a moment, players would rustle through their cards, looking under the B column for the number. Then they’d chuckle at their gullibility, settle back down and, when finally, a winner was selected, lament they were just one call away from winning the grand prize.

Fundraising bingo is still played in Brooklyn, though not as often as in my youth. In case you missed it, here’s an article from Sunday’s NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/nyregion/28bingo.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=bingo&st=cse

Is Wal-Mart coming to town? That is, New York City?

There are no Wal-Mart stores in the Big Apple, though there surely are plans to plop them down in the five boroughs. Thus, the City Council is planning a debate next month on the impact the world’s largest retailer would have on small businesses and communities throughout the city (http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20101129/SMALLBIZ/101129912).

I could save them a lot of time and money. The impact would be HUGE. And since I’m into saving, I’m going to save myself some creative time by simply referring you to my blog of last April 30 that first commented on the bias elites have toward “Tar-Zhay” and against Wal-Mart (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2010/04/bite-out-of-big-apple.html). Wal-Mart is denied the same opportunity non-union, small-store busting Target, The Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big box retailers have enjoyed serving New York City residents.

Old habits die hard, which is why I’m still writing Wal-Mart as a hyphenated two-part name instead of the nouveau Walmart spelling now preferred by the corporate folks in Bentonville, Ark. I’ll try to conform, though to be accurate, Wal-Mart is the correct spelling when referring to the corporate entity. Walmart is for the stores only.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Buying Patterns

By most accounts, holiday shopping got off to a rousing start over the Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday and Cyber Monday today brought out pent-up consumer demand.

The question now is, will the momentum maintain itself, or will consumers revert to their recent years’ practice of “U-shaped” spending, high at the start and finish of the season and almost nonexistent during the middle four weeks, causing panic among retailers and even more discounts than originally planned?

If I were a betting man, my money would be on the U-shape scenario, especially since many of those interviewed for stories said they already completed their holiday shopping because of the great deals they found last weekend and even before the official start of the madcap buying season.

Two more cautionary notes. First, Hannukah starts Wednesday night, so in major metropolitan areas, spending by many Jewish families is virtually complete. Second, news stories pointed out that many shoppers over the weekend paid cash, avoiding credit cards. If the consumer stays true to her budget, that’s troubling news to an industry, nay, our nation, that relies on impulse purchases to pump up the economy and rake in profits.

Perhaps nothing can be better for retailers than strict adherence to planned promotions, investment in style-right assortments and tight control on inventory levels. Retailers cannot be expected to stop running sales cold-turkey. As long as they resist putting the whole store on sale, they can benefit from aggressive promotions. Too often those reporters who wonder if all the sales will eat into profits don’t realize that disciplined discounts generate profit. It’s when panic sets in that profits fly out the window.

Style-right assortments apply to hard goods as well as soft goods. It’s simple—if the right goods are bought by the merchandise buyer, they’ll go out the door under the arms of contented shoppers. But no amount of discounting will get rid of dogs. The ability to select the right goods is what separates great merchants from the mediocre, or worse, the bankrupt.

Too often in the past, retailers loaded the floor with too much inventory in initial orders and replenishments. Customers came to realize they could wait them out for bigger and bigger discounts. Last year retailers started fighting back, retraining shoppers that what they saw on the sales floor would not be augmented by new shipments. If they liked an item that was at full price, or at a modest 20% off, they needed to scoop it up right away or risk not getting it at all. Expect more of the same basic training this year.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jeter: A Risk/Reward Compromise

Let’s be adults, people.

No one wants to see Derek Jeter wearing anything but pinstripes, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to compromise (you remember compromise—it used to be part of the art of politics, but that’s a digression for another day. Today’s entry, after all, is a sports-themed blog).

The Yankee captain and the team hierarchy are reportedly tens of millions of dollars apart on their proposals for a new multi-year contract, with the latter said to be suggesting Jeter’s worth to the team is $15 million a year for the next three years. Apparently, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman believe Jeter’s 2010 performance is what can be expected from an aging (he’ll turn 37 next June) shortstop. Last season was Derek’s worse as a full-time player. He hit a mere .270, 64 points below his 2009 average and 44 points below his 16-season average. I won’t bore you with other vital statistics (here’s a link you can check out on your own: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/jeterde01.shtml).

The point is, the Yankees must feel Jeter cannot be expected to rebound and that their $45 million offer already recognizes the other intangibles he brings to the team, on and off the field. Therefore, any improvement would be a bonus for the Yankees. As such, the Yankees should be receptive to a contract that provides incentives based on results that exceed 2010 levels.

Jeter is admired as a fierce competitor. It’s time for him to accept the challenge. He needs to accept a pay-for-better-play bonus program.

Each year of the contract, assuming he plays a minimum of 150 games per season,
* If he bats .300, he would get another $1 million (if he exceeds his 16-year average of .314, he gets another $500,000);
* If he scores more than 111 runs, another $1 million;
* If he gets more than 179 hits, another $1 million (add another $500,000 if he exceeds 200 hits);
* If he exceeds an on base percentage of .340, another $1 million;
* If he exceeds a slugging percentage of .370, another $1 million;
* If he exceeds an on base plus slugging percentage of .710, another $1 million.

If Jeter rebounds, he could earn as much as $7 million more on his proposed base salary. That would bring him nearly up to his 2010 salary of $22.6 million, not bad for an “aging” ballplayer.

The suggestion by the Yankees that Jeter should test his worth on the open market is petty, demeaning and runs counter to history, at least as far as recent New York teams go. After the NY Rangers let Mark Messier go, after the NY Knicks severed their relationship with Patrick Ewing, both teams went into multi-year tailspins. The Yanks failed to make the playoffs the year after Joe Torre’s contract as manager was not renewed.

No person is irreplaceable on any team. But Jeter is as iconic a Yankee as anyone has ever been. Both the Yankees and Jeter need to man up and agree on a contract with risks and rewards both sides can accept. For the good of the team.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gifts to Remember

With Black Friday just three days away, the official holiday gift-giving season is upon us. Andy Rooney said on 60 Minutes Sunday night he has received four really great presents in his lifetime—a tricycle when he was about five, a $10 bill, a big league baseball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and, recently, a five-pound can of dry roasted peanuts (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7076431n).

No doubt, I received many great gifts as a child. Some were practical—every Rosh Hashanah and Passover my Uncle Willy would come to our home for the holidays laden down with new outfits for my brother, sister and me from his dry goods store on First Avenue off 10th Street in Manhattan. I still recall a snazzy blue suit he brought when I was around 6. In those days, the middle 1950s, boys wore wide brimmed hats, as well. Dressed up in my new suit and hat, I looked like a miniature Don Draper, without a cigarette. And, I think my ears stuck out wider.

I can recall just three really memorable presents from my childhood, none related to a birthday or holiday. The first was a reward for being a good patient. I needed several baby teeth extracted. My mother took me to a specialist in downtown Brooklyn. The oral surgeon propped my mouth open with a short, hard black rubber tube before putting me to sleep. The next thing I knew, a young nurse’s face was circling round and round before my eyes as I emerged from the ether. To reward my good comportment, my mother took me into a nearby store where she bought a six inch, pink plastic school bus hanging in a plastic bag on a display tree. It was kind of a lame toy. Nothing moved on it. It was just an injection molded plastic toy. But then, my mother was never really good at buying presents. As we got older she would simply give us money and tell us to buy whatever we wanted. She was way ahead of the gift-card trend of recent years.

A little earlier, definitely not later than my fifth birthday, we traveled to Philadelphia to visit my mother’s brother. From Brooklyn, we took the ferry across to Staten Island, this being 10 years before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linked the two boroughs. For some unknown reason, Uncle Sol gave me a toy car. It was about 18 inches long, at least six inches wide, a grey convertible, with doors, hood and trunk that opened, rubber tires that could be taken off with a small tire iron stored in the trunk. All afternoon I played with that car on the parlor floor. I don’t ever recall seeing Uncle Sol again. There was a falling out between him and his four sisters when their mother died. I don’t know if our visit preceded or came right after my grandmother’s death. I only know Uncle Sol never again appeared in my life. We didn’t reach a rapprochement with Sol’s family (his widow, three sons and their families) for nearly 20 years, until Gilda and I married in 1973 and we invited them to our wedding. But that car stayed with me as a favorite toy for many years.

It was either the mumps or chicken pox that confined me to my parents’ bedroom when I was about seven. Mom had returned to full-time work with my father in his factory. I was left in the care of our housekeeper, Jessie. To cheer me up, she gave me an Old West stagecoach. Pulled by two brown horses (with a yellow wheel under their harness to simulate movement), the stagecoach was driven by a grizzled, rubbery man, with Andy Rooney-style bushy eyebrows and a whip in his right hand. The whole outfit was huge—the stagecoach itself had to be at least a foot in length and nine inches high. With the horses attached, the toy was easily 18 inches long. Long after the stagecoach busted up (or was thrown out in one of my mother’s periodic closet cleanings—my baseball card and comic book collections shared a similar fate), I played with the teamster until he, too, outlived youthful play dates.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Moment to Remember

If ever there was a class and teacher high school sophomores at Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn chose to ignore and make fun of, it was the art class of Shirley Franzblau. No longer awed by being in secondary school, savvy in our knowledge of the ways and means of our private high school, we barely could contain our indifference to the silver-haired Miss Franzblau’s subject and tutelage.

But it is her class that stands out in memory more than any other. It was in her classroom, shortly after 2 on a Friday afternoon 47 years ago today, that the intercom speaker came to life to tell all about the death of a president.

November 22, 1963. I was 14. Like most of my contemporaries, I had finally achieved more than a modicum of political awareness. JFK’s inaugural address was the first I ever heard. His cabinet was the first whose members I could fully name. Similarly, I could identify the nine Supreme Court justices. A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, images of ambassador Adlai Stevenson showing the United Nations, and through television, the world, photos of the Soviet deployments in Cuba were still fresh in my memory bank. So, too, were the press conferences John Kennedy held.

As I remember it, our class came to absolute silence. I don’t recall anyone weeping. Just stunned silence. Miss Franzblau told us there would be early dismissal. I went home to join, for the next three days, a nation watching history unfold and be changed forever.

I’ve visited the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas overlooking the grassy knoll. The sixth floor from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired those fateful shots has been turned into a museum. I choose to believe there was just one shooter, though I don’t discount Oswald may have been part of a more elaborate conspiracy.

I remember nothing else about Shirley Franzblau’s classes. Just one moment in an otherwise forgettable class.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Catching Up

Am I the only one who thinks the leaves have stayed on the trees longer this year? Maybe it’s the relatively warm autumn? Maybe, it’s because there have been few windy rain storms, like the one the other night? Maybe it’s global warming? Whatever, it seems the foliage has stayed with us deeper into this season than in years’ past.

By the way, our Winter King Hawthorn tree held onto a few leaves through Finley Hawthorne Forseter’s first birthday on Tuesday.

I failed to mention last week my mother’s 93rd birthday would have been celebrated last Thursday (she was born Nov. 11, 1917, in Lodz, Poland, arriving in New York about four years later). My mother enjoyed a good adventure yarn, in print or on film. One of her favorites, which she passed down to me, was The Scarlet Pimpernel. She made me read the book and we enjoyed watching the Leslie Howard-Merle Oberson film when it showed up on TV. It did so again this morning and I took the opportunity to spend some time with youthful memories.

My mom would be just slightly older than the women to whom I deliver meals each week. I always ask if they need assistance reaching something on a high shelf. No, they reply. Whether in a single family home or an apartment, they live in a one-dimensional world. Nothing of importance, nothing not needed for everyday life—plates, cups, linens—is stored outside their immediate reach.

One of the stores we frequented when our children were young was Danny’s Cycles. We bought Dan and Ellie their first bikes there. Also my first two-wheeler (a story for another day). We always said hello to Danny, whose father named the store after him and who had given the store to Danny by the time we began patronizing it.

A few weeks ago, in need of new pedals for my exercise bike, I stopped into Danny’s and asked Steve, who had been with the store for about 20 years, since he was a teenager, where Danny was. He was in Florida, retired. I was shocked. Danny couldn’t have been more than 40-45 years old. He’s doing volunteer work there, having been bought out, said Steve. I was pleased to see new ownership had retained Steve. Pleasure turned into satisfaction when Steve told me he was the new owner.

One of my relatives, who shall go nameless lest I embarrass the poor soul, recently sent me some “great literary taunts,” among which comes the following which makes perfect sense when applied to Tea Party members:

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human
--- Thomas Brackett Reed

No doubt my relative will not be amused, being of the conservative persuasion, to the endless regret of the relative’s spouse. But if you can’t take a joke, what’s the point of sending jokes?

Conservatism creeps up on you. It’s commonly understood that as one ages one becomes more conservative, more set in one’s ways. Probably true. What I used to accept as acceptable college age behavior I now tsk-tsk at. My recent admonition against Four Loko and other alcohol-caffeine drinks might fit into that category if it weren’t for the real danger those mixtures pose. Glad to see the FDA agrees and is forcing the makers of such potables to cease and desist.

Troubling is the reaction of too many (underage) college students to stock up on the brew while it’s still in stores.

Finally, I will not embarrass myself by revealing what infinitesimal percentage of Twitter followers my blog has compared to the 5.3 million who breathlessly await the latest nail-clipping, bra-busting, hair-splitting, pout-mouthed tweet from Kim Kardashian (please, nobody say they don’t know who she is, but just in case, here’s a link from today’s paper: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/fashion/18KIM.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=kim%20kardashian&st=cse).

Kim, if I may be so bold to call her by her first name, might have started her notoriety with a sex tape, but she’s one helluva marketer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Scan Me

The growing debate over full-body scanners, or the alternative full-body, including private parts, pat-down, at airport security stations evokes the outcry often heard when corporations, such as car companies, resist making simple modifications to their products because they determine it is cheaper to pay off a few claims, even death claims, than fund retrofits that may be inexpensive on a per unit basis but total tens of millions in the aggregate. How could they be so callous?, we hear. How could they rely on actuarial tables when human lives are at stake?

In the brouhaha surrounding full-body scanners, we’re hearing similar strands, but from the other side—how could the government require them when the danger of an in-flight bombing is miniscule, probably not worth the risk of radiation exposure, much less the psychological trauma of physical exposure to prying eyes? (http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/the-full-body-backlash/?scp=1&sq=body%20scanners&st=Search)

People, let’s get serious. No one wants a repeat of 9-11, or a successful shoe or underwear bomber. Imagine the outcry if we could have thwarted such an event and didn’t because we were too complacent, as a government, a society, an individual. As someone who flew 30-50 times a year for 30 years, and still flies about a dozen times a year, I’m in favor of secure air travel. Get over it, America. As a middle-aged, frumpy man told CBS Evening News with Katie Couric yesterday, “If someone is going to get turned on with this body, god bless them” (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7057978n&tag=mncol;lst;5).

For the frequent flyer, including pilots and flight attendants, there is, perhaps, a reason to be concerned about the 385 scanners now in place in 68 airports. Accumulated radiation may be hazardous. But so too is use of a cell/smart phone held close to the ear (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/business/14digi.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage). I’ll be more sympathetic to the cries of radiation risk from the scanners when I see people drop their mobile phones from their ears.

New York City airports are soon to be scanner-equipped. They might not make the security exam any faster, but I will feel safer when I fly.

Monday, November 15, 2010

TV Fare

I deviated from my normal practice of watching a recorded version of CBS Sunday Morning by watching it live yesterday, meaning I had to sit through (actually lie through, as I was in bed at the time) all the commercials. Fortunately for me (not for CBS), there weren’t too many of those distractions, but I was struck by how often the ads hyped record albums.

It’s not uncommon for Christmas albums to be promoted this time of year, and there were a few of them, but the ads were not restricted to Yuletide offerings. They encompassed a variety of performers and styles, from Eric Clapton to Andrea Bocelli to Susan Boyle, Norah Jones and Bruce Springsteen. There even was one for Jackie Evancho. Jackie Evancho? This 10 year old is apparently a singing sensation, a crossover soprano, who finished second in the fifth season of America’s Got Talent. Who knew? I’ve never really watched more than a minute or two of that show, though Gilda and I do tape and watch Dancing with the Stars (which brings me back to one of my favorite subjects, politics—from the outset I predicted Bristol Palin would go deep into the show because there was no way her mother’s supporters wouldn’t be phoning in their support of our country’s #1 unwed teenage mom. I’m almost tempted to call in myself to vote for anyone but Bristol, who, I must admit, has been rather game but really pretty lame as a dancer).

Back to the record albums. Older people, I believe, are still buying albums, as opposed to downloading from iTunes and the like, so it made sense for the ads to show up on a program that attracts an older demographic (what a relief to see something advertised on a newscast other than a product for incontinence, erectile dysfunction, diabetes management or some other condition of aging). For the next five weeks we all need to inure ourselves to the onslaught of holiday songs, in stores and promoted on TV. Of course, my cheeky comment on this phenomenon is that I’m waiting for a Christmas album from Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish reggae singer. That, to me, and not Jackie Evancho, would qualify as a crossover singer.

Maher and Moore: While riding the exercise bike this morning I watched last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher—guests included author/director Nora Ephron, documentarian Michael Moore, CNN’s Jessica Yellin (there’s something comical about a political correspondent having a last name that sounds like someone screaming, the typical way politicians talk these days), defeated senatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, Dem.-PA, and ex-Ark. governor, now perennial GOP presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.

It’s always comforting, reassuring, to hear famous people express the same thoughts that meander through my mind and sometimes make their way into my blog. For example, Nora Ephron wondered why it is that middle class people don’t understand that millionaires should pay more taxes? Why aren’t they supporting Obama’s push to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?

Because of the “lie” they were told that anyone can become a millionaire, said Moore. Just in case they achieve millionairehood, they don’t want to jeopardize their good fortune. I guess that’s why so many people buy lottery tickets...

Broadcast live, Real Time provided a painful memory when viewed Monday. Commenting on Obama’s countenance after the election, Maher said the president “looks like a broken man. He doesn’t look like it’s made him angry. He looks like the Dallas Cowboys, like he’s given up on the season.”

Ouch! Having watched the Cowboys dismantle the NY Giants at the Meadowlands yesterday, I can only say that football, like politics, is a sport with infinite comebacks. Some recent (last 62 years) examples—Truman, Nixon, Clinton and today’s NY Times profile, Dick Armey (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/us/politics/15armey.html?_r=1&hpw).

Comeback Trail: I had studiously avoided the comeback trail being blazed by George W. Bush on all the talk shows with the release of his book, Decision Points. But there he was, our 43rd president, with his coyishly smiling wife, Laura, being interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning and I was too lazy to get off the bed (Gilda, on the other hand, chose that moment to seek breakfast downstairs). I could fill volumes with my analysis of his analysis of his eight years in office, but I won’t.

I can’t resist, however, pointing out both Bush and Obama have recently voiced their everyman qualities by noting they pick up the poop their dogs leave behind. Too bad we (Americans and other nationalities) have to do clean up for the mistakes they both have made in office.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pinstripes Forever

Perhaps it was the graininess of the black and white photo in Friday’s NY Times (sorry, it wasn’t posted on the Web site so I can’t provide a link). Or maybe it was his straight-on-to-the-camera pose. Or the close-cropped hair that seemed to show a receding hairline more pronounced than Joe Torre’s. But in that newspaper photo with his former skipper at a benefit dinner Thursday night in support of Torre’s charitable work, Derek Jeter looked old. And very corporate.

He was wearing a pinstriped suit. Jeter may have been sending a subtle message to Yankeedom in his first experience as a free agent that pinstripes year-round are his most comfortable attire.

Torre wore pinstriped suits on and off the field, as well, but it’s now three years since he gave them up on the field. Of course, managers are more expendable than the faces of franchises. The Yankees have had four iconic managers—Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Torre. Huggins died in office in 1929. The other three, despite each winning multiple American League pennants and World Series, wore out their welcome in the Bronx, at least in the minds of team executives.

During the same time, the Yanks have had six players whose identities were forever linked to their franchise—Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter (you can argue about some others, such as Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, and Mariano Rivera, but none of them would be the cover boy for an era of Yankee baseball). All but the Babe came up through the Yankee system and played all their games for New York.

It seems everyone has an opinion on Jeter’s future value to the Yankees, in terms of how many years his next contract should cover, how much he should be paid and what position he should play.

I’m already on record as biased toward Jeter, so here’s my suggestion: He should get a three year contract. One year option clause. $18 million a year (he made $22.6 million in 2010) with annual incentives if he bats better than .300, scores more than 100 runs, knocks in at least 70 runs and makes fewer than a dozen errors. He should play shortstop. Pencil him in to play the field 130 games. He should not move to third base as Alex Rodriguez plays superbly there and A-Rod’s range is also diminishing, so putting him at shortstop would not solve any defensive gaps in the infield. Possibly in year two or three of the contract, Jeter might share designated hitter chores with Jorge Posada, but only if the Yanks have a competent shortstop who can hit at least .260.

This arrangement might not make anyone happy, but it’s in the best interests of all who want to see Derek Jeter in pinstripes for all his playing days.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Creature Habits

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into slovenly habits when you no longer commute to an office. While I haven’t shaved every morning, I have fastidiously showered and washed my hair daily to avoid any appearance of seediness. But a little more than a week ago the NY Times ran an article about people who blithely let days go by between showers and shampoos, or even an application of deodorant, what we used to call in summer camp a “marine shower” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/fashion/31Unwashed.html?scp=1&sq=daily%20showers&st=cse).

Especially as we flow through the parched-skin fall and winter months, the option of not subjecting my (sensitive) outer layer to excess water looms as a very appealing morning option. After all, how grungy could I get just hanging around the house, or running the occasional errand?

Well, I’m not going to tell you what I decided. Next time you see me, though, I won’t take offense if you keep your distance, or at the very least sniff the air around me before approaching.

Three Birthdays: Last Saturday Gilda and I went to two birthday parties. We started the day at the bar mitzvah of the youngest son of one of the doctors in Gilda’s office. Michael made his parents proud.

Saturday night we helped celebrate the 85th birthday of our friend Milton. He was the art director of my publications for close to 20 years. Several of his paintings hang in our home, my favorite being a self-portrait that, to me, makes him look like a Portuguese fisherman. I become transfixed whenever I gaze upon it.

Over the years I worked with many art directors, none who possessed the love of literature Milton did. Moreover, he always took the time to read our stories before designing a page. Never an easy man to get along with—cantankerous would be a mild description of his usual workplace demeanor—Milton has mellowed, even becoming quite sentimental. He reads poetry to his partner of many years, Marianne, as they walk along the Hudson River. To the assembled friends and family at his party, he read the following poem by Robert McCrum:

I have learned, in short, that I am not
Immortal (the fantasy of youth)
and yet,
strangely, in the process I have been renewed
in my understanding of family and, finally,
of the only thing that matters:

Next Tuesday will be the first birthday of our grandson, Finley Hawthorne Forseter. It’s a race to see if the tree we planted last spring, a Winter King Hawthorn, will lose all its leaves before the milestone day. It’s also a race to see if Finley will master walking by then. He’s already able to stagger about before dropping into the arms of his parents. Any day now he will permanently defy gravity. For a video of his latest efforts, visit http://findingfinley.blogspot.com/2010/11/walker-arlington-ranger.html.

Rocky and Friends: I really like watching squirrels. I know they’re rodents, as Gilda repeatedly points out to me. But they’re industrious. Extremely smart. Resourceful. And cute.

Squirrels are attracted to my bird feeding stations. They feast on seeds indiscriminately dropped to the ground by the birds. Of course, being rather self-centered creatures, squirrels prefer to eat seeds straight from the feeders, but I’ve prevented that possibility by strategically placing inverted funnel-shaped plastic squirrel guards along the chains above two of the main feeders that hang from nearby trees.

The other day as I was eating breakfast, I looked out the window at my new bird feeder, a white house with an A-frame metal shingle roof hanging from one of our pine trees. It recently replaced an open gazebo-style feeder that surprisingly never interested the squirrels. The new feeder was promoted as squirrel proof—its perches are levers designed to close up the seed area under the weight of any bushy-tailed scavenger that might pull up a chair, so to speak, to the dinner table.

The new feeder had been up for about 10 days without incident, but on this morning I was brought up short in my Cheerios-crunching by the sight of a squirrel busily munching away on bird seed while it rested comfortably on the perch. Four or five times I shooed the squirrel away, only to witness its methodical return. The squirrel would climb up the pine tree, scamper across the limb from which the feeder was suspended, and shinny its way down the chain till it plopped onto the roof. The last straw was when it didn’t even bother to sit on the lever. Rather, it hung upside down from the roof to casually chomp away at the cache of seeds at its disposal.

My daily rounds that day included a trip to the wild bird store to purchase yet another plastic baffle to baffle and confound the squirrels. Only the squirrels were not content to go down without a fight. For the next day they repeatedly crawled down the chain from the tree limb until they’d get to the edge of the squirrel guard. At the bottom of the guard, the widest part of the funnel, they were forced to leap for the house. But it was too steep an angle. They’d tumble four feet to the ground, shake themselves off, climb back up the tree and try once more. It took several unfortunate falls before they learned they could not get around the squirrel guard.

But perhaps they could avoid it. So the most resourceful did his best impersonation of Rocky the flying squirrel. He jumped from a tree limb toward the feeder. Alas, for him, at least, I had placed the feeder too distant for a successful aerial assault.

Granted, outwitting a squirrel might be considered an insignificant achievement, but it sure beats the office political games I once had to play.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Campaign 2012

It’s all over but the shouting. Actually, the shouting hasn’t really stopped, as the GOP and its Conservative/Tea Party cousins have already embarked on Campaign 2012 to make Barack Obama a one-term president. In the two-year run-up, they are determined to block any meaningful attempts at bi-partisanship and will try to roll back achievements of his first two years in office.

The first job of any politician is to get elected. The second job is to get re-elected. The third job is a source of contention. It is within that conflict we may distinguish leaders from parasites of the public trust. The countervailing forces confronting a politician are: a) faithfully representing his or her constituency (even if it is backward and bigoted), or, b) advancing the welfare of the country even if it runs against the grain of the voters who elected him or her to office and might mean defeat at the next election.

Whether written by JFK or Ted Sorensen, Profiles in Courage is a book that should be required reading for all who serve in government. Published in 1955, the book, in the words of Wikipedia, profiles eight U.S. senators “who crossed party lines and/or defied the public opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions.”

Obviously I disagree with the majority, if not all, of the “thinking” of the Republican/ Conservative/Tea Party. They have a right to their beliefs. What I object to is their disdain for the process of government, of compromise, their willingness to obstruct responsible stewardship of our land and people. Is there no one of principle in the Republican/ Conservative/Tea Party, no one with sufficient patriotism to put country ahead of conceit?

Equally fervent is my disappointment with the Democratic Party and its willingness to cave in. Instead of fighting brass knuckle tactics with equal measure, Democrats shrink from their responsibility. The failure of the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress has been its inability to inform the American public. They allowed the opposition to frame the debate on health care, financial bailouts, Bush tax cut extension and other hot button issues. Instead they supplied a “could’ve been worse if we didn’t do anything” message.

Obama et al have no time to waste. They must start now lauding provisions of Obamacare, provisions that guarantee coverage for children post-college, that restrict insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The Midwest is full of companies dependent on the auto industry. Without the bailout of GM and Chrysler, millions would have lost jobs. Democrats permitted the Republican/ Conservative/Tea Party to tarnish the benefits of the bailout program. Yes, it’s hard to defend an economy that tanked under your predecessor and has not responded to the financial stimulus package. But there have been success stories. Aside from the rebounds at GM and Chrysler, the bank bailouts will not cost anywhere near the billions originally forecast.

The American voter is fickle, shifting allegiance seemingly at whim, not sufficiently patient to “stay the course” beyond any one congressional election cycle. The next two years will be hell for those who care about responsible government. Republican/ Conservative/Tea Party spokesmen have vowed to downsize government. Democrats will fight to salvage consumer, social, workplace and environmental protections, but will be hard pressed to succeed. At the state level, given the new dominance of the Right, there will be massive changes. It is hard to imagine our country maintaining its infrastructure, educational system, and quality of life.

Perhaps that’s for the long term best, for without first hand exposure to what life in a Boehner-McConnell-Palin world would be, Americans might be deluded in 2012 into voting for a continuation of a government of “NO.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuesday's Lessons

Lessons from a Pol: Evan Bayh wrote an Op-Ed piece for Tuesday’s NY Times titled, “Where Do Democrats Go Next?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/opinion/03bayh.html?_r=)

My longstanding response, to him. I believe the moderate senator from Indiana, voluntarily leaving office in January, will come out of political retirement as President Obama’s next choice for vice president.

With sensible strategies as those elucidated in his commentary, Bayh is well positioned to appeal to the majority of voters.

Lessons from the Field: A week ago, Cliff Lee was invincible. Now that he’s lost two World Series games, will the NY Yankees still spend gazillions to sign him as a free agent?

A week ago, the Texas Rangers made the Yankees look like old men. They out-hit, out-pitched, out-ran the Bronx Bummers in a convincing four games to two American League Championship Series win. They looked unstoppable entering the World Series.

Someone forgot to tell the San Francisco Giants. The Giants simply out-hit, out-pitched, out-ran and out-fielded the Rangers. Suddenly the Rangers looked like old men, or young men not worthy of being on the same field as the Giants. The Giants obliterated the Rangers four games to one.

That’s the thing about baseball, or any sport for that matter. A team, a player, can get hot, or turn cold, and completely change the anticipated outcome. There are no telltale clues. It just happens. When a whole team rises to the occasion, it’s marvelous to watch. Yankee fans, if they are true baseball fans, had to marvel at what the Rangers did to our beloved diamondmen. And we had to savor what the Giants did to the Rangers. Ah, sweet comeuppance (not revenge), at the hands of another team. And what hands they were—superb pitching and surprisingly solid fielding from a team not known for its defense.

The Giants and the Rangers, as well as the Tampa Bay Rays, the Minnesota Twins and the Cincinnati Reds, showed the Yanks that a high payroll is not the only route to the post-season. But anyone who thinks the Yankees will sharply reduce overall player salaries fails to recall they have made the playoffs 15 of the last 16 years. No other team can claim such a distinguished record. Playoff appearances translate to more revenue. The Yanks will continue to spend to make the playoffs. In the playoffs, they have to hope they are the hot team, for dollars don’t matter if the other team is on a roll. So look for Cliff Lee to wear pinstripes next year.

Lessons from My Wallet: Nothing says retirement more than a review of my mostly underused airline and hotel frequent traveler cards.

At one time I had so many cards I carried a separate wallet just for them: American Airlines, Delta, USAir, Jet Blue, United, Continental, America West, Northwest, Virgin America, Hertz, Budget, Starwood Hotels, Hyatt, Stouffer Hotels, Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Ramada, Hilton, Wyndham, Best Western, Renaissance—I got tired just typing that list.

Several years ago I finally realized it was foolish to carry the cards with me. So I reduced the load to one sheet of paper with all the card fronts photo-stated on both sides of the paper. Now I won’t have to carry even that around. Last night I inputted all my account numbers into my cell phone. Technology to the rescue. Of course, I rarely travel, and even less frequently travel for work, these days, making my number punching seem quite superfluous. But you never know when opportunity will come a knockin’, so I’m ready.

Lessons from the Court: The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on a censorship case that quite frankly vexes me (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/us/03scotus.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=morazzini&st=cse). I am generally against any form of censorship, but this case involves California’s attempt to restrict the sale of violent video games to minors.

Aside from the desire not to allow government to get a foothold on what can and cannot be said and sold, I can’t see any redeeming social value to video games that exalt killing, maiming, dismembering, sexual abuse, torture and other sadistic behavior. It’s hard to accept that our society is turned on by these increasingly sophisticated and repulsive (at least to me) forms of entertainment. It’s hard to accept that our society and laws would not want to shield those under 18 from this depravity, just as it prohibits minors from buying sexually explicit material. How can viewing sex be more damaging to a young mind than these graphic depictions of deadly and deviant mayhem that a video game player actually participates in and initiates?

I’d say it sounds like I’m turning more conservative in my old age, but a conservative reading of the Bill of Rights would not let government make any law that abridges freedom of the press. Oh, what troubled times we live in.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Season of Discontent

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

This election season has been cast as the season of discontent, voters angry about rising taxes under President Obama (they’ve actually gone down on the federal level, truth be told), angry at Obamacare, angry about unemployment, angry about a stalled economy, angry about illegal immigration, angry about incumbent politicians more interested in grandstanding and fighting among themselves than solving our nation’s problems.

But in a very real sense this election is at least a short term referendum on our devotion to our fellow human beings, particularly the less fortunate. Too many people seem to be okay with the idea this would be a better country if we simply cut social services, if we ignored the decay in our infrastructure and our school systems, if we abandoned the democracy of health care for all, if we permitted wealth to accumulate in the hands of a select few while the rest of the populace suffers through decreasing assets.

If you didn’t see 60 Minutes on Sunday, you missed two excruciating reports. The first, by Scott Pelley, focused on Newton, Iowa, devastated by the loss of Maytag due to outsourcing and other businesses. Even the part-time mayor lost his full-time job when another company plant reduced its work force. Pelley concentrated on how the fallout from these closing and layoffs forced small business owners to cut staff to the bone, in turn forcing some to shut down completely. Anyone who has had to meet a payroll, to manage workers, knows any layoff is traumatic, more so for the employee, but also for the supervisor. Having to pare my staff by 25%, having to let go wage earners who were either the primary or sole providers for their families, made my decision to retire that much easier. If you watch Pelley’s report, you’ll see pain and anguish in the eyes of small businessmen and their families.

The second report, by Leslie Stahl, exposed the hypocrisy of the political system. Stahl interviewed David Stockman, architect of the Reagan tax cuts, the largest in history. Stockman chided Republicans for adopting a mantra of no new taxes and reducing current taxes at a time of deep budget deficits. He skewered them for wanting to extend the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, the top 2% of the country. Democrats, as well, came under attack for not being truthful about the need to raise taxes on the middle class.

In case you’re wondering, the quote at the top of the blog is nearly 50 years old. It’s part of the 1961 inaugural address written by John F. Kennedy and Theodore C. Sorensen. Sorensen died Sunday. Too many of his progressive thoughts might die as well if the country turns to the right in voting today as polls are predicting.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Miss Congeniality

Well, Boston ironside brought home the Miss Congeniality Award, otherwise known as the Team Spirit Award, at the U.S. Ultimate Frisbee National Open Championships in Sarasota, Fla., this past weekend. Dan’s team, Ironside, lost its only game of the tournament in the finals to Revolver from San Francisco.

Ironside had been seeded number one, with high expectations considering it had not lost any tournaments this season and had twice defeated Revolver in Seattle. But at this level of post-college club competition, there’s only a slight degree of difference between elite teams. Ironside did not bring its A game to the playing field Sunday. Revolver did. Ironside literally threw away too many opportunities while Revolver seemed to run faster, jump higher and focus more. Revolver won 15-10.

Gilda and I made the trip down to Nationals to cheer Dan and his team on and help Allison with Finley, who, like his one-year-old girlfriend Eliot, showed up for the finals with a temporary tattoo of Old Ironsides across his tummy.

I’m not ashamed to say, I was nervous and anxious throughout the tournament. Gilda doesn’t quite get how a fan, and in this case a proud father, sweats out every point, engages in superstitious, patterned behavior and gets that queasy feeling in the stomach before every game. I get the same way before any of Ellie’s singing performances. But those are usually one shot affairs. This was a four day ordeal, eight matches in all.

Watching these young men compete, I was struck by the realization that players of a similar age are currently engaged in the World Series. Ultimate players get no financial reward. They mostly play a self-policed game (“observers” monitor the contests, adjudicating controversies that cannot be resolved by the teams). They travel the country on their own dime. They are part of a fraternity that is now international (fyi—Revolver won the world title last July in Prague; Ironside came in fifth).

Sunday’s final was the first time two undefeated teams met for the title. Revolver played like giants. For the second time in three years, Ironside came up short in the championship game.

You never stop being a parent. You never stop wanting your child to succeed, to attain whatever pinnacle he or she strives to mount. But you’re unable to help beyond being supportive, before, during and after the event. It’s disappointment different than the participant’s, but no less palpable. It’s an ache inside you because your child is hurting and nothing you could have done could have prevented that hurt. He’s a grown man, with a wife and child of his own. But he’s still my son, and I see him through the years, learning to throw, catch, kick and hit a ball, ride a bike, swim a lap, throw a frisbee.

Frisbee is a young man’s sport (though there is a Masters division for those 33 and older). Dan will turn 33 just before next year’s Nationals. Age, competition from younger legs trying out for the team, and the pull from his own family obligations are working against him. Yet I know his willpower is strong, his determination unbent, his commitment unyielding. Just as Revolver won its third matchup with Ironside, perhaps a third visit to the championship game next year will be the ultimate finale for Ironside and for Dan.