Thursday, December 30, 2010

Witch Hunt, Polls and Boring Hawaii

It's been reported that Christine O'Donnell, the defeated Tea Party candidate for U.S. Senator from Delaware, and self-proclaimed witch long before she had a political presence, is under investigation by the Feds for possible election law violations including possible use of campaign funds to pay for everyday living expenses such as rent.

O'Donnell has fired back, calling the probe "thug tactics" to keep her from having meaningful input into her state's and the nation's political futures. Pointedly, she did not call it a "witch hunt," but that won't stop the press, including yours truly, from categorizing it as such.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive."

O'Donnell isn't the only Republican femme fatale having her problems these days. According to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling, only one in three Alaskans have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin, their former governor and favorite daughter vice presidential candidate who is mulling a presidential run in 2012. Her favorable ratings are down from nearly half, 47%, a year ago. Meanwhile, her negative scores increased to 58% from 45%.

On the plus side, Republicans outside of Alaska have a more favorable opinion of Palin. Which makes me wonder, shouldn't the rest of the country take its lead from those who know the devil best and not rely on some PR-puffed up princess of the north (OK, Mama Grizzly) image that she is projecting?


That’s how I would describe the weather in Hawaii where President Obama and family currently are vacationing. Every day the temperature is 80 degrees, give or take a degree or two. Check it out on the Weather Channel.

Gilda and I have been to Hawaii twice, one April about 20 years ago to attend a drug store convention on Maui, the other to visit Ellie in January while she spent seven months on Oahu after she graduated from Skidmore College in 2003. Though we listened to the weather report every day, it really was unnecessary as it never varied: “Sunny, high 80 degrees with chance of scattered afternoon showers.”

Oh, sure, compared to a blizzard, 80 degrees sounds appealing. It surely is a respite from bitter cold and snow. But as a steady daily diet, I’m not sure I could tolerate one season basically 12 months a year.

Our trip to Maui was a star-studded affair. Drug stores may be among the most utilitarian outlets, but the people who put on their annual convention really knew how to party. They spent big bucks to inform and entertain.

The year we attended the convention, the association's president brought in speakers like William Safire and Benizar Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan. The women's program featured handbag doyenne Judith Lieber. The final evening's showcase performer was Liza Minnelli. Bob Hope, looking barely alive, did stand-up, barely, at a private party sponsored by a cosmetics company.

Oh, did I forget to mention the drug store association's president was Ron Ziegler, President Nixon's press secretary? I took the opportunity to remind Ziegler we met briefly in the White House back in 1972. He was courteous but not really impressed. I'm sure he met lots of people back in those heady days of pushing power, not pills.

Not sure if my computer will be returned from the Apple store in time for another posting before the celebrations begin tomorrow night, so here's best wishes for an enjoyable and safe New Year's Eve for everyone and a hope that 2011 will be brighter and healthier for all.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Day, Once Again

Gilda went off to work this morning. Nothing unusual about that, except this is the morning after the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010.

As much as I tried to convince her to take a snow day, Gilda was determined to get to work. Though none of the spine surgeons would be in the office because they were on vacation, three patients were expected to show up to see her, come hell or high snow. She felt obligated to be there for them. Moreover, she couldn’t call the other nurse practitioner who lives in Manhattan to cover for her as he, too, was on vacation.

Metro North was operating on a Sunday schedule, which meant only one train per hour. To get to the train station, she gave herself a few extra minutes to navigate the streets in her Jeep (and to mush through the 11 inches of snow on our driveway which I had not yet cleared). Metro North fulfilled its obligation, bringing her to Grand Central Terminal where she boarded the subway down to Union Square, arriving on time, but a few minutes after her 9 am appointment, a woman from New Jersey, who called our home from Gilda’s office to find out if she indeed was coming in.

Those two women are really dedicated. As were the two other patients who showed for their appointments. Gilda was right to go to work. Now the only dilemma she faces is how to get home. As she was walking through Grand Central this morning Metro North announced suspension of all further service because of switch-related problems. She hopes they will be resolved before her work day ends (still no service at 1 pm), or she’ll have to spend the night at Ellie’s apartment in Brooklyn.

No matter how conscientious you are, snow always seems to have the upper hand. As I wrote last February, when I worked in the city, I had a deserved reputation for taking snow days at the drop of a snow flake. It came from my double experience in the winter of 1978.

In January, after a 20-inch snowstorm, I trudged to the train station from our apartment in downtown White Plains in plenty time for my normal 8:18 am transport. The train arrived on time. I sat down for the usual 35 minute commute. Four hours later, the train pooped out in the tunnel beneath Park Avenue. Snow had fallen through the grates, blocking all trains from entering Grand Central Terminal.

We couldn’t move forward or back up. Metro North decided our only exit was vertical. All on board had to carefully climb down onto the tracks and ascend one of the emergency staircases, taking us up to Park Avenue and 72nd Street. From there I walked 15 blocks to my office at 425 Park Avenue. When I got there I discovered the office was closed. After a few minutes to thaw out, I was back on the street, slogging my way down to Grand Central, 13 blocks to the south, all the way hoping there would be a train back to White Plains.

I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Four hours later it pulled into White Plains. I had spent more than nine hours commuting in the snow. I vowed to be more circumspect in future snowstorms.

I had my chance two weeks later when another 20-inch storm struck. This time I sought assurance our office would be open. I called our VP administration who, by coincidence, commuted on my same train each day. He daily drove down to White Plains from Ridgefield, Conn. If anyone would be a no-show, Mike surely would lead the pack. But his wife cheerfully reported Mike had set off for work. I reasoned I had better show up, as well.

Once again, I trudged down to the station. The 8:18 am train again arrived on time. I sat down. Once again, the trip south took four hours. This time, though, it made it all the way into Grand Central. I engaged a pay telephone (this was pre-cell phone days), called the office and discovered it was, once again, closed!

Once again, I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Once again, four hours later it pulled into White Plains. Once again, I had spent more than a full work day commuting in the snow. This time, I came to the realization that snow was God’s way of telling me to slow down, that work could be done at home just as easily as in the office. I soon garnered my well-deserved reputation for taking a snow day for anything more than a dusting.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two-Wheeled Trauma

Lots of children woke up Christmas morning to find a bicycle under the tree. Or maybe a two-wheeler showed up under the Hannukah menorah a few weeks ago. Either way, my reaction to these childhood conveyances can best be summarized by the following headline: “Fell Off My Bike, and Vowed Never to Get Back On.”

The accompanying article ( reconfirmed my antipathy toward a sport, an exercise, that I have disdained since around the time I was 7. I never learned to ride a bicycle as a child, a deprivation of youth I attributed to my father (why blame myself when an adult authority figure is readily available and central to the story?).

Like any good father, my father was teaching me to ride without training wheels, a feat he had accomplished with my brother and sister. Behind our home in Brooklyn, we shared a T-shaped common driveway leading to the garages tucked into the back of each row house. The long portion of the paved driveway was at least the length of a football field and was commonly used for many of the games we played such as ringolevio, punchball and blind man’s bluff. It was a perfect place to learn to ride a bike.

My father dutifully ran alongside the bike holding it steady as I attempted to maintain balance. All was going well. I turned my head to tell him something, but he wasn’t there. I must have been at least 10 yards past him, cycling on my own. But I panicked. I crashed down to the hard pavement. I ran back home, crying to my mother, “Daddy let go.” I was inconsolable, determined never again to trust him to hold me steady, resolute in my opinion that my large tricycle was just as good as a two-wheeler. All my friends pedaled circles around me on their two-wheelers. I countered I could run just as fast as they could bike.

No amount of coaxing could change my mind. It stayed closed-minded for the next 33 years, until I was 40 and Ellie was 7. She had just learned to ride. Gilda threatened to go on biking vacations with Dan and Ellie without me. So I learned (subject of a future blog). On our first bike outing as a family, around the SUNY Purchase perimeter road, Ellie tumbled down a steep hill in front of me. Good thing she was wearing a helmet.

A few months later we were riding in Garden City while attending one of Dan’s soccer tournaments. As we came to Stewart Avenue, a major roadway, I suggested we ride on the sidewalk. Gilda said it would be safer in the street. Fearful of cars, I insisted on the sidewalk. Gilda gave in. As we approached a massive tree with a low hanging branch, Dan said he would try to reach up to touch it. I turned my head to tell him not to, in so doing steered my bike directly into the tree trunk. I crashed, breaking my fall with my right forearm. X-rays from a midnight trip to the emergency room revealed no broken bones, but the wrist took months to heal, less time than it took my ego to admit Gilda was right about where to ride.

The next summer as we were biking on vacation I fell as a car came too close to me on a hairpin turn (at least that was my view). I decided I preferred safety to biking with family and have rarely been aboard a bike since. A few years ago we donated my bike. We gave Gilda’s to our daughter-in-law Allison. Gilda keeps hinting she’d like us to buy recumbent bikes, the type that are low to the ground. I doubt we will. I have too much regard for my bones and insufficient confidence in my stability on two wheels.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Twice Broken Heart

I relived one of the most disappointing days of my childhood the other day.

October 13, 1960. Because it was a Jewish holiday (Shemini Atzeret), I was not in school. I was able to watch the live broadcast of the seventh game of the World Series between the NY Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the game some have called the best ever played in the fall classic, the first final game ever won by a walk-off home run, the game the Yankees lost on Bll Mazeroski’s bottom of the ninth home run, the same Bill Mazeroski who hit the winning home run in the first game of the series.

For 50 years that game resided in memory banks and a few assorted clippings. But earlier this year a black and white kinescope of the color broadcast was discovered among the treasures of the late Bing Crosby, a minority owner of the Pirates whose superstitions wouldn’t let him view the game in person (he chose to go to Paris, instead). He asked an associate to film the game, which after he viewed it, was consigned to his proverbial closet until found several months ago. MLB Network aired the game earlier this month accompanied by comments from sportscaster Bob Costas and former players.

Aside from breaking my Yankee heart all over again, here are some observations a now 61-year-old baseball fan takes away from viewing the tape and comparing it to today’s ball games:

  • The afternoon game attracted men in suits and ties (many doffed their jackets in the warm sun). Most men didn’t wear hats. Women did.
  • No beer was sold inside Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. Fans brought their own into the park.
  • Among the starting 18 players, only one was a person of color, the Pirate’s Roberto Clemente of Puerto Rico. Elston Howard, the Yanks’ Afro-American catcher (Yogi Berra played left field), was injured and could not play.
  • No hitter wore batting gloves. They all used white bats, with no pine tar on the shafts.
  • Five home runs were hit. Not one player grandstanded at home plate admiring his shot.
  • The home plate umpire ruled supreme. Not once did he consult another ump to determine whether a batter checked his swing.
  • Players wore their pants to the mid-calf, unlike today’s athletes who either wear them down to their shoes or cinched up at the knees.
  • Lots of players tried to bunt, even power hitters such as Clemente, Roger Maris, Bill “Moose” Skowron, and Bob Skinner.
  • With a runner on first base, a wide camera angle from behind home plate was able to show the pitcher, batter and runner in a single frame so the viewer could see if a steal or hit and run was on.
  • The game had a rapid pace. Pitchers wasted little time between pitches. Hitters did not stray from the batter’s box after every pitch. No pitching coach made a trip to the mound, Only managers Casey Stengel for NY and Danny Murtaugh of Pittsburgh visited the pitchers. Relief pitchers walked to the mound.
  • There were few mound conferences between pitcher and catcher. But as with today’s game, invariably catastrophe struck after such a confab. Mazeroski’s game winning homer came on the first pitch after catcher John Blanchard conferred with pitcher Ralph Terry. NY's Tom Stafford gave up a two-out, two run single to Bill Virdon after a talk with Blanchard in the second inning; Clemente dribbled a run-scoring infield single in the eighth inning after Blanchard met with Jim Coates; and Hal Smith stroked a three-run homer that same inning after, you guessed it, Blanchard again met with Coates. (Terry, fyi, almost lost the 7th game of the 1962 series against the San Francisco Giants. Though he had held the Giants to just four hits while protecting a 1-0 lead, he faced Willie McCovey with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth. McCovey ripped a line drive that would have scored both runners for the series win had the ball not gone directly into second baseman Bobby Richardson’s mitt for the final out. Richardson, by the way, was one of the former players at the airing of the Pirates-Yankees series clinching game. Richardson was MVP of the series against Pittsburgh. Terry was the MVP of the 1962 series.)

Mazeroski’s homer was not a cheap shot. It went more than 400 feet over the left field fence and broke the hearts of more than a few Yankee fans, young and now old.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Golfers, Beware

Warning to my golfer friends—you’re no longer safe on the links. I have been licensed to play without fear of penalty or lawsuit.

The New York State Court of Appeals, like other state courts, has ruled a duffer is not liable if his shot strikes someone not in their intended path. Since my balls never go where I want them to, I am free to hit and maim anyone out for a peaceful, uneventful round of golf. I don’t even have to sound silly and scream out “fore” before stroking the ball (

Golf has never been one of my passions. During high school and college I played a few rounds at the pitch and putt course at Riis Park in Belle Harbor, Queens. After my marriage, my Uncle Harry gave me one of his old sets of clubs, but I never really used them until Dan was born. While Gilda shared play dates with two of Dan’s toddler friends’ mothers, I would hook up most Fridays with the fathers for a round at the local public course.

None of us were good, which meant 18 holes took nearly six hours to complete, a long time to leave our young families alone. It didn’t help matters that while Dave, Rudy and I were swinging through the brush on most holes, only Dave and I were recording anywhere near actual stroke counts. I’d come out of the rough proud of my "six," Dave would say five and together we’d be bewildered to hear Rudy claim a three—and he was an accountant by trade! Dave and I shortly agreed it was more fun to share times with our kids and wives. We rarely saw Rudy after that.

About 20 summers ago my company ran an employee golf outing. I have two vivid memories of that day. First, I made a huge mistake wearing shorts as the mosquitoes attacked in force. Second, my sliced tee shot off the first hole almost boinged a fellow publisher standing roughly 85 degrees to my right. Fortunately, she didn’t see the ball whiz by her head, though her staff was disappointed I missed her as they did not like her at all.

I avoided further mishaps on the golf course by staying away, but got roped into playing at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, once known as the Playboy Club & Resort, Lake Geneva, Wis. In 1999, my magazine co-produced a retail conference for Siemens Nixdorf (SN). The meeting at the hotel ended with a golf tournament. Though I begged off playing, SN’s national sales manager insisted I join his foursome. We’d be playing a scramble format, requiring each player to be be responsible for at least one shot per hole.

Now, golf is said to be a great sport for bonding, for building up relationships and business contacts. I recently heard Jack Stephens of The Stephens Group, a company that was an early bankroller of Wal-Mart, say, “Golf lets you observe and size up somebody over 4–4-1/2 hours.” Well, in the course of those hours, Siemens Nixdorf went from being a $100,000 annual account to dropping all contact with us for the next 10 years. My only explanation is that SN’s national sales manager did not take kindly to losing his own tournament because I could not hit a decent shot all afternoon. We finally won back some business a few years ago, but only after he left the company.

The last time I golfed it was also at the request of an account, Morgan Stanley, at a charity tournament it ran in Rockland County in 2007. My foursome included two of my magazine associates along with the actor Aidan Quinn (really nice guy). The tournament attracted several NY Football Giants players and coaches including Eli Manning (taller than he appears on camera) and was emceed by WNBC-NY sportscaster Bruce Beck (shorter than he seems on TV). The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that upcoming season.

Perhaps now that it’s safe for me to play golf again the Giants will go on to another Super Bowl victory.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Biting the Apple

Sometimes the status quo is better than a free upgrade.

Case in point: Last week my iTouch inexplicably would not accept or send emails linked to my gmail account. The device claimed my email address or password was not correct. After fruitlessly following suggestions on the iTouch self-help Web page, I appeared before the friendly face of Mason at the genius bar of the Apple store. To no avail we kept trying to re-load my information. Mason even updated the software. No luck.

Success came only after I (reluctantly) changed my password.

The next day, when I tried to re-energize the iTouch with a generic $5 charger I keep beside my bed, the following message appeared: “Charger incompatible.”

The new software also is incompatible with my generic car charger.

Arghh! It’s so inconvenient to be left with just one working Apple-certified charger.

It seems everyone wants an Apple iPad, but men are especially traumatized by its size and how to carry it without carting a briefcase around or transporting it in any conveyance that resembles a purse. Last Thursday’s NY Times Styles section carried an article by Jennifer 8. Lee, “Coming to Grips with Lugging an iPad” (

Among the suggestions were fleece vests with iPad-sized inner pockets from Scottevest. Good idea, but at $100 or more, not quite a bargain when you can get Polartec fleeces and hooded sweatshirts with large enough inner pockets for less than $30 at stores like Marshalls or Old Navy.

But whichever retailer you patronize, the iPod apparel solution works only half a year in cold climates and hardly ever in sunshine states. What do you do when the temperature is above 60 degrees and no vest or sweatshirt is necessary? Until we figure this dilemma out, I’ll stick with my iTouch.

The iPad article was interesting for another reason, the name of its author. I’d never seen anyone with a number as a middle name. Letters I can understand. President Harry Truman chose to put an S. in the middle of his name. Hollywood mogul David Selznick put an O. there. But an 8?

According to Wikipedia, “Jennifer 8. Lee was not given a middle name at birth, but instead chose ‘8.’ as a teenager. For many Chinese, the number eight symbolizes prosperity and good luck.”

I never knew that.

One last bite out of the apple, the Big Apple, this time. I dressed my 13-month-old grandson in a NY Football Giants sweatshirt that I had bought him so he could watch the end of the Giants-Eagles game with me Sunday afternoon. Finley had slept through the total domination the Giants had exacted on Philadelphia in the first 54 and a half minutes of the game his parents were attending at the Meadowlands, courtesy of tickets from Finley’s great uncle Carl. By the time Finley woke up and I brought him downstairs, the Giants were leading 31-10.

As he sat in my lap munching apple-flavored dry cereal (pictures at, the Giants imploded, losing 38-31 on the last play of the game, a 65-yard punt return that ended with time expiring. This loss was as stunning as the famous Fumble game, when Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik botched a handoff to Larry Csonka with 30 seconds remaining and Herman Edwards scooped up the ball and ran it in 26 yards for the winning touchdown for, you guessed it, the very same Philadelphia Eagles. That was in 1978. The Giants have won three Super Bowls since then, but losses like this latest one are really painful and as memorable as those championship wins.

Finley didn’t say a word. He just kept munching away. He won’t remember this Giants disaster. Ah, the innocence of youth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Night at Elaine's

Did you see the nostalgic article on Elaine’s in last Sunday’s Style section of the NY Times? (OK, so I’m a little behind in my reading. Besides, I’ve had other topics to write about in the interim.) Here’s the link in case you missed it:

I’ll admit to a certain envy of those journalistic brothers who frequented the power den restaurant and watering hole on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But as a commuter and family man, I wasn’t going to abandon Gilda, Dan and Ellie for associations of questionable benefit. Besides, I never was a heavy drinker, and from all I’ve heard and read about the gang that hung out at Elaine’s, that was a strong prerequisite for membership.

It wasn’t until about five years ago that I finally swung through the doors of Elaine’s with Gilda in the company of our English friends Dave and Gemma Banks. Dave, you may recall from an earlier blog ( has been a force in British journalism for some 40 years. After Rupert Murdoch bought the NY Post, he imported several Brits to spice up the tabloid, of which Dave was a key player. We accompanied Dave as he met up with his successors at the Post, editor Col Allan and company (Dave also edited the NY Daily News; the day before we met with the then editor Martin Dunn at his downtown loft apartment prior to dining with him at Tribeca Grill).

Elaine herself came over to our table. Of course, she would, given the provenance of Col Allan. Though she didn’t know Gilda or me, Ms. Kaufman could not have been more welcoming. She had no airs. She showed more interest in our new faces than those of her regulars. In short (and she was short in physical stature), she was a perfect host, making us feel comfortable and important.

I’ve often wondered how my career might have been different had I been more of a drinker and schmoozer and not such a homebody. While a reporter in Connecticut, I didn’t hang out in bars with politicians, the police or firemen, filling up on beer and background stories. When I became a business to business editor, I rarely socialized with the captains of commerce my magazine covered. I still managed to have a successful career, but the question still lingers in my mind—what if....?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Days to Remember

In a rare convergence of the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, today marks the 29th birthday of our daughter Ellie and the 12th anniversary of my father’s passing. I don’t expect to be around the next time December 16 coincides with the 9th of Tevet. That will be in 2056, when I would be 107 years old.

After dropping Gilda off at the train station, I went to our temple for the morning service (how interesting that when spoken it could easily be misconstrued to be the “mourning” service). This being a Thursday, a brief segment of Saturday’s upcoming Torah portion was read. It described the pending death of the patriarch Yakov (Jacob) in the land of Egypt where he had traveled from Canaan because of famine. My father’s Hebrew name was Yakov, as well. He, too, left his native land, Poland in his case, because of adversity, Nazi oppression.

Like the biblical Yakov, my father twice moved from his original home and country to prosper in new surroundings. Yakov fled Canaan after deceiving his father Isaac into blessing him. He went to his uncle Laban’s home where he worked and reared a family before life there became unbearable. He returned to Canaan and eventually emigrated to Egypt. My father left Ottynia, a small town in Galicia, now part of Ukraine, when he was 16 to become a businessman in the Free City of Danzig (now called Gdansk) before emigrating in 1939, roughly half a year before Hitler invaded Poland.

The Torah reading begins by stating, “The days of Yakov, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.” But the Hebrew phrase “the years of his life” (“shenai chayav”) can be read to have another meaning, much the way “the morning/mourning service” could be heard in different contexts. The second interpretation of the sentence could be, “the days of Yakov, his two lives, were a hundred forty and seven years.”

It could be said Yakov lived two lives, one in Canaan, one in other lands; one before his beloved wife Rachel died and her first son Joseph is seemingly lost to him, one after he is reunited with Joseph; one before the famine, one life after, in Egypt.

My father lived two lives, one in Poland, one in the United States; one before his family was killed in the Holocaust, one after he was reunited with the only member of his immediate family to survive, his brother, Willy; one in business and another in social action for charitable and civic associations; one in full embrace of family and life’s graces and benefits, the other mired in the darkness of dementia that dimmed the last few of his near 88 years.

Like so many of his contemporaries, my father did not dwell on the past. He rarely spoke about conditions in Ottynia and Danzig. He focused on the present and future.

I had intended to write more about my father and his granddaughter, Ellie, but in the middle of this exercise stopped to read an email from a friend serendipitously about this week’s Torah reading. It contained the following message from a rabbinic commentary:

“What is the connection between grandchildren and peace? Surely this, that those who think about grandchildren care about the future, and those who think about the future make peace. It is those who constantly think of the past, of slights and humiliations and revenge, (who) make war.”

My father started off as a great grandfather. But age, infirmity and distance stripped him of his inclination and ability to interact meaningfully with his seven grandchildren. For now, Gilda and I have one grandchild. Finley will be visiting this weekend with his parents. Ellie will join us. It will be a most wonderful, cherished time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tie-ing Up Politics to Move Forward

What’s with all the grey ties Obama has been wearing lately? They may be beautiful, but to my eye, and those of some professional observers, they are sending the wrong message.

One blogger asked, “Is Obama trying to look like a mortician with his dark suit and grey tie get up?” Those who disagree with his stewardship of our country might agree he’s trying to bury us.

From Britain comes this generic analysis of color from Scarlet Pixel, the self-described “Internet leaders in online personal colour analysis”:

“The wearing of grey ties, or suits for that matter, can easily give out the robust message that you are a 'company' person, evasive and not open to commitment or ready to take a stand over any issue (” Ouch, that’s so spot-on, as the English say. It’s enough to make someone choke up because the knot is too tight around the neck.

Speaking of choking up, I don’t have any problem with incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner tearing up and crying as he recalls his bootstrapping history to live the good life and making sure “kids have a shot at the American dream,” as he told Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes last Sunday. Clips also showed Boehner choking up when he thinks about the safety and security of America.

I do, however, wonder about Boehner’s total judgment—how is it that we don’t see him crying when he thinks of all the people who are unemployed? Why does he appear dried-eyed and ready to cut off their jobless benefits unless he and his fellow millionaires get an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of our population? Does he shed tears over the millions without health insurance? Does his waterworks flow when he talks about the rights homosexuals are denied, or is he afraid he might be suspected of being gay if he showed compassion for another human being?

Crying in public is now okay, apparently, but let’s make sure our politicians do it because they care for their fellow man and woman, not because they’re overcome by their own good fortune.

Speaking of fortunes, and ties, Mayor Michael Bloomberg eschewed a red or blue tie, or a combination of the two colors, as he attended the launch of the No Labels party this week. He wore a purple cravat. For those not familiar with No Labels, it’s an attempt to defuse the partisanship found in the Democratic and Republican parties, a movement its founders hope will be a little more permanent than Jon Stewart’s recent Rally to Restore Sanity. Here’s how No Labels describes itself on its Web site, “We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America.”

As an Independent (to express my objectivity when I began as a reporter in 1972, I chose not to affiliate with either party), I must admit I usually side with progressive, liberal politicians, the kind generally found in the Democratic party. Through the years I’ve occasionally voted for a Republican, but by no stretch of the imagination could my voting record be considered evenly split.

I agree with the idea behind No Labels. But anyone who believes electing a No Label president and even some senators and congressmen would change our political system is far from realistic. The last two years have shown that in the Senate it requires at least 60 fair-minded humans to accomplish anything. I doubt that among the 100 senators there ever again will be 60 fair-minded, bi-partisan humans who care more for country than party, who care more for the people they were elected to serve than the party leaders and lobbyists/special interests they truly serve.

I can’t pinpoint when we started to spoil political discourse—some say it began with the 1987 Bork Supreme Court nomination fight—but we’ve gone far astray from Frank Capra’s wonderful life celluloid image of America the beautiful and moral.

The new word in politics is “forward.” Just ask the media, as noted by Stewart on last night’s Daily Show. MSNBC started it with a new slogan—”Lean Forward,” countered by Fox News with “Move Forward,” and dissed by CNN’s “Moving Truth Forward.” No Labels trumped them all with its motto—"Not left. Not right. Forward."

Given the state of our national dialogue, it’s hard to believe we’re going anywhere except maybe backward. Tea Party members would like to take us back to a time when women and minorities had few if any rights, there was no income tax or health care of any kind, no social security, no regulatory federal powers, and, maybe, even to a time when not even the U.S. Supreme Court would deny the right of a white man to own a black slave.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Alive. It's Alive

Like Frankenstein’s monster. Like Lazarus rising from the dead. Like, oh forget about any more analogies, you get what I mean. It’s alive. The leaf mulcher has come back to life!

Moments after starting my snow blower for the first time this season in preparation for the inevitable, I decided to try my brother’s suggestion to try to revive the mulcher he had given me last week. He advised forcing the funnel tubing deeper into place on the blower housing by banging it on the garage concrete floor. I flipped the switch and was astounded to hear the powerful motor roar. Astounded that my brother could possibly have been right about something. Well, I guess that’s why he’s the older brother.

Of course, now that it’s working again I will have to resist using it on damp leaves which are all I have for the foreseeable future given Sunday’s drenching. So the wait begins. Which power tool will I use first in the coming week(s), the leaf mulcher or the snow blower? My preference is for the former, but given all the snow that has swirled around upstate and to the west, I’m not too confident my wishes will be met.

We’re hoping to see Finley this weekend, but it all depends on the weather. Dan and Allison would use Uncle Carl’s tickets to the Giants-Eagles game on Sunday, but they won’t bring Finley down from Boston on Saturday if the game day weather is expected to be foul. Right now there’s a 30% chance of precipitation. Arghh!

Saturday morning I saw Emily P. for the first time in several years. She’s a high school sophomore these days, but to me she will always be remembered as the not quite three year old who saved my house from a basement flood.

Emily and her family were over for dinner one stormy Friday night. Now, as I might have mentioned before, Gilda is a really good cook, so when Emily asked for ketchup to make her meal more palatable, we were somewhat caught off guard, all the more so when we discovered no ketchup bottle in the refrigerator. No problem, we keep extra supplies in the basement, said I.

I opened the door, flicked on the light and found two inches of water in the basement (along with the ketchup). After dinner, I vacuumed up the water and shortly thereafter we French-drained the basement which has remained dry except for two notable times when our sump pump lines froze (but that’s a story for another day). I will always have a soft, dare I say, mushy, place in my
heart for Emily.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You Get What You Pay For

During the recent media coverage of Derek Jeter’s contract negotiations, I heard it reported that George Steinbrenner never wanted any incentives built into his players’ deals, no extra money, say, for winning the league most valuable player award. The Boss reasoned, after all, that he was paying top dollar for top performances. He expected nothing less than an MVP effort from everyone, so why pay extra?

That approach to fiscal management comes to mind because a trend seems to be surfacing in municipalities across the country. To bulk up budgets stretched too thin by stingy politicos, police and fire departments are charging for services that until now seemed to be included in your tax bill, services such as showing up at the scene of an accident. Now, some localities are charging for an appearance by rescue crews, even if you weren’t at fault. Here’s an article for perspective:

I’m as sympathetic as the next guy to the financial plight of fire and police departments. I believe these first responders deserve all the pay, and more, that we can give them for being willing to risk their lives every day for us ordinary citizens. But I have a real problem with administrators trying to balance budgets on a pay-as-you-go basis. I worry about setting a precedent. I mean, if civil servants desire more money each time their services are required, how soon will they draw up a menu with a sliding scale of charges?:

$50 to retrieve a cat from a tree or roof; $100 to respond to a house alarm, $200 if it’s a false alarm; $300 to search for a missing child, $500 nuisance charge if the child shows up at the local mall.

And why stop with the fire and police departments? Sanitation workers could impose a surcharge for picking up trash after a holiday. Say, $50 for Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Easter, but $100 for Christmas because of the extra wrapping paper and boxes. Highway departments could charge for plowing after every snowfall, the rate determined by how many inches came down. Teachers could demand a bonus for above average test grades and graduation rates; city hospital workers could exact payments if they cure patients, or at least send them home alive.

The budget-balancing possibilities are endless.

Of course, there might be a silver lining to this pay-for-service plan. To attract new residents and businesses, municipalities might begin advertising their rates as lower than nearby communities. Price wars might result. They might get so intense that police and fire department services might be offered free of extra charge, just like they’re supposed to be.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Playing Catchup

Gilda advised me when I woke up Thursday morning that Syracuse, NY, was under two feet of snow. I checked the weather forecast—over the next few days more dandruff from the sky is expected in the city I love to hate.

For those not familiar with my disdain for Syracuse, here’s a link to a blog I wrote last December:

Name That Feud: Baby Boy Forseter, our grandnephew, has an official name—Jacob Peyton Forseter, to be commonly called Jake.

I won’t weigh you down with the lineage from whom Jake derived his first and second names, but I would like to dwell a moment on Peyton. Though his father, Eric, hopes Jake will find a good playmate in our one-year-old grandson, Finley, I’m not sure he is aware of the challenge he has placed before them.

According to, Peyton is of Old English origin; the meaning of Peyton is "fighting-man's estate". Finley, the Web site says, is of Irish and Gaelic origin; the meaning of Finley is "fair-haired, courageous one". I surely hope these English- and Irish-named Jewish kids get along.

The next Forseter grandchild is due in March. Eric’s sister, Karen, and her husband, David, live in London (he's a real English Jew). I can hardly wait to hear what name they’ll pick for their progeny, the sex of which we have yet to be told.

Dead as a Doornail: The mulcher is officially dead.

The mulcher my brother Bernie gave me last weekend lasted less than a day. It did not help matters that some of the leaves I mulched were slightly damp. Who knew that was a no-no? Nowhere in the instruction booklet—which I thoroughly read before using the mulcher—did it say anything about avoiding wet leaves. But that was the first thing the Black & Decker repairman asked me when I called for help. And it was the first thing Gilda asked about when I told her the mulcher died.

(Since Bernie does not read this blog on a regular basis, perhaps I’ll be spared his commentary.)

Next time, I will hark back to my tried and true method of handling yard work—I’ll pay to have someone else do it!

Yankee Misfortunes: I’m happy Derek Jeter and the Yanks agreed to a new deal, but the big news in baseballdumb (“dumb” because of all the dollars being thrown at players of questionable quality for contracts of too many years) is the vast improvement, on paper at least, posed by the dreaded Boston Red Sox with the signing of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

With their solid starting pitching and the expected return of injured players from last year, the Beantown Boys are the team to beat in the American League, even if the Yankees sign Cliff Lee.

To qualify for the playoffs next year, New York will need rebound performances from A.J. Burnett and Jeter, more well-rounded results from Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada and Joba Chamberlain, and at least comparable statistics from Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte (if he returns) and C.C. Sabathia.

Equal Opportunity Rant: It’s time to vent against Congressional Democrats for saying they won’t go along with the compromise President Obama stitched together with Republicans extending the Bush tax cuts and stimulating the economy, including renewing unemployment compensation for the long term jobless (including many of my former colleagues).

Before the November elections, House and Senate Democrats couldn’t get the job done despite their majorities. The time to push principles has passed. It’s now time to govern; governing often requires compromise. Rare is the person who likes compromise. It means you didn’t get all of what you wanted. But that’s the way it works in government, Democrats. Don’t allow the GOP to turn you into the “party of NO.”

Don’t let the electorate believe it was the Democrats who raised taxes on the lower and middle classes. That’s a sure way to creating even greater Republican victories in 2012.

For Shame: Yesterday, Senate Republicans again scuttled an attempt to fund medical care for 9/11 first responders and others who became ill breathing the toxic air around Ground Zero. To use a phrase made famous by Joseph N. Welch in rebuking Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, “Have you left no sense of decency?”

How shameful is it that the party that professes to be all about patriotism, law and order and American values cannot see the morality of supporting those who put their lives at risk for the sake of their country and fellow citizens? The GOP is balking at spending $7.4 billion in medical benefits but is happy to enthusiastically back tax breaks for the wealthy that would add $60 billion a year to the nation’s deficit.

For shame. For shame.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Life, Plus and Minus 30 Years

Herb Horn was eulogized today. Herb passed away Tuesday, three months after celebrating his 90th birthday. He was a friend.

Three weeks ago, Finley’s maternal great grandmother, Phebe Perry Mixter, age 90, was eulogized.

Both funerals, one Jewish, the other Episcopalian, were celebrations of remarkable lives.

But what struck me as I sat through both services was the near 30-year gap in our ages (I’m three months shy of 62). Should I live to their age, how will society and culture change? Consider what has transpired in the last 30 years:

* The scourge of HIV/AIDS became widely known at the start of the 1980s

* Lipitor, the preeminent cholesterol-fighting drug that has affected countless lives (I’m a beneficiary), was developed in 1988. Two years before, doctors implanted the first human coronary heart stent

* Lasik eye surgery is commonplace

* Cable and satellite TV (now being challenged by Internet TV) became standard household conveniences

* Speaking of the Internet, the World Wide Web didn’t really take off until the early 1990s

* Land line telephone service is giving way to cell phone and Internet hook-ups

* GPS systems, once a military monopoly, entered civilian life

* Facebook and Twitter et al have changed the way we communicate, socially and politically

* Personal computers became ubiquitous, as have DVRs, digital cameras and TVs, satellite radio, mind-boggling video games, debit cards, and hybrid cars

Think about it—30 years ago was before Seinfeld, before the Simpsons, before Oprah, before rap, Lady Gaga, Madonna (though not before Cher, Dylan or Springsteen). Thirty years ago was before Derek Jeter started playing, before Fantasy Football.

Before Al-Qaeda.

In 30 years, my oldest, and for now only grandchild, Finley, will be 31. How will his/their lives be different? Will we have conquered cancer? Will cars drive themselves (as Google has already experimented with)? Will we have enough water to sustain the world’s population without threat of war or famine? Will we implant chips into our bodies to help us better think and perform? Will religions be sources of inspiration, comfort, healing and compassion or tools of discord and divisiveness? Will the U.S. surrender its mantle of exceptionalism to China? India? To a united Europe?

Thirty years is a long time. I was fortunate to have known Herb Horn for nearly 30 years. Sadly, I knew Phebe Perry Mixter for just four short years.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

WikiLeaks, Fire and a Motto

How delicious an irony is it that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested today, December 7, the 69th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day?

Though arrested in London on suspected sex offenses in Sweden, Assange is reviled, or revered, for his public spillage of secret files that have undermined U.S. diplomacy around the world and war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Imagine, if you will, how history might have changed had Assange and WikiLeaks been active in 1941 and the years leading up to the Japanese sneak attack on our Pacific naval base. FDR’s secret efforts to maneuver the U.S. into the fight against Hitler might have strengthened the hands of the isolationists. The “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor might not have been so surprising.

But why stop at WWII? WikiLeaks would have been revelatory in the 1960s and the buildup of the Vietnam War. We would have found out what McNamara & Co. really thought without having to wait 40 years until The Fog of War. Or maybe we would have discovered that Nixon had no secret plan to end the war, just a secret plan to snooker the public to get elected.

Too bad WikiLeaks wasn’t around to warn us about the election of 2000, or the road to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don’t condone the wholesale release of secret documents, but it’s hard to condemn an action that has revealed the true nature of the diplomacy around us, domestically and internationally.

Fire: Am I being too sensitive, or did the major TV and radio news media mostly ignore the fire that killed 42 Israelis over the last week? When the fire broke out near Haifa there were radio reports in the morning, but as the day grew longer, those reports mostly vanished from the air waves.

Had 42 people died from a terrorist bombing, or from a military response to a demonstration, there surely would have been coverage. Put into greater perspective, the 42 Israelis who perished would be the equivalent of more than 1,000 Americans dying from a fire. It was a devastating blow to a small country.

One of the towns mostly destroyed was the artistic village of Ein Hod in the mountains above Haifa. Gilda and I visited Ein Hod in 2003. In one of the ceramic galleries we bought a flowered bowl we display in our dining room.

No Argument Here: I’m a pretty argumentative person. Gilda can attest to that. So can my kids. I enjoy a reasoned and respectful disagreement. But what’s going on in politics these days is anything but reasoned and respectful.

The latest absurdity is the back and forth over the country’s official motto. Is it “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one), or “In God we trust”? Both apparently are correct, except that people like Glenn Beck and his acolytes believe it is the latter and are attacking President Obama for saying in Indonesia that it is the former (

This type of silliness, linked as it is to the belief that Obama is trying to stifle religion, at least Christian religion, is prima facie evidence that there is waaaaay too much air time extended to agitators like Beck.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Calling Paul Bunyan

Naturally, it didn’t work as advertised.

What I thought would be a relatively simple chore of mulching leaves for Gilda’s compost pile turned out to be anything but. I made some progress but the machine turned fickle on me—after two hours, instead of vacuuming, it wound up blowing leaves.

Every so often I fancy myself as an outdoorsman. In my youthful days as a homeowner, I succumbed to envy and embarked on a wood-burning stove regimen like my neighbor Peter. It required a chain saw (and the mental felicity and physical dexterity not to maim or dismember myself). I’d ride around with the chain saw in the back of my ‘73 Vega hatchback, looking more at the side of the road for downed tree limbs than at the traffic around me. I’d pull over to the shoulder, whip out the chain saw and pile the cuttings into the back of the Vega. Back home I’d chop the haul into usable pieces for our wood-burning stove.

That was more than 20 years ago. The chain saw has long since been discarded. Now I confine my Paul Bunyan moments to the occasional manual trimming of a low-hanging limb. I leave the yard work to the gardeners and to Gilda. Reluctantly, I help out by retrieving free mulch and compost from the town public works site for her vegetable and flower garden.

Ever the gardening entrepreneur, Gilda recently decided she wanted to make her own compost from our harvest of fall leaves. She had me build a 3’x4’ netted area on our side yard for numerous garbage can loads of leaves. Our son Dan brought down his blower/mulcher a few weeks ago, but she didn’t think it had enough power. My brother offered his no longer used Black & Decker Vac ’n’ Mulch Blower/Vac which he assured us was more powerful. This past weekend I liberated it from his garage and brought it home. Ever the compliant husband (ed note: to be read sarcastically), I volunteered to mulch away Monday morning, not realizing it would be c-o-l-d outside with the season’s first snow flurries.

It took about 15 minutes to set the machine up properly. The vacuum tube in front of the mulching blade repeatedly got clogged, requiring me to stop and start again and again. The exhaust hose kept falling off the housing. I had to tape it down. The final straw was the machine’s inexplicable desire to be a blower, not a vacuum/mulcher. I gave up, at least for today.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll try again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Names of a Bygone Era

Baby Boy Forseter was born last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. No, he is not another grandchild for Gilda and me. He’s a grandnephew, the second born of my brother’s son, Eric, and wife, Amy.

Baby Boy Forseter still doesn’t have a name. He won’t get one until his bris, which, because of some jaundice issues, had to be put off one day until his ninth out of the womb, Friday morning.

WikiLeaks apparently has more important things to investigate than the name of my new grandnephew, so I am unable to tell you at this time what he’ll be called. Which led Ellie and me last weekend to reflect on names that are mostly to be avoided, for boys and girls.

Murray’s a good one not to name your newborn (for those who didn’t see or don’t recall my blog on my name, here’s a link: Growing up, I was happy not to have been saddled with Max, which befell my younger cousin. Now, it seems, Max is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

Gilda’s another name not to be easily confirmed on the young and innocent. My Gilda notes she has yet to meet anyone younger than she with the name Gilda. It’s a name for the ages, the old ages.

Bernard is another moniker you don’t find too often among men with less than half a century to their credit. Annette, too, has a certain vintage quality to it. In case you’re wondering, Eric’s parents are Bernard and Annette.

Delivering food to the elderly every week, I come across names of a bygone era—Gertrude, Eva (yes, I know about Eva Longoria, but really, how many woman like that are around), Shirley, Anita, Ethel and Sylvia. Sylvia was my mother’s name. Ethel my aunt’s, Max’s mother.

Here's a non-inclusive list of names that recall a different epoch—Seymour (to be avoided unless he can be assured the lead in a revival of Little Shop of Horrors), Gus, Irene, Meryl, Carl or Karl (my father’s Americanized name, and also Gilda’s brother’s), Sharon, Selma, Arthur, Melvin, Herman, Fred, Bernice, Madeline, Claire, Leon, Walter, Marvin, Norman, Lillian, Warren, Lucille, Harriet, Florence, Phyllis, Irwin, Morris, Maurice, Vivian, Ida, Sophie, Blanche, Arlene, Leo, Myrna, Fanny.

They’re all beautiful names, but like Murray, they carry baggage from another time. Better not to load down a new generation with the sounds of the past.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Not So Very Good Morning News

Harry Smith is one of my favorite newscasters. I don’t go out of my way to watch him—I rarely have tuned in as he anchored CBS’ Early Show for 17 of the last 23 years. Yet, when I see him substitute host on the CBS Evening News or CBS Sunday Morning, I feel quiet comfort that the news will be delivered professionally, with appropriate gravitas, for Harry Smith is a good reporter. There’s something about his demeanor, his calm, cadenced Midwestern voice, his comfort with his skin—he’s bald, you know, not one of those newscasters who gels up his hair, like Chris Wragge does on the local WCBS-2 New York station.

Oh, did I mention it was reported this morning that Harry will be replaced by Wragge? Reality is mimicking fiction. It’s like the William Hurd character edging out Albert Brooks’ in Broadcast News. Looks over substance. If Wragge’s earpiece ever falls out...well, you get the picture.

Smith’s demotion could not have been too much of a shock. After all, The Early Show is a distant third in the ratings, behind NBC and ABC in the morning time slot. And it wasn’t just Smith who got the heave-ho. CBS replaced the full cast. Even weatherman Dave Price had it rain on his parade.

People lose their jobs every day. So far, CBS has not fired any of the replaced anchors. I’m not faulting CBS for making the changes. Rather, I was taken by a paragraph in the NY Times article:

“Mr. Smith said in an interview that the reshuffling ‘had been on the horizon for a while.’ He braced himself for it by taking a ‘long walk on a cold golf course’ last Sunday, he said, pausing to reflect on how fortunate he had been to report from places like Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake there last winter, and from New Orleans after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring. He sounded philosophical, not disappointed. Mostly, he sounded content.

“’I’ve been at this a long time,’ he said, ‘and I’ve literally given it every possible thing I can give it.’”

I can identify with that “long walk.” Mine wasn’t on a golf course. Mine took place in November 1987 along the blocks surrounding my office on Park Avenue and E. 55th Street. I had just been told that Chain Store Age General Merchandise Trends would cease publication in January 1988. I was the publisher and editor, a nine-year veteran of the magazine. Almost all of my staff would be absorbed by other publications within our company. I would wind up heading up a nascent newsletter division for our company for 10 months, before joining a different edition of Chain Store Age as its editor and associate publisher (then publisher) for the next 20 years.

I remember that long walk. Not the details of what I saw or heard. Rather, the emptiness I felt. I couldn’t focus on anything. I wasn’t angry. Like Smith, I knew the staff and I had done everything we could to keep the executioner’s song on hold. We had succeeded in forestalling the corporate decree by a year. But living under the threat, under the sword of Damocles, for nearly two years took its toll. Still, it was not a feeling of closure, of finality, when the news came. It was a feeling of emptiness. Deflation. Futility. And though I know better, it was a feeling of inadequacy, a feeling I had not done enough.

I’m long over those feelings. If he has them, I hope they soon pass for Harry, as well.