Thursday, June 30, 2011

Picture This

Over breakfast most mornings I scan the Turner Classic Movies listings in the newspaper to see if there are any old time flicks that interest me. This morning I noticed The Blob was to be shown tonight at 8. Starring Steve McQueen, the 1958 movie is far from a classic sci-fi thriller. But as an impressionable 9-year-old sitting in a darkened theater, I was forever frightened by its coming attractions, never to see this flick, not then, not now.

The trailer aired before two movies I distinctly remember, Run Silent, Run Deep, and The Decks Ran Red. I had tagged along with my older brother, Bernie, and his friend, Jerry, for an afternoon of celluloid entertainment. Other than being scared out of my wits (there was a preview of another even scarier sci-fi film, but its title escapes me), the double-bill features did not disappoint. Run Silent, Run Deep starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster as officers of a WWII submarine. James Mason received top billing in The Decks Ran Red, a story about a mutiny aboard a freighter.

I don’t know why, but certain movies from my childhood have stayed with me, not because I have seen them time and again on television (though mostly I have), but because I remember the circumstances of when and where I saw them as a youngster.

In 1956, our mother took my brother, sister Lee and me to see The Ten Commandments at Radio City Music Hall. First, we had lunch at Schrafft’s. A day of spectacle any 7-year-old would remember.

That same year, while my brother attended a bar-mitzvah party, my father took Lee and me to a screening of Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, the first feature film produced in Israel. It told the story (mostly in English) of a group of four Israeli soldiers assigned to hold a strategic hill near Jerusalem during the War of Independence. As the title implies, they did not survive their mission.

I remember seeing what should have been a most forgettable double bill, Pocketful of Miracles, a less than fulfilling 1961 remake of the delightful Lady for a Day (both, incidentally, directed by Frank Capra), and Party Girl, a story about mobsters and molls in early 1930s Chicago.

Two of the earliest movies I saw were Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and The Trouble With Harry (1955). Both times our babysitter, Madeline, took us to the theater, most probably because she wanted to see them herself.

When I was 10 years old in 1959, I encountered my first example of censorship, and how to beat it. Twelve-year-old Lee and I went to see Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in Operation Petticoat. Because of the “raciness” of the script, we were barred from entering the movie house on Coney Island Avenue and Avenue U without an adult. Not to be deterred, we made our way to the theater at Kings Highway and Coney Island Avenue where they were more than glad to take our money.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Politics and Some Old Fashioned Values

Michele Bachmann’s politics might not be my cup of tea, but at least she seems to have the credentials of someone who has served the public for many years. She also appears to be no slouch when it comes to intellect, though I would question some of her conclusions.

What I don’t understand, however, is why politicians like her always insist they are not politicians? More curiously, why do so many voters swallow their swill?

The other day, when announcing her candidacy during an Iowa stopover, Bachmann asserted, “People are tired of politicians.” Okay, if that’s the case, why is she running? She is a professional politician. Anyone who is a three-term congresswoman is a professional politician. How can anyone who knows her think she is not a politician?

Michael Bloomberg was not a politician when he first ran for mayor of New York City. Now in his third term, Mayor Mike is definitely a politician. Rand Paul was not a politician when he ran for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky last year. If he seeks re-election in 2016, or heaven help us higher office, he no longer should be able to claim the mantle of an outsider.

Bachmann appears to be as scripted as they come. She’s chock full of sound bites, an impressive quality in this era of fly-by news coverage and casual listening by the electorate. That’s why it was all the more humorous when she misspoke at her Waterloo, Iowa, campaign launch by saying both she and John Wayne hailed from that small Iowa town. In case you haven’t heard, she got the wrong John Wayne mixed up with the conservative, Hollywood icon. John Wayne the actor was from a different Iowa community, Winterset. John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, was from home town of Waterloo. Perhaps she'll turn her faux pas into a clever retort by saying she will serially kill government, program by program.

Oh well, in any campaign there are bound to be gaffes, like when Sarah Palin couldn’t remember the name of any newspapers she read, or lauded her foreign affairs expertise because she could see Russia from her porch.

Palin is the protagonist of a new documentary premiered Tuesday in Iowa designed to right the wrongs that have besmirched her political career. The Undefeated is said to portray her two and a half years as governor as among the most fulfilling of any full-term chief executive of Alaska. I haven’t seen the film, which Palin did not commission. But you have to wonder why the documentarian chose the name The Undefeated. Palin, did, after all, lose her last election in 2008.

According to Human Events, a conservative Web site, filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon “said he titled the film The Undefeated in part because Palin fights for 'the values that she stands for and represents -- the American spirit that is found on the frontier -- and those values cannot be defeated.’”

I’ve seen lots of Westerns in my time, many starring John Wayne. While they deified individual accomplishment, self-reliance and a refusal to give in, they also contained some themes that were decidedly un-Republican: bankers often were shady characters; land- and cattle barons along with railroad tycoons were selfish aggrandizers, willing to pay hired guns to do their dirty work; to get ahead, homesteaders and townspeople often had to band together in a sort of collective socialism; prostitution was an accepted, at least tolerated, social norm; a good lawman was one who enforced gun control over the citizenry. No one declared their Second Amendment rights when Marshal Dillon or Wyatt Earp demanded they put down their side arms.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gerber Baby

Ellie was a Gerber baby. More precisely, she was a Gerber toddler posing as a Gerber baby.

Total strangers would tell Gilda how beautiful a baby Ellie was as she was pushed around in her stroller, big brother Dan walking alongside. It got so bad we feared all the attention would negatively affect Dan, no slouch himself in the looks department, to keep hearing praise of his sister and nary a word about how handsome he was.

I’m reminded of Ellie’s Gerber past because of a story on ABC News Sunday night detailing how the face of America is changing from white to a more diverse look (

When Ellie was 18 months old my magazine signed Gerber to run an eight-page advertising supplement featuring its expanded baby accessories product line. We would design, create and print the piece. We always tried to produce supplements at the lowest possible expense, so we asked around our company if anyone had any babies who could model for us. For free.

Gerber wanted babies no older than 12 months. Ellie would have been too old, but since she was small for her age our art director, Milton, submitted some family photos for Gerber’s approval which came immediately.

Ellie and Gilda journeyed into Manhattan to the photographer’s studio downtown. Gilda dressed Ellie in Gerber’s pink one-piece pajamas with white sleeves and white Peter Pan collar with stitching along the edge, a bear face outlined across her heart. She was given a bright pink cube to hold.

Uptown in my office I anticipated the beginning of a lucrative child modeling career. Ellie had always had a keen sense of when the camera was focused on her. She became even more lustrous before the lens. With the Gerber photos to be taken that morning we'd have a ready-made portfolio to bring to modeling agencies.

All set for the one hour shoot, Stan (the photographer) pulled down a sheet of white background paper on which Ellie was to stand. She went ballistic! As Gilda related to me, it was the worst hour of her life. Not Ellie’s life. Gilda’s!

Ellie was inconsolable. She cried to the extreme. No amount of cajoling by Gilda or Stan could get her to stop. She pouted and bawled for 60 minutes. Somehow, Stan was able to snap four pictures that could be sent to Gerber. Remarkably, Gerber chose one for the back cover of the supplement. We keep a framed print of that picture in our living room.

Ellie had her moment of stardom, but Gilda advised if I had any hope of a future modeling career for our daughter, I would have to be the one to take her to future shoots.

I chose not to give up my day job.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

All That Matters

Partial Success: No doubt you’ve been waiting all weekend to find out if the birds liked the Multi-Grain Cheerios (if not, skip down to the next bold-faced item).

It’s finally safe to report late Sunday afternoon, the answer is, Yes. Not an unqualified yes. They did show a preference for regular bird food mixed in with the Cheerios, but when the seed was all exhausted they devoured those crushed up round cereal treats.

Another grand experiment had a more disappointing conclusion. Standing at my desk is not working out. Though hailed as a healthy alternative to sitting, I found my legs, knees and feet couldn't tolerate it. Not even standing on a cushioned pad relieved the pain. Ah well, at least I tried...

Take That: Perhaps the most overused, often unnecessary, word in the English language is “that.” Here’s a little writing tip—any time you use “that” in a sentence, re-read it to determine if “that” is truly required. More times than not, it probably isn’t.

As an example, here’s a sentence from my last blog, shown first with “that” in italics: “I’ve discovered that even the cheapest brand of bird food attracts as many aviators as the more expensive seed.”

Now the sans-”that” printed version: “I’ve discovered even the cheapest brand of bird food attracts as many aviators as the more expensive seed.”

See, no difference in meaning. But it’s shorter and flows better.

Journalists are trained (at least they were when I learned the trade) to use the fewest words to convey the most meaning. Most writing can be trimmed by a good one-third of the original text while remaining lucid and cogent. A good way to self-train is to impose a word count. It’ll be a reversal of grade school when you had to write a report of at least 300 words and found yourself struggling and repeating phrases to total the teacher’s quota.

Herman Cain, the former head of Godfather’s Pizza and current Republican presidential hopeful, has said as president he would refuse to sign any bill longer than three pages. An extreme position, no doubt, given the complexity of our government, but he’s emphasizing the need to smooth out the legislative process and reduce all the exceptions and ride-ons added to many pieces of legislation.

Absence Noted: O Captain! My Captain! Where Was the Captain?

It was Derek Jeter’s 37th birthday today.

It was the 65th annual Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium today, marking the first-time return in pinstripes of Bernie Williams, Lou Piniella and Mr. Torre, as Jeter called Joe Torre, his former Yankee skipper. The NY Yankees also honored Gene Monahan, retiring at the end of this season as their trainer after 49 years of service with the club, including many a day over the last 16 years spent keeping Jeter physically able to play despite injuries.

Jeter currently is idling on the 15-day disabled list. Well, not really idling. I meant he wasn’t playing actual games. He’s rehabbing down in Tampa, reportedly running on a treadmill in water today to strengthen his strained calf.

I don’t mean to be petty, but couldn’t Jeter have worked out really early and flown up to the Bronx to show respect to the Yankee greats, and some not so great, who came for Old Timers’ Day? Didn’t he owe it to Monahan to be physically in the ballpark for him? Yes, it would have been frustrating not being able to take the field, but he’s the Yankee captain. He should have been at Yankee Stadium, and not, for those of us who watched the proceedings on TV, just in commercials. Sorry, Derek, but in this case, you’ve lost your edge.

All That Matters

Partial Success: No doubt you’ve been waiting all weekend to find out if the birds liked the Multi-Grain Cheerios (if not, skip down to the next bold-faced item).

It’s finally safe to report late Sunday afternoon, the answer is, Yes. Not an unqualified yes. They did show a preference for regular bird food mixed in with the Cheerios, but when the seed was all exhausted they devoured those crushed up round cereal treats.

Take That: Perhaps the most overused, often unnecessary, word in the English language is “that.” Here’s a little writing tip—any time you use “that” in a sentence, re-read it to determine if “that” is truly required. More times than not, it probably isn’t.

As an example, here’s a sentence from my last blog, shown first with “that” in italics: “I’ve discovered that even the cheapest brand of bird food attracts as many aviators as the more expensive seed.”

Now the sans-”that” printed version: “I’ve discovered even the cheapest brand of bird food attracts as many aviators as the more expensive seed.”

See, no difference in meaning. But it’s shorter and flows better.

Journalists are trained (at least they were when I learned the trade) to use the fewest words to convey the most meaning. Most writing can be trimmed by a good one-third of the original text while remaining lucid and cogent. A good way to self-train is to impose a word count. It’ll be a reversal of grade school when you had to write a report of at least 300 words and found yourself struggling and repeating phrases to total the teacher’s quota.

Herman Cain, the former head of Godfather’s Pizza and current Republican presidential hopeful, has said as president he would refuse to sign any bill longer than three pages. An extreme position, no doubt, given the complexity of our government, but he’s emphasizing the need to smooth out the legislative process and reduce all the exceptions and ride-ons added to many pieces of legislation.

Absence Noted: O Captain! My Captain! Where Was the Captain?

It was Derek Jeter’s 37th birthday today.

It was the 65th annual Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium today, marking the first-time return in pinstripes of Bernie Williams, Lou Piniella and Mr. Torre, as Jeter called Joe Torre, his former Yankee skipper. The NY Yankees also honored Gene Monahan, retiring at the end of this season as their trainer after 49 years of service with the club, including many a day over the last 16 years spent keeping Jeter physically able to play despite injuries.

Jeter currently is idling on the 15-day disabled list. Well, not really idling. I meant he wasn’t playing actual games. He’s rehabbing down in Tampa, reportedly running on a treadmill in water today to strengthen his strained calf.

I don’t mean to be petty, but couldn’t Jeter have worked out really early and flown up to the Bronx to show respect to the Yankee greats, and some not so great, who came for Old Timers’ Day? Didn’t he owe it to Monahan to be physically in the ballpark for him? Yes, it would have been frustrating not being able to take the field, but he’s the Yankee captain. He should have been at Yankee Stadium, and not, for those of us who watched the proceedings on TV, just in commercials. Sorry, Derek, but in this case, you’ve lost your edge.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Oy, Have I Got Tsuris

Cheerios Are for the Birds: My blood sugar levels have been trending up so it’s time to eliminate as many sweet items as possible from my diet. That means the Multi-Grain Cheerios with 6 grams of sugar are out, regular Cheerios with just 1 gram are back in the cupboard. Only problem is, what do I do with an almost full Costco-sized box of Multi-Grain Cheerios?

The solution has been chirping away all day. The birds have previously shown they’ll eat matzoh, dried bagels and challah, even hard Chinese noodles, so I’m guessing they won’t mind bulking up on M-G Cheerios. They really are beggars, and you know the old saying about how choosy beggars can afford to be. I’ve discovered even the cheapest brand of bird food attracts as many aviators as the more expensive seed. So it’s crushed M-G Cheerios for all, and if the General Mills ad campaign is to be believed, my birds will have lower cholesterol in a matter of days. Of course, their sugar levels will soar as high as they can fly, but the birds get more exercise than I do, so that will counteract the effects of all that added sugar in their diet.

Tsuris Along the Souris: I’ll start feeding them the M-G Cheerios as soon as the lake under their bird feeders recedes. Every time we get a drenching downpour, as we did earlier today, our back and side yards become lakes. We’ve added dry wells for better drainage but they just became another item on the money pit of home ownership. Luckily we French-drained our basement and have a very good sump pump system so we stay dry inside. But the lakes keep us on our toes, wondering if it will ever rain long and hard enough for the water to lap against the first floor of the house.

It’s nothing, for sure, like what the residents of Minot, ND, are going through with the flooding of the Souris River. While watching news reports of their plight, I was struck by the similarity of the pronunciation of the river Souris name to a Yiddish word, tsuris, which means troubles, worries, problems. There’s little doubt the people of Minot have lots of tsuris from the Souris.

Case Closed: The federal government wants cigarette companies to include graphic pictures of the dangers of smoking on each pack of killers. The hope is smokers will see the effects of inhaling and stop, or at least reduce, their self-destructive acts.

My mother was a chain smoker. She even smoked in the hospital, even while recuperating from congestive heart failure, with an oxygen hose draped around her neck. It amazed us she could wangle, or bribe, a cigarette from the hospital staff. Smoking contributed to her partial dementia, exacerbated her diabetes (she had one partial leg amputation and was scheduled for another right before she died of heart failure), and was a major cause of her ill health.

Yet, I have no doubt graphic pictures would not have stopped her from lighting up. She was addicted. What’s more, she would never have seen the pictures more than once, for she placed her smokes inside a red leather cigarette case. Out of sight, out of mind.

I predict a boom business for companies that make cigarette cases. It will be like an updated scene from a 1930s movie, with sophisticated metal or leather cases vying with 21st century smart phones for recognition as the coolest pocket accessory.

Spread the Dirt: There’s an old Jewish custom to be buried with a measure of dirt from Israel in the grave. I couldn’t help but think of that when news reports surfaced of plans to scoop up five gallons of dirt from the ball field on which Derek Jeter strokes his 3,000th hit and sell commemorative ounces of the soil to star-crossed fans (

Maybe it’s me (yes, for all you grammarians out there, I know it should be “I”, not “me”), but I find it rather crazy that anyone would pay hard-earned money for dirt Jeter, or any sports figure, politicians or celebrity of any form, walked on. Maybe if it was water he walked on I’d be more inclined to spring for it, but dirt? Really, people. He’s a ballplayer, not a god.

Heil USA: BMW North America is advertising its support of the USA Olympic team with a slogan “Drive for Team USA.” Am I mistaken, but isn’t BMW a German car company? Are they aware of what BMW North America is doing back in Bavaria? Is the company also supporting the German Olympic team?

Whatever. I find it all rather disconcerting and disingenuous.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Paddling Along

I’m an old newspaperman, and if there’s one thing we wizened scribes hate it’s getting beat on a story, especially one you’ve been sitting on till the time was right. You can imagine, then, my disappointment and anguish when I read deep into the NY Times on Monday and came across the headline, “A Goal Met Before Age 50, And No Training Wheels!”. It ran over an article about a Bike New York program in Brooklyn that teaches adults to overcome their fears and race off on two wheels (

It was an article I could relate to as I was a late bicycler. It was a story idea I had been planning to incorporate into a future blog after promising to do so last December when I seconded the notion of a different Times piece, “Fell Off My Bike and Vowed Never To Get Back On” (

I learned to ride after four decades of disdain for the two-wheeled conveyance. I learned via the Amanda Steinberg system, as taught to Ellie Forseter and passed on to her father. Ellie was all of 7 when Amanda took her under her slightly older wing to teach the finer points of balance and pedaling. I was 40.

As I am quite confident Amanda has not patented her system, I am at liberty to convey its rudimentary form to you. As noted, it works for young and old alike.

First, make sure your bike has no training wheels. For adult men, I recommend an old-style woman’s bicycle because there is no center bar to shall we say, challenge your manhood. The bike seat should be low enough to enable your feet to fully touch the ground so if you ever feel yourself tipping over you can comfortably and without panic steady yourself without falling.

Balancing yourself on the bike, with your legs dangling at the sides, not on the pedals, paddle forward with your feet. After moving a few yards, lift your feet onto the pedals and try to turn them. Don’t be discouraged if you lose your balance. Try again. Sooner, rather than later, hopefully, your balance will become second nature and you’ll be able to continuously pedal.

There. You’ve just learned to ride a bike.

I won’t pretend it’s easy, especially when you’re older and fear consumes you, memories of prior falls and failures freeze you and embarrassment haunts your every attempt. What will the neighbors think?, is constantly going through your mind.

If you’re lucky (I use that word advisedly), as I was, you’ll have a life-partner who will shove you outside the moment you come home from work. Your spouse will exhort you to “man up” and do it before dinner is ready. Don’t come inside unless you’re bicycle-trained. If you do, it’s back outside after dinner, old man. Learn, or be forever left alone while the rest of the family pedals off on wonderful eco-friendly rides.

Futility engulfed my first attempt. I gave up when it became too dark even on our protected cul-de-sac. The next day I was sent out again before dinner. No luck. I moaned over meat loaf I’d never be able to learn. I just couldn’t coordinate more than two turns of the pedals before losing my balance. Ten-year-old Dan volunteered to observe and correct my faulty approach.

We marched out after dinner, I climbed onto Gilda’s old bike, and as I proceeded to explain to Dan how I couldn’t pedal more than two revolutions...I was halfway down the block, the wind in my exhilarated face, tension turning my smile into a grimace as I realized I had no idea how to stop or turn. While Dan called for Gilda to come outside, quick, I figured the only way to stop was to plow into a curb. I got back on the bike. Lo and behold, I was able to pedal again. I was riding a bicycle. Far from laughing at me, neighbors came out and applauded.

Oh, the joy of conquering a childhood phantom.

Truth be told, I hated biking. My ass hurt after a short spin. My neck hurt from looking up with my back bent over the handlebars. My hands and wrists hurt from holding the handlebars too tightly. And I didn’t like falling, which I did repeatedly (see above mentioned blog on two-wheeled trauma).

But at least I learned to ride. I hope it’s true what they say about never forgetting how to ride a bicycle, just in case I find myself in a desperate situation, as Carl Reiner’s character did in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. You never know when knowing how to ride a bike can help you save the world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Painful Notes

Stand Up: Gilda left me an article from the local newspaper about the health benefits of working at your desk while standing instead of sitting. I’d seen TV news reports several months ago about the idea (some of the set-ups even include a treadmill) but had not acted upon it.

However there’s nothing like the incentive of your spouse asking, “So, what have you done about it?” to propel one into action. I took two plastic storage bins, propped them on my desk and, voilá, I am now typing while standing. I feel healthier already.

I Feel Their Pain: I can empathize with St. Louis Cardinal fans in the aftermath of star Albert Pujols’ broken wrist, suffered in a collision with Kansas City Royal Wilson Betemit. Betemit ran into the all-star first baseman as he tried to snag an errant throw. A three-time most valuable player often cited as the best in the game, Pujols will be out about six weeks. When injured, his team was tied for first place in the National League’s Central Division. It’s anybody’s guess where the Cards will be when he returns.

Pujols was hurt on Father’s Day. Some 25 years ago, on Mother’s Day, my softball team’s slick fielding first baseman, David L., had his elbow smashed on a similar play trying to catch a ball in the path of a batter running to first base. Now, the rest of this story is all hearsay as I was out of town at a business convention. But numerous sources corroborate the essential facts: we were playing Harrison JCC, at their field. With David writhing in pain and teammates organizing efforts to take him to the emergency room in White Plains, Harrison players kept pressuring our team to get back on the field to continue the game. Not the most sportsmanlike of conduct. We never really liked their attitude to begin with, but this iced the cake, so to speak.

Anyway, David never played again (though his two sons did when they grew up). His injury came back to haunt us in the championship game that year. On top of his injury, our second, third and fourth string first basemen were away, so we had to play a scrub, Alan, at first. The first two batters hit ground balls to short. Alan could not handle either throw from the shortstop. By inning’s end we had given up three unearned runs. One of our wayward first basemen arrived before the start of the second inning, we played flawless ball thereafter, but the deficit was too much to overcome. We lost 5-3. We finally won the league title some 23 years later.

Trouble Comes in Threes: That’s a popular saying and in this case true as it pertains to the name Weiner.

First there was Anthony Weiner. No need to dwell on that walking disaster, or should I say, tweeting disaster.

Second was the Saturday small plane crash that took the lives of pilot Keith Weiner, his wife, Lisa, their daughter Isabel and her friend Lucy Walsh shortly after taking off from Westchester County Airport on their way to Montauk. A real tragedy.

The third Weiner-related trouble came to my attention while scrolling through the Internet. Are you familiar with Michael Savage? To me, he’s a really despicable right-wing radio talk show host. How despicable? Well, the British have barred him from entering their country because of his invective. The Savage Nation is our third most popular radio talk show, which, again to me, says something about our country.

What’s this got to do with the first two Weiner items? Michael Savage’s original name is Michael Alan Weiner.

Wal-Mart Fallout: Does Wal-Mart discriminate against women in its employment practices? Thirty-two years of covering retailing, much of it spent watching Wal-Mart grow into the world’s largest retailer, leads me to say the Bentonville, Ark., company does not have a corporate policy favoring, or even tacitly condoning, discrimination. Do I believe bias occurs within its ranks? For sure.

Wal-Mart is no different than almost all other retailers, except in size, of course. By no different I mean that from time and memoriam retailers have favored male workers for almost all of their managerial posts. Women were to be tolerated as clerks on the sales floor and in the back office, but hardly ever given control of an enterprise or a department within it. Throughout most of the 20th century, few women reached the corporate suite, unless they started a company, like Frieda Loehmann did 90 years ago in Brooklyn.

I’m not going to review the reasons why women, who make up the majority of customers and often the majority of workers, fail to secure better paying and more responsible jobs within retail companies (they’re often similar reasons to what goes on in other industries). Rather, let’s understand that in a company such as Wal-Mart with some 3,400 stores in the United States, there are bound to be some managers who are less sophisticated, less open to change and progress, more set in the old ways than the ideal the law seeks to promulgate.

Does the existence of a few bad apple managers, okay, even a bushel of bad apple managers, justify a class action lawsuit? My sympathies lie with the women, but my intellect sides with the company. I agree with the Supreme Court majority ruling rejecting class-action status to the 1.5 million women who have worked for Wal-Mart. I encourage each and every women who feels she was a victim of discrimination to continue to challenge Wal-Mart in court.

(PS—I hope siding with the Supreme Court majority doesn't mean I'm getting conservative in my old age.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day, Baseball Edition

It’s Father’s Day. Great day to go to a ball game. Gilda, Ellie, Donny and I are off to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Cyclones take on the Staten Island Yankees. It can hardly get any better than that, unless, of course, Finley and parents would be with us. Alas, they’re up in New Hampshire at a Mixter family reunion.

Speaking of Finley, I was happy to see Finley is the name of Brian Gordon’s 4-year-old son. Who’s Brian Gordon? Why, he’s the Aaron Small of 2011, we hope.

NY Yankee fans will remember in 2005 the perennial minor leaguer Aaron Small was called up to fill a pitching gap and wound up winning his first 10 decisions, helping the Bronx Bombers finish first in the American League East. Gordon is somewhat like Small, a long-term minor leaguer who relies on deception rather than fastballs to retire batters. Gordon pitched well in his debut last Wednesday, without getting a decision. His next outing will be in Cincinnati Tuesday. Here’s hoping lightning strikes again for the Yanks, and Gordon.

During Derek Jeter’s stay on the 15-day disabled list, can we please have a moratorium on TV ads starring the Yankee captain? I know it’s asking too much, but really, do we need to be constantly reminded he’s not in the lineup pursuing his 3,000th hit?

Is it too soon to think of Jeter as the modern-day version of Wally Pipp, the Yankee star first baseman who sat himself down because of a headache in 1925 and never got his job back because Lou Gehrig replaced him and played the next 2,130 consecutive games? I’m exaggerating, of course, but Eduardo Nunez is taking full advantage of his playing time during Jeter’s leg injury layoff. Nunez drove in the winning run Saturday. He is seven for 18 (.388) since replacing Jeter, including a home run on his 24th birthday Wednesday. On the negative side, he still is prone to mistakes in the field. He has committed eight errors, mostly errant throws, in 14 games.

Jeter will get his position back once he’s physically fit, but barring a trade or a career-ending injury, Nunez is showing he’s the Yankee shortstop of the future.

Is it my imagination or is Robinson Cano, underachieving at the plate, also underperforming in the field? He just seems to be a step slower this season after his Gold Glove year, not paying enough attention to the ball, not keeping it in his mitt, not throwing with the same accuracy. He’s already made six errors in 68 games compared to just three in 158 games during the full 2010 season.

Cano is a hard player to gauge. He’s so naturally talented and smooth, what in other players might appear to be indifference is just his normal style. Still, I think something is not right with him overall. (I can’t be too critical as he’s Allison’s favorite Yankee.)

I’m still waiting for baseballdom to adopt my idea about tracking a pitcher’s statistics when confronted with the bases loaded. Hitters already are evaluated in such situations but you never hear an announcer tell you how a pitcher has fared when the bags are full. I’d measure their efficiency with no out, one out and two out.

And now a word from a sponsor who doesn’t know baseball. Or at least its copywriter doesn’t. Riding around Friday listening to the Yankee pre-game show, AT&T ran an ad themed around a character named Sam who always wanted to be a Yankee and was on his way as a standout high school pitcher. He went on to IT technician, and so, in the words of the ad, “would never bat lead-off for the Yankees.”

Duh! No kidding. Pitchers don’t bat lead-off. Indeed, unless the Yanks are playing interleague ball in a National League ballpark, as they’re doing today against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Yankee pitchers never come to bat.

Someone should take that copywriter, and his supervisor, to a Yankee game so they can see first hand the error of their ways.

Record Time: For those keeping score, today is the two-year anniversary of my last day of work for Chain Store Age and Lebhar-Friedman. The time has gone swiftly by, Gilda and I both agree, not the least because of this blog. This entry will be the 333rd I’ve posted to No Socks Needed Anymore since I began blogging September 8, 2009. Thank you for indulging me with your readership.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Judge Not

Twelve years ago tomorrow, according to the Jewish calendar, Nathan Ancell passed away.

He was 91, a frail man. I didn’t really know him. He was a member of my synagogue, a regular attendee of Sabbath services. He sat in the back. Back then I was the head gabbai of our congregation (a gabbai, for those not familiar with the Hebrew term, is a glorified head usher, assisting the clergy by handing out honors and maintaining proper decorum during the service).

As I walked around the sanctuary, I’d notice him sitting by himself, barely able to stand when necessary, suspenders keeping his pants high up on his torso in the manner of many an elderly man.

The day after Nathan Ancell died on May 31, 1999, his obituary made the front page of the NY Times!

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. And professionally embarrassed, for you see, though I was a supposed maven of retailing, I was unaware Nathan Ancell was a co-founder of Ethan Allen, a visionary responsible for pioneering the concept of selling furniture in room settings. Far from being a down-and-out old timer, Nathan Ancell was rich, very rich.

Only after I confided my blunder to Gilda did she inform me that she had been to his home and it was spectacular.

That old saying is can’t judge a book by its cover.

Penney for Their Thoughts: The last time JC Penney made a bold corner office move, as it did earlier this week naming Apple’s Ron Johnson their incoming chief executive as of Nov. 1, I was very much a part of it.

Penney’s problems today resemble those it had in the late 20th century. It was a muddled, middle of the road department store, with little to entice shoppers to walk its aisles, unless they were headed to a bathroom or to their car. Penney’s senior management were nice guys, but not really up to the task of making the retailer a meaningful shopping destination.

In April 1998 I wrote in my magazine, “Something radical must be done. Penney needs to break the mold of inbred succession it has clung to since James Cash Penney retired if it wants to make serious headway with its department store strategy.

“I nominate Allen Questrom.”

Questrom was the former ceo of Federated Department Stores. He had merged it with R.H. Macy. He was a merchandising wizard with strong people skills.

Penney’s board of directors discussed my suggestion at its next meeting, but nothing happened, until July 2000, when Penney named Questrom its next chairman and ceo. Everyone in the press clamored for an interview; when Questrom was shown a copy of my April 1998 editorial, he granted me the first one.

Questrom left Penney in 2004, replaced by Myron “Mike” Ullman. Ullman had been chairman and ceo of Macy and other high-end retailers, but his expertise was in finance. Penney initiated some strong cross-merchandising agreements with companies like Sephora under Ullman, but has not been able to have any sustained breakout ideas. It also suffered as its core middle and working class clientele pulled back spending during the recession.

There’s no doubt Johnson is the fair-haired executive in retailing. Apple stores scoop up an estimated $4,000 in sales per square foot. Penney, by comparison, does under $160.

It would be presumptuous to believe Johnson could jump-start Penney’s performance based on his Apple experience. For one, the product lines are too dissimilar. Apple has a limited number of stock keeping units (SKUs) vs. the wide assortments at Penney. Apple’s SKUs are rather pricey compared to underwear, socks, or a men’s suit or dress. Apple stores are an electronics playground, visited by dedicated, some might say, brainwashed, customers and would-be acolytes, with lots of committed, helpful staff in a small store format. Penney’s stores are huge. Staff is there mostly to replenish stock and straighten up, not sell, for there are few customers who need help picking out a set of towels or a prom dress.

Despite being sold at full price, the uniqueness of Apple products—the iPad, iPod, iPhone, iTouch, MacBook—draws shoppers into Apple stores. While other retailers in a mall are almost empty, even in midweek Apple stores are abuzz with activity. Penney might have unique merchandise as well, but its private label apparel and home goods must compete with name and designer brands often sold at a discount in countless stores in the mall and strip centers.

Johnson’s challenge will be to sprinkle into the mix enough products that are exclusive to Penney and create excitement around them. It’s not his Apple experience that will serve him well here, but rather his time as head of merchandising for Target. Just as Target has a cult-like following for its Michael Graves housewares and other trendy goods, Penney will have to undergo a transformation in the consumer’s mind.

Can it be done? Can Johnson do it? He’s probably among the few executives who could. But he’ll need help turning on the spending spigot. He’ll need an improved economy with stronger home sales. Until middle America starts spending again, Penney will just be treading water.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't Know Much About History

I like history. But I’ll freely admit I hardly cracked a book in high school. That didn’t prevent me from scoring a 98 on the American History regents exam (the teacher, Mr. Moroze, deducted 2 points from my essay because I included a fact he was unaware of and therefore thought was incorrect. After I showed him evidence to support my claim, he shrugged and said I shouldn’t complain about a 98).

To this day I’m still pretty good when it comes to history. That’s why I was particularly saddened by a new study that revealed just 12% of high school seniors are proficient in the subject ( For a sample of questions asked to 12th graders, and also 8th and 4th graders, follow this link:

Not knowing history is a real problem in a nation that prides itself on its heritage. Not knowing where reality starts and ends, and where myth takes over, can undermine our national fiber. Our history binds us together, or at least should. Not knowing or forgetting, for example, that we’re a nation of immigrants, that much of our country was settled by Hispanics before other European settlers descended on the land, might be a reason some who claim to be real Americans are intolerant of newcomers, legal and illegal. Or it might lead to people still believing owning slaves was a states rights issue and its abolition not a good enough reason for the Civil War to be fought. Of course, Lincoln entered the war with the purpose of preserving the Union, but his mission changed as the conflict dragged on.

I have long thought too many of the electorate were dumb, voting too often with emotions rather than brains. If this new study is any indication, the ranks of the dumb and dumber are growing. We cannot hope to maintain world leadership if we fail to appreciate our heritage, and that of other countries.

What’s to be done? As sportscaster Warner Wolf used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape,” or more precisely, to the movies. Don’t laugh. It’s pie-in-the-sky to think kids will voluntarily, or not, begin to read history books. Instead, they could learn history, both facts and context, from a careful, controlled curriculum of films depicting historical events, eras and societal norms. I know reading books would be better, but we live in an increasingly visual age. So let’s play, I mean teach, to our strength, not our weakness. I offer myself as proof that a sophisticated viewing of movies can enrich and educate.

Is there a better movie than The Grapes of Wrath to convey the desperate lives of Dust Bowl families of the 1930s? Colonial America comes to life through the lens of Drums Along the Mohawk. All Quiet on the Western Front evinces the futility of war, from the German perspective of WWI, while Paths of Glory spotlights the corruption of the French military during that same “war to end all wars”. Most people would pick Dr. Zhivago to show the Russian Revolution. I prefer Knight Without Armor, a 1937 flick starring Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat. The first three hours of Gone with the Wind is marvelous storytelling about a culture that didn’t recognize its flaws. Watch Hester Street and be transported to the immigrant world of the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. The challenge of integrating soldiers returning from battle with their loved ones and with jobs that lack the same meaning they had before they went off to war is powerfully portrayed in The Best Years of Our Lives.

Sure there are exaggerations and inaccuracies in many films (I wouldn’t, for example, pick JFK as an example of historical honesty. But Platoon and The Deer Hunter revealed the degradations young men suffered through in Vietnam). Teachers can put the films in perspective, correct the mistakes, add on layers of meaning with additional facts.

I can’t guarantee high school students will do as well as I did, but I can confidently predict they’ll enjoy history more and be more knowledgeable.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Bain of Our Existence

During my time editing and publishing a business magazine, I often remonstrated against the insidious effect of Wall Street on the retailing industry. The money vultures would swoop in on a merchant, demand representation on the board or some change in corporate strategy intended for short term gain. Often as not, the retailer put up a fight, though they many times paid a greenmail ransom to rid themselves of the unwanted attention.

Bain Capital was one of those companies that pursued chain retailers and restaurants, along with enterprises from other industries. Mitt Romney was a co-founder of Bain Capital. He made a ton of money investing in companies such as Staples, Domino Pizza, Sealy and Brookstone. A foundation of Romney’s presidential run is his business acumen, his experience managing companies, turning some around, creating jobs and helping the Salt Lake City Olympics be successful.

Yet all is not rainbows and hosannas in Mitt’s corporate portfolio. As is often the case, when an investment firm takes over a company with the intent of later selling it, staff is reduced and assets are sold off. Such was the case with Stage Stores, Dade Behring, Ampad and GS Industries. Though Bain sold them for a combined $578 million profit, thousands of workers lost their jobs at those companies, and, once sold, all wound up declaring bankruptcy.

Bottom line: As the campaign for the nomination gears up, expect other Republicans to target the job losses Romney’s company administered. Should he get the nomination, Obama’s attack on Mitt’s labor record will be even more strident.

Belated Wedding Gift: Today marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Listening to an NPR report and interview with Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon analyst who defied the government by secretly providing redacted texts to the NY Times, I was struck by a couple of points.

First, The Times published the history of our involvement in Vietnam on a Monday, one day after President Richard Nixon gloried in the marriage of his daughter, Tricia, to Edward Cox, at a White House ceremony. Not exactly the belated wedding gift he was anticipating.

Second, perhaps because he was still euphoric over the nuptials, Nixon was not aware of their publication when speaking to an aide Monday morning. The taped conversation (Nixon secretly recorded Oval Office exchanges) revealed Nixon was almost blasĂ© about the exposure of government secrets. But he quickly changed his tune as the day wore on. He said the country couldn’t abide anyone making their own decision about what should or should not be made public.

His reaction to Ellsberg, it was noted, eventually led to his resignation. First he ordered a special unit called the Plumbers to sneak into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. That was followed by the decision to infiltrate and bug the office of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex. The unraveling of that botched break-in led to his impeachment and subsequent resignation in August 1974.

Short-Sighted: This week is the last time the New York State Regents examinations will be given for French, Spanish and Italian. Regents in Hebrew, German and Latin were cut last year. Eliminating the final proficiency tests will save about $700,000 a year.

In an increasingly global society, in a country where Spanish is rapidly becoming a language required for communication with today’s and tomorrow’s work force, are the savings really worth it? I think not.

55-Plus: Early baby boomers are among the hardest hit of the unemployed. They’re finding it most difficult latching onto a new job. It might not be outright age discrimination they are facing, but it sure smacks of it.

Many of those 55 and older are willing to take lower salaries than they pulled in before they were laid off. Even for those who have kept up their skills to compete with younger workers, prospects are dim.

Some 25 years ago I hired a veteran reporter. Bob was around 65 when he was let go by one of my competitors. I was cautioned against bringing him on. But Bob turned out to be a wonderful hire. He was loyal, working for at least 10 more years, much longer than younger writers generally stayed. Moreover, his experience gave him insight into retailing younger writers would barely have learned before taking wing.

Bob was an example for all within our company that a good attitude, coupled with experience and energy, is at least as important as youthful exuberance when evaluating a prospective employee.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Palin Rules, Newt, Bashar and Forgive Me

I'm no fan of Sarah Palin but I agree with critics who say the media have gone overboard pursuing a story they hope to find in the 24,000 emails recently released from her time as governor of Alaska.

Yes, the emails should be reviewed; they might even be revelatory. But they do not deserve an army of investigators. She might be a polarizing figure, but Palin still is no more than a private citizen at this time. Had the media pursued Bush’s weapons of mass destruction claim with the same tenacity and resources perhaps we wouldn't have invaded Iraq.

Liberals want to find a smoking gun email or two showing Palin as dumb or with her hand in the cookie jar or deferring to Todd in state business or abusing her powers as governor. How disappointed they'll be if none of the above is discovered.

Palin pals want the emails to confirm her executive powers as a hands-on, dynamic, involved leader who cared more for her constituents than for herself. How disappointed they’ll be if none of the above is discovered.

I suspect in the end we will get the Sarah Palin we have come to know. A folksy woman who is engaging but in a little over her head. A politically astute woman who is a good manipulator. A mother who is protective of her family but not above displaying them when it is to her advantage. She will be more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.

The New Reagan? “We make decisions as a couple. I think most couples would find that refreshing, not a problem.”

So said Newt Gingrich Friday in defense of claims his wife Callista was micromanaging his presidential campaign schedule. I find his response interesting because Republicans for most of the past 20 years have savaged Democratic candidates for having wives who were overly involved in the politics of their husbands. Hillary. Tipper. Elizabeth. Michelle. They were too equal in many GOP eyes. They were not like Laura or Barbara who wielded private influence.

Actually, Callista might be more like Nancy. Nancy and her astrologer controlled Reagan’s schedule. Maybe Newt can now claim he's the candidate most like the iconic leader all Republicans consider their guiding light. That might get his campaign back in gear.

A Different Time: Bashar al-Assad is finding out his father had it much easier killing off his own people.

Back in 1982, Hafez al-Assad slaughtered anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 Sunni Muslims living in Hama who dared to defy the Syrian dictator.

Hafez did not have to contend with the Internet, with Twitter or Facebook or cell phone cameras liberating news of the massacre. His actions were kept as quiet as possible, the world issuing a mostly collective yawn.

In this Arab Spring season, Bashar has been powerless to stop the release of information to the world at large and, more importantly, to his countrymen. Bashar has been denounced in real time. Yet he’s killed less than a tenth of his father’s prime-time massacre.

No, it’s not easy being a despot these days.

Forgive Me, Yankee Fans: I’m not really a jinx, truly, but one friend already has compared me to spreading the curse of Sports Illustrated (for those in the dark, SI is notorious for putting an athlete on its cover just before he or she collapses by injury or poor performance).

No sooner do I post on Friday the Yankees could ill afford an injury to Bartolo Colon than the pudgy pitcher suffers a hamstring mishap on a routine sprint to first base during Saturday’s game. Colon had been crafting another masterpiece, yielding just two hits and no runs through 6-2/3 innings. Now he’ll be out at least two weeks, with no certainty he’ll reconnect with the magic he has displayed this year.

I pulled my hamstring a few years ago, and while pitching in a fast-pitch softball league is not really comparable to major league baseball, I can tell you it’s not easy getting back in the groove.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Panic Time?

Is it time to panic? Is losing 8 of 9 games to the Boston Red Sox, encompassing two consecutive three game sweeps at Yankee Stadium, including a depressing rain-delayed 8-3 loss early this morning, reason to wonder, really wonder, if the NY Yankees can finish high enough in the standings to qualify for the baseball playoffs this year, even if it’s only as a wild card entrant?

I’m already on record as saying the Red Sox are the team to beat in the strong American League East division. So it’s not too surprising, or dispiriting, that the Beantown boys are in first place. I’m actually surprised the Yankees are doing as well as they have, given all the injuries they have sustained to their pitching staff (the latest, a season-endinginjury to Joba Chamberlain) and the paltry batting from most of their lineup.

In recent years, the Bronx Bombers and the BoSox usually split their season series, or barely edged each other. If the Yanks had won just four of the games played so far they’d be in first place, not two games out. They are, after all, beating the teams they have to beat to stay at or near the top of the division.

There are a few keys to the Yanks making the playoffs this year:

*Their remaining pitchers need to stay healthy. With their already crippling pitching injuries (aside from Chamberlain, Rafael Santana, Phil Hughes Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte have gone down), they can’t afford to have any more hiccups from their hurlers. It’s over if C.C. Sabathia or Mariano Rivera aggravates anything. They also can’t afford any setbacks to starters Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia, and reliever David Robertson, given the fragility of their staff;

*They need a left-handed relief specialist who can consistently get lefty batters out. Boone Logan is a disaster. General manager Brian Cashman needs someone who can pitch to David Ortiz, JD Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury et al and get them out when called upon. Maybe it’s not a leftie. Maybe it’s a right-hander with a great changeup. It’s ridiculous to rely on Logan;

*They need to start hitting better, especially situational hitting, as with less than two outs and a runner in scoring position. Too many of their runs have crossed the plate via the home run. They need to build rallies. They need timely hits. When a player like Robinson Cano, a potential batting title candidate, is hitting just .273 going into tonight’s game, there’s reason to be concerned. That’s 30 points below his career average. The last time Cano hit so low, .271 for the 2008 season, the Yanks did not qualify for the playoffs. Only one player in tonight’s starting lineup against the Cleveland Indians is batting higher than Cano. Alex Rodriguez is at a less than stellar .276. It’s a long season. All hitters go through slumps. Perhaps Yankee hitters are slumping en masse. They’ve got three and a half more months to break out of their collective funk;

*Brett Gardner has to learn how to steal bases better. His chances of swiping a base are only 50-50. That’s not good for someone with his speed. You can’t turn a game around if you waste your best asset. Gardner also has to learn how to bunt better, and how to hit pitches away from where infielders are playing him. He’s just not the catalyst we expected him to be.

Is it panic time? Not yet, but it’s getting close. Maybe they’ll take off once Derek Jeter gets his 3,000th hit, which should happen in the next two weeks. Maybe the team is experiencing a uniform angst along with Jeter as it awaits the inevitable.

Whatever the cause, they have to start playing better or it will be a loooooong summer.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sex in the City

Did you have sex last night?

According to a new Web-based survey of 1,000–plus Americans 18 and older, sponsored by adults products purveyor Adam & Eve, if you did you were among the 14% who choose Wednesday as their preferred day of the week for intimate relations. Wednesday is the most preferred mid-week day for sex, followed by 13% for Mondays and Thursdays and 12% for Tuesdays.

Not surprisingly, weekends are most often chosen for lovemaking, with 30% of respondents preferring Saturday, 22% opting for Friday and 20% Sunday.

To quote the company’s press release, “Interestingly, a whopping 65% of all respondents said they have no preference when it comes to which day they choose to have sex.” I’m guessing most of those 65% were men.

Speaking of sex, it’s hard to imagine anything but a delayed resignation coming from Congressman Anthony Weiner. I can’t imagine anyone in the Democratic party leadership praying for anything but a quick resolution to this sordid and spectacular fall from grace for a politician nobody really liked but many admired for his tenacity, in-your-face-attitude, and inexhaustible energy.

Gilda brought home an article in amNew York Tuesday that sought to explain “what made promising pol act this way?” The newspaper carried opinions from a psychology professor and psychiatrist.

But do we really need a mental health professional to explain why he did it? After all the politicians and sports figures, celebrities and, recently, bankers who have misbehaved, can’t we comprehend these high testosterone players feel they are above the fray, above the law, that even if they’re caught they can get away with it because they think they are special and generally can afford the high-priced lawyers who can safeguard their freedom? It seems no amount of prior revelations of their peers can deter these self-destructive men from behaving badly.

Staying with sex as today’s theme, a few weeks ago the NY Times ran an article on the Museum of Sex in Manhattan ( Located on Fifth Avenue at 27th Street, the museum has been open nine years. About two years ago, after attending a Sunday theatre matinee, I visited the Museum of Sex with Gilda and two friends, a married couple who shall remain anonymous in case their grown children see this blog.

Just to be clear about this, it was Gilda’s idea, not mine. Truth be told, it was a fascinating experience. Yes, you could wind up smirking at some of the bawdy merchandise for sale, but the actual museum displays, with their elaborate histories of our nation’s repressed sexual mores, were quite illuminating.

Just in case you didn’t read the article on the museum, it ended with a reference to “Adam and Eve Disappearing Fig Leaf Mugs.” Use your imagination to figure that one out.

(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.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Keeping Up With The News

I’m such a Luddite.

Sitting in the waiting area to see my ophthalmologist this afternoon alongside five other patients, I felt like a technology Neanderthal. As I read Bloomberg Businessweek, three others scrolled through their smart phones. While I read about KidZania, a franchised indoor theme park concept where children can pretend to be nurses, dentists, window cleaners, models and other professions, one of the other patients announced he just read on his iPhone Anthony Weiner admitted he was the congressional member behind the grey underwear.

That was all he could tell us. The eye drops placed in his eyes minutes before had taken effect and blurred his vision. Oh well, I was left to my imagination, much like Weiner left his future integrity and career.

Weiner, it has been said, was supposed to be tech-savvy. Perhaps it's not such a bad thing that I'm a Luddite when it comes to technology...

We’re Number 1: With Eric Massa, Chris Lee and now Weiner, New York has the unenviable position, I believe, of being the leading state of elected congressional perverts. Or at least exposed elected congressional perverts.

For good measure, let’s not forget our former governor, Eliot Spitzer, though he was trumped by California’s former governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At least Spitzer didn’t father a love child.

Is there something in the water here? I always thought New York had the best water in the country. Perhaps it really does, but not for the reason I was led to believe.

The only silver lining in Weinergate, according to Gilda, is that he didn’t run on a family values platform.

Intern Time: It’s June. College is out. Which means it’s summer intern time.

My sister’s daughter, Lauren, celebrates her 22nd birthday today. She graduates from University of California-Davis on Saturday, then returns to Los Angeles where she will work as a paid summer intern for an Internet fashion retailer.

Did you get that? A “paid” summer intern. If you’ve been reading or hearing stories recently about interns, you’ve probably noticed many, too many, are given the “privilege” of working for free. Does the term “indentured servitude” mean anything to you? Yes, I know all the benefits an intern can reap from being part of the business world (even if some companies restrict an intern’s obligations to filing and getting coffee).

But seriously, folks, we need to end this modern version of slavery and pay interns. For many years the company I worked for hired summer interns. We paid them $350 a week. They were vital members of our staffs, writing and editing stories, attending press conferences, and learning about the business of journalism.

They came from all parts of the country. One co-ed from the South, Louisiana if memory serves me well, was visited by her mother during the summer. This was during the early 1990s when New York’s reputation as a dangerous city was well-deserved. Still, we were not prepared when her mother showed up and announced she had a pistol in her pocketbook, just in case.

Point of Personal Pride: For those who haven’t heard, our daughter Ellie got engaged last Thursday. Donny’s a wonderful guy. Gilda and I are thrilled for them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Schepping No Nachas

It should be a source of pride, of “shepping nachas”, a Yiddish term for reaping pleasure and satisfaction. Jews, not just in the United States, but worldwide, should be basking in the glow of seeing their brethren rise to prominent positions in government and finance. But these last few weeks have been anything but times of joy and ego-fulfillment.

The perp walk began with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, once thought to be a shoo-in to become president of France, now fighting to stay out of prison for an alleged sexual assault on a maid in a New York hotel room.

Anthony Weiner was a rising member (pun intended) of the Democratic party. Now the New York congressman, once considered a potential successor to NY mayor Michael Bloomberg, is suspected of shameful Internet activity, of having tweeted a lewd photo of his wiener (pun intended) to a Seattle college co-ed he follows on Twitter. He’ll be lucky to keep his seat, though not his dignity.

And then there’s Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, by all accounts a solid family man. While Cantor has not sexually offended or attacked any woman, he, perhaps, has done more to destroy my faith in my co-religionists holding higher office than almost any other, for he, in my opinion, has violated indecency laws pertaining to the treatment of fellow human beings.

As House Majority Leader, Cantor is in a position to help millions of people, especially those who have suffered through unspeakable trauma. Instead, Cantor has embraced Republican elitism hell bent on destroying social services programs that are the safety net for the underprivileged of society.

Okay, I’ll cut him some slack for being ideologically aligned with those who believe less government is better than more government. But what irks me is his lack of compassion for the victims of the tornadoes that ravaged the heartland a few weeks ago. Cantor says no emergency aid will be provided to tornado-tossed citizens unless there are offsetting cuts to other government programs. In other words, to help residents of Joplin, MO, recover, someone else must suffer a cutback in government services, like early child care support. That’s hostage-taking and blackmail of the cruelest form.

Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation last Sunday, Cantor compared the federal government to a family on a tight budget.

"When a family is struck with tragedy, like the family of Joplin ... let's say if they had $10,000 set aside to do something else with, to buy a new car ... and then they were struck with a sick member of the family or something, and needed to take that money to apply it to that, that's what they would do, because families don't have unlimited money. Neither does the federal government," he said.

Delivering the weekly Republican address one day earlier, Cantor gave no indication the GOP would be playing political football with people’s lives. He said, “As we spend time with family this weekend, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Joplin, Missouri, Oklahoma City, and other areas of our country that are facing unthinkable circumstances and terrible tragedy. Please know that Congress stands ready for a request for funding from President Obama to ensure that the resources are available to help these communities rebuild and recover.”

During times of crisis, individual family units often reach out to members of their extended family for help. A rich uncle, let’s call him Sam, might step forward and offer some assistance. He always has, in the past, without attaching strings. He’s even helped corporations get back on their feet. How churlish of Cantor now to play politics with the lives of disaster victims. Is everything the GOP does going to be tied to deficit reduction, a subject Republicans ignored and even pooh-poohed during the eight years George W. Bush sat in the White House?

It’s fascinating to observe Republicans willing to give tax breaks to the wealthy, which reduces government revenue, but unwilling to give relief to those who most need it. I’m apparently not alone in dismissing the shameful position Cantor has postulated. Governor Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) on Friday publicly disagreed with Cantor’s quid-pro-quo stance. We’ll have to wait and see if Barbour gets rebuked like New Gingrich did after he criticized Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare.

Meanwhile, my disappointment with, even shame of, my fellow tribesmen grows deeper.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Unemployment Blues

Unemployment figures came out today, a sober reminder our country has deep economic problems made all the more intractable by the inability of both major parties to get along to reach bi-partisan remedies. Democrats generally believe more government spending is needed to stimulate the economy; Republicans believe business will invest more and create more jobs once the federal government reins in spending.

Thursday’s “economic memo” in the NY Times by Binyamin Appelbaum starkly described Barack Obama’s challenge as he faces re-election. The lead paragraph summed up his problem: “No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.” (

Unemployment today is 9.1% nationally. It is not expected to drop sharply in the next 18 months.

Which means the election will turn on whether Americans vote with their brains or their emotions. They’ll have to remember under whose presidential watch we tumbled into the worst recession since the Depression. They’ll have to decide if it’s better to place the nation’s future back into the hands of the party that put us into deep water in the first place with two wars, a Medicare prescription reimbursement program that was not sustainable and a tax cut for the wealthy, or if it’s more satisfying to blame the current occupant of the White House for failing to reverse eight years of destructive policies in four years. Our widening national debt is an emotionally charged issue, yet, as Stephen Colbert noted last night, Republicans pushed through a higher debt ceiling during the Bush presidency in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and twice in 2008.

Let’s be honest. Obama’s policies have not been sufficient to turn the economic tide. He should have demanded more government money to stimulate the economy. Without the stimulus plan and TARP that Bush and Obama implemented, we’d be in worse shape. GM and Chrysler might be history, and with them many suppliers to the auto industry. Unemployment would be significantly higher. We’d have negative economic output, according to many economists.

Yet many Republicans, including their presidential hopefuls, say the stimulus program was a disaster. Obama needs to forcefully defend the program.

It will be up to the electorate to make sense of these countervailing claims.

If Applebaum is correct, Obama has little chance of staying in the White House beyond noon, January 20, 2012. But using the national unemployment rate of 9.1% could be misleading. As past Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill used to say, “All politics is local.” So let’s examine unemployment layered onto the electoral map of 2008.

Obama won 27 states and the District of Columbia in 2008. Of those blue states, only seven—Maryland, Minnesota, Hawaii, Iowa, Virginia, Vermont and New Hampshire—currently enjoy an unemployment rate below the 7.2% threshold. Another six—New York, Massachusetts, Maine, New Mexico Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—are close.

Of those 13 states, Minnesota, Virginia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania can be said to be “in play” because Obama’s margin of victory over John McCain was less than, or barely above, 10% and there have been rightward shifts in voter sentiment since the 2008 election.

Moreover, Obama’s fortunes are more precarious in the following states he barely won last time: Florida (by 2.5%), North Carolina (0.4%), Colorado (8.6%), Ohio (4%) and Indiana (0.9%).

All in all, it suggests the potential for a vastly different Electoral College map than when Obama won 365 votes to McCain’s 173 (270 are required).

It’s still a long way off until November 2012. The Republican field of candidates is far from stellar. The GOP might overplay its hand, as it appears to have done with a plan to overhaul Medicare. Its plan was widely considered the reason Republicans lost an upstate New York special congressional election last week. The lesson Democrats need to take from that election is they must draw strong distinctions between what they stand for and the impact Republican programs would place on the American family.

Obama’s task is much harder than four years ago. Harder, but not impossible.

(Editor’s note: I’m not the only one to react to Applebaum’s premise. Here’s Nate Silver of the NY Times with his thoughts:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Proud Once More

I made the NY Times again today. Not by name, but by inferred deed to those in the know.

The Times ran a story on Holocaust survivors who are trying to secure more compensation from European insurance companies than agreed to by the insurers and the U.S. Government, a plan supported by some leading Jewish organizations and public servants (

Survivors ran newspapers ads accusing the “Jewish groups of ‘protecting’ European insurers like Allianz because the insurers give money to American-Jewish causes.” In a parenthetical note, The Times went on to say, “Allianz, based in Germany, had committed in 2008 to buy naming rights to the New Meadowlands Stadium for $25 million a year, but the Jets and the Giants pulled out of talks after publicity over the company’s role in insuring Nazi facilities, including Auschwitz, and of blocking payment of survivors’ claims after the Holocaust.”

For those who don’t recall or do not know at all, it was my letter to the editor of The Times that exposed Allianz’s Nazi past and its heartless initial response to Holocaust survivors. The Times, followed by other media, then ran longer, more detailed stories on Allianz and the reaction to its naming rights initiative. (

Needless to say, I am quite proud of my part in this story.

Bread and Circuses: Speaking of sports venues, voters in Nassau County, NY, will decide August 1 if they want to fund a $400 million bond issue to build a new rink for the National Hockey League NY Islanders team plus a minor league baseball field for an as yet undetermined organization. The Islanders have threatened to move if a replacement for the Nassau Coliseum is not approved.

Nassau County is financially strapped, under heavy debt. Its budget is controlled by a state-appointed oversight board. Which means there’s a good chance fiscal conservatives might not look kindly on doling out taxpayer money to support games, even if there’s a rub-off effect on arena-related businesses, such as restaurants and hotels.

The debate brings to mind the phrase “bread and circuses,” a relic from ancient Rome that implied the way to appease the populace was to provide food and public amusements. No one is suggesting Nassau County officials are trying to buy off voters. And lord knows attending a hockey game is not a cheap night out. Still, there’s a certain pride that comes from having a professional sports team call your county home, even if the Islanders have been adrift on ice for decades. Some older fans still revel in the four consecutive championships the team won in 1980 through 1983.

As a NY Rangers fan, it always bothered me the Islanders, an expansion team in 1972, took home the Stanley Cup four times while I waited (until 1994) for my team to win its first championship since 1940. So if the Islanders want to move, it’s okay with me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Bin Laden of U.S. Politics

Sarah Palin is the Osama bin Laden of U.S. politics. She’d blow up much of the government we know if given a chance, all in a quest to restore America to its original state, much like Osama wanted to turn the Muslim world back in time, to an era when it was dominant.

Americans wonder with more than a little trepidation if the popular Arab spring uprisings in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen et al will result in democracy or in a different version of tyranny, one tinged with Islamic fervor and intolerance. Our eyes seem to focus on the uncertainty overseas while unable to visualize that populism at home has its dangers, as well. Palin and Tea party members are intolerant of any principled position that doesn’t adhere to their vision of America. Too often they resort to ridicule and aspersion to de-legitimize their opponents, ignoring the foundation reasons why America has become vulnerable, economically and militarily. Most of those reasons developed from 2001 to 2009, during the Bush presidency.

Osama bin Laden got lucky when the Twin Towers collapsed, but his real strength was manipulating the media. For 10 years we waited with our hearts in our throats for his next electronic message. He commanded attention, though not a military response during the Bush years. Similarly, Sara Palin has the media wrapped and warped around her finger. The media desperately want a “story line” for the 2012 election, now that President Obama has seemingly cleared up doubts among all but ignorant, intolerant non-believers that he’s Hawaiian-born.

Trump proved to be a chump. Daniels’ on-off-on-again wife would have sent the press into a frenzy trying to dredge up details. Alas, Indiana Mitch chose family stability and privacy over national exposure. Huckabee (and his wife) learned it’s a lot comfier spreading the gospel of conservatism when handsomely paid to do so. For all his alleged credentials, Gingrich showed no more political savvy than a newt. He did perform a public service, however, enunciating the tyranny of the right’s attempt to socially engineer Medicare and showing the world what happens to a politician who dares deviate from party dogma. So much for the GOP being a party of ideas worth debating.

The media needs Sarah Palin to spice up a bland Republican primary season. Palin needs the media to keep her standing as America’s picture of lost innocence. Her poll numbers among all voters are paltry. Her reality show failed to secure a second season. She does, however, talk in sound bites, and for that the media is eternally grateful. She’s also the best looking GOP pol out there (sorry Mitt).

If she could only talk sense. It might be au courant to tweet, but the public deserves leaders who can think beyond 140 characters. 140 characters lets you get off some nifty one-liners; governing, however, requires nuance and complex programs. Of course, Palin decided governing the great state of Alaska was too limiting a challenge, so her bona fides as a leader working within the system are not especially developed. Her Fox News gig has netted her big bucks, but she has failed to put forward a creditable platform.

Yes, she wants to put America back to work. She wants a strong military. She wants to rein in spending. But what does it all mean? Would she have allowed GM and Chrysler to go under? Would she have sent troops to Libya? Would she have had the foresight to send backup helicopters on the Seal Team 6 mission to get bin Laden? Does she believe the economic stimulus plan prevented a worse disaster? Does she believe government has a responsibility to patrol the workplace to ensure workers do not toil in unsafe conditions? Does she believe the government has a responsibility to ensure the safety of our food and water? Does she believe corporations would act humanely if there were no government inspector looking over their shoulders? Does she believe we were better off in the Happy Days time when women mostly stayed home raising children?

It’s almost impossible to say. She refuses to talk to the media except if they are hand-picked and part of the Fox-wing conspiracy. Yet reporters and editors chase her more doggedly than Bush pursued bin Laden. Palin is a weapon of mass media destruction. Instead of focusing on issues, the media points klieg lights on her. I’m no fan of Michele Bachmann, but at least she has a record we can scrutinize (and shake our heads at).