Sunday, May 29, 2011

Constitutional Perogative

After posting my views Friday on what I’d like from elected officials, Peter sent in the following comment:

“You lost me when you said this, ‘I want a president and a Congress that respects the rights of all, cares for the downtrodden, provides opportunity for all, endorses and expands educational opportunities, builds and repairs infrastructure for today and tomorrow, invests in science and technology, leads global efforts on climate change and human rights, provides universal health care.’

“Where does the US Constitution provide for ANY of that?

“In other words, Murray, you want a Republican to take on all the views of a Liberal Democrat.”

An intriguing thought, Peter. Given that Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times, saw the national debt increase from $700 billion to $3 trillion, bailed out Social Security and expanded the federal government, he’d probably fail the acid test of today’s conservatives and Tea Party members. Though he balanced the budget, Richard Nixon implemented Wage and Price Controls, set up the Environmental Protection Agency, and started strategic discussions with Communist China. He surely would not be considered a good Republican. As for Teddy Roosevelt, that great icon of environmentalism, conservation and anti-trust legislation, along with enlightened immigration policies, there’s no way his face would remain on the façade of Mt. Rushmore if conservatives and Tea Party’ers ever get swept into the majority.

It’s hard being any shade of Republican these days. But to get to the specific question Peter asked, “Where does the US Constitution provide for ANY of that?,” it’s right there in Article 1, Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”

I can’t think of anything more tied into the "general welfare" of our country than providing equal rights and opportunities, education, solid infrastructure, quality health care, support for the less fortunate, investment in our collective future and leadership on the global stage.

Now I’m sure Peter and his similar-thinking patriots would argue that I am interpreting the Constitution. And they’d be right.

Interpretation is a natural and necessary part of keeping our laws current, vibrant and meaningful. It’s like reading and understanding the Bible—no one in the Judeo-Christian world believes “an eye for an eye” is to be taken literally. If we accept that scholars can interpret God’s laws to make them more humane and appropriate to our current age, surely we can accept that modern day jurists and lawmakers can pass judgment on the words of the framers of the Constitution.

What bothers me is the hypocrisy of those who believe their version of the Constitution is the only one that is accurate. Republicans decry activist judges, those who overturn laws passed by Congress. Yet they are seeking to overturn in court the health care reform act duly and legally passed by Congress. Republicans applauded when the Supreme Court threw out the campaign finance law that restricted corporate donations. Why is it acceptable when courts overturn laws Republicans object to, but judicial activism when courts overturn laws Republicans favor, such as anti-abortion legislation?

Democrats bemoan judges who overturn laws they like, as well, which is why when going to the polls Americans need to think long and hard about the judicial appointments their candidates for president and governor are likely to make. We can rid ourselves of undesirable politicians when next they are up for election, but we’re mostly stuck with bad judges for life.

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Than One Issue

I resent the Republican Party trying to cast me as well as other Jewish voters as one-issue voters, that issue being support for the State of Israel.

Israel is important. Very important. But it is not the end all and be all of why and how I choose candidates. Social issues, budget issues, judicial issues, foreign policy issues, economic issues, all these and more figure into my calculation.

I’m steamed as I write this because I just fielded a call from the Republican Jewish Coalition trying to cast the GOP as more favorable to Israel than Democrats and particularly President Obama.

Israel should not be a wedge issue. Democrats as well as Republicans may disagree with Obama. That’s their right.

But according to the young man who called me, Obama wants Israel to return to pre-1967 borders.

Wrong! Obama’s position as explained anew during his speech to AIPAC, the Israel lobbying group, earlier this week, has been borders should be “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” after negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. It’s a position that corresponds to those of past presidents going back to Clinton, along with past prime ministers of Israel.

Obama called for a “sovereign, non-militarized (Palestinian) state.” He rejected efforts to de-legitimize Israel. He demanded Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence and adhere to all existing agreements before it could be considered worthy of being a partner in negotiations. He called for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped five years ago.

If Israel is to be an issue, let’s get beyond the usual bromides of support. Just what type of support does the GOP want to provide? Unlimited, uncritical acceptance of whatever Israel does? Israelis can’t always agree on the right policy. It would be foolish to believe anyone in Washington knows better than those in the vortex of the conflict.

For the last two years I met 16 trauma care first responders from the communities bordering the Gaza Strip. You would think that with constant bombardments from Hamas and its cohorts they would be hawkish. No. They favored peaceful resolution of the conflict, with dignity and respect on both sides. They empathized with Palestinian families who shuttered at the retaliatory strikes by the Israeli Defense Forces.

It is callous for Republicans (and Democrats) to try to make political gain out of the Israel issue. And let’s be clear—it is not just Jewish voters who are in play. Israel enjoys wide support among evangelical Christians.

But as I told my young caller, I would be more susceptible to Republican overtures if the GOP exhibited more Judeo-Christian concerns for the needy, the more vulnerable members of our society. Though he tried time and again to bring the conversation back to Israel, I wouldn’t let him. I want a president and a Congress that respects the rights of all, cares for the downtrodden, provides opportunity for all, endorses and expands educational opportunities, builds and repairs infrastructure for today and tomorrow, invests in science and technology, leads global efforts on climate change and human rights, provides universal health care. These and much more. And yes, I want a president and Congress that supports Israel in reaching a just and lasting peace with its neighbors.

(Editor’s note: From time to time—which means when I remember—I will include the following disclaimer: The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my dear wife, Gilda.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday's News

High-end jeweler Tiffany & Co. reported today first quarter sales increased 20% over a year ago to $761 million while earnings jumped an even higher 25% to $81.1 million.

It’s another sign the luxury market is back.

I wonder...will Newt “$500,000-Tiffany-credit-line” Gingrich consider signing on as a celebrity corporate spokesman once his presidential nomination bid flames out?

Elaine’s, the literati’s Second Avenue watering hole on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, closes tonight, five months after the saloon’s namesake owner, Elaine Kaufman, died. Brian McDonald, an ex-bartender at Elaine’s, provided his reminiscences for the NY Times

One question McDonald sought to answer was the secret to the restaurant’s success, as it was generally acknowledged Elaine’s did not serve haute cuisine. He discounted the appeal of seeing the rich and famous as well as seeing Elaine herself. His conclusion: she was simply a good businesswoman who didn’t worry about tomorrow but cared more for “the names in the reservation book for that night.”

Last December I chimed in with my reflections on the night Gilda and I visited Elaine’s and sat with the editors of the NY Post ( I can’t tell you why a restaurant becomes an “in” place, but I do disagree with McDonald that Elaine was not a “crowd pleaser.” She didn’t have to play to the crowds. She did what any good host does—she made each individual feel important, that she cared they stopped in for a drink, for a meal, for a snack. Any good restaurateur knows that it’s the personal touch that makes an establishment successful. It’s that way with any service business. If the proprietor doesn’t care about his or her customers, they won’t care about his or her service. They’ll take their business elsewhere. It’s hard to sustain that intimacy in a chain store world. That’s why places like Elaine’s are to be cherished.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to many things, including sports. That’s one reason, perhaps, I find it hard to watch today’s version of basketball, aside from my being a less than stellar performer on the hard wood, attributed mainly to my inability to dribble and therefore drive to the basket.

Today’s Times carried an article and video on “The Crossover: Genealogy of a Vicious Move” ( The crossover is a dribble move used to free the ball handler to either shoot a jump shot or drive to the basket for a lay-up.

Aside from not being able to execute such a move, my problem with the crossover is that it should be illegal. Pure and simple, it’s a carry, a palm, an illegal transmission of the ball. Allen Iverson, reputedly one of the players who popularized the move, admits so on the video. But basketball let it become acceptable because of a need to pump up scoring and dazzling dunks (oh yeah, I can’t dunk, either).

Today’s basketball players are superb ball handlers. You can’t compare them to the icons of the 1950s and 1960s, guys like Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor or Walt Frazier who had to play by the rules.

I watched a tape of Oprah’s final hurrah on regular TV Wednesday. No guests, just Oprah spouting her wisdom and philosophy. I thought I’d be cynically put off by its cheesiness. I wasn’t. She did a good job.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seeing Oprah The First Time

I hope you all appreciate the sacrifices I make for you, the lengths I go to report to you the latest news. It is staggering, beyond human endurance. Case in point...

I gave in and finally, after 25 years, watched a tape of a full Oprah Winfrey show. Well, almost a full show. I fast forwarded through some of the more schmaltzy moments of her first two farewell hours.

Oprah, no doubt, is a national, even an international, treasure. She reaches 40 million viewers a week, in 150 countries. She has inspired millions to achieve more than they apparently could have on their own. She has been generous with her billions.

I just could never swallow her brand of Kool-aid. I guess I just miss out on some defining cultural milestones of the last several decades. I have, for the most part, not partaken of Starbucks coffee. Nor was I more than a passing user of Blockbuster Video rentals. And I’m pretty vapid when it comes to music.

Watching celebrities pay tribute to Oprah, dressed in a regal purple dress, I couldn’t help but wonder why she was so awestruck when the likes of Michael Jordan, Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Stevie Wonder showed up at the United Center in Chicago to send her off in style. Hearing Oprah repeat the names of the guests with awe in her voice was a little disarming. Few, if any, of those who came to “surprise” her are as big as she. The farewell was one big celebrity roast, without the raunchiness that characterized the shows that Dean Martin used to host and are still a staple of Comedy Central.

I was amused to see how Team Target helped refurbish an elementary school library in New Orleans, one of 25 across the country that will receive new fixtures, carpeting, books...the works, complete with enough Target logos embedded in the floor and affixed to the walls to make a NASCAR race proud.

Maya Angelou read an original poem tracing Oprah’s life that began “in a little village in Mississippi with an unpronounceable name.” That village was Kosciusko. Yes, a difficult name to pronounce, but to New Yorkers, a piece of cake. They hear it almost every traffic report, a bottleneck at the Kosciusko Bridge linking Brooklyn and Queens. The bridge is named after Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish officer who was a general and hero in our Revolutionary War. I guess those outside the Big Apple would find Kosciusko hard to pronounce.

Perhaps the weirdest, eeriest part of the first hour (Monday’s show) was hearing Josh Groban and Patti LaBelle sing “Over the Rainbow.” The show was taped last week. How were they to know that this iconic song from The Wizard of Oz, sung by Judy Garland just before she is transported by a tornado from Kansas to Oz, would be so poignant, and to some so poignantly out of place, given the real-life tornado that leveled Joplin, MO, Sunday evening?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Making the Cut, Religiously Speaking

Making the Cut: I’m still here, and if you’re reading this so are you, which means neither of us made the cut, the select group of 140,000 souls who were to be saved Saturday evening before the world began its inexorable descent to destruction.

No one I know was transported to heaven while the rest of us, according to the prophesy, endure earthquakes, plagues, war, famine and general torment for five months, until October, when everything comes to an end. Of course, we already have earthquakes, plagues, war, famine and general torment, so it’s hard to say what’s different. Indeed, yesterday a volcano erupted on Iceland, an earthquake rocked New Zealand, and we’re still at war in many places.

I’m not here to make fun of Harold Camping, the 89-year-old Christian radio entrepreneur who predicted universal demise. Lord knows there are many more talented wits who have and will continue to do so. Besides, they get paid to be funny. Nor am I here to make fun of those sorry souls who believed in Camping’s image of the future. They are troubled, perhaps desperate people.

Nary an organized religion has eluded the pull of a return to a time when belief trumped current conditions, when reverence for god and his respective messengers was more appealing than the drudgery of everyday life or, worse, intense hardship and oppression.

The Lubavitcher sect of Jews had a schism over the disputed claim that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was the messiah. He’ll be dead 17 years on June 12, with no outward sign that the world to come has arrived. In the mid-1600s, many Jews abandoned their homes to follow Shabtai Tzvi, a self-proclaimed messiah. He ultimately converted to Islam.

Jihadists clamor for a resurrection of the caliphate blessed by Mohammed. Camping is just the latest Christian to bedevil the faithful. At least those who believed in him didn’t wind up dead, like the 82 unlucky Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, who followed David Koresh, or the 909 who drank Jim Jones’s Kool-aid in Guyana in 1978. But many who trusted Camping did leave their jobs, sell their possessions and confound their friends and relatives.

I don’t think you have to be totally content with your life, but if you reach the stage where your only alternative is to believe the end of the world is nigh and you will be among those who achieve eternal salvation, it’s time to check into the clinic and stay there, perhaps until all the earthquakes, plagues, wars, famines and general torments end.

Cut It Off, Not Out: Sufficient San Francisco voters have signed a petition to place on the November ballot a vote to ban circumcision for male children under 18. No exception for religious practices of Jews or Muslims. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail.

All it took was 7,700 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot (7,168 were needed). Supporters of the ban (now also being considered in Santa Monica) claim circumcisions mutilate the penis and inflict pain and lifelong suffering. They deny any medical benefits from circumcision, such as reduced transmission of AIDS by heterosexual men.

This latest attack on religious practice can be compared to the challenge some states have posed to the ritual slaughter of animals according to kosher and halal guidelines. It’s argued animals suffer more when ritualistically slaughtered.

However well-intentioned proponents of these restrictions are, their efforts should be dismissed as incorrect, impolitic and ignorant. And unconstitutional, as they infringe on religious observance. Let’s hope San Francisco voters, and any others who face such a choice, leave religious practice intact, allowing animals to be killed according to humane religious custom and permitting parents to cut at will the foreskin of their male progeny.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Link to Newt

The presidential campaign season is heating up with its never ending quest for votes preceded by its more sordid side, its never ending dual quest for donors and dollars.

Last week’s edition of The Jewish Week asked, “Will Gingrich Bomb With Jewish Republicans?” The consensus answer was, yes. Despite his unwavering support of Israel, Newt Gingrich has too much baggage to appeal to most Jewish voters who see his domestic agenda as repugnant to their more progressive positions on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and entitlement programs.

Accordingly, Gingrich can expect little financial support from GOP Jews. Except from one deep-pocketed fellow, noted The Jewish Week. Namely, “gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson.” Forbes ranked Adelson the thirteenth wealthiest American, with $14.7 billion in net worth.

Gingrich’s week has been less than spectacular for a kickoff of a presidential run, but I’m not here to bury his candidacy. Rather, my attention is focused on Adelson.

I first met Shelly Adelson about 25 years ago. At the time he headed up The Interface Group which produced COMDEX, the computer industry’s biggest exposition, attracting some 100,000 conventioneers to Las Vegas. COMDEX was run as a closed operation. With rare exception, attendees booked their plane and hotel reservations through COMDEX. The turnkey program was a big moneymaker.

With a convention system structured around Las Vegas in place, Interface cast about for another conference theme. It discovered the National Housewares Manufacturers Association had recently scrapped its July show, opting for just one big expo a year, in January, in Chicago. Adelson et al decided to pounce on the opportunity to outmuscle the housewares association. It proposed a show in Las Vegas in August.

To jumpstart his idea, Adelson came a-courting to our offices in New York. Together with Chain Store Age General Merchandise Trends, of which I was editor and publisher, our three other merchandising publications were important media for anyone who wanted to reach housewares industry influentials, both at the retailer and vendor levels. Adelson came down from his Boston headquarters to gain our support.

He could hardly have been less accommodating. Instead of listening to our ideas, he told us how he would upend the industry, how buyers and sellers would flock to Las Vegas regardless of how hot the town could be in August. By the end of the meeting, our two camps were as divided as the North and South after Lincoln’s election.

The show was a disaster. Though scheduled to run three days, exhibitors started tearing down their booths in the middle of the second day, a violation of every standard at any trade show. They could hardly be blamed, for there was virtually no retailer traffic. No one wanted to come to Las Vegas in 110 degree heat.

I didn’t really care as Gilda had joined me for her first trip to Las Vegas. When the vendors started folding up their tents, they also started selling floor samples. We bought a 12-inch heavy metal skillet we’re still using today, a constant reminder of Adelson’s flaming out in the sun.

Of course, Adelson took it all in stride, never held another housewares show, subsequently sold COMDEX and parlayed the proceeds into casino holdings in Vegas and around the globe. He’s also become quite a philanthropist. Among his many endowments is the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Israel, headed up by Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli politician, human rights activist and author.

About three years ago I was leafing through a magazine on Jewish philanthropists when I came across a picture of an “unidentified man” with Edelson and his wife at a gala honoring them for their support of the Adelson Institute. I couldn’t contain my cheekiness so I sent an email to the editor alerting him to his twin error—not only did he fail to recognize and identify the world famous Sharansky, but he also double-dissed him by not knowing that Sharansky was the head of the institute. Yes, I know that was bad form. But really, how could the editor of a Jewish magazine not know Natan Sharansky, one of the seminal Jewish figures of the last 30 years of the 20th Century?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fine Feathered Friends

This morning turned out to be a banner bird-watching day, attracting the largest and smallest of foragers of the season.

I had already moved upstairs to type a blog on the meaning of “eating like a bird,” when I glanced down from a window and saw two large wild turkeys pecking away at the watery ground under the bird feeders. It was their second visit in less than a week, only last time three turkeys strutted around the yard. We’re only two blocks from Saxon Woods Park, so it’s not too surprising when wildlife, including deer and a coyote, frequent the neighborhood (perhaps an unexpected and ultimately unfortunate encounter with a coyote explains why only two turkeys visited today).

It’s been several years since turkeys made our homeland part of their stomping ground. Once I came home to find two turkeys roosting on Gilda’s car in our open garage.

The turkeys are not majestic. We’re fortunate Ben Franklin did not get his way in wanting to designate the wild turkey as our national bird. Turkeys are rather gangly and awkward looking, with spindly long legs. Their necks are long and vulture-like, their heads small and ghoulish. They don’t scare too easily, but when they wandered over to a neighbor’s yard to check out the tree sprayers who had just arrived they literally flew away at alarming speed, clear across our yard and over a 10-foot fence, leaving a single brown feather in their wake.

Just prior to their hasty departure I stepped outside to observe them more closely. I was distracted by a blur to my right. It was an aquamarine hummingbird enjoying Gilda’s purple flowers. I had given up on seeing any hummingbirds this season. Last year was a bust, so I didn’t bother to put out any nectar to attract them during their northern migration. Encouraged, I set up a temporary drinking stand. Here’s hoping they get the message the bar is open.

I always thought telling someone he or she ate like a bird meant they took small bites or small portions. To be sure, the wild birds in our yard prefer tidbits to tonnage. And they self-police their consumption, nibbling at the seed for a few swallows then flying off for a digestive respite before returning for more.

But what you also notice is how territorial many of them are. They are selfish. They don’t want to share. Others are passive beyond comprehension.

The red-bellied woodpecker is particularly aggressive protecting solo dining privileges, sticking his beak out to ward off any intruders, even black grackles almost double in size. The grackles, themselves, are no slouches when it comes to feasting alone. Blue jays are combative as well. Cardinals prefer a wait and see approach. They hardly ever sit down for a meal. Yet they look plumper than most other birds. The finches calmly wait their turn, perching nearby until the larger birds take a break. Then they swoop in for a short snack.

More Neighborhood News: Rain seemingly without end is turning part of our yard into a rice patty. Another area is a mushroom garden, though our fungi are small compared to the Miracle-Gro size of our next door neighbor. His are about six inches in diameter. Truly gargantuan.

Mushrooms are the lesser of two evils inhabiting our cul-de-sac. The local paper Tuesday reported a 17-year-old boy from down the block was one of three teenagers arrested for allegedly stealing property from cars around town. Add a possible jailbird to the denizens of the neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Catching Up With The Times

Parsing the Cover-up: If we have learned anything from the various scandals—political, social and sexual—of the last 40 decades, it is that usually the cover-up is much worse than the crime. From Watergate to John Edwards-gate, to baseball steroids-gate, to now Arnold-gate, the public’s tolerance for evasiveness and deceit is much shallower than its compassion and acceptance of sinners who are contrite and confess.

Into this cycle of teaching moments steps a new report commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops that seeks to explain the causes of sexual abuse by priests that has rocked the church (

Not being Catholic, I can only comment from the outside. I’m interested but not really surprised by the reasons cited in the report. Moreover, I’m not convinced priests are significantly more prone to sexually abusing young boys and girls than any other religion’s leaders, be they celibate by doctrine or not. People in authority repeatedly have been shown to abuse their status, even against the most defenseless of society.

What has confounded me throughout this scandal is the lack of accountability of the bishops and the rest of the higher echelon of the church. Instead of confronting the problem head on, they covered it up, permitting offending priests to sin time and again in unsuspecting parishes with innocent children. Thus, the new report is nice to have but in no way resolves the central issue of the cover-up of abuses that has gone on for decades.

Arnold-gate: Let’s just say Arnold has eclectic taste.

His alleged paramour, Mildred Patricia Baena, by whom he fathered a son, is hardly fashioned from the same mold as Maria Shriver, his wife of 25 years. See for yourself:

In Style: Interesting article about Jennifer Lopez in last Sunday’s NY Times—

What made the report on J. Lo’s revamped vibes more personal was her recent appearance in a red Gucci gown at the Costume Institute gala at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some of you may know our daughter, Ellie, works at the Met. Each year she helps out at this high fashion function.

From her vantage point checking in A-list guests, Ellie could observe all the actresses, models, celebrities and socialites, such as Alicia Keys, Ashley Olsen, Beyonce, Blake Lively, Claire Danes, Demi Moore, Eva Mendes, Fergie, Ginnifer Goodwin, Taylor Swift, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zoe Saltana, Christina Ricci and Gisele Bündchen.

Her red carpet verdict—J. Lo far and away exuded more star power, more glamour than any other.

Degree of Separation: I once sat across an airplane aisle from Sen. Paul Tsongas when he was considering a presidential run in 1992. As I was reading a Times article on his chances, I tapped him on the shoulder (he was facing the other way), explaining the serendipity of sitting next to the person I was reading about prompted my intrusion on his privacy. He was very gracious and understanding.

This short reflection is a prologue to sitting across from a distant cousin’s wife last Sunday as she related her employers were profiled in that day’s Times Styles section. Instead of the usual wedding announcement or Vows article, the write-up was about the elegant party the couple was planning for their...divorce! (

The rich surely do live different lives.

Brooklyn Landmark: The once tallest building in Brooklyn, the Williamsburg Savings Bank, has been converted to a mixed use edifice of commercial space and luxury residences. The Times ran an article Tuesday about the auctioning off of six penthouses ranging in price from $1.325 million to $2.55 million.

I was struck by the following paragraph: “The conversion of the landmark from a quirky collection of offices — many for dentists — to luxury residences atop floors of commercial space was among the most talked-about in Brooklyn, but the building failed to sell out despite flurries of activity” (

My mother took me to one of those dentist offices to have some baby teeth extracted when I was about five. The oral surgeon propped my mouth open with a short, hard black rubber tube before putting me to sleep. The next thing I knew, a young nurse’s face was circling round and round before my eyes as I emerged from the ether. I can still see her face floating above me.

Too Many Visions: Are you as tired as I am seeing video of Osama bin Laden watching a video of himself? Before he was killed, all we saw was film of him walking a rocky trail, or shooting a Kalashnikov rifle. Now every news report shows him watching himself. Enough already!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Coney Island Memory

Murray Handwerker is dead. He was 89.

For one who shares his given name fading into obscurity, except for the occasional comedic or animal character in movies and sitcoms, it’s an occasion to mourn, especially if you grew up in Brooklyn and enjoyed the legacy of Murray Handwerker and his parents, Nathan and Ida. For it was Murray Handwerker who took his parents’ busy Coney Island hot dog stand at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues (and another unit in Oceanside, Long Island) and made it into a national, if not international, sensation. Across the country today there are 234 Nathan’s Famous outlets. The franks are sold in more than 18,000 locations worldwide. Last year, according to the company, Nathan’s sold more than 425 million hot dogs. They no longer sell for a nickel, but they remain among the tastiest you can sink your teeth into. And the crinkly-cut French fries are a meal unto themselves.

Truth be told, I wasn’t a big fan of hot dogs when growing up. I preferred Nathan’s hamburgers smothered in grilled onions. Grease extraordinaire. Delicious!

Any trip to Coney Island, about three miles from my parents’ home, required a stopover at Nathan’s. My most memorable visit came before the one and hopefully only time I would be mugged.

One Saturday afternoon in late spring, when I was 14, my friends Jerry and Stanley talked me into going to Coney Island with them. Jerry and Stanley came from more Orthodox Jewish families. They weren’t supposed to ride on the Sabbath, or spend money. I was supposed to hang around home because my cousin Michael was coming over, but the lure of friendship and the enticement of Coney Island, back then a less than secure venue, trumped blood lines. Besides, Jerry and Stanley said they’d spring for the rides and food.

We took the BMT train from Neck Road a few stops to the end of the line, Stillwell Avenue. After eating at Nathan’s, the 90 degree turns of the Wild Mouse ride almost made us give back our food. Undeterred, we were walking toward Steeplechase Park with our entry fee money in our hands when we were jumped from behind by several ruffians. We didn’t know what hit us, but we quickly realized our $20 was gone with the tussle.

With no more mad money to spend, we headed back home. I caught a lot of flack from my parents for not being around to play with Michael. I fibbed I was playing ball at the schoolyard a few blocks away and had lost track of time.

Years later, in 1977 while a field editor for Nation’s Restaurant News, I interviewed Murray Handwerker. I did not tell him of my escapade that day in 1964.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Not So Warm Welcome Home

A perverse welcome home greeted the eight Israeli trauma care providers who spent the last two weeks enjoying R&R in New York and Washington, DC. Even before they boarded a return flight home, their country had to defend itself against Arab extremists who would deny its very existence. The storming of border crossings was not a message of support for Palestinian statehood. No, it was a repudiation of Israel’s right to exist, period.

While they were away, the Sha’ar Hanegev region they live in and serve, on the edge of the Gaza Strip, was mostly quiet. It’s doubtful it will remain so.

Just hours before she left Westchester, Orly, a social worker, related to me a family story that epitomizes life for many of the young residents, on both sides of the border. Born and raised in conflict, children are conflicted by the everyday sights and sounds of battle.

Her nephew has known few days without gunfire or shellfire during his 10 years. Several months ago he was to go with his family to China. He exhibited abnormal anxiety. He was more afraid of light than darkness. He feared there would be too many lights on the streets of China at night. To him, light meant snipers would have an easier time sighting targets.

His brother, one year younger, had developed fear of the outdoors. He would leave the house only if his grandmother held an umbrella over his head, a shield, soft though it was, to keep him safe from falling rockets.

During a visit to Central Park last weekend, Orly watched children freely running around and playing. She became sad. She realized it was because Israeli children in her settlement restrict play to areas near bomb shelters.

Children are born into conflict, but the enmity and bigotry of their parents must be hard-wired into them. In the year I was born, 1949, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific exposed this sorry state of the human condition in a poignant, honest song, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” Read the lyrics and ponder that until we break the cycle of intolerance, children will continue to fear the sunshine:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Well-Deserved Rest & Relaxation

The ladies go home Sunday evening.

They’ll travel back to Israel, to their homes in the communities on the edge of the Gaza Strip, an area known as Sha’ar Hanegev (Gate of the Negev).

For nearly 10 years they and their families and neighbors have been under constant tension amid the threat of indiscriminate rockets, missiles and mortars hurled from over the border. Reaction time is measured in seconds, not minutes. When an alarm sounds, and it is not a guarantee one will, they have perhaps 15 seconds to find shelter. It’s a traumatic existence trying to live peaceably in your moshav or kibbutz right next to an enemy whose apparent only goal in life is to take yours.

Dealing with trauma is their everyday routine, in their personal and professional lives. They are psychologists, nurses and social workers, first responders when the bombing starts, sometimes rushing into action even as more incoming is on the way. They help young and old residents cope with the reality they are targets of a movement committed to their annihilation.

For two weeks ending Sunday, eight Israeli care givers will have enjoyed some well-deserved rest and relaxation, living with families in Westchester while visiting New York City and Washington, DC. They were brought here by Shalom Yisrael, a Westchester organization that for some 25 years has hosted groups of Israelis, usually victims of terror, military veterans or injured soldiers. Like last year, Shalom Yisrael welcomed trauma care providers to America, most for their first U.S. visit. Gilda and I housed one of the women a year ago. This time, as I did in 2010, I accompanied them on a three day trip to Washington ending late Wednesday night.

It’s hard to fully appreciate what these unassuming women do. We take it for granted when soldiers storm into the breach of battle. They’re armed. Fulfilling their duty as the spearhead of defense is their job, what they are trained to do. But how many civilians would leave their families and the relative safety of a shelter when Qassam rockets start to fall to minister to the elderly and the young, to comfort the fearful, even as you must suppress your own anxieties?

Rockets land daily. The calm after the Israeli military response of two years ago has long since dissipated. The effects of constant bombardment exhibit themselves in subtle ways. Children associate the color red with the Red Alert warnings, so many choose not to use red paint when drawing. With so little time to rush to a shelter or safe room, teenagers take shorter showers, just in case. They leave the bathroom door open. Some are afraid to go to the toilet, lest the shells come at an inopportune moment. Bedwetting beyond normal years is prevalent. Slipping back into a parent’s bed is common. Children, even teenagers, are afraid to be alone. Eating disorders affect many. After the recent attack on a school bus, which critically injured one high school student, the only child still on board, children are afraid to ride the buses. Even the bus drivers, mostly all military veterans, are anxious because they’re responsible for the children.

The spirit of the trauma care providers is indomitable, sometimes beyond comprehension, sometimes bordering on the comical. They didn’t care if it rained during their visit. What’s a little water, one said, when she has to consider more metallic, explosive matter raining from the sky as she takes a walk around her village each morning. Another reacts to a Red Alert by quickly opening the doors of her home not only to passersby but also to the dogs and cats that have become traumatized by the bombardments. Observing a Washington intersection signal that counted down the 30 seconds to safely cross a street, a third woman noted she’d become quite proficient in knowing exactly how much she can accomplish in the 15 seconds before a missile lands. She could hang several pieces of laundry. Matter-of-factly another shows me a picture of her home pockmarked by shrapnel after a shell exploded nearby. Moments before her husband stood where the rocket landed. He walked away, but a cherished friend remained and died. Yet they express empathy for the Palestinians when they hear the pounding the Israeli military inflicts in retaliation on Gaza. No one should live with the fear of incessant violence, they say. They are not hard-liners. They are left of center politically. They just want peace.

They are extraordinary in how ordinary they are. They shop for their children and husbands, hoping those back home will not complain too much about their gifts. They shop for themselves. Just a few more days left to check off all the items on their shopping lists. Then it’s back to the ramparts, otherwise known as home.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Leading Off

And now a break from our continuing coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden for an important update on the real or imagined fall of another iconic leader, Derek Jeter.

Ever since the late Bob Sheppard no longer could announce his name in person at Yankee Stadium, Je-tuh’s productivity has waned. A recording of Sheppard’s mellifluous voice just hasn’t generated the same impact, much like the current Je-Tuh is nothing like the Jeter of a few years ago. Last year Derek batted a career low .270 for a full season.

Baseball begins anew in the spring, when hope springs eternal. Not only did Yankee fans, including moi, hope they would rebound and win the World Series this year, but we also longed for a return to norm by our team captain, our Captain America. Yet, 108 at bats into the season, roughly 15% of his expected plate appearances, Jeter, a career .313 hitter, was hitting a mere .250, with no home runs and just two extra base hits among his 27 safeties. He has just six runs batted in.

Lots of people are calling for manager Joe Girardi to move Jeter down in the lineup, away from the lead-off spot. They point to his anemic .308 on-base percentage (OBP), the lowest of any starter save Jorge Posada’s deathly .247 level. Girardi has resisted.

Possibly with good reason. Girardi’s options are limited. Ideally, your lead-off hitter should get on base a lot, should work the count by taking lots of pitches, should be a good base runner, should not strike out a lot, should have some pop in his bat, at least for hitting doubles in the gap and the occasional home run. This year Jeter had been barely adequate, not good, at most of those areas. He does have the fewest strikeouts among the starters, and is near the bottom of those who have grounded into double plays.

Girardi has three possible choices to replace Jeter as lead-off batter: Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson.

Gardner would be ideal for the top spot, but he’s batting only .213, with a .337 OBP. Though hitting better lately, until he’s more consistent at the plate, Gardner will bat ninth. Swisher has a higher OBP at .345, but he’s batting only .223. He strikes out more often than Jeter, doesn’t run the bases as well, has fewer hits and just two more extra base hits.

Granderson’s .260 batting average is nothing to get excited about, either. Nor is his .318 OBP. He has excited everyone with his power prowess. Eight of his 26 hits have gone over the fence. Another four have been doubles, along with a pair of triples. But he’s struck out twice as often as Jeter. On the other hand, Granderson is averaging 4.42 pitches an at-bat, higher than Garnder’s 4.40 and 21% higher than Jeter’s 3.64.

The statistics don’t point to an obvious course of action. It would appear if Girardi were to make any move the most sense would be to put Granderson at the top of the batting order, followed by either Jeter or Swisher.

Jeter is not expected to be in the lineup today because of a slight hip injury. We’ll have to wait and see if Girardi and Jeter agree on which spot in the lineup is best for Jeter and the team.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Too Many Questions

Would releasing “the photo” incite more violence? Should we have buried Osama bin Laden at sea after according his body proper Muslim treatment, rather than taking proof of his death back to U.S. controlled territory? Are enhanced interrogation techniques justified by the end of Osama, or would we have achieved this ultimate goal through the normal course of intelligence gathering? Have we been able to compute how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

As the last question connotes, there are questions to which there are no certain answers. During the days of the Talmudic sages some 2,000 years ago, they suspended debate on questions with no definitive resolution by calling them a “Taiku,” a Hebrew acronym that generally meant, when Tishbi (Elijah) returns (before the messiah comes), he will unravel all the mysteries, all the hard unresolved questions.

But that doesn’t stop the debate in the 21st century, so herewith some opinions:

If extreme interrogation, a euphemism for torture, were truly effective, we would have found bin Laden years ago.

Whether we release a photo of a dead bin Laden, his head partially blown away by a bullet just above his left eye, his chest pierced by a bullet, or ask the public to trust the government that he is indeed a resident of the netherworld, Osama’s acolytes would be gearing up for revenge of unspeakable measure. The battle against evil goes on.

Yes, we killed Osama, but that does not mean we treat his body as carrion or a trophy. Other cultures and peoples might violate ethical norms and disrespect the dead; we should not.

As to the question of proof of the kill, we live in an age of skepticism, here and abroad. Regrettably, even the straight-forward narrative of the mission has been changed several times since the first accounting. Thus it behooves the administration to release photos that clearly and unequivocally show a dead Osama bin Laden. This afternoon, however, CBS News reported President Obama decided not to release any photos.

Let’s also own up, as CIA director Leon Panetta did to Katie Couric yesterday, that first and foremost the Navy Seals’ objective was to kill bin Laden. Any movement on Osama’s part when cornered would be considered hostile, prompting a strike. He moved. We shot him.

What’s puzzling to me in the narrative is the sense the firefight was ongoing as the Seals made their way up the stairs to Osama’s room. He was unarmed, as was his wife. The others in his entourage were killed on lower floors. Who was still shooting, and why? I’m not challenging the actions of the Seals in killing the world’s #1 terrorist. But let’s not sugarcoat this execution by suggesting he was a threat to the Seals.

I also wonder why the U.S. has acknowledged the Seals rounded up a treasure trove of intelligence data from bin Laden’s compound. Wouldn’t it have provided us at least a few days' advantage if we rushed the material back for review without Al Qaeda knowing immediately their secrets had been compromised? In the euphoria of the kill, perhaps we have let other terrorists escape into the shadows.

As I wrote to a friend yesterday who asked what’s next, I expect “we will see more clothing bombers, hopefully discovered before they set their pants or whatever on fire, more crazed individuals, in our military or civilians, who will harm if not kill handful or scores of unsuspecting Americans. (They’ll do no more damage and will be) no different than crazies like the kid on the University of Virginia campus or the one who shot Gabby Giffords. There will be lots of hand wringing, but just like the NRA doesn't believe guns kill, liberals won’t let conservatives (bigots) turn this country into a police state. Perhaps, perhaps we'll accelerate evacuation from Afghanistan, with the understanding that any major military campaign by the Taliban will be met by drone attacks. My crystal ball is getting hazy now, but that's a starter.”

(Editor’s note: From time to time—which means when I remember—I will include the following disclaimer: The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my dear wife, Gilda.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Public Service Announcements

History Lesson: For those who didn’t see it the first time it ran, there’s a great documentary series on Turner Classic Movies this week. The hour-long segments air 7 pm daily through Sunday and are entitled “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood.” Tonight is Episode 2 (sorry, but I didn’t realize the series started yesterday).

Anyone who has ever been to the movies will find this documentary fascinating and illuminating. Have fun watching it.

Healthy Diet: Gilda and I recently committed to eating more healthy, not that we weren’t already doing so, but we agreed we’d eat more fish, at least two or three times a week.

Last Friday night my gourmet-cooking wife prepared a delicious feast of roasted tilapia with herbs, one of the recipes Mark Bittman recently promoted in the NY Times Magazine section. Delicious. And healthy, too. Or so I thought.

Imagine my consternation when I opened Monday’s Times and came across “Another Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Fish” ( Tilapia offered the lowest amount of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 grams of fish than any of the 19 varieties studied by the National Fisheries Institute, according to the article. It was lowest by far, providing just 135 mgs vs. roughly 2,000 mgs for farm-raised salmon. Moreover, farm raised tilapia can be detrimental to the life of a lake.

We’ll still eat tilapia, as it still is healthier than eating meat or chicken, but it sure is disappointing to know even when I try to do the right thing someone, in this case, Mother Nature, is not very supportive.

Drink Up: Here’s another of my dietary dilemmas. Drinking too much Coca-Cola the first four decades of life elevated my blood sugar levels, so I switched to Diet Coke. Trust me, Diet Coke has gotten much better. No more aftertaste. I’ve managed to keep my sugar levels in check, but there still is some uncertainty about the long-term healthiness of sugar substitutes. Oh well...

Anyway, I bring this up because of Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign to receive federal government permission to restrict the use of food stamps to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages in New York City. Mayor Mike believes they contribute to obesity and diabetes (

I support him. Yes, I know this is another example of government getting into our pantries, but just as Bloomberg championed no smoking in restaurants, plus less salt and fat in fast food fare, it is proper for government to mandate behavior when the population at large (and getting larger) won’t take care of itself.

This is not a classic example of Big Brother telling us what to do, or not do. If you want to spend your own money to buy sugared drinks, fine. But don’t spend my money, my government money. Not when our collective health care system is overburdened by the overweight and the diabetic. We all wind up paying higher insurance premiums, and waiting longer in emergency rooms, because of it. We need to begin controlling the root causes of the health care crisis. Prevention should be paramount. Stopping the flow of sweetened liquid down our gullets is one of the quickest ways to have an impact on our collective waist line, blood line and bottom line.

Matza Meal II: My experiment giving birds leftover egg and whole wheat matza has produced less than spectacular results. A few birds, some grackles and even some cardinals, have nibbled at it. But by and large, the birds have ignored the religious offering.

Warm Feet: On the other hand, or foot, so to speak, I am thoroughly enjoying a toasty bed, thanks to the electric mattress pad installed last week. Normally, spring weather would have negated the need for a bed warmer. But this has been anything but a normal spring. I can favorably report my endorsement of this product.

Picture Perfect: Some people ask me why I never include pictures with my blogs. Here’s a reason why: I surely do not need to become penpals with copyright lawyers.

Dead, Again: Does it matter that the description of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been officially revised to say he was not armed when shot, but was still resisting capture? To me, no. He showed no mercy to the innocents he murdered here and around the world. I have no problem with his execution, with targeted assassinations. Let's get the next guy on the list!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Darkness No More

Literally and figuratively, Gilda and I went to bed in the dark Sunday night.

Tired from a full day of gardening, Gilda drifted off to sleep around 10:30. I followed shortly thereafter, oblivious to the drama about to unfold in the next hour. When I woke around 3:15 I couldn’t immediately fall back to sleep. As I often do at such moments, I turned on my iTouch to play a game of solitaire and then downloaded the latest news from the NY Times. I started with the sports section. Though not a NY Mets fan, I was immediately drawn to the headline, “Mets Win on Field in 14 Innings, but Big News Was Buzzing in the Crowd.”

The first paragraph firmly jolted me awake. “A long, emotional Sunday night came to a happy conclusion on Monday morning for the Mets, who beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1, in 14 innings in a game that became a backdrop for the nation’s reaction to the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.”

Quickly turning to the main news section, I devoured the articles. After about 15 minutes I couldn’t contain my excitement. When Gilda shifted slightly in bed, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask if she were awake. I said Osama bin Laden had been killed.

For the next hour we read our iTouches, sharing tidbits of information gleaned one article ahead or behind the other. Until Gilda told me, I completely missed, for example, the sentence at the end of the second paragraph of the main news story stating bin Laden’s body was buried at sea. We watched a recording of President Obama’s speech. Written by the president himself, it was said, it was a great, moving speech.

Throughout Monday I was partially paralyzed with interest, as news morsel after news morsel trickled out. I was amused while CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was interviewing former Bush secretary of state Colin Powell. The graphics people inserted a picture of bin Laden’s compound outlined in red. Amused because the outline resembled the borders of the state of Israel.

Bin Laden was taken down Sunday, New York time, the same day Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, was commemorated.

Political leaders of both parties praised President Obama. Republicans included George W. Bush in their praise. Understandable. Perhaps surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh heaped praise on a president he usually excoriates. He hailed Obama for continuing the Bush policies in the Middle East and for keeping Guantanamo open, but mostly for overruling the military’s desire to strike the compound from the air. Obama insisted on special forces on the ground, said Limbaugh.

Donald Trump congratulated Obama and the armed forces. Sarah Palin, however, revealed more of her petty, bitchy character by failing to acknowledge President Obama’s involvement. Hamas showed the world its true colors as a terrorist organization by calling bin Laden a “holy warrior” and labeling his killing an “assassination.”

The proficiency of our strike force reminded me of the Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976 and the more recent American success rescuing the crew and captain of the freighter seized by Somali pirates.

There will be those who bemoan we didn’t bring bin Laden back alive to face interrogation and trial. I won’t.

There will be those who question if he’s really dead. I won’t.

No matter how many terrorists are captured or killed, the war on terrorism will go on and on and on. It only takes one radical to keep it going. But we should never forget that our liberties are at stake, that terrorists win not by murdering scores, hundreds, even thousands of our citizens, but rather by scaring us into stripping away the freedoms upon which our country was founded.

Almost 10 years ago, while on a business trip to Phoenix, I slept through the morning attacks of September 11, awakening in time to see the second tower collapse. Last night I slept through the initial reports of our victory over the archetype of terror. How strange.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kiss and Tell

Next time we are confronted with a royal wedding (or what passes for royalty these days, such as a Kennedy or Trump marriage), let’s make sure the plucky couple gets a private screening of the Al and Tipper Gore kiss at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

Our demanding U.S. public wants none of that reserved British peck-and-be-quiet smooch, if we can even call it a kiss, that William bestowed on Kate’s lips not once but twice, as if a double measure of a refined public display of affection would suffice when compared to the passion Al presented to the public.

Who cares if Al and Tipper have since gone their separate ways. For one shining moment they clearly captivated and cornered the market on PDAs.

Trust but Verify: I was no fan of Ronald Reagan’s presidency but he did provide a phrase useful to all, especially in this Internet media age. “Trust but verify.”

I trusted Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb that Queen Elizabeth snubbed Camilla at the royal wedding, but when I finally got around to verifying their claim by examining the tape, it turned out they were wrong. The queen did indeed shake Camilla’s hand. I changed my original post but in case some of you read the blog before the correction, here's an official apology and a warning not to believe all you see or hear from the media. Even from me.

Politics and Humor: Some of you might have heard about the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC, last night. As a public service, here are links to two of the main speeches, the first from President Obama, the second from the featured guest, Seth Meyers, head writer of Saturday Night Live. They’re both around 20 minutes long. Make sure you note Donald Trump’s reaction to being the butt of much of the humor.


Seth Meyers: