Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding Edition, Plus a Court Jester

Contrary to what you might have heard, contrary to what Matt Lauer said on The Today Show, the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton did not go off without a hitch.

It hit a snag, specifically at Kate’s second knuckle, as Wills tried to deftly slip the wedding band onto his bride’s left ring finger. Only in a televised and Internet age would such a dramatic, inopportune nudge by a future king be forever recorded in British history. Though no one could say the bride was reluctant, to anyone watching the broadcast it was painfully obvious Kate’s knuckle was not as dainty as the rest of her.

In case any of you missed the ceremony, here’s a 3:16 minute replay. The slip-on-turned-to-shove-on of the ring is at the 1:59 mark:

For the record, Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, looked beautiful in her Sarah Burton designed gown. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, looked dashing in his bold red Irish Guard military uniform.

Also for the record, 4th-hour Today co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb pointed out when Queen Elizabeth entered Westminster Abbey she did not formally greet Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, second wife of her son, Prince Charles, and stepmother of the groom. On closer inspection of the tape, however, while the Queen does at first skip over Camilla to greet Prince Charles, she does wind up shaking Camilla's hand.

And Now on to the Court Jester: By whom I mean Donald Trump.

He wasn’t at the wedding, but he’s almost as colorful. And definitely more profane, lacing a speech in Las Vegas last night with F-bombs about our government and its leaders.

I understand why some people are attracted to his brand of populism. Anyone with a high profile who is media savvy and speaks like a foul-mouthed gunslinger is bound to generate whoops and hollers, even a few hosannas. But I would like someone, anyone, to explain how rank and file Republicans, even conservative Tea Partiers, can square Trump’s positions with their doctrinaire approach to government. To wit:

Trump lambastes President Obama for failing to stem the rising tide of oil and gasoline prices. But aren’t Republicans supposed to believe in a free market, even if it means higher prices?

Trump decries the state of our infrastructure, our roadways and airports. Yet Republicans are cutting back funds for essential services.

As Jason Linkins noted on The Huffington Post, Trump’s past positions don’t line up with those he is courting: “Some highlights include Trump's support of the ‘banking and auto bailouts,’ his previous description of President Ronald Reagan as a con artist, his affection for Canada's single-payer health care system, and his donations to Obama White House insiders Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley.”

Trump hasn’t told us if he will seek the GOP presidential nomination. Comedians like Jon Stewart hope he runs. Seeking elective office, however, is not like hosting a reality TV show competition. The highest office in the land demands someone with qualifications, not someone who will serve an apprenticeship in government.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The News Marches On

In response to the question, “When did you start beating your wife?”, President Obama released the long form of his birth certificate to prove he could not have hit Michelle before August 4, 1961, his official birth date in Honolulu.

Now that we have settled the birther controversy, at least for those who retain some degree of sanity, Obama’s educational qualifications are the new fertilizer of Republican mudslinging. This from a political party that lionized the underachievements of George W. Bush’s academic career. Bob Schieffer of CBS News said it best last night on the network’s evening newscast with Katie Couric. Of Donald Trump’s questioning of Obama’s merits for entry into Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Schieffer said, "That's just code for saying he got into law school because he's black. This is an ugly strain of racism that's running through this whole thing.”

Reporters are supposed to refrain from dishing out opinion, but Schieffer’s bold and honest characterization of Trump and others who would support The Donald’s bigotry is to be commended and, hopefully, emulated by thought leaders in the media and politics.

Let’s hear unequivocal support for the legitimacy of the president from John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other paragons of the right. They can challenge his policies all they want, but stirring up racial divide is not in the best interests of the country.

Cursive Class: The digital age is endangering the ability to read and write script. As related in The NY Times, precious little teaching time is spent instructing elementary school students in the art of cursive writing, of attaching rounded letters into words (

As I blogged last October, I’ve had a lifelong challenge reading my own handwriting. If I don’t transcribe notes soon after they’re written there’s a good chance I won’t be able to decipher them later on. My parents recognized my shortcoming. Though they steadfastly encouraged me to write better, my proficiency ended with learning the correct manner to hold a pen or pencil.

Nevertheless, I did earn an “A” in penmanship in fourth grade, much to the consternation of my parents, so much so that my father forced my mother to lodge a formal complaint during a parent-teacher meeting. Turns out the teacher based her grades on four reports we had to submit. Knowing that, I had painstakingly penned them with precision befitting a medieval monk transcribing sacred text (a real feat considering I attended a Hebrew day school).

To Serve Man: Yesterday was Administrative Professionals Day, more commonly referred to as Secretary’s Day. Having never been a coffee or tea drinker except on rare occasions, I mostly avoided the demeaning practice of having my assistant bring me hot liquid refreshment (for the record, I didn’t ask for cold sodas, either).

Regrettably, proffering coffee was accepted as part of a secretary’s job description, as noted by Lynn Peril in an Op-Ed piece in The Times. To rebel against this form of servitude could cost you your job:

Commerce can liberate women from traditional roles, but even business sometimes can be bound by tradition. As I wrote in March about memories of our family trip to Japan 20 years ago, women’s status there was so stunted that should the highest executive at a meeting be female, she was still expected to serve tea to all the men present. One can only hope that in the ensuing two decades that unseemly practice has been shelved (and not replaced by having a secretary do the chore).

Matzah Meal: Do birds like matzah? I’m going to find out as I’ve put leftover Passover matzah into one birdfeeder. And not just any matzah, but “shmurah matzah,” what some call the Rolls-Royce of matzah because it is made under stricter supervision than regular unleavened bread.

If they don’t like it will they turn into angry birds, purposely flying into my windows?

Royal Treatment: I can’t say I’ve been caught up in the excitement about Will and Kate’s nuptials tomorrow, though I will admit I’ve set one of our DVRs to record 6 hours of royal wedding pomp, circumstance and pageantry. Gilda and I were more invested in William’s mother’s marriage to Prince Charles, mostly because of our British friends, Dave and Gemma. Though they had already returned to London after a three-year sojourn as our neighbor when Diana joined the Windsor clan, our interest in the Mother Country remained strong.

As noted once before, Dave was a top rank tabloid journalist, with a particular knack for getting under the royal skin, especially when it came to Diana. As an editor of The Sun, Dave ran pictures of a pregnant Princess Diana at the beach (pregnant, if memory serves me correctly, with the very same William the world is now ga-ga over). Anyway, for breaching royal etiquette, The Sun was forced to apologize. Dave complied, but ran the apology alongside a copy of the picture Buckingham Palace objected to in the first place.

Some years later, as editor of The Daily Mirror, Dave authorized publication of photos showing Princess Diana exercising at a London gym. Quite scandalous, resulting in a flurry of articles on the privacy to be extended to members of the monarchy. To give Dave a taste of his own medicine, other news outlets staked out his home with round-the-clock cameras.

As befitting the queen of her household, Gemma was not amused.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Springtime Musings

Is it true? Has spring finally arrived? Is it time to turn on the attic fan and replace the front storm door with the screen door? Sunday was a tease, Monday an encore, with temperatures in the 70’s. But I’m still a little leery about the actual arrival of spring. It’ll take several consecutive nice days to convince me.

Gilda and I did take advantage of the mild weather Sunday, before it poured, to walk around parts of nearby Scarsdale (for those unfamiliar with the burgh, Scarsdale is one of the more upscale communities in the country, let alone Westchester county). As we ambled along, admiring many of the enlarged and renovated houses, we kept up a running dialogue as to which older homes would be spruced up or knocked down and recast as mansions befitting the corporate and Wall Street elites who can afford a Scarsdale address these days. Somewhat perversely I also I also postulated the grown children of the parents living in those older homes can’t wait for them to move out or die off so the lots can be sold for tidy bonanzas. I guess it’s the cynic in me cultivated by years of reporting.

If spring has indeed arrived it came a few days too soon. How can I say that? Well, it’s purely a selfish response based on a purchase over the weekend of a heated mattress pad. Gilda and I are tired of subjecting our feet to cold sheets at night, so we invested in a heated mattress pad, as opposed to an electric blanket. We tried it out Saturday night, it worked fine, but one night is not a definitive test.

Cap Day: In his fourth season with the NY Yankees, Joba Chamberlain no longer looks like a kid brought up from the minors who didn’t have time to do anything but grab a new cap from the equipment manager. Fans might have noticed the dough-boy from Nebraska has shaped a slight arc into the bill of his cap, instead of keeping the flat-brim look favored by rappers from the 'hood.

Not that the new fashion statement helped his pitching Sunday. He gave up a 2-run home run to the host Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning, enroute to Mariano Rivera’s second straight blown save in the ninth. We’d be talking about more important things than a baseball hat if the Yanks hadn’t come back to win in the 11th inning.

Scratch Me If You Can: I’m what I call a scratch golfer. That is, whenever I succumb to outside pressure to take club in hand, I prompt people, including myself, to scratch their heads wondering why this idiot is out on the golf course, hacking away to no avail, making an enjoyable round impossible for his foursome and for any playing behind him.

Now, some of you conversant with the nomenclature of golf might know the true definition of a scratch golfer is one who plays a round at par or better. By that definition I’m still a scratch golfer, at least in my mind, as I set par at 135 and dammit, I usually come close to beating it.

Of course, golfers at all skill levels reveled in the misfortune of Kevin Na, who carded a 16 on the par 4 ninth hole at the recent Valero Texas Open. Watch the YouTube video from the Golf Channel for this humbling experience. Keep in mind that Na is ranked 65th in the world:

When I played golf semi-regularly back in the late 1970’s, I would wind up in the woods just like Na did. So did the rest of my threesome, but while Dave and I would own up to a (fudged) 11 or 12, Rudy would triumphantly report a 7. Pretty soon it no longer was pleasant playing with Rudy. Then Dave moved back to England and my playing days were over, except for an occasional corporate outing.

During one such adventure, I almost bonked one of our company's other publishers in the head with an errant tee shot. She thought she was safely standing to the right of me, about 15 degrees north of the tee. But my slice almost beaned her, much to the chagrin of her staff who intensely disliked her.

Act Your Age: I’ve often been told I was immature. Now here’s confirmation—I’m a loyal viewer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. Since their target audience are 18-34 year old males, I must be younger than my 62 years, at least mentally. My friends will tell you that physically my body, at least my complaints about it, make me more of an octogenarian.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Return of the Blogger

If you’re wondering why your inbox has been a little lighter this last week it’s because I decided to take some time off for the Passover holiday and, more importantly, a six day visit by our 17-month-old grandson, Finley (okay, his parents, Dan and Allison, as well).

Of course I’m biased, but Finley is adorable. He smiles at everyone. He’s at the cusp of verbalization, mixing in some words with incessantly cute babbling. When he wakes up in the morning or from his afternoon nap, it’s not with a scream or cry but rather with minutes of active, babbling shrieks. He goes to sleep the same way, nary a cry, babbling himself to slumber.

This is his age of wonder and amazement, bewilderment turned to comprehension, exploration fashioned into discovery, rote repetition to learning. I taught him to say “Grandma GG” for when Gilda came into the room; couldn’t get him to say “Grandpa GP.” Maybe next time. He knows more words than he can say. He’ll follow directions, to get a favorite book or toy, for example. He’ll surprise you by walking passed his coat and saying, “Jacket.” He’ll wave and say “goodbye” to cashiers.

We took him for his first haircut, to the same woman, Rosie, who gave Dan his first haircut some 30 years ago and who still cuts my hair. Three generations of Forseter men have sat in her chair.

Allison and Dan don’t let Finley watch TV really, but while they were out one afternoon Gilda and I enjoyed the perks of grandparenthood and put on Nickelodeon and Looney Tunes. He ignored the cartoons, preferring instead to entertain himself with a toy kitchen. Once or twice he looked up when a commercial ran, but rarely for more than a few seconds.

My mother used to say my poor eating drove her back to work. As an infant I would throw peas off the high chair. Finley’s a human vacuum cleaner. He eats everything, especially fruit and vegetables, just as Dan did. For Dan it was a matter of survival. He was allergic to milk products. Finley loves eating, but retains a slim physique. Aside from saying “more,” he also hand-signals the sign for more food.

Finley went home Saturday. There’s hardly anything more melancholy than when your grandchild, whom you hadn’t seen in two months, goes home with an uncertain date as to when you’ll see him again. With his development changing almost daily, he’ll almost be another person when we reconnect. I can hardly wait.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chock Full of News

Why do we need Federal oversight agencies? If you believe in less government, if you believe corporations will do the right thing to protect the public or the environment without government pressure, if you believe in the Tooth Fairy, then you believe government programs like OSHA, FDA, FTC, SEC, and EPA, are wastes of taxpayer money.

Exhibit A: The Ford Motor Co. had a problem. Its most popular vehicle model, indeed, the most popular vehicle sold in America, the F-150 series of pickup trucks, suffered from premature ejaculation of its airbags. Embarrassing, but not something Ford wanted to publicize. We are, after all, talking about a macho-man truck. So Ford was willing to quietly recall nearly 150,000 of the touchy trucks.

Not so fast, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unexpected deployment of an airbag can injure drivers, or cause them to lose control of a vehicle. The NHTSA strong-armed Ford into announcing a 1.2 million vehicle recall.

No doubt those extra 1.05 million F-150 drivers, along with everyone else on the road with them, will feel a lot safer once the safety improvements are made. I know I will.

Thank You, Uncle Sam.

Short-sighted on Wall Street: The money boys live for the here and now. They denigrate executives who build for the long term. For years they chastised Jeff Bezos for investing millions of dollars instead of reaping earlier profits from They’ve blasted Jim Sinegal of Costco and Howard Schultz of Starbucks for granting benefits and wage scales not commonly provided to rank and file employees, ignoring their reasoning that happy employees are ambassadors of good will and produce more sustained profit in the long run.

Now Wall Street is attacking Google for investing too much in technology and for rewarding its employees too lavishly. Wall Street is like a dog that won’t let go.

Flipped Off: I admit it. As soon as I became a new grandfather, actually even before Finley’s birth, I raced to Costco and bought a Flip video camera. I would document all of Finley’s moves.

Well, we used it to record his bris (ritual circumcision) 17 months ago, but haven’t touched it since. In explaining Cisco’s decision to get out of the Flip business it bought in 2009, analysts theorized that smart phones have interdicted much of the market for digital video, just as they’ve co-opted sales of wristwatches, GPS systems, alarm clocks, digital cameras, newspapers, and e-readers.

I still think it’s a cute device, but clearly one now behind its time.

Dodger Blue Runs Red: Interesting to hear former LA Dodgers manager and current ambassador at large for Major League Baseball Tommy Lasorda comment on the violence at a recent Dodgers-San Francisco Giants game (a Giants fan was attacked outside Dodger Stadium and has been in an induced coma for about two weeks).

Lasorda said it’s okay to want to figuratively bash the opposition on the playing field, but beating someone up off the field is a no-no.

Very true, especially when one considers that almost all on-field baseball related scrimmages are mostly shoving matches, with nary a punch thrown that lands squarely on a jaw or any other body part.

One Dodgers-Giants brawl, however, was a nasty affair 46 years ago, with lots of blood involving some of the game’s biggest stars of the time—Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Juan Marichal and Johnny Roseboro. If you’re interested, here’s a link:

Storm Trooper Black: I never really took a fancy to Hugo Boss clothing. Today I learned why my instincts were correct.

It wasn’t a secret, but I heard on NPR that Hugo Boss designed the black Nazi SS uniforms.

It gives another meaning to the term, “dressed to kill.”

I know lots of German companies aided the Nazi war effort, by choice or design. Companies like Mercedes Benz, Krups, Braun. Even IBM. Others may wear Hugo Boss. My skin would crawl.

Fat Wrists: I’ve noted before I’m self-conscious about my lankiness, despite my eternal gratitude that being underweight saved me from conscription into the military during the height of the Vietnam War.

Now comes another reason to celebrate being rail thin as a child. Seems a child’s wrist can be an indicator of adult heart disease. The larger the wrist bone the greater the risk, according to a study by Sapienza University of Rome.

If this study is correct, I’m going to be blogging for a long, long time.

The Gig Is Up: Paul Marcarelli’s career as the Verizon “Can you hear me now guy” has ended. The nine-year campaign is being replaced, giving Marcarelli an opportunity to talk about what it’s like to be pidgeon-holed as a corporate spokesperson. Among his more amusing comments, as reported in The Atlantic: “At his grandmother's funeral, a family friend whispered, ‘Can you hear me now?’, as her body was being lowered into the ground.

Perchance to Dream: Have you ever fallen asleep on the job? I have. Fortunately, I wasn’t in la-la land while being responsible for flying a plane, or guiding it to a landing. Or driving a truck on an interstate highway. Or running a lathe or any heavy duty machinery. Or, like Vice President Joe Biden the other day, listening to President Obama tell everyone I’d be in charge of reconciling the differences between the Democratic and Republican visions of our future.

No, when I would fall asleep on the job I’d be sitting at my desk, usually after lunch around 2 or 3 pm, staring into a computer terminal, eyes getting heavier and heavier. When I would fall asleep the most damage I could do was click on a mouse and delete a story. But the sudden movement of the mouse would usually wake me up. Rats!

We’re a nation of sleep-deprived. I won’t recount my bouts with sleeping on the job. You can read it again here:

I’m always amazed we don’t see more people nodding off when any president is speaking before Congress or some other august body. Nice to know I have what it takes to be vice president of the United States.

Spring Cleaning

Thursday was the type of day we’ve been longing for in the Northeast—temperature hovering near 70, balmy breeze, sunny. A reminder spring is a season of rebirth. Almost time to shed my socks, figuratively if not literally.

As I drove around, lots of trees were issuing early blooms and leaves, but the Winter King Hawthorn we planted in our front yard last May is a slow starter. Its branches reveal traces of life, nothing spectacular as yet. Too bad. I would have liked to show off its buds to daughter-in-law Allison and grandson Finley, both of whom share Hawthorne as a middle name, when they arrive Monday for Passover.

More than in the past, this year our yard has been visited by robins. They’re not interested in the seed I put out for wild birds as they’re into beetle grubs, caterpillars, fruits and berries. I spotted one robin taking a bath, splashing around in a puddle left over from Wednesday’s rain. I was kinda piqued by its choice of watering hole, as the birdbath I paid good money for stood just a few feet away. Not sure if it was the same bird, but this morning, now that the puddle has dried up, a robin was enjoying the birdbath.

I’ve noticed one other aspect of robins in the ‘hood—they really do bop along, preferring to bop-bop-bop, rather than fly away, even when the unknown can be lurking in the form of a human.

Spring is heralded as a season of cleaning. Gilda is no exception to this annual rite. I’ve loaded up several bags of discards for the dump or the Salvation Army. She wanted to dispose of a pair of sterling silver salt and pepper shakers (four containers in total, in case you’re confused by my wording), hand-me-downs from my mother that we haven’t used in years, mainly because we didn’t take care of them properly and they tarnished.

I applied commercial silver polish to one Tuesday and brought back its luster, reversing years of corrosion and Gilda’s appreciation for them. Thursday I treated the remaining three shakers, but first consulted Haley’s Hints, a guide to chores using everyday items you’d find around the house. Combining a quart of hot water, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of washing soda and a strip of aluminum foil, I removed the tarnish. They’re not quite as shiny as brand new, but they are presentable.

Before tackling the salt and pepper shakers I undertook a different spring cleaning task—I went for my semi-annual dental check-up. “No cavities, Mom!” My dentist now takes digital X-rays. Very cool. Clearer pictures. Ready on the spot.

I complained that often my molars sting when I chew bread. The dentist was baffled it only happens with bread. Perhaps it’s Dr. Atkins sending a message from the hereafter that carbs are not good for me. Return to the program, he’s counseling from the beyond.

Before the dentist smoothed out an old filling with a slight chip, I asked if I needed any novocaine. I didn’t, but I’m always cautious since one of the editors who worked for me 29 years ago needed his first-ever root canal treatment. Peter had just returned from Singapore and didn’t have a regular dentist. A friend referred him to a father-son dental practice, advising to pick the son. He didn’t listen.

The septuagenarian dentist asked Peter if he believed in new-fangled treatments, you know, things like novocaine. Ever the traditionalist, Peter said no, that whatever the dentist thought necessary was okay by him.

Now, anyone who’s ever had a root canal knows it’s one of the more painful treatments you will undergo in a dentist’s chair. Think Marathon Man. It's definitely not safe. Many times over. Peter came back to the office lamenting his dual decisions to sit for the elderly dentist and to believe him when he said it wouldn’t hurt.

What always amazed me is when Peter returned for the required second and third treatments, he continued to allow the senior dentist to work on his mouth—without novocaine!!!

As quickly as I could I arranged his transfer to another publication. No way I wanted someone with that amount of judgment working for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Thoughtful Gathering

Passover begins Monday night with the first Seder, a time when Jews the world over gather to boast about their participation in one of at least three events: the shortest reading of the Haggadah on record; the longest reading of the Haggadah; or attendance at the largest Seder they’ve ever been to.

The annual communion of the clan (more than any other holiday, secular or religious, Passover brings Jews back to the tribal table), the Seder once was a highly structured ritual. Today, however, it has become more personalized for many households, with their own texts and innovative practices, yet all retain the core story of the struggle for human rights and freedom.

It is not a moment of tranquility. There are more than enough arguments to last a full year until the next ingathering of the extended family. Some may be profound tensions between parents and siblings, friends and relatives. But most are grounded in whimsy, with more than a dash of love and a sprinkle of nostalgia.

There is, for instance, the debate on who made the best gefilte fish. Or whether soft or hard matzo balls are better. Or whether the horseradish was strong enough to make your eyes burn and nose run or barely worthy of its role to make us remember the cruel life of a slave.

Or whether it is better to have the children steal the Afikomen or have them find it after it has been hidden (sorry, it’s too much to explain to non-Jews the concept of an Afikomen—Google it if you’re interested, which I hope you are).

How much to pay to redeem the Afikomen is a precedent-setting action. The first night’s payout sets the scale for the second night’s Seder. And do you compensate just the child who possesses the Afikomen, or do you extend the largess to the whole brood, with a little extra for the main claimant?

If no young children are present, there’s the taunting demand that the youngest adult read The Four Questions, usually resolved when a kind soul suggests everyone will sing along to relieve the embarrassment.

An old-fashioned Seder, complete from start to finish with the meal separating the two halves of the Haggadah, can take upwards of four hours. Newer versions can clock in at the same length, or longer. It all depends on how many tangential discussions are encouraged in the first half, how many songs are sung in the second.

Through it all, if you’re truly honest with yourself, there are more guests sitting around the table than just those before your eyes. The spirit of your parents, aunts and uncles who have passed away. Siblings and cousins, nieces and nephews, friends, perhaps even your own children, who live in communities too distant to bridge. Though we’re ostensibly gathered to celebrate the emergence of the Israelites from slavery and their birth as a free people, the Seder’s deeper purpose cements individual families, building generation to generation rituals of shared storytelling and memory.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The New Civil War

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the contest that determined human beings are not to be defined as property. Regrettably, while we are still engaged in the pursuit of equal rights and opportunity for people of color, our society is immersed in a latter day civil war of many fronts, a battle that pits haves against have-nots, blue states against red states, politic and polite people against the impolitic and the impolite, sexists vs. non-sexists.

It’s hard to imagine a pacific end to this multi-dimensional conflict. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this struggle is the lack of statesmanship exhibited by our political leaders. I’m sorry to have to pick on Arizona again, but I’m left little choice when one of its U.S. Senators, Jon Kyl, gratuitously dismisses a blatant lie he spoke on the floor of the Senate as a “remark not intended to be a factual statement.” In arguing against funding for Planned Parenthood last week, Kyl said 90% of its money is used to provide abortions. The true figure is 3%.

Like the erroneous front-page newspaper article followed days later by a page 15 correction, it’s the original story that stays in the public’s mind. Kyl didn’t apologize on the floor of the Senate. His spokesperson read a clarifying statement.

What once had been a chamber categorized as the “world’s greatest deliberative body” has been reduced to a schoolyard taunting field of lies and ignorance.

How sad for our country, our nation, our people. Our future.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Wonder of It All

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn many people consider one of the more vexing problems they deal with is the inconsistencies of every day life.

Take, for example, the seemingly generous offer of discounts to senior citizens. Clearview Cinemas extends a senior discount to anyone 62 or older, any day of the week. At Kohl’s, you have to be at least 60 and must shop on a Wednesday to get 15% off everything in the store. The Westchester Wine Warehouse also gives 15% off, but its discount day is Tuesday. And you have to be at least 65.

Don’t these stores know as we get older we have more senior moments? Who can remember all the variables? About the only positive thing I can say about the different programs, aside from the obvious of saving money, is it gets seniors out of the house more often. We’re a notorious thrifty bunch, you know, who need all the exercise we can get schlepping from store to store on the right day.

No Surprise Here: I can’t say I’m surprised to learn some Arizonans are complaining Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is not properly representing her constituents because she’s missing too many votes in the House of Representatives.

I kid you not. One even sent a letter to the editor to the Tucson Star stating, “It's been almost three months since U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded in the Jan. 8 shooting, and since then we who live in her district have had no representation in the House.”

Seems recovering from an assassination attempt doesn’t pass muster in the land that time and progress forgot. Some might say that her “not voting” record is more constituent-friendly than the votes cast by her Republican colleagues who favor cuts in social services spending.

Who’s More Incorrigible? A contributed essay in Sunday’s NY Times identified the author as a retired chairperson of the English department in a Westchester County junior-senior high school.

She hasn’t abandoned education instruction. She’s a volunteer teacher at a maximum security prison.

Which led me to wonder, given the nature of many of today’s students, is it easier teaching criminals or teenagers?

Role Model: Apparently, if you’re well-connected, it can pay quite handsomely to be an unwed teenager mother.

The Candies Foundation, a non-profit arm of the apparel company, which encourages abstinence to prevent teenage pregnancies, has paid Bristol Palin $332,000 to preach prevention. Sarah Palin’s daughter received $262,000 in 2009 for 15 to 20 days of work and another $70,000 last year for less time on the job. Though not on the payroll in 2011, her campaign of public service announcements, media interviews plus TV and radio spots was successful, with a greater impact than one would have had with a non-celebrity spokesperson, according to Candies executives.

Could be. If the intent is to gain public attention, Bristol clearly has the right pedigree. But I do wonder about that $13,000 a day pay scale. Seems pretty steep to me, but maybe that’s the going rate. Celebrities who have been part of a Candies Foundation campaign include Hayden Panettiere, BeyoncĂ©, Ciara, Jenny McCarthy, Vanessa Minnillo, Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff, Ashlee Simpson, Usher, Rachel Bilson, and Teddy Geiger.

Candies also is not apologizing for what many consider a public relations fiasco—while subsidizing Palin, the foundation handed out just $35,000 in grants to programs to help teenagers at risk. Its rationale: the purpose of the Candies Foundation is to support awareness of abstinence as an alternative to pre-marital sex. It is not a grant-making foundation.

Bottom line—Bristol’s is a message of, Do as I say, not as I did.

Dumb and Dumber: Does anyone have any sympathy for those who shelled out money to see Charlie Sheen in concert and are disappointed with his “performance”?

How depraved can one be to be rooting for a flameout, and angry when one doesn’t happen? It’s the same mentality of those who attend NASCAR races hoping to see a crash or who attend a hockey game hoping a fight breaks out. It’s outrageous behavior, and I’m not just talking about Sheen.

Is there any more cogent evidence that a huge segment of the American electorate is bonkers than word that recent polls of likely voters in Republican primaries consider Donald Trump the second most appealing candidate?

We truly are a messed up nation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

(P)Raising Arizona

Finally, something from Arizona I agree with (at least at first blush). Now, I don’t know all the intricacies of Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal, but on the surface it seems worthy of discussion.

Essentially, Gov. Brewer wants to impose a $50 annual fee on Medicaid recipients who are obese or smokers if they fail to follow their doctor’s regimens that presumably would help them lose weight or kick the habit. The fee would apply to non-disabled adults who are either childless or whose children are at least 19.

For sure the proposal would need refinement, so, for example, a person overweight because of a thyroid condition would not be hit with the fee. But as a practical matter, getting smokers and the obese to pay their fair share of the burgeoning health care cost is a plus. We’re all paying higher medical premiums because we are carrying some of the burden smokers and heavyweights impose on the medical system. Private enterprise has recognized this—insurance companies charge different rates if you’re a non-smoker. Some private employers carry a separate medical coverage option for non-smokers.

It’s no secret Gov. Brewer is not the most friendly person when it comes to entitlement programs. She’d prefer to do away completely with Medicaid. But if the $50 fee prompts people to stop smoking or lose weight, it might produce a positive outcome.

Of course, an objective look at her proposal might also raise an interesting question—since Republicans always trumpet the need to take government out of our personal lives, how could a GOP governor be in favor of imposing a fee based on personal behavior? I guess it’s not hypocritical when the GOP does it.

Just when I was about to give Arizona a favorable, though not passing grade, it reinforced the stereotype that its elected officials are just plain crazy. And back to their keep-government-out-of-our-lives mode. The Republican-controlled Arizona House has passed legislation allowing guns, even concealed guns, to be carried on university and college campuses, all in the name of providing a means of defense in the case of a shooting. The governor has not indicated whether she will sign the bill. I’m betting she will.

Making guns permissible on campus is catching on like wild fire across GOP territory. Similar legislation is being considered in Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nebraska, Mississippi and Florida. Utah already permits it. Given the degree of drinking college students do, I am not thrilled with the mixture of alcohol and gunpowder. It’s a recipe for disaster, sooner or later.

It also gives parents another factor to consider when evaluating higher education options. Will the right to bear arms on campus be a positive or negative influence on their choice? There are some really good schools in those states. I’m glad I’m the father of college graduates and don’t have to confront this issue.

While we’re on the subject of guns, two groups, The Second Amendment Foundation and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, filed a federal lawsuit against New York City this week because they say the cost to own a firearm in Gotham is too high, an “arbitrary financial constraint” to gun ownership. It costs $340 for an application and $94.25 to obtain a fingerprint check.

The fees seem reasonable to me, but to be honest, I think Chris Rock has a better suggestion. To cut down on random shootings, Rock proposes that each bullet cost $5,000. Too bad he’s a comedian so his idea won’t be seriously considered.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Big Government Enablers

It is commonplace to read America has a tradition of limited government versus the European-style social-welfare state. Republicans aggressively preach this aphorism, contending if we only let well enough alone our capitalist economy would provide for all, with no need for Big Government.

It sounds so inviting. In the wake of Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis) template for refashioning our national budget it might be instructive to take a historical look at the true enablers of Big Government. To put it bluntly, they are the Republican Party and Big Business.

Would we have the FTC if the Robber Barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries not been so selfish and destructive of all competition?

Would we have a FDA if slaughterhouses and other food processing plants been more health and safety conscious, if drug makers could be counted on to sell only legitimate, safe pharmaceuticals?

Would OSHA been organized if mine companies and apparel manufacturers been more receptive to the safety and welfare of their workers, if they paid a living wage and didn’t exploit immigrants?

Would we have a SEC if Wall Street tycoons and bankers not almost destroyed our economy 80 years ago?

Would we have national parks if conservationists not trumped land developers who would have exploited and destroyed our country’s scenic beauty? (Yes, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican, but his progressive stands on anti-trust legislation, immigration, conservation et al would not endear him to many current Republicans. Nor, for that matter, would the real Ronald Reagan be welcomed into the GOP or Tea Party tent, not with his record of raising taxes seven times in eight years. It’s because of those repeated tax levies that George Bush the Elder had to make his “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge when he ran to succeed Reagan. He lost his re-election bid, in part, because doctrinaire Republicans couldn’t stand his compromise to raise some taxes during his first term.)

Would we have equality under the law if we left it to Republican legislators and governors? (Yes, Southern Democrats opposed civil rights, but since Richard Nixon’s time those Dixiecrats converted to rock-ribbed Republicanism.)

You get the point—the inaction and blatant disregard for the common folk practiced by Republicans and Big Business fostered social welfare legislation. To think they are repentant and not trying to turn back the clock under the guise of fiscal responsibility is foolishness taken to the nth degree.

David Brooks of the NY Times says Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal implies “the current welfare state is simply unsustainable.” There no doubt is a need to reform federal and state budgets. Let’s fix or cut programs that don’t work. But let’s tax those who can afford it and give relief to those who can’t. Anyone who considers Ryan’s attempt at reform should keep one fact in mind—while he cuts money for safety net programs, he advocates tax relief for the wealthiest in our society.

It is chutzpah like that that has made Republicans and Big Business the enablers of Big Government.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On a Wing and a Prayer

The last few days have not provided a pleasurable ride for Southwest Airlines, what with two emergency landings as one flight last Friday aborted after part of a fuselage tore away and a second landed prematurely Monday after a burning electric smell permeated the main cabin. Tack on more airborne troubles Monday with United’s Flight 497 that also had smoke problems and a scary emergency landing.

All three incidents, thankfully, ended with no loss of life. But they did evoke memories of similar escapades during my business flying career.

Usually, I fall asleep on a plane even before takeoff. That’s what happened when Gilda and I were returning aboard United Airlines from one of my magazine's conferences in San Francisco 18 years ago. We were sitting near the rear. In my dream I smelled something burning. It didn’t jive with the other action in the dream so I woke up about 20 minutes into the flight. Gilda also detected the odor. We alerted the stewardess who informed the pilot.

While they assured everyone there was no danger, the cabin started filling up with acrid smoke. The pilot decided to turn back to San Francisco, but since he had a full load of fuel for the transcontinental run, he first had to release gasoline over the Pacific.

As we approached the landing, the stewardesses told everyone to assume the crash position, that once we came to a full stop we were to calmly walk to the emergency exits and slide down the evacuation chutes. Bent over with arms crossed shielding our heads, Gilda and I awkwardly held hands, thankful we were together. Nobody panicked. Young and old alike slid down the chutes with only one elderly woman slightly injuring her ankle (I’ll admit now I didn’t fully follow orders—I didn’t remove my shoes). Once safely inside the terminal, though, a gold-chained, muscled guy fainted. So much for macho appearances.

For our adventure, United gave everyone a free round-trip ticket to any domestic destination (more on how we used those tickets in a future blog).

Last Friday’s rupture of part of the fuselage of Southwest Flight 812 was a harrowing experience for the passengers. Our brush with a potentially similar condition was not as terrifying, thanks, no doubt, to Dan’s keen eye.

We were flying American Airlines from Dallas to Tokyo 19 years ago, I to interview executives from Ito-Yokado for our joint-venture Japanese publishing company, Gilda, Dan and Ellie to enjoy the hospitality of our hosts.

About an hour after leaving Dallas, Dan thought he saw part of the skin of the left wing flapping away. He asked the man sitting next to him, a Navy air technician, to take a look. He confirmed Dan’s discovery. He called a stewardess who called the relief pilot who flies along on trans-Pacific flights.

Though he too advised we’d be safe proceeding, he cautioned that the prudent thing to do was turn back to Dallas and transfer to another plane. It meant an eight hour delay, making our total travel time from New York to Tokyo a whopping 28 hours instead of the normal 18.

All in all, an inconvenience but surely not as dramatic or as traumatic as that experienced on Southwest Airlines Flight 812.