Monday, October 31, 2011

Ultimate Weekend

I’m no longer Gee-Kaw.

As Finley’s speech has improved he’s getting closer to saying grandpa. For now I’m Pan-Paw. Perhaps by his second birthday in a little over two weeks I’ll officially be transitioned over to grandpa, but I’m not too sure I like the generic name. Perhaps when he gets a little bit older and can understand the concept of individual names we’ll decide to revert back to Gee-Kaw or some other special moniker. Gilda is still Gee-Gee.

I spent an ultimate weekend with Finely and Co. (his parents) in Sarasota, Fla., this past Thursday through Sunday at the USA Ultimate (Frisbee) Club Championships. For the second straight year Dan’s team, Boston Ironside, matched its undefeated tournament record against San Francisco’s undefeated Revolver. Sadly, the results repeated, as Ironside lost by an identical 15-10 score.

As I wrote last year, it’s almost harder on the friends and family of team members as we anxiously sweat out each game and the night before the championship game. We’re powerless to do anything but provide moral support, before, during and after. For Dan, and just a handful of others on the 27-man Ironside squad, this was the third time in the last four years Ironside lost in the finals. Second place in the country is no small honor, but never having tasted the Champagne of ultimate success is a bummer.

Ultimate Frisbee at the club level is a young man’s sport. At 33, Dan is the elder statesman on the team. How much longer he’ll be able to play is a question of his body and competitive spirit holding out, the number of new players challenging veterans for spots on the roster, and most importantly, the commitment Allison is willing to make to allow Dan to pursue his goal of a championship. Dan, as well, knows his obligations to Allison and Finley restrict the time he can devote to Ultimate. Aside from playing, Dan also coaches the Tufts University team.

As for me, being with Finley and his girl friend Eliot, daughter of team coach Josh and his wife Sangwa, was special. Regretably, Gilda couldn’t get away from work, so I played grandparent to both of them by myself, even babysitting one evening while both sets of parents attended a team dinner. Testing my mettle, both kids pooped, but they made up for it by going to bed exactly at 8 with nary a whimper.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Images of the Past

Every now and then Gilda and I engage in an intellectual discussion on the merits of ending our print subscription to the NY Times, retaining just the online version. We always wind up keeping both, not the least because of my devotion as an ex-newspaper reporter to the tactile experience of holding newsprint in my hands but also because of the serendipity of finding stories in print I most probably would not have engaged had I been surfing the Web site.

Last Sunday’s Style section provides a compelling, and for me, personal, example. I didn’t get a chance to read the section on Sunday. It lay untouched until Tuesday night as I prepared the weekly recycling pile. Before I chucked it, I checked the wedding announcements. You never can tell when you’ll see someone you know; one time I discovered the marriage of a young man who was a camper in my bunk when he was 12 years old and I was his counselor. All the other kids hated him. He must have done something right, however, to have won The Times’ wedding pic lottery. But I digress...

Back on page 19 of the 20-page section, The Times ran a story on “the lost art of the group portrait at events,” highlighted by a 10.5-by-5.5 inch photo of the guests at the recent wedding reception of Brenda Malloy and Hal Reiter (

Two things about that photo. First, I believe I know the aforementioned Hal Reiter. If he’s the guy I think he is, he’s the chairman and CEO of a major retail industry executive search firm, Herbert Mines Associates. (For those searching for the happy couple amid the group, Hal and Brenda are in the middle. He’s in shirtsleeves, she’s wearing an off the shoulder white dress.)

But more importantly, the group photo is similar to a picture that hangs on the wall of my den. It’s of the 50th Golden Jubilee dinner of the First Ottynier Young Men’s Benevolent Association at the Hotel Commodore in Manhattan on December 24, 1950. There must have been at least 500 people in this group photo, with my parents easily visible sitting two tables to the left of the dais.

Ottynier (sometimes spelled Ottynia) is a small village, a shtetl, part of an area known as Galicia, controlled over the centuries by different countries. When my father was born there 100 years ago, Ottynier was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War I it became part of Poland. The Soviet Union took over after Hitler and Stalin partitioned Poland in 1939. Germany conquered the area in 1941. Today it is in the southwest corner of Ukraine.

In 1931, Jews totaled 1,116 of the town’s 4,059 residents. Historically, Jews comprised about 25% to 40% of the population. That is, until they were eliminated by the Nazis and their Ukrainian sympathizers.

Jews began emigrating to America from Ottynier in the 19th century. Like most of their cohorts from Eastern Europe, they formed fraternal organizations, societies to help acclimate newcomers to America and to send funds to those back in the Old Country. After my father came to the United States in January 1939, he became active in the FOYMBA, eventually serving many years as its president.

In keeping with one of the founding principles of the group, to have social and cultural events, much of my parents’ entertainment activities revolved around the society. Aside from the annual dinner dance and smaller, more casual affairs, my parents had a floating monthly poker game with seven couples of their closest friends. They played penny-nickel stakes, husbands in one room, wives in the other. When I was around 10 years old they’d let me play one or two hands for either parent, in between my chore of making highballs for all who asked.

I look at that group photo almost every day. Though they don’t appear so, most of those in the picture were younger than I am today. My father was approaching his 40th birthday, my mother a mere 33 years old. Today, there are fewer than 50 members of the society who meet once a year for a deli luncheon. Most of those who attend are distant cousins of mine. It’s hard to get younger generations involved. I’m as guilty of indifference as the rest.

A young cousin from France recently visited Ottynier. Laura’s trip might be included in a French documentary about families who trace their roots back to Poland. She wrote me:

“We met an old man name Greenberg who lives in the suburbs of Kolomya now; he's more than 90 years old. He is the last living Jew from Ottynier apparently. Born there, he was hiding when the mass murders took place.

“I showed him pictures and he recognized Wolf (my uncle Willy) immediately. When I said "Fursetzer" (the original version of our name), he remembered: ‘Yes, two sons went to the USA, one before the war, the other after’.

“We went to Ottynier and met with old people. They do recall the name Fursetzer. We did not find much more. We went to the Jewish cemetery, there are almost no tombstones left. Most of the Jews of Ottynier were shot and buried there, it's a mass grave.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Blame Game

So the Republican intelligentsia, if I may be so bold to use that descriptor for the Neanderthal-thinking men and women who gave us pre-9/11-ineptitude followed by nine years of tragic war in Iraq and 10 years of tragic war in Afghanistan, are now stumbling over themselves in their haste to criticize Barack Obama for ending our combat in Iraq as of December 31, 2011, conveniently ignoring the fact Obama will be enforcing an agreement forged by his predecessor, George W. Bush the Magnificent, a pact announced during that same memorable press conference in Baghdad when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoe at the leader of the free world. He missed.

Politics being what it is and always has been, it’s the spin that counts, so it’s not too surprising to find the GOP cranking up the latest stanza in its long-playing song, “Who Lost ?,” as in Who Lost China?, Who Lost Cuba?, Who Lost Vietnam?, Who Lost Iran?.

Safe to say, Republicans have no qualms tagging Democrats for all those losses. Moreover, despite their mismanaging the Iraq and Afghani wars from 2002 through 2008, they are sure to blame Obama and his Democratic cohorts for anything that goes wrong there, while conveniently ignoring any of Obama’s foreign policy successes such as the killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. How disingenuous of the Republicans to give credit to the French and British for the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi without recognizing the critical support America provided.

But why should we confine ourselves to chastising just our domestic politicians. How is it that under Bush we aligned ourselves with someone as duplicitous, so openly duplicitous, as Hamid Karzai? The president of Afghanistan told a Pakistani television station last weekend his country would side with Pakistan should it ever engage in a military conflict with the United States or India, both countries with strategic ties to Afghanistan.

Though he has now backtracked, claiming to have been “misinterpreted,” Karzai’s open display of ingratitude for the U.S. investment in lives and resources puts our continued support of his regime into question. Sadly, few if any Republican voices were raised in protest, as they were too busy blasting Obama for closing down the war in Iraq.

Listening today to NPR interview John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire and former chief of staff of the White House under President George Bush the First, I couldn’t stop wondering what political histories these guys read. In coming out for Mitt Romney, Sununu said the best presidents are former governors because they possess executive decision-making experience, unlike Obama who was just a senator and never had to make tough choices. Sununu cited Ronald Reagan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as presidents who acted determinedly within their political beliefs.

It’s a nice theory, but doesn’t explain how two former governors—George Bush the Second and Jimmy Carter—screwed up royally, and how such non-governors as Harry S. Truman and three-quarters of those enshrined on Mt. Rushmore (Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln) are considered among our best presidents without having ever sat in a governor’s chair.

Bottom line: It comes down to the man or woman. You don’t have to be an ex-governor, like Bill Clinton, to be a good president. You must be a good politician who has deep beliefs and values that resonate with the American people.

Regardless of who is president, often their most enduring legacy comes from their appointments to the federal judiciary. It doesn’t always turn out the way they intended—Eisenhower thought he was appointing a conservative when he chose Earl Warren to head the Supreme Court. Nixon thought the same of Harry Blackmun, as did Bush the First of David Souter.

Obama’s two Supreme Court appointments, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, are quality selections, but he’s left some 80 vacancies on the lower courts. Unless he nominates some judges soon, and fights for their confirmations, any hope of balancing conservative bench strength on the circuit and appeals courts will be lost. That, to me would be the real tragedy of the Obama presidency.

(Editor’s Note: For those counting, this is the 400th blog entry since No Socks Needed Anymore began September 8, 2009. My thanks to all who have stayed with me for the entire run and to those who jumped on board mid-stream.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Religion on My Mind

Took down the sukkah today, threw out the lulav and etrog. Kind of a melancholy day, as it symbolizes the conclusion of the early fall Jewish holidays. Eight and a half weeks till Hanukkah.

Having violated several tenets of their religion, including not treating a prisoner with respect, and not washing a dead body while preparing it for burial within 24 hours, Libyans now seem to be debating what to do with the corpse of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. A resolution was said to be imminent.

Since Islamic law has already been shunted aside, why not cremate the body, brush the remains into a small can, place it in an airplane and disperse the ashes over the desert? That would surely please those who don’t want to make his grave a shrine, while pleasing his supporters as his ashes would be part of the Libyan landscape. A win-win for all.

It’s still uncertain who pulled the trigger that executed the Libyan dictator, and under whose authority, but it’s certain, according to the NY Times, that Libyans killed Muammar el-Qaddafi. According to the Associated Press, they killed Moammar Gadhafi. That’s the way The Wall Street Journal, the web site for NPR and the German publication Der Spiegel had it, as well. Newsweek, The Jerusalem Post, Time, The Financial Times, the British newspaper The Guardian, the BBC and, perhaps most critically, Al Jazeera English, trumpeted the death of Muammar Gaddafi. The Washington Post headlined Moammar Gaddafi’s demise; the Council on Foreign Relations informed everyone of the killing of Muammar al-Qaddafi, while the French paper Le Monde reported the death of Mouammar Kadhafi.

Whatever the preferred spelling of his name, he is dead. Libyans win the shooting prize for killing more dictators than any other Arab Spring uprising.

For the record, I have no problem with the summary execution of the maniacal despot. Nor do I see anything wrong with the desire of his once-cowed people to see first-hand his dead body. I don’t normally believe in capital punishment, mostly because of the possibility a wrongful execution could occur. But in Qaddafi’s case, as it was for Osama bin Laden, death did not come too swiftly or too soon.

As indicated earlier, the festival of Sukkot is over. As I walked in a procession around our temple on the first day of the eight-day holiday, holding my lulav and etrog (a lulav is a frond of the date palm tree with sprigs of myrtle and willow; an etrog is a fruit of the citron tree) while singing hosannas, I couldn’t help but think to myself how strange religious customs are. Lest you think I am blasphemous, our rabbi commented out loud the next day how this ritual makes it seem we have not evolved too far from paganism.

Whatever the religion, faith has a way of challenging our sensibilities, of tickling our senses of humor. I couldn’t help but shake my head in wonder when I read about the thousands of Polish Catholics who had recently gathered for a special Mass in Sokolka in eastern Poland. They came to celebrate what they perceived to be a miracle, the appearance on a communion wafer of a dark spot they believed is part of the heart of Jesus.

According to church officials, two medical doctors verified the spot as heart muscle tissue. Since Catholics believe the wafer transfigures into the body of Jesus during Holy Communion, it was not too unrealistic for true believers to reason the heart tissue belonged to Jesus.

I know it sounds far-fetched, but who am I to say they’re crazy. Indeed, I’ll end with a quote from Lane Filler, a member of the Newsday editorial board, in a commentary on the religious beliefs of the Republican presidential candidates:

“So let me get this straight. If you believe God spoke to people and angels walked the Earth thousands of years ago, you’re in a religion. If you believe God spoke to people and angels walked the Earth hundreds of years ago, you’re in a cult. And if you believe God spoke to people and angels walked the Earth on Thursday, you’re in a mental institution.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Am America

Did you see the article in Monday’s NY Times about the unofficial anthem of the Tea Party, I Am America, a song Herman Cain is using to jazz up his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination? Here’s a link to the story:

And for those who are curious, here’s a link to the song itself, sung by Krista Branch, wife of the composer, pastor Michael Branch: . That’s right, Michael Branch is a pastor, so if the song has some evangelical tones, cut it some slack.

My problem (I always have a problem, it seems) with the song and its positioning as a Tea Party/Cain standard is the implication that those who don’t share its views are not real Americans, that they’re un-American, that they’re not patriotic.

I’d rather see politicians choose uplifting songs, such as Bill Clinton’s use of Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, than a song that pits one group against the other.

Speaking of pitting one group against another, did you hear about the Republican state representative in Florida, Ritch Workman, who wants to repeal the 1989 state ban on dwarf tossing in bars because it would provide employment to dwarfs. Though he told the Palm Beach Post dwarf tossing is “repulsive and stupid” and he would never watch it, Workman said of the ban, "All that it does is prevent some dwarfs from getting jobs they would be happy to get. In this economy, or any economy, why would we want to prevent people from getting gainful employment?"

See, Republicans do have a jobs program, albeit for little people only.

For Ritch Workman (you just gotta love that perfect name for a Republican politician) it comes down to Big Government intruding into the lives of ordinary citizens. Dwarf tossing is "none of the state's business," he told the Post.

From small people to giants: I, for one, am not too distressed about the NBA lockout. I’m not a basketball fan. Maybe it stems from my basic ineptitude on the court. That being said, I do feel sorry for everyone but the players and owners who are affected by the lockout, people such as the concession stand workers, the restaurant owners and their staffs who depend on game night traffic, parking lot attendants and others whose income is dependent on the games. “But if you want to watch millionaires throwing elbows,” Stephen Colbert said Tuesday, “there’s still the Republican presidential race.”

Watching Tuesday night’s Republican presidential candidate debate in Las Vegas (I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make to bring you this blog), I was struck by how often the contenders blamed government regulations for tamping down job creation. It’s hard to disagree with the regulatory burden argument on the same day the U.S. Senate displayed rare bipartisanship by voting down a proposed Dept. of Agriculture mandate to limit the amount of potatoes and other starches in school meal programs. Instead of focusing on the foodstuff, perhaps the USDA should have tried to control the preparation technique. Outlaw frying, not potatoes.

So, yes, regulations can go too far. Big government can be destructive and intrusive. But then there are regulations that are helpful, such the one issued by the Federal Communications Commission requiring cell phone carriers to alert customers when they are approaching their monthly contractual minutes, enabling them to avoid huge overage charges. Unless you’re an executive with a cell phone company, or a Ron Paul libertarian, I seriously doubt you’d find that regulation objectionable.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Human Infrastructure

His $447 billion plan to pump up the economy deflated by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, President Obama now is trying to reignite our fiscal health in piecemeal fashion. He’s pushing parts of his overall program one at a time, starting with a $35 billion package to keep teachers in the classroom and put more policemen and firemen on the streets. Though it might seem a laudable, even bipartisan goal, the GOP already has said it will vote to block its passage.

Which leaves me wondering, when did we as a nation turn against the public sector workers who are the foundation of our society? When did it become acceptable to strip away essential jobs in our communities while letting fat cats accumulate wealth beyond reason? When did we begin to demonize the very people to whom we entrust our most precious commodity, our children?

How would you like to leave your family every day for a job that puts you in jeopardy each work shift, that could cost you your life or could leave you injured for life because you were protecting society? Isn't it worth something to you to know others are ready to risk their safety for yours?

Sure, some cops are bigoted. Some overreact, are abusive. Some have behavioral problems. Haven't we learned anything from all the cop shows and movies about their tension-filled lives? How many of us would want to truly trade our daily routine for that of a policeman or fireman, knowing that around the corner on a mundane patrol or one alarm fire bell response death lurks? It might sound exciting for one day, even two, but as a constant condition of employment it would be hard to accept.

The infrastructure of a country is measured not just by the length and quality of its roadways, bridges and tunnels, but also by the soundness of its educational system. Teachers are its foundation. Sure, there are bad teachers, just as there are bad accountants, bad lawyers, bad doctors, bad truck drivers, bad waiters, bad you-name-it. Even bad bloggers. Tenure has been abused.

Let's reform the system but let's not abuse the teaching profession. If our children are our most precious asset, why wouldn't we want to pay the person who spends more daytime hours with them, the person who can influence their thinking and development, an above average wage? Aren't teachers doing a job at least as important as lawyers, as accountants, as stock brokers?

When it's my grandson Finley’s reading time, the books he chooses invariably depict heroes of the young—firemen, policemen, construction workers, teachers. Nary a computer wizard or Wall Street tycoon or lawyer or legislator or regulator or hedge fund trader in sight.

We are kidding ourselves if we believe society will be better off with fewer and lower-compensated teachers, policemen and firemen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walking Over Water

Yesterday was a delightful early fall day, a perfect time for a walk in the air. Anyone who has traversed New York City’s High Line vertical linear park along the West Side of Manhattan knows it presents an exhilarating experience. Gilda and I have walked it several times, but Sunday’s stroll took place some 90 miles to the north, across the Walkway Over the Hudson, from Poughkeepsie on the eastern end to Highland and back.

A converted cantilevered and truss railroad bridge opened in 1888 and mostly abandoned after a fire in 1974, the structure now is the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, soaring 212 feet above the Hudson River. The walkway across the river is 1.28 miles. If you combine it with a walk across the nearby Mid-Hudson Bridge, built for cars, trucks and pedestrians in 1930, the entire loop is an invigorating 4.5 miles.

Since it opened in 2009, each year the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park has attracted some 600,000 amblers and bike riders, even dogs on leashes.

Linear parks are all the rage these days, so much so that one Westchester County official is suggesting the Tappan Zee Bridge linking the the county to Rockland County be converted to such a use when a replacement bridge is erected. Of course, even with the project being fast-tracked by the Obama administration it will be years before a new bridge is built. And there are questions about the wisdom of converting the Tappan Zee to pedestrian use given its steep mid-span incline and, equally important, the appeal the bridge has had in the past to people who choose to end their lives by jumping off its superstructure.

The Walkway Over the Hudson did not ignore suicide considerations. At several points along the walkway mental health telephone hotlines were available for use by any troubled soul. While we were there, no one fortunately was using the phone.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reading List

Over a delicious dinner at friends’ house Friday night, politics and international relations dominated conversation that at times grew loud. One of the more contentious issues was the role of elected officials. Should they legislate according to the campaign promises they made to their constituents, or should they feel free to vote their conscience if they discover a more judicious and patriotic path?

For Gilda and me the choice was clear—we choose leaders to lead, not to stay stagnant when the world around them is evolving. Should Southern representatives have remained anti-civil rights even as the voters who sent them to Washington and their state capitols continued their bigoted beliefs, Gilda asked?

It’s commonplace today for not just Democrats but Republicans as well to co-opt the legacy of John F. Kennedy. But in doing so they must embrace one of his sentinel works. Profiles in Courage is JFK’s 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning account of eight U.S. senators who acted on their conscience rather than succumb to political pressure to conform to party politics or the majority of their constituents. They did so at great risk to their careers, in the interest of serving country first.

We find ourselves today in need of such statesmen. Instead of country first, it’s party first for too many of our chosen representatives. Instead of compromise, they are determined to humble their opposition, sowing conflict and animus not seen for generations, perhaps not since the great debates over slavery in the early decades of the 19th century. But even those debates yielded compromises. Today, compromise seems not to be part of the political lexicon.

Perhaps Profiles of Courage should be made mandatory reading for everyone in Washington and our 50 state capitols. Perhaps some who read it and take its lessons to heart will not win re-election because they have put country before their re-election effort. They will earn eternal gratitude. It’s a pipedream, I know, but it’s a worthy pipedream.

Here’s another must read for all—Since Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen. You might not have time to read this 1940 book about life during the Great Depression and how our government tried to help its citizens survive it, but surely you have a few minutes to read Joe Nocera’s column on it from Saturday’s NY Times:

If Nocera is right about the lessons to be gleaned from Since Yesterday, we are in for rougher times given the mood in Washington to cut, cut, cut and not invest in our future.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Radio Daze

One of the news items on the radio this morning made my head swivel. AIG, the massive financial services company that a few years ago earned the tag as the worst company in America is now selling reputation insurance.

Talk about chutzpah!

In 2008, AIG received $68 billion from the federal bailout program. Now it is pushing ReputationGuard, designed, according to the Associated Press, to “help companies protect their reputation in the event of major corporate crises such as executive scandals, product recalls, data breaches and other ‘reputational threats.’"

The idea of reputation insurance is catching on, what with viral Internet campaigns maligning companies and individuals, often without their immediate knowledge. But the thought of AIG benefiting from this form of insurance is truly hard to swallow.

WFAN sports radio hosts Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno were talking football quarterbacks in the midday hour, mostly criticizing NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez. They bemoaned that most young quarterbacks don’t get the opportunity to spend a few years backing up a star, learning from him, as Aaron Rodgers did for the Green Bay Packers, understudying Brett Favre for four years.

Yeah, said Roberts, he learned not to throw the “killer pick” or take the “killer pic,” references to Favre’s tendency to kill offensive drives by throwing an interception (a “pick” for those not familiar with football parlance) and also for Favre’s infamous offensive picture texting of his body parts.

Though I’m not a Jets fan I couldn’t help but be amused by one listener’s call-in to WFAN about the fortunes of the team. Instead of the team’s slogan being “ground and pound,” he said, a more apt description would be “grunt and punt.”

Online gambling was reported the other day by WCBS 880 News to be under consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives as a revenue-generating scheme. Now, I’m not against legalized gambling, but it seems peculiar to me that the Republican-controlled House would favor such a move as many of its core constituents are Christian conservatives who oppose such activity.

Still, illegal gambling is estimated to be a $6 billion industry, and Uncle Sam would love to get a piece of the action. It’s impossible to control gambling, much the same way Prohibition was impossible to police effectively. At least when Prohibition was repealed the government started collecting excise taxes again on the liquid refreshment. It’s the same argument the gambling advocates push, as do those who want to legalize marijuana and other drugs.

A revenue source or a source of deprivation? You choose.

Last week the NY Times ran a picture of Sandy Amoros catching Yogi Berra’s curling fly ball in the last game of the 1955 World Series, a catch credited with helping secure the first and only championship for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Here’s a link to the picture:

Several interesting points about the picture and what it says about baseball 56 years ago, and I’m not referring to the fact that it was a day game: Well, it was a day game, and left field was the sun field at the old Yankee Stadium. Yet few fans wore sunglasses. Amoros was playing in short sleeves; most of the fans were men wearing suits and ties. A sizable number wore hats, not baseball caps, but real old men’s hats, fedoras. Though I’m sure most in the picture were younger than my 62 years, they sure look older than I am. Few women and almost no child can be seen. The fans in the front row mostly stayed in their seats; almost none ventured to catch a Yankee souvenir before Amoros could reach it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Must See TV

Tonight at 9 you’ve got your choice of special TV fare:

PBS is showing a documentary on the War of 1812 tonight at 9. The conflict between the United States and Great Britain provided some lasting memories for our nation, including the burning of the White House and Dolley Madison’s heroic effort to save the portrait of George Washington; Old Ironsides, commissioned as the USS Constitution; and Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans, a feat recounted in a 1959 song of the same name by Johnny Horton.

It was Horton’s song that led to one of Gilda’s and my most enjoyable triumphs in a game of Trivial Pursuit. About eight years ago, Dan’s ultimate frisbee team from Boston spent the night with us on their way to a tournament. All college graduates, they divided up into four-man teams in a Baby Boomer edition challenge match against Gilda and me.

We scorched the board, quickly landing on all the special spots at the bottom of each spoke, earning wedges on our first tries for all but the Music/Entertainment category. It took several attempts, but we finally answered a music question correctly and made our way up to the middle of the wheel. When we landed on the center spot, all we had to do is answer the question chosen by our young opponents from the choices on the next query card.

Seeking to exploit our weakness, they picked the Music/Entertainment question. They were confident they had us stumped when they read: “What song advised not to shoot ‘till we looked them in the eye.’”

You could have knocked those fellows over with the proverbial feather when Gilda and I not only named the song but also sang all the lyrics to the Battle of New Orleans.

History never sounded sweeter. If you’d like to hear the song, follow this link:

Also at 9, on E!, is the second installment of Kim’s Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event.

I didn’t see yesterday’s first installment. Didn’t DVR it either. Lest you share my cynicism for everything Kardashian, it might help to keep in mind that her fans are not mindless wannabes. According to Nielsen research from early 2010, which I am confident is not too different today, Kardashian viewers tend to be single, college-educated women with no children, white-collar jobs and annual salaries of more than $60,000.

No matter how hard I shake my head at the Kardashian effect, I must admit Kim and her family are quite successful business people. Reportedly, Kim alone has amassed a $40 million fortune from reality TV shows, clothing and jewelry lines and assorted marketing activities. Not bad, not bad at all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Are You Ready For Some Football

Now that ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast has been circumcised of any openly bigoted celebrities (thank you, Hank Williams Jr., for making it kosher to view America’s favorite sport without feeling too guilty about tuning in to redneck country), let’s turn our attention to a post-mortem on the untimely demise of our, or at least my, favorite team, the NY Yankees. I’ll try not to repeat what others have said or written.

* Right off the bat (don’t you just love that pun), I’ll violate my last sentence—the Yanks didn’t lose to the Detroit Tigers 3-2 last night because of their pitching. They lost because of the Tigers pitching. They lost because they didn’t hit, not just in the last game but throughout most of the first round playoff series. With few exceptions they did not hit with men in scoring position, and since the name of the game in baseball is to score more than your opponent in each game, not collectively throughout a series, they lost. Blame, and yes, in this case there is blame, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and even Derek Jeter. Robinson Cano, as well, came up short, like Jeter's fly ball to the wall in the eighth inning last night, when it really mattered, when runners were on base, except that one time in Game One when he hit a grand slam. Yes, Cano hit a solo home run yesterday, but he made out earlier in the game with two runners on.
* Some players are great during the regular season but wilt during the post-season. That’s been the pattern for years—at bat, not in the field—for A-Rod, Teixeira and Swisher. There’s no predicting how a player will perform in the playoffs, so let’s not bury these guys. Mope and hiss, but keep in mind, the difficult part of any season is making the playoffs. Only four teams make it from each league; these players have helped the Yanks continue their exemplary record of qualifying for 16 out of the last 17 years. Remarkable.
* A-Rod’s prowess at bat is diminishing. Watching A-Rod over the remaining seven years of his contract will be a flashback to watching Mickey Mantle in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, only fewer people idolize A-Rod so his failures will be less tolerated.
* Jorge Posada showed he still can be a big-game player. He led all starters with a.429 playoff batting average. It will be sad to see him on another team next year. I was rooting for him to cap his Yankee career by smacking a tying home run in the eighth inning last night.
* Ron Darling and John Smoltz, TNT color commentators last night, made a point of saying the electronic image of a pitch was not accurate. So why bother showing it? It grossly frustrates fans when pitches clearly outside the strike zone on the graphic are called strikes against your team and balls when your pitcher throws them, or when your pitcher throws the ball inside the box and it's called a ball.
* The disappointment of unfulfilled expectations will linger for months, soothed by just one thought—The Yankees made it to the playoffs, the Boston Red Sox did not. Now, onto watching the NY Giants. My expectations going into this football season were low, so my pleasure at how well they play (they’re already 3-1) will be boundless. Unless they make it to the playoffs, at which time I’ll be crushed if they fail to win the Super Bowl.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Send In No More Clowns or Lucifer

With Chris Christie and Sarah Palin holding onto their hats, the three-ring circus featuring more than half a dozen clowns, commonly called the Republican party presidential nomination process, seems to be settling into a Mitt Romney-by-less-than-happy-acclimation affair, unless Rick Perry can learn how to debate better, talk without affronting people, and keep any more skeletons from his past from appearing. (Herman Cain might be rising in the polls, but I seriously doubt the Republican establishment will allow a total outsider to garner its most prestigious prize.)

Which brings up an interesting face-off, as described by Stephen Colbert Tuesday night—It’s “a match-up between a Republican that nobody’s excited about and a Democrat that everyone’s disappointed in.”

Hard to say who’d win such a contest. Most pundits would tell you, as Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain in 2008 said to Colbert, the choice would come down to the economy. Who would the voters trust more to right the economy and safeguard their financial interests?

There’s no doubt Barack Obama will shoulder lots of blame for the continued economic malaise affecting our country. There’s also no doubt, at least in my mind, Republicans have not acted in the best interests of the country by thwarting almost all of his efforts in their relentless pursuit of making Obama a one-term president. They are coy beyond contempt in their posturing Obama as the stumbling block to effective compromise. Just today House Speaker John Boehner said, “It takes two to tango,” apparently forgetting that after the last go-around with the president he said he had secured 98% of what the GOP wanted. Now that Obama seems to have rediscovered his backbone and does not appear ready to cave in more than, say, 50%, Boehner seems miffed at the prospect of having to give up more than a fingernail in negotiations.

What’s always perplexed me, and other Eastern Establishment liberals, is why so many heartland working class voters opt to support Republicans and not Democrats who favor progressive legislation to make their lives easier. The answer was revealed in an NPR interview today of Dante Chinni, co-author of “Our Patchwork Nation,” an examination of 12 different types of communities that make up America.

Among the communities profiled is a Christian fundamentalist one in southwest Missouri. The people there and in similar religious centers care more about social issues such as abortion than economics. If asked, “Why aren’t you voting your economic interests?”, said Chinni, they’d respond, “Why are you condemning yourself to hell?”.

It’s hard to pull the lever for Obama when you see him as Lucifer incarnate.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sukkah Time, Almost

Today was a perfect day to erect the frame of our sukkah, the temporary hut-like structure that is central to the holiday of Sukkot. Technically, you’re supposed to wait until after Yom Kippur this Saturday, but I’ve never been a technically religious person. I’m more into the tradition and ethos of a holiday than the strict precepts that have evolved over the centuries.

So, the speed-rail frame went up, with hardly a miscue. I’ll wait until after Yom Kippur to drape the sides, drop on the lattice roof and decorate the inside with hanging plastic fruit, garlands of colored leaves and some white Christmas lights that give it a real holiday feeling.

For those who want to know more about sukkah building, here’s a link to an older blog:

Handy Man. Not: My sukkah-building prowess notwithstanding, I am not by any stretch of the imagination a handy-man around the house. Oh, I manage to fix some things, but more often than not I am construction-challenged.

Gilda’s favorite story about my do-it-yourself skill set harks back to our first house, a Tudor-style three bedroom home built in 1932 that we bought 33 years ago. It had a large master bedroom with a walk-in shower in the master bathroom. The showerhead was one of those large round fixtures mounted in the middle of the ceiling tile, the kind that provides a soft rain spray. I prefer a more invigorating shower so I got my tools out to replace the showerhead with a WaterPik Shower Massage, back then the gold standard when it came to powerful replacement alternatives.

Try as I might with my wrench, I could not get the showerhead to budge. After 30 minutes I confessed my inability to Gilda. She calmly walked into the shower, climbed the ladder and turned the showerhead until it came off. Voila!

Had we not moved from that house several years later I would still be suffering daily embarrassment as water cascaded down over me. Not that Gilda lets me forget about this misadventure. It’s just that she’s kind enough not to bring it up except when I’m lauding my DIY skills to those who don’t know any better.

That first house produced some great memories, including the time I flooded out the basement bathroom trying to replace a valve in the tank. I wrote about it more than a year ago, so if you’re interested in reading more about my ineptitude, here’s the link:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Politics, GOP Style

Chris Christie is no Sarah Palin.

Unlike the former Alaskan governor who left office midway through her first term to seek more fame and definitely more fortune, and possibly the presidency of the United States, Christie asserted Tuesday, “I’m just not prepared to walk away” from the job the voters of New Jersey elected him to do 22 months ago. He said he would remain governor and not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination as “now is not my time.”

Chris Christie is no Mitch Daniels.

Unlike the governor of Indiana, Christie did not invoke family restraints in making his definitive decision to put his ambition on hold. The decision was his alone, he said, asserting his family was behind him whatever his choice.

Christie’s announcement of his oft-stated stance, laudable to some, lamentable to others, raises some interesting contemplations. I find it hard to believe the pugnacious governor does not view himself superior to any of the announced and unannounced candidates seeking the GOP nomination. So why the hesitancy? Surely other politicians have shortened their stays in office to seek higher seats of power. If they win, they’re serving the greater public good. If they lose, well, they go back to their elected spot. It’s not as if Christie would have to vacate the governorship to run for president.

Let’s also consider what might happen if a different GOP candidate wins the White House. It’s conceivable that as a former federal attorney Christie might be tapped to run either the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security. Since hardly anyone turns down a president when asked to serve the country (e.g., John Huntsman), Christie might wind up in Washington before his term as governor expires anyway, just not in the office he really wants.

Moreover, if a Republican becomes president, Christie would have to wait eight more years before seeking the highest office in the land. Though he’d be just 58 in 2020, that wait is an eternity in politics.

Perhaps what Christie is really saying by choosing not to run this time is that despite the lousy economy, despite what he calls President Obama’s lack of leadership, he believes the incumbent will be re-elected. Perhaps an article in today’s NY Times detailing how Republicans want to cut spending on the new health care law, Planned Parenthood, Pell grants and education programs provides background as to why an enlightened but fiscally conservative Republican would have difficulty running on a platform that deprives the needy and the middle class of benefits while protecting the riches of the elite ( Perhaps that’s the true meaning of “now is not my time.”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Signs of Aging

Stopped at a red light the other day, I glanced down at my right hand and did a double take. Could it be? Were those round shadings on the back of my hand the telltale signs of aging spots? I shuttered to think so. I’ve been checking my hand ever since. So far, nothing new to report. Whew!

Here are some real signals of creeping decrepitude, culled from time recently spent with family and friends. You know you’re getting old...

When your adult children are more interested in watching a reality show like The Bachelor or Jersey Shore than a great black and white film, even if it’s starring Humphrey Bogart;

When you wonder how your adult children can listen to TV with the sound so low and they tell you it’s because they’re all under 40;

When the eldest of your friend’s teenage children slides behind the wheel of his car;

When your 8-year-old grandnephew is excited about showing you a new video game and you have absolutely no idea what you’re viewing.

No doubt you have your own senior moments, if only you could remember them.

Adios, Tito: Because he was a really good manager, Terry “Tito” Francona’s departure from the Boston Red Sox brings some relief to any NY Yankees fan. But also because he was such a good manager it also elicits sadness that he became the fall guy for the epic failure of the Red Sox to make the baseball playoffs this year, and last year as well.

In comments agreeing to his removal as manager after eight years, and two World Series wins, Francona indicated the team no longer heard his voice in the clubhouse, that he wasn’t able to inspire them. But let’s be honest—few players remain from those glory years of 2004 and 2007. The exceptions are David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Tim Wakefield, Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia, all top quality players and ostensibly, clubhouse leaders. There were 18 new sets of ears in the clubhouse who should have been receptive to Francona’s message, the same message that led to two World Series titles.

Francona’s problems could be traced to the failure of general manager Theo Epstein to provide quality replacement parts for the rest of the team roster. Over the last few years he’s invested heavily in players who did not live up to expectations, including J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, Carl Crawford and John Lackey.

On the other hand, Yankee GM Brian Cashman can celebrate his efficiency in signing pitchers Corey Wade, Luis Ayala, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, along with position players Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones and Russell Martin.

What Cashman and Yankees fans cannot be too happy about, however, is the recurring failure of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to hit in the post-season. After two games they are a combined 1 for 15 (Teixeira hit a double) with two strikeouts apiece. It’s nice to see Jorge Posada leading the team in batting average in the playoffs, but the Yanks won’t beat the Detroit Tigers if A-Rod and Tex don’t hit, and if Brett Gardner, 1 for 6 with no walks, and Derek Jeter, 2 for 10, no walks, don’t get on base.

But at least they made it into the playoffs. The season is already a success because Boston didn’t.

As for the post-season, I’ve come to accept whatever happens in the early rounds. I haven’t altered my life schedule to view the games. Saturday night Gilda and I watched the first two episodes of Downtown Abbey while the Yankees bashed the Tigers. Sunday we ate dinner out before seeing a Tisch School of the Arts at New York University production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with a friend’s son, Rafi, in a leading role. After coming home I viewed a DVR recording of the NY Giants squeek out a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the same stadium as their 2008 Super Bowl triumph.

I want the Yankees to win, but I’m not going to get really excited until they play in the World Series. Perhaps that’s another sign of aging, or at least maturity.