Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Damn Yankees, For One Night Only

Now I know the joy of rooting against the NY Yankees. Bliss would be one more loss, tonight, against the Tampa Bay Rays followed by New York victories throughout the post-season. But tonight, this die-hard Yankee fan wants his team to lose again to Tampa to give the Rays the opportunity to edge out the Boston Red Sox for the final baseball playoff spot. Boston must play its part in this psycho-drama by either losing tonight or tomorrow in a potential one game showdown against Tampa.

It was a truly weird experience watching the Rays last night turn a near-disastrous bases loaded with Yankees, no out, one-run-already-in situation into a thrilling around-the-horn triple play, and then to cheer when Matt Joyce unloaded a three-run home run to give Tampa a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. It was even stranger hoping Kyle Farnsworth would record a save against the very same Yanks he so miserably could not perform for during his stint as a set-up man for Mariano Rivera a few years back.

Sports talk radio and the blogosphere are full of the pros and cons of Yankee fans wanting Boston in or out of the playoffs. Only a fool would want his mortal enemy to have time to regroup to fight another day. Don’t those who want Boston to make the playoffs so the Yanks could beat them in the second round (assuming both teams make it there) realize that scenario would mean the Red Sox have righted their slide and defeated either the Texas Rangers or the Detroit Tigers, both formidable foes? When they would play the Yankees they’d have their swagger back.

No, it’s much better to stomp out your opposition when they are down, before they can recover. Abraham Lincoln knew this. That’s why he anguished over the failure of several generals to pursue Robert E. Lee’s forces during the Civil War. It was only when he found a kindred mind in Ulysses S. Grant that Lincoln was confident of victory over the Confederacy.

How strange to be rooting against the Yankees, even for one night. I won’t be watching the game. Gilda has prepared a sumptuous feast for 31 members of our family and friends on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. A Yankee loss, coupled with a Boston loss, would be a grand way to start the new year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Giving a Mulligan

Do you get a mulligan—a golf term for a do-over for a bad shot—for ill-advised comments if you’ve served in the military?

That’s what Tony Bennett is hoping after the 85-year-old singer and WWII veteran made some injudicious remarks on the Howard Stern radio show last week suggesting the 9/11 terrorists might have had reason to attack us.

“They flew the plane in, but we caused it. Because we were bombing them, and they told us to stop,” said Bennett, a native New Yorker. Subsequently, Bennett apologized if anyone misconstrued his words, adding, “I am sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of my love for my country, my hope for humanity and my desire for peace throughout the world.”

I have no reason to doubt Bennett’s patriotism. He put his life on the line for all of us. He’s earned a mulligan, as this is the first instance I know of where he stumbled publicly. He’s different from other communications-challenged celebrities like Mel Gibson who is a multiple affronter.

What Bennett does provide, however, is a civics lesson on our expectations of public figures, especially politicians. As a nation we’ve arrived at a point where we demand perfection and strict adherence to dogma, even if it’s disseminated by a small, vocal minority.

It’s not a new story. In 1976, President Ford misspoke during a debate with Jimmy Carter when he said Poland, Rumania and Yugoslavia were not under Soviet domination. The gaffe cemented thinking Ford was not intellectually worthy of earning a full term as president.

Under the klieg lights and pressure to perform, candidates may stumble. As long as they don’t do it repeatedly, thus showing a lack of education and historical context, as Sarah Palin continually does, we should be tolerant of their mistakes. Give them a mulligan, when warranted. We’re too judgmental if we think they are not fallible. Choosing a president is not like voting for the best vocalist on American Idol. What we’re seeing today, from both sides of the presidential field, is a beauty contest of personality rather than ideas, a talent contest of sound bites versus careful exposition of principled positions, a my-way-or-the-highway evaluation of candidates.

I cringe at the prospect of a Rick Perry presidency. But I find myself sympathetic to his plight. He is not a good debater. Like most politicians, he takes credit for achievements that should be shared. Most of his policies would be repugnant to me. But I agree with Perry’s views on the need to integrate the children of illegal immigrants into our society so they can become contributing members and not burdens. I also believe his advocacy of a vaccination of young girls against the human papillomavirus was in the best interests of his state’s citizens.

Yet, because Tea Party Conservatives do not share those beliefs, and because they are so powerful in today’s Republican party, Perry has seen his candidacy suffer. The narrow base of the Republican party choosing the GOP standard bearer demands 100% adherence to its narrow-minded platform. It will accept no independent thinking.

Left wing Democrats express similar disdain for President Obama for deviating from the programs they espouse and which they thought he should implement. They do not accept Obama’s willingness to compromise, to govern from the center.

Given the state of our politics today, when neither side appears willing to work with the other, we seem to be at a tipping point. Will we choose our next leaders based on a clash of ideas or a clash of one-liners? A discussion of principles or a popularity contest? A thoughtful analysis of our national strengths and weaknesses or an emotional appeal to return to an era no longer relevant to our current and future global standing?

Wednesday night marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s a period of reflection intended not just between humans and their concept of an Eternal Being but also, mainly, as a time when men and women must focus on and seek forgiveness for any wrongs they might have done to other people. It’s a Jewish version of an interpersonal mulligan. You’re supposed to request forgiveness in person, but this being the Internet age, let me ask your indulgence if during the past year this blog, or any personal contact we might have had, offended you in any way.

A happy and healthy New Year to all.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Solving the Mid-East Problem

Abused Again: In his Thursday night send-up of the Israeli-Palestinian statehood debate, labeled “West Bank Story” by the Emmy-award winning writers of The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart suggested Israelis might find the idea of a State of Palestine more palatable if the name were changed to “Palestein.”

Creative. Funny. Out of the box thinking. But in case some Jews still need more convincing, Stewart offered a more reassuring name change—"Dr. Murray Palestein.”

There it was, another Murray joke. Add that one to the list chronicled in this blog entry: At least this time Murray wasn’t used as the name of a dog or an incompetent cop. A doctor. My parents always wanted me to be a doctor. A dentist, actually. Whatever. It wasn’t happening.

On a “serious” note, The Daily Show proffered a solution to the decades-old land dispute. See for yourself:

I Was Wrong: Who knew the Boston Red Sox were more interested in proving me wrong than winning the American League East division title? How could the BoSox turn on my prediction they would win the division? It’s shameful how Boston squandered a lead and allowed a NY Yankees team with almost no starting pitching to clinch first place with one week left in the regular season.

Now that I have the option of choosing if I want the Bean Town boys to make the playoffs, I have to reveal my true feelings. No, I do not. I would relish their not making the post-season, not just because I really dislike them but also because no matter how terrible they play against everyone else, they crush Yankee pitching, such that it is, while out of nowhere hurling BB's that stymie Yankee bats. I’m fearful if Boston makes the playoffs they’ll advance to the second round against the Yankees (I’m assuming the pinstripers make it there) and wind up breaking my heart in interminably long games that are high on emotion but short on Bronx Bomber scoring.

If Boston doesn’t make it, the choice is between the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels. I prefer the Rays. I think Angels manager Mike Scioscia is a wizard. No, not a genius (ok, he’s probably a baseball genius). I think he’s a Dumbledore who manages to cast a spell on the Yankees.

The Company You Keep: My economics degree notwithstanding, I’m no Nobel Prize laureate when it comes to the fiscal science. But Paul Krugman is, so it’s comforting to see his column in today’s NY Times mirrors what I wrote four days ago about class warfare.

Here’s a sample: “Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan responded (to President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the rich) with shrieks of ‘class warfare.’

“It was, of course, nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it’s people like Mr. Ryan, who want to exempt the very rich from bearing any of the burden of making our finances sustainable, who are waging class war.”

Here’s a link to the full article:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Statistically Speaking

I peaked in fourth grade. Don’t be so smug—you probably did, too.

Handwriting legibility peaks around fourth grade, according to professor Steven Graham of Vanderbilt University, speaking to CBS Sunday Morning last Sunday.

I have already testified to that reality in previous blogs. I received an A in penmanship in fourth grade, much to the consternation of my parents. They were so astonished, based on their daily review of my handwriting, that my father prodded my mother to complain to my teacher about the grade she gave me. Her defense—on the papers she graded I had painstakingly penned in proper cursive form, thus confirming that even at the tender age of nine I knew how to game the system.

Proper penmanship, said Graham, helps convey not just your ideas but your status. “People form judgment about the credibility of your ideas based upon your handwriting,” he said.

If that’s true, about one in five leave us clueless, as some 20% of those polled by CBS Sunday Morning said they don’t write by hand, compared to 45% who write “all the time” and 35% who write “sometimes.” Presumably, those 20% compose directly onto their computers, smart phones, iPads or devices. Count me among the 35%.

Also count me among the 16% who rated their penmanship as “poor.” Eighteen percent labeled their writing “excellent,” 37% as “good,” and 28% “acceptable.” Who knows what the remaining 1% think.

As long as we’re talking surveys, according to the Tax Policy Center, 47% of American households don’t pay any federal taxes. Of those “tax units,” 50% earn under $20,000 a year. Another 22% are senior citizens, 15% are low income families with children, and 13% fall into the “other” category.

Included as “other” are 444,000 tax units in the top 20% of all income earners.

Here’s where political debate gets interesting. President Obama wants to tax these high income earners as part of his budget balancing plan. Republicans say they want to “expand the tax base,” meaning they want to tax the near 41 million who pay nothing because they earn less than $20,000 a year. No, The Republicans are not trying to get blood from a stone. They want them to get jobs so they’ll earn enough money to be taxed.

But here’s the rub. Those with the money are not spending it to create jobs, or jobs that provide a living wage. At least they haven’t for the last decade when the elite earners of our society have benefited while the working class and middle class have seen their earning power erode. Speedily resolving this conflict will determine how long our economy remains in the doldrums, because it’s not only taxes that are not being collected. Without jobs, or jobs that pay enough to leave some discretionary spending, Americans will not ring up retail sales or pay for services such as dry cleaning which together account for two-thirds of our gross domestic product.

In a nation as rich as ours—and we still are a rich nation—it is shameful that, according to the federal government, hunger affects one out of every five households with children.

When I dropped off my monthly food donation at the Ecumenical Emergency Food Pantry of White Plains this morning, I was told contributions are down but the need is up. That reality was underscored by a report on tonight’s CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. Households unable to meet their food needs at some time during the year have increased by one-third from 2006, before the recession, to 2010. The 2010 figure today hit 14.5%, compared to 10.9%.

“Hunger is at an all-time high...There’s nothing worse than a hungry child,” said Hannah Hawkins, founder of Washington, D.C.’s, Children of Mine Youth Center.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saddle Up

Groupon sent along a 51% discount offer for horseback riding lessons today, no doubt an attractive come-on to the tack set, but for me just a reminder of one of the more, shall I say in a mixed metaphor way, fish-out-of-water experiences of my youth.

Shortly after coming home from being a waiter in summer camp 46 years ago, my bunkmates Larry and Stu, both from Long Island, decided to come to Brooklyn so we could do some horseback riding in Prospect Park. None of us had ridden before, but we were confident as any 16-year-old would be that our years of watching Gunsmoke, Bonanza and other westerns had sufficiently primed us to be cowboys.

I don’t remember the name of the nag I mounted, but he was definitely an ornery type. Our trail guide cautioned to keep a tight rein on our horses, to keep them to the right of the trail. But no matter how hard I tugged at the reins, my horse kept drifting to the left.

When we reached the midway point, my horse decided to entertain everyone by doing his impression of a camel. He folded his legs and started to crouch down. I’d seen this maneuver in too many oaters; I knew the next move would be to roll over and crush my leg, so I jumped out of the saddle, screaming.

To the rescue rode the guide, who proceeded to whip the horse with a burlap rope for a minute or so before telling me to get back on. I still remember telling him I didn’t think that was a good idea as the horse would think I was the one who whipped him. When it appeared the guide was getting ready to whip me, I jumped back into the saddle. The ride back to the stable was mostly uneventful, except for the time the horse purposely carried me under a low hanging tree limb, forcing me to bed tight to his neck like a jockey in a stretch run.

It took me about 30 years before I rode again, this time in Tucson while visiting Gilda’s sister. I can’t say I missed it. As you might have guessed, I passed on today’s Groupon discount.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Class Warfare

Republicans are right. President Obama’s proposal to raise the taxes of rich people is class warfare. They’re damn right it is, and it’s about time.

It’s about time the president stepped forward and led a revolt against Republican insensitivity to the plight of the middle class and the working class.

Let’s be clear about one thing, however. Obama’s not the aggressor in this war. Republicans have been waging class warfare for decades, decades, at least as far back as FDR’s successful implementation of the Social Security Act, the setting of a national minimum wage and the formation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The GOP has fought almost all attempts to protect and enhance the lives of working people and the middle class.

It’s class warfare when fat-cat Republicans carry the water for corporate America and the wealthy. It’s class warfare when they resist efforts to provide affordable health care to every citizen, regardless of their income. It’s class warfare when they try to dismantle social security, when they fail to provide adequate benefits to active and retired military personnel, when they work to overturn workplace and environmental protections, when they endeavor to cut back entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Aid to Dependent Children, and school lunch programs.

Now, it could be argued Democrats started class warfare by passing all that progressive legislation. Guilty. With an explanation. Government has an obligation to care for and protect its citizens, not just in times of actual war but also when natural and man-made disasters jeopardize safety and even our existence. The Depression, poverty and discrimination fostered the need for corrective actions. Industry and private wealth have shown no continuous commitment to care for our countrymen, leaving it to government to hold the safety net for tens of millions of our citizens.

Obama’s problem is one of his own making. Instead of taking advantage of the strategic high ground his 2008 election provided, he has squandered his resources and allowed the GOP to outflank him and redraw the battle lines. Let’s face it—they have a much more effective PR campaign. They have defined Obama as the enemy of the common folk. Only now is he showing a determination to use his veto to exact the quid pro quo tax increase he has asked for in return for cuts in entitlement spending.

In this latest tussle over taxing millionaires, it’s hard to visualize a Republican-controlled Congress acquiescing, not when most members are millionaires themselves. They may be patriotic (well, maybe), but it’s doubtful they’re like billionaire Warren Buffett, willing to pay their fair share.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Loss of Innocence

When did you lose your innocence? When did the reality of death intrude into your idyllic concept of life?

For me, and for most of my Yeshivah of Flatbush high school classmates, it happened the summer after we graduated, when we found out Moe Radinsky had died.

We had known Moe for a scant two years, yet the impression he left on us was that of a figure larger than life. Indeed, he was larger than most of us, no less than 200 pounds, a husky 6’2” or so, with thick, dark, wavy hair, and a gap-toothed smile under horn-rimmed black eyeglasses. He entered our lives at the beginning of our junior year, a transplant to Brooklyn from Seattle. Who knew there were Jews in Seattle?

Whether from nervousness or a sense of confidence, he tried to ingratiate himself by cracking puns whenever possible. They were not good puns. But we grew to love, or at least tolerate, them. More to the point, we grew to love Moe.

Typical of our cloistered upbringing in the 1950s and 1960s, of the 110 students in our graduating year of 1966, only 19 chose a college outside New York City’s borders, and most of those were Ivy League schools. Moe, on the other hand, enrolled at the University of Chicago, the subject of a NY Times article in Saturday’s sports section. Once a powerhouse of college football, the University of Chicago abandoned the sport in 1939. A club football team sprouted up in the late 1950s (

A devout fan of the University of Washington Huskies, Moe joined U of C’s club football team. There is no known record of his prowess on the gridiron, but as was related to me during the summer of 1967, he was playing with his young nephew one day when the child kicked him in the shin. Since the pain did not ebb after a few days he sought medical attention. Tests revealed he had bone cancer. He died a few months later.

Teenagers, for that is what we all were at the time, believe they are invincible. Moe’s death shattered that mirage. The Vietnam War raged half a planet away. But that war barely touched us beyond the pictures on the nightly news. We were all draft-deferred. We were safe. Our 2S draft classifications sheltered us from danger.

When the largest oak in the forest tumbles, tremors must run through all the other trees. So it was for many of us. Though grandparents and other relatives had passed away in most of our families, our collective consciousness about mortality and man’s finite existence had not really been challenged. Moe’s sudden passing so far away from all of us brought our innocence to an end.

Friday, September 16, 2011

From NIMBY to NOMBa and More

Beyond NIMBY: Americans can be very generous, selfless in their determination to help the less fortunate. Look at all the volunteers who helped clean up after the tornadoes in the Midwest, or Tropical Storm Lee in the East. But try putting a solid waste transfer center in their neighborhood, or a drug rehabilitation center, or a cell tower, and they turn very protective of their home turf, a condition summed up in the acronym NIMBY, not in my back yard.

Today’s NIMBY fight centers on the financial health of the country. Almost everyone agrees cuts must be made in spending programs, while tax loopholes or credits must be closed to raise more revenues. Trouble is, no one who benefits is eager to give up any program or tax advantage in the national interest. In other words, any relief to the country’s debt and budget crisis should come Not On My Back (NOMBa).

NOMBa defenders come from both parties. Normally, Democrats favor higher taxes for energy companies. But Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) has expressed opposition to President Obama’s plan to hike taxes on oil companies. They have, in the past, greased her campaigns with significant contributions.

The Postal Service has indicated a need to close a gaping deficit by, among other measures, eliminating Saturday deliveries. But rural state politicians are aghast at such a prospect.

Shared sacrifice...doing the patriotic thing...compromise. Words and concepts no longer part of the modern day politician’s lexicon, nor part of his or her NOMBa constituency's.

Child Pat-Down: Seems the Transportation Safety Administration is ready to relax rules requiring ultra-scrutiny, including pat-downs, of young children awaiting flights.

Ah, the innocence of youth is finally being recognized by the bureaucrats. Only, I find it all rather discomforting. Sure, there might be the occasional inappropriate pat-down or diaper check. No one would argue with the need to rid the system of these aberrations.

But remember, people, we’re dealing with the mindset of terrorists, evil men and women who are willing to blow up themselves and their loved ones to advance their cause. The TSA and Homeland Security are always countering the last known terrorist plot. As reprehensible as it might appear to us, hiding an explosive in little Johnny’s clothing, or in grandma’s clothing, is not beyond their capacity, especially as we have now opened the door ever so slightly to such possibilities.

Dirty Fingers: Actually, my fingers are a lot cleaner these days. Except this morning, when I chose to read parts of The NY Times in print, rather than on my iTouch.

Some 20 years ago I complained to The Times about the ink that transferred from its paper to my fingertips each day. It got so bad I would periodically stop reading the paper to give my fingers time to shed the stained skin that refused all attempts to cleanse it from “all the news that’s fit to print” on my digits. The Times said it was no worse than other papers, not a very heartening response. I apparently wasn’t the only one who suffered, as advertisements appeared in several publications promoting gloves to wear while reading The Times.

Reading the paper on an electronic device is cleaner, but I’m still an old-fashioned type of guy. I like the “feel” of newsprint in my hand, just not on my hand.

A Final 9/11 Thought: Among the more poignant, and heart-wrenching, 9/11 remembrances were the scenes recounting final telephone calls from victims trapped on the top floors of the Twin Towers. They made me contemplate: Is it better to be reached by your loved one for a final goodbye, or is it preferable to receive a voice mail message that can be kept for eternity?

I don’t have an answer. I hope never to face such a technology-driven Sophie’s Choice.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Musings on Home, Intelligence and Blame

Home Sweet Home: The man responsible for building our home died Monday at age 81. He didn’t actually hammer the nails into the frame, or do any other type of manual labor. But Martin Berger, along with his partner Robert Weinberg, created our residential neighborhood as a prelude to transforming much of Westchester County and specifically White Plains into a thriving commercial district through projects developed by the Robert Martin Co.

Our little subdivision, known officially as Carriage Hill, was built in 1966. The three streets created within the development bare the names of Berger’s business and family relationships: Romar Avenue after Robert Martin; Teramar Way after his then wife Terry and Martin; our street, Brad Lane, named after his son, Brad.

Back in 1990, while attending a UJA meeting for an upcoming family trip to Israel, I sat in a room with perhaps 40 others. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, the maybe 30-something young man with long, curly, prematurely grey hair sitting next to me said his name was Brad Berger. I couldn’t resist telling him I lived on his street.

According to his father’s obituary, Brad now lives in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Proof Positive: I’m normally a cynic when it comes to the intelligence of the electorate. Here’s a clip from Jay Leno’s Tuesday show that provides more than ample proof I have much to be worried about:

(In case you have difficulty opening this link, Jay questioned young adults, all citizens, about their knowledge of American history, questions he culled from the test administered to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. Here are some of the answers provided by three people interviewed by Leno:

Who fought in the Civil War? The U.S. and Britain
Who was president during the Civil War? George Washington
Who assassinated President Lincoln? Lee Harvey Oswald
When was the Declaration of Independence written? 1935
How many Supreme Court justices are there? Two
How many U.S. senators are there? One
How many U.S. senators are there? 52, because there are 52 states
Who is the current chief executive of the country? Greenspan
Name a country that borders the United States? Europe)

How could these people allow themselves to be shown on television exhibiting such utter stupidity? I guess getting 15 seconds of fame was worth more than keeping their veil of dignity and intelligence.

Leno had a response I found acceptable. He ended each person’s interview by suggesting they enter a nearby van so they could be transported across the border where they could learn more about America before being permitted to re-enter.

The Next Phase: We’re moving into the next phase of the election process—the blame game for who’s responsible for the lousy economy. For all you old timers, it’s like the “who lost China” debate of the early 1950s, and the “who lost Vietnam” debate of the 1960s and 1970s.

I think I can safely say both political parties share the blame for the economic distress we find ourselves wallowing in. From Clinton through Obama and their respective congressional partners, the leadership of our country has enabled corporate America and wealthy Americans to escape taxes, or at least their fair share, while ignoring the deterioration of the middle and working classes’ buying power. They’ve allowed more people to slip into poverty. You know the rest, the soaring national debt, etc., so I won’t detail it.

Democrats and Republicans clearly are not able to work together. So here are two tongue-in-cheek solutions to consider:

First, let’s give Republicans a chance to implement their program, on the condition that if GOP ideas to get people back to work don’t produce substantial results by September 2012, say, an unemployment rate of 8% or lower, they will agree to adopt the Democratic plan. If the GOP plan works, no doubt they’d be swept into office in November 2012. But if it doesn’t work they have to accept the Democratic plan for one year regardless of how the election turns out.

My second suggestion is to stop federal spending in states where governors and legislators complain about excessive federal spending. So, in a state like Texas, Gov. Perry could not request any federal disaster relief for the wild fires that are consuming his state. Nor could he ask for FEMA funds if a tornado or hurricane struck. And Perry’s constituents would stop receiving monthly Social Security checks since it’s just a Ponzi scheme, anyway.

Residents of states opting out of federal funding would have to decide if they want to continue to live in those states. That will force them to decide if the federal government really is the bane of their lives, or if they care more for the opportunity to carry a concealed weapon, or if they want their children to learn about Creationism, or some other value that overrides being part of the national budget.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflections on September 11

Inside my cranium all sorts of thoughts, emotions and memories swirl about, battling for supremacy.

I get it. I understand media fixation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But I’m struggling with my own acceptance of the commemoration, as if paying respect to the dead in some way can assuage the tragedy that has befallen our nation by the subsequent acts of our elected leaders who chose to plunge us into two intractable, interminable wars and into a political no-fly zone where government by negotiation and compromise is as foreign as an al-Qaeda peace offering.

I can’t bring myself to read but a handful of the articles spewed out by the omnipresent media. I can’t bring myself to watch special after special depicting the loss of our seeming innocence 10 years ago. September 11 without a doubt was a national catastrophe, but it was not the first time our country suffered physical and emotional scars, some deeper and more conflicted than the sudden though perhaps expected assault by an enemy committed to our destruction as a beacon of civilization.

We lost 2,983 mostly civilian souls 10 years ago. An almost incomprehensible tally. But not unprecedented, not in sheer numbers the largest of any one day toll, nor the biggest in percentage to total population. On the killing fields of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, MD, on September 17, 1862, the armies of the North and South inflicted the highest single day carnage in our nation’s history: 3,654 died, almost 20,000 more were injured. The dead represented .00011% of the U.S. population of 31,443,000. Put into perspective, the equivalent loss of life against 2001 census figures would have been 31,361. Antietam. Aside from Civil War buffs, hardly anyone takes note of September 17, I’d venture to say.

We do remember and commemorate Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, when 2,459 perished, .000018% of our then population. Film of the sneak attack was as visible in its day as the tumbling of the Twin Towers.

Other seminal moments have been seared into our national conscience: 274 sailors killed in the the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor February 15, 1898, that precipitated the Spanish-American War; the sinking of the Lusitania May 7, 1915, with the loss of 1,198 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. Though a British ship, the torpedoing of the Lusitania fueled U.S. entry into World War I two years later after Germany began a new campaign of indiscriminate U-boat attacks on Atlantic shipping; the now refuted attacks by North Vietnamese gunboats on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin August 2-4, 1964. No one died in that incident; from 1965 until U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, nearly 58,000 Americans perished.

Perhaps part of my antipathy to September 11 is I knew no one who died that day, though one of our friends surely escaped death by having the good fortune to reschedule a morning meeting to his midtown office rather than in the headquarters of AON in 2 World Trade Center.

Perhaps another part of me is disturbed by the failure of our government to seek shared sacrifice in the war on terror. I’m not an advocate of a draft, but paying for the wars with a more equitable tax schedule, especially for the wealthy, would have been appropriate. Moreover, equipping our troops with the right materiel should have been a no-brainer, along with providing top notch veterans medical care and employment help once their tours of duty ended. Of course, launching an undermanned, trumped up war in Iraq instead of pursuing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan cannot be ignored, either.

Perhaps I’m distant from the commemorations because on September 11, 2001, I was in Phoenix, attending a technology conference. I turned over in bed at 6 am and decided to alter my usual business travel routine. Instead of turning on the TV to watch the news, I picked up the USA Today at my front door and returned to bed to read. A half hour later, 9:30 in New York, I called my office to listen to voice mail. My brother Bernie in Maryland had left a cryptic message asking if I was all right. I transferred to Mary Beth, our managing editor. Perhaps she could explain why he might have asked a question so strange 10 years ago, so commonplace today. She stunned me saying two planes had flown into the Twin Towers, one of which had already imploded. For the next several hours I lay transfixed in bed watching hell transform lower Manhattan.

I called Gilda. Along with the rest of the Beth Israel Medical Center staff, she was assigned to prepare and wait for survivors who never materialized. At 8 pm, she was sent home.

I was marooned in Phoenix until Saturday. Sunday morning, after an overnight stop over in Chicago, I flew back to LaGuardia Airport, a trip I had made some 25 times a year for the prior 25 years. More than 500 approaches to the city, in daytime and evening, never tiring of the spectacle under wing. At first, if not at a window seat, I would crane my neck to snag a view of the stalagmites of steel and glass rising from the bedrock of Manhattan.

Now, on September 17, 2001, as the flight from Chicago descended in the sky above New Jersey, from 50 miles out plumes of smoke could be seen still rising from the spot where the World Trade Center stood less than a week earlier. As the plane glided up the East River, even without the Twin Towers the Manhattan skyline was still spectacular, as majestic as the Rockies or the Grand Canyon.

I had visited the World Trade Center many times for business meetings. I had eaten in Windows on the World, taking in the food and the view. I was a dazzled tourist on the observation floor, sitting in the scooped out seats flush against windows that let you peer almost straight down from more than 1,000 feet in the air. I miss the towers.

But perhaps because I’m from an ethnic culture that has known more than its fair share of trauma, unspeakable, often unimaginable, offenses, and yet extraordinary resilience and rebirth, I can’t stop for a day dedicated to one event. I can pause and hope we will be vigilant enough to prevent a similarly invasive assault on our way of life. I hope those who lost loved ones always remember them. I hope their fellow countrymen never forget them. But I also hope we keep our collective grief in context while rededicating our nation to values that made America the most remarkable and envied in the world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Storms, Political and Not

My sister Lee finally has hit the big time. Well, almost the big time. She’s had a tropical storm named after her. Not quite hurricane status, but nothing to sneer at.

Except, Tropical Storm Lee dumped more than 10 inches of rain on Louisiana. Guess where my sister’s oldest child, Ari, and his fiance, Elizabeth, live? If you guessed Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, you win a kewpie doll.

Angry Kittens: Leonard Harris died last week. He was 81. For those who don’t remember or just simply are not aware, Leonard Harris was a movie and Broadway critic for New York’s WCBS-TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Almost always Gilda agreed with his critiques. In fact, she was so enamored of him she chose to name one of the two kittens she brought home while in nursing school in his honor. The other she named after her favorite NY Knicks basketball player, Walt Frazier.

Gilda had never had a pet she could interact with while growing up, a frog not being a very touchy-feely type of pet. The frog must have felt the same as one day he took a stroll off her fourth floor bedroom windowsill. Splat!

Gilda wanted the kittens to keep her company while I worked evenings as a reporter for the New Haven Register. When I returned the first night they were home, Gilda couldn’t contain her distress. She was so relieved as I would be able to protect her from those “angry” kittens. They were growling so insistently she had locked them up in the bathroom hours earlier.

After liberating Walter and Leonard, I asked Gilda if the sound they made resembled a soft guttural trill. Yes, she exclaimed. That, I told her, was what is known as purring, a sound felines make when they are happy and contented.

Several months later it was time to neuter Walter and Leonard. When I asked the veterinarian how the boys tolerated the procedure he informed me Walter and Leonard were in fact females! We thought about changing their names to Walterina and Leona, but resisted the impulse. They never complained.

Spellcheck: Gilda and I have Apple iTouches, a device similar to an iPhone in everything but telephoning ability and a need for Wi-Fi access to communicate via the Internet. When I type notes or emails I notice the iTouch self-corrects what it considers typos. It’s a provocation that can cause much embarrassment if not caught by the writer. Whole Web sites are dedicated to comical mistakes that have been sent out by unaware users.

The unauthorized, unwanted changes are not unique to iTouches, but I did notice something the other day that stopped me in my tracks—when I type iPad, iPhone or iPod, the iTouch recognizes the nouns and leaves them untouched. But when I type in “iTouch,” it changes the spelling to touch. How strange the device doesn’t recognize its own name. How strange Apple did not include its own name recognition in the iTouch software.

Oh My God: I can’t believe it, but I agree with Dick Cheney.

Last week the former vice president said of Sarah Palin’s possible White House run, “I’ve never gotten around the question of her having left the governorship of Alaska midterm. I don’t, I’ve never heard that adequately explained.”

Palin and her Palinistas say she left office after two and a half years because ethics probes would have prevented her from effectively governing. Okay, but does she believe as president she’d be immune to ethics investigations? Hasn’t she heard of Iran-Contra during the Reagan years, or Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky during the Clinton administration?

How doubly sad, first about Palin’s lack of knowledge, and second about my being in agreement with Cheney. What’s next? Will Rick Perry look presidential to me?

Phoning It In: Last week we received a letter from CREDO mobile with an unusual marketing message. Addressing us as “Dear Fellow Progressive,” the letter from president Michael Kieschnick asked, “How far would you go to avoid ‘President Bachmann’ becoming a reality? Would you leave your phone company if it supported Michele Bachmann?”

It noted both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have donated to Bachmann, $386,000 and $35,500, respectively.

CREDO claims to be “America’s only progressive phone company, we fight the right wing.” It says each year it gives “a percentage of all charges—at no cost to you—to progressive non profits (such as ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Democracy Now and Doctors Without Borders).”

Along with other incentives, a tempting proposal indeed. But not one I’m willing to endorse, at least for now. I’m not ready to vet all my service providers and purchases to see if they conform to my politics. Given that most companies and their leaders lean to the right, I’d wind up with few options.

One left-leaning executive trying to influence the political climate is Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. He’s now asking business leaders to withhold campaign contributions from all office seekers until “a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-finance package is reached that honestly, and fairly, sets America on a path to long-term financial health and security.” This message is a refinement of his initial one three weeks ago when he implied withholding money just from incumbents.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Passing Hail Mary

With the clock ticking down the final seconds of a close game, a trailing football team often resorts to a last-ditch scoring effort. The quarterback fades back and lofts toward the end zone a long, arcing “Hail Mary” pass, so named because it will take an answered prayer to succeed in overturning a seemingly inevitable loss.

With his address to the nation in front of a joint session of Congress Thursday night, Barack Obama is about to launch a Hail Mary pass, aptly timed to coincide with the opening night of the new National Football League season after a spring and half-summer of labor-management unrest and ultimate compromise.

Unlike the owners and players who worked out a deal to get the games going again, there is no realistic partner to work with Obama. Despite vague language from some Republicans about the need to stimulate the economy to jumpstart more hirings, anyone who believes the president and the GOP/Tea Party will reach a fair, equitable and non-acrimonious settlement also believes the Cincinnati Bengals will hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the conclusion of the next Super Bowl.

Obama’s ratings are lower than a quarterback who throws more interceptions than completions, who fumbles the snap before he can hand off to a running back. Even a rookie presidential candidate, the nationally untested governor of Texas, Rick Perry, beats Obama in a head to head contest, 44% to 41%, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

The president’s Thursday night speech will define his intentions over the next 14 months. He will either involuntarily concede his impotence by tossing out an often repeated and unaccepted pitch for bi-partisan compromise, or he will morph into a chief executive with backbone by staking out an irreversible battle plan to rekindle the passion of those who supported him in 2008.

He has shown an inability to connect with Republicans. So why bother extending an olive branch. They’d only reject it. How often must he be humiliated? When push comes to shove, they’ll corner Obama and the Democrats into accepting their cuts, their budget, on their terms, which means no tax increases for the wealthy, continued loopholes for the rich and corporations, no viable plan to energize job growth except by reducing or eliminating consumer and environmental protections.

If Obama recognizes, at long last, the GOP prevent defense, he can perhaps salvage his re-election drive by forcefully decoding the X’s and O’s that differentiate the Republican agenda from his own. He shouldn’t be afraid to use tables, charts and graphs (a la Ross Perot and even Michele Bachmann) to illustrate how under Republican stewardship the nation’s working and middle classes suffered while the rich benefited, and how more of the same could be expected should they succeed in the next election.

Don’t think for a moment a measured tone in the well of the Congress will accrue civility and points from the opposition. Obama can and must use this forum to get the attention of Congress and the American people that he intends to fight for the welfare of the country as a whole, not for an elite, special interest minority.

He needs to convincingly detail how supporting GM and Chrysler when they were bankrupt saved the American automobile industry, how millions of jobs were saved, from the small shop that supplies new car mats to the huge plant that makes car batteries. He needs to push for jobs to rebuild infrastructure, for teachers to educate future generations.

Republicans already label him a deficit spender. He needs to reassuringly explain why short term debt is necessary to rebuild an economy shattered by two wars started by a Republican president, by that president’s profligate Medicare drug reimbursement plan, by that president’s eight year reign of terror on government oversight of the financial markets that led to the current woes on Wall Street and around the world.

Does he have it in him? Does he have the arm to reach the end zone? Hail Mary passes seldom work, but when they do they can be a game changer, turning a loser into a winner. Obama has nothing to lose by playing offense. Indeed, it’s his only hope of reaching the end zone—securing four more years in a residence paid for by The American taxpayer.

Friday, September 2, 2011

C'est Si Bonn

It was not among the most important stories in the paper, though it was among the most unique and entertaining. Seems the always disciplined people of Germany, at least in the city of Bonn, have devised a plan to capitalize on the legal presence of streetwalkers in their midst. Similar to receipts obtained from parking meters, hookers must now pay for their ambling along the city’s red light district thoroughfare (

Legal prostitution intrigued my friends Brian and David during our college sophomore year, so much so they decided to fly to the notoriously liberated Dutch city of Amsterdam during spring break. I agreed to join them, but my parents, who had no qualms about sending me to Israel, Italy and France for eight weeks two summers earlier, would not sanction (read that, pay for) the trip. They would, however, fund a romp in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as my brother Bernie had spent a spring break or two there.

It was too late to sign up for one of the college group trips. No problem. Bernie advised simply flying down to San Juan and finding a pensionne or guest house in the Condado Beach area. It would be much cheaper than a hotel, he assured me. Armed with his guarantee, I took a taxi from the airport to the Condado Beach district. With my heavy bag in hand (back then suitcases did not come with rollers), I started my search about noon under the hot Caribbean sun. Two hours later, I had exhausted all the possibilities. I was desperate, thirsty, hungry, and more than a little annoyed (and concerned) I had listened to my big brother.

Not one room was to be had anywhere within the Condado Beach area. Around 2:30, I realized I’d have to expand my search. Just outside the eastern edge of the district I spotted the Bell Inn Hotel. It was blue on the outside, kinda dark on the inside. When I asked, the clerk behind the desk said there was a room available, $40 for eight nights. As happy as I was to hear I would be paying hundreds less than I had expected, I asked to see the room first. As I walked up the stairs to the second floor, a Great Dane dog stirred in the lobby. The room was small, neat, with a private bath. I paid the $40.

After resting, I dressed to meet friends in the casinos along the main drag of the area. Now, back in 1968 San Juan was an open city, meaning the stretch of pavement between the La Concha Hotel and the Condado Beach Hotel was a virtual meat market of all shapes and sizes. One particular lady of the night attracted our attention. Overweight, she stood out in a hot pink pants outfit. We couldn’t comprehend how anyone could find her appealing.

Around 2 am, as I was returning to my room a few dollars poorer for my wagering, my eye caught a man leaving the Bell Inn Hotel with the pink pants-suited lady on his arm. Oh yeah. I immediately understood The Bell Inn Hotel normally charged by the hour, not the week. In renting me the room, management had set me up as the legitimating customer should the police decide to question if the Bell Inn was a true hotel.

No matter. They didn’t bother me. I didn’t bother them. They changed the sheets every day. Hot water spewed out of the shower. I came home a happy man.

Next year I chose San Juan without argument as my spring break destination. I immediately went to the Bell Inn Hotel. Closed. No matter how hard I banged on the door, no response. In the intervening 12 months, San Juan had cleaned up its public act. Not a hooker in sight. My renewed housing search again failed to find any vacancies. After two hours I returned to the Bell Inn Hotel. Almost 20-year-olds aren’t supposed to cry, but I was ready to let go a good sniffle when I spotted the Hotel Lux across the street.

Yes, there was a room, actually a mini-suite with a bedroom and sitting room. Mine for $60 for eight nights. A 50% increase in price, but well worth it, in my eyes at least. Not so worth it to my friends, who, upon seeing the modest Hotel Lux convinced me to move out and stay with them at the luxurious El San Juan Hotel near the airport. I will admit I felt safer there, but somehow think my stay at the Hotel Lux would have been more colorful.