Monday, November 28, 2011

Blame My Brother (I Always Did)

My brother Bernie had some suggestions for blog topics, including today’s edition, so if you don’t like it, blame him. Trust me, it’s very satisfying to do.

Anyway, his suggestion was to list creative ideas or inventions that have made life simpler and easier, such as wheels on luggage. Sounded interesting, so herewith my hastily prepared list without the not-so-obvious, such as laptop computers or anything Apple. Feel free to send me your choices which I don’t promise to include in a future post but may if there are sufficient usable contributions.

1. the aforementioned luggage with wheels
2. resealable ziplock plastic bags
3. one size fits all chenille gloves
4. the pocket nail clipper (the most versatile cutting tool you can carry around)
5. retractable gel point or rollerball pens
6. anything Polartec—vests, gloves, sweaters, sheets
7. pocket toothbrushes
8. daily dose pill boxes
9. folding umbrella baby strollers
10. personal portable fans with spray misters
11. intermittent windshield wipers
12. heated car seats
13. passenger side car air conditioning/heating controls
14. electric plug outlets under airplane seats (when available)
15. charging stations at airports
16. whipped cream in a can (my personal favorite. Yes, it’s been around a long time, but whipped cream to me is ambrosia of the gods)
17. trial/travel size health and beauty care products
18. ratchet screwdrivers
19. DVRs (and before them VCRs)
20. electric heated mattress pads
21. tasting stations at Costco
22. E-Z Pass

Okay, that’s my quick list. Your suggestions gratefully accepted.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Predictions Come True and Some Corrections

As I predicted, Black Friday madness turned violent. Reports of gunfire in South Carolina from a possible robbery in a parking lot and pepper-spraying by one shopper trying to diffuse the competition seeking an X-Box player in a California store vied for headlines with another pepper-spraying incident, this time by a security guard in North Carolina trying to retrieve a cell phone that had fallen from a display.

Rome had its Circus Maximus and then the Coliseum where the public was entertained for days on end by games, gladiator contests and pageantry. We have Black Friday and subsequent sales days from now till Christmas, and then the post-holiday clearance sales period. For some lighter fare, we have the continuing series of Republican Party presidential debates.

It’s hard to believe we’ve matured as a society from those ancient times.

Corrections: In my last blog on Cooper Union and Brooklyn College, I made several mistakes when writing about Open Admissions. So here’s a cleaned up version, thanks to Gilda’s keen editing eye and better memory:

Gilda and I attended Brooklyn College, the closest entity to free higher education. Back in the late 1960s, Brooklyn College and City College accepted only the best students, basically anyone with an A average. B students went to one of the other City University of New York schools, such as Hunter College or Queens College. Tuition at Brooklyn College each semester was $50 ($332 in current inflation adjusted dollars) plus the cost of books. Today, tuition is $2,565 per semester for matriculated full-time students. Since it was a commuter school, few if any students incurred housing costs.

Shortly before we graduated in 1971, the City University of New York initiated Open Admissions. Mostly anyone with a high school degree could attend. Brooklyn College began accepting students with less than an A average. Quality deteriorated. The grand experiment failed. The school has reverted to a more stringent admissions policy. I’m not familiar with Brooklyn College’s current academic standing, but when Gilda and I attended, it was a top notch liberal arts institution, virtually free to all who qualified.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Message on Eating Better, Hoarding and Free Tuition

With Thanksgiving upon us (mostly inside us by now), it’s hard to think about anything but food, so I’ll lead off with the thought that I eat better today than when I grew up because of TWA’s frequent flyer program.

Rarely did my mother’s dinner table exhibit any green-colored food item. The occasional broccoli head or asparagus spear showed up drooping in its limpness. My mother served no vegetable not thoroughly overcooked. I think she stayed away from serving green peas because they reminded her of my lousy eating habits. She claimed I drove her to return to full-time work in my father’s factory because I would throw back at her the peas she placed on my high chair tray.

Gilda had little success at first altering my diet. If meat and potatoes were sufficient for my father, they were good enough for me. All that changed about 10 years into our marriage. As an early member of TWA’s frequent flyer plan, I took advantage of first class upgrades when the elite section had seats available (back then just being a member of the program entitled you to free upgrades at no cost in miles).

During one transcontinental flight, the first class stewardess offered cold asparagus vinaigrette as an appetizer. Naturally, I passed, but then had second thoughts. Why not take full advantage of my first class status? It was a decision that changed my gastronomic outlook. I’d never before tasted properly prepared asparagus. Delicious. In short order I even became a delighted consumer of that most vile of childhood revulsions—Brussell sprouts. It helps that Gilda has become a gourmet cook.

The neurosis du jour is hoarding: At least three reality TV shows. Newspaper articles or columns such as the one Jane Brody wrote the other day in the NY Times (

I'm a semi hoarder. Gilda’s always complaining I never clean out the week’s worth of newspapers from the kitchen until recycling day. Yes, Your Honor, I’m mostly guilty of that transgression. And my desk is a magnet for all sorts of papers and junk. When it gets really cluttered I spend half an hour throwing out really old papers whose reason for keeping in the first place escapes me.

My hoarding habit centers mainly around various pieces of apparel. I’m partial to pocket T-shirts, so naturally I bought a rainbow’s worth of shirts. I’ve also never come across a coat department that didn’t tempt me. Accordingly, our front hall closet is chock full of coats and jackets chosen to keep me warm in gradations of 10 degrees in temperature, but I’m clueless as to which one to wear on any given day. I have separate pairs of gloves, and scarves, for each coat.

Later, rather than sooner, I wind up donating a good portion of my excess apparel to charity. But while it’s in our closets, Gilda gives the greatest gift a hoarder can receive—patience.

Free No More? One of the last citadels of free college education, New York City’s Cooper Union, may begin charging tuition to undergraduates for the first time since 1902 (

Gilda and I attended Brooklyn College, the closest entity to free higher education. Back in the late 1960s, Brooklyn College accepted only the best students, basically anyone with an A average. B students went to one of the other City University of New York schools, such as City College or Queens College. Tuition each semester was $50 ($332 in current inflation adjusted dollars) plus the cost of books. Today, tuition is $2,565 per semester for matriculated full-time students. Since it was a commuter school, few if any students incurred housing costs.

Shortly after we graduated in 1971, Brooklyn College initiated Open Admissions. Anyone with a high school degree could attend. Quality deteriorated. The grand experiment failed. The school has reverted to a more stringent admissions policy. I’m not familiar with Brooklyn College’s current academic standing, but when Gilda and I attended, it was a top notch liberal arts institution, virtually free to all who qualified.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taking the Pledge

The failure of the Congressional supercommittee to reach a deficit reduction compromise is being hailed and attacked as a victory for Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform organization. For those not familiar with Norquist and his outfit, they are dedicated to the proposition that the fewer the taxes levied on the public the better. Moreover, Norquist has signed up almost every Republican of note to a pledge never to vote for another tax increase. Thus, any compromise by GOP lawmakers that included additional taxes, especially on the wealthy, would have been a violation of the non-binding but politically pragmatic oath they signed.

Speaking to NPR today, Norquist discounted any criticism from members of the Grand Old Party, such as David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s budget director, that his pledge ran counter to the national interest. “They’re no longer Republicans,” he reasoned.

I won’t venture into purely Republican internal squabbles, but I would like to suggest an alternative to the no new taxes pledge. How’s about a pledge that in the richest country in the world we don’t let children go to sleep hungry; or that we provide workers with a livable wage; that we don’t allow corporate executives to reap huge bonuses while everyday workers are laid off or have their wages and benefits slashed; that we don’t reduce veterans’ benefits; that we provide affordable health care to all who need it; that we protect our citizens from unscrupulous corporate greed, unsafe products, pollution, and unsafe working conditions?

Conservatives would say I’m advocating a welfare state, that in this land of opportunity if you just worked hard you’d have everything you require or want without the need for government intervention or assistance. Sadly, they are not only mistaken, they are also ignorant, for history has shown time and again that without government oversight and control companies and individuals cheat, pollute, harm, oppress, violate the law and take advantage of the less fortunate. The argument that the free market will regulate offenders hardly compensates those who are offended, surely not in a timely manner.

Few people like to pay taxes. But the alternative is either anarchy or a system where the elite live well and the rest of society does not.

No Sympathy: I don’t have much sympathy, check that, I have no sympathy, for the laid off workers from the financial sector, as depicted in a NY Times article today (

Oodles and oodles of dollars were made over the last 20 years by Wall Street practitioners cobbling together mergers and acquisitions, LBOs and IPOs, managing hedge funds that only the wealthy could afford to invest in. At the end of the day, any day, though they made tons of money they hardly ever produced anything tangible, of lasting value. They destroyed as many companies as they saved.

Tell me, what child or teenager, except the Michael J. Fox character Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties, wakes up and says, “When I grow up I want to be an investment banker”? No, I’d wager the idea of Wall Street first entered their brain when they read or saw movies about the fast and luxurious life of financial honchos.

Assuming many of these unemployed financial types are good with numbers, perhaps they should reconnect with some down to earth values and look into teaching math. I understand there’s a real need for math teachers in many school districts.

I’m apparently not alone in my unsympathetic response. Check out the feedback to the original Times article:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Catching Up On My Reading

Sometimes I feel there’s just too much stuff to read. I marvel at those who have the time, perhaps I’m really envious of their inclination, to read books and magazines and newspapers and blogs and, oh, you get the picture. I thought today I’d comment on some articles of recent and not so recent vintage:

Earlier this month (Nov. 6) the NY Times magazine section did a short blurb on Switzerland joining other European countries and San Francisco in passing a law making it illegal to own just one guinea pig. Seems the critters are gregarious and prone to loneliness if they don’t have a mate, same sex or not, so the law is intended to avoid animal cruelty. I wonder if the writer, Jacob Goldstein, is aware that in her early journalism career Gail Collins, the paper’s Op-Ed columnist, and her husband Dan Collins, kept two guinea pigs. They named the fur balls Lionel and Stewart, after the owners of the New Haven Register, Lionel Jackson, and his son, Stewart. Dan and I were both reporters for the Register. Gail, at the time, ran an independent news service covering the Connecticut state legislature.

Spare the Rod: The next day The Times ran a story on the merits, and dangers, of spanking children. Followers of a Bible-belting (pun intended) preacher, Michael Pearl, have been accused of going too far in their administration of corporal punishment, resulting in the deaths of several children (

I was spanked as a young child. My rump felt the wrath of my parents’ hands when I misbehaved. My father threatened to use a belt, but never did. Merely unfastening his belt produced the desired effect from me and my siblings.

In justifying their physical discipline regimen, Pearl’s adherents often cite the Bible (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son”). Of course, many choose to focus on more tolerant and loving prescriptions from Scriptures. They recognize that some passages, such as the admonition to stone a stubborn and rebellious son at the gates of the city, are no longer acceptable behavior, unless you’re a Taliban or some other Islamic fanatic.

As for my two children, I don’t ever remember spanking them.

Payback Time: For all those NY Jets fans who disapproved of my schadenfreude moment when their team lost to the lowly Denver Broncos last Thursday, Sunday night was their moment of gleeful revenge as my NY Giants played ineptly in losing to the down and hopefully not resuscitated Philadelphia Eagles.

No Deal: It appears at this writing the Congressional supercommittee charged with finding a deficit reducing formula has been unable to accomplish its mission. Each side points to the recalcitrance of the other to compromise. Congress no longer is an institution where priority is given to the people’s business. Rather, members are more concerned with ideological purity and their ability to win re-election.

No less an observer than former Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist was quoted in The Times on Saturday thusly: “There was much more willingness (in the past) to reach across the aisle in a bipartisan manner for the good of the country as opposed to the next election.”

Black eyed Friday: USA Today, among others, is reporting a backlash by consumers and store personnel against retail companies that will be opening for business on Thanksgiving ( Just remember—I was among the first to rant against this despicable and demeaning practice (

What Would John Hughes Say? USA Today reported over the weekend the increase in high schools doing away with student lockers ( Don’t these well-meaning school administrators know they could be stifling the creative juices of the next film chronicler of American youth?

Learning the Trade: Sunday’s Times carried a story on the poor job law schools are doing preparing graduates for real world lawyering ( I’m not a lawyer, but I can relate to the predicament new attorneys face learning their trade.

After earning a master’s degree in newspaper journalism, I thought I was qualified to be a reporter. Until, that is, I covered my first Board of Selectmen meeting in Seymour, Conn., for the New Haven Register. Oh, I easily followed the reports on requests for more sewer lines and the need to replace police cars. But I was confounded (perhaps even dumbfounded) when the discussion turned to the town’s budget. The selectmen kept talking about “mill rates,” not a term ever mentioned in any of my journalism classes (by the way, my professors also never told us what a selectman was).

It was only when the selectmen excused the reporters present for a short period while they discussed in executive session some personnel matters that I was instructed in the finer points of Connecticut town finances by my kindly competitor from the Ansonia Sentinel. Property taxes on buildings, motor vehicles and other major capital goods such as boats funded town finances. Assessments were based on the value of property. The tax per dollar of assessed value was expressed in the mill rate. One mill was one-tenth of a cent ($0.001). Each governing municipality set its own mill rate every year based on the community’s overall budget needs. If Seymour had a mill rate of 20, for example, a house valued at $200,000 would be taxed at $4,000. If the town had to spend more money the following year for new police cars and other projects, the mill rate might jump to 23, meaning the taxes on that $200,000 home rose to $4,600.

It was all Greek to me that night, but it quickly taught me real-life reporting was much more mundane and complicated than the glorified depictions seen in the movies and on the nightly news.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sharing Some Values

Two days ago Finley marked his second birthday (we celebrated with him last Sunday). Gilda and I are so proud of the way Allison and Dan are raising him, of the choices they make, of the values they are imparting (for an update on how Finley’s doing, here’s a link to his blog:

Values. It’s a word much in the news these days, what with the presidential election and the jousting between Barack Obama, Democrats, Republicans and the Occupy Wall Streeters being daily fare in the media. To me, it seems some of our public servants have forgotten the meaning of, or warped the meaning of, values in our society. Expediency and brazen political pandering have trumped reason, consistency and caring.

I’m forever amazed that even our most conservative politicians do not understand poverty is not a choice people opt for, that living in a state of need is not a life choice, that being unemployed, often despite higher education degrees, is not a consequence of their laziness but rather the result of an economy that has cratered because the 1% of the population that controls the financial system screwed up. Was it wrong for people to want a home, to want to live the American Dream they had been told they were entitled to all their lives, even if they knew in their guts they were getting in over their heads? Probably. But are they more or less culpable than the people, those one-percenters, who advanced them the monies to go deep into debt and who rigged the system to benefit themselves if the poor souls defaulted on their mortgages? Anyone with a decent sense of values would have no trouble answering that question.

How could anyone turn their backs on the hungry? Just come down and observe the needy, as I did today after dropping off our monthly donation to the White Plains Food Pantry. Her budgets have been cut, and more people are applying for relief, said Lorraine, the director of the food bank. As if oblivious to the plight of their fellow Americans, another civic group was spreading tablecloths for a nice luncheon in the same room where dozens of thankful recipients waited for their weekly bags of groceries. They couldn’t wait to move us out of the way, said Lorraine.

In what still might be the richest country on earth, more than one in five young Americans live in poverty, a million more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. How shameful.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has evoked many conflicting responses, but insensitivity to the economic polarization afflicting our society, and that of other countries, is among the most repugnant. Sure there are some who joined the demonstrations because they were looking for a good time. Or they were ”professional” protesters. But the vast majority were down on the luck Americans who either cannot get a job or are underpaid and cannot meet all their obligations.

Congress rightfully criticizes the exorbitant pay handed out to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac public service executives. But nary a word is expressed about the gazillions made on Wall Street. Virtually no one has been held accountable for the banking and mortgage debacles of the last few years.

Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R,C-NY) said Tuesday the OWS “people have overstayed their welcome and it’s time they get the heck out of New York City. Between the filth, the smell, the incessant noise, and threat to public safety, they have done nothing but cause a nuisance to the people who work and live in Lower Manhattan. They’ve cost the city and surrounding businesses millions of dollars, and it’s time these people find a more productive use of their time. New Yorkers have had ENOUGH!...It has been two months and now it’s time for the OWS protesters to pack up their tents, buy a bar of soap, and head home.”

No mistaking Grimm’s grim sentiments about the value of the OWS protest. I just wonder what he would have thought of the colonial protests against British rule. Does he think our forefathers were united from the get-go in their beliefs, that they were organized in their demands, that it was all kumbaya in Valley Forge and Philadelphia?

Perhaps Grimm would do well to study this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”

A most interesting comment was aired during Wednesday’s Brian Lehrer show on NPR. “In 1998, capitalism defeated communism. In 2008, capitalism defeated democracy.”

On a Lighter Note: Am I the only person in America who never watched Regis Philbin with either Kathie Lee Gifford or Kelly Ripa? ... I’m not proud of it, but I admit to some schadenfreude after watching the NY Jets lose to the Denver Broncos last night. I really don’t like the Jets. Never have. Go Giants. ... I was never happier to gain 2-1/2 lbs. than I was this morning. When I first stepped on the scale I was lighter than a week ago, cause of alarm as I had not dieted and could think of no reason except unknown illness for the sudden loss of weight. After shifting the scale to a different spot on our tiled bathroom floor, my true weight reappeared. Phew.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Down Memory Lane

I was less than enthusiastic about what Gilda was set to do. I couldn't stop her from knocking on the front door of the home we lived in 38 years ago in Seymour, Conn. I'm glad she did. She is so much braver than I when it comes to nostalgia tours and necessary, potentially embarrassing, intrusions if one truly wants to go back in time and place.

With our lucky 11:11 date buttressing our plan, Gilda and I set out last Friday to retrace our early roots together, our first four years of married life when I was a cub reporter and then a bureau chief for the New Haven Register and Gilda was a nursing student at the University of Bridgeport and then a newborn intensive care nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

We drove up Route 8 from Bridgeport to Shelton, my second year beat assignment and scene of the largest industrial arson in U.S. history. We had just gone to bed Saturday night, March 1, 1975, in our Seymour apartment when my boss, Don Anderson, called from nearby Ansonia to ask what I was doing home when half of downtown Shelton was ablaze. I quickly rushed to the fire and stayed there most of the night as the Sponge Rubber Products Company plant (formerly owned by B.F. Goodrich) burned down. Authorities quickly determined it was a case of arson and who did it. But the already depressed economy of the Lower Naugatuck Valley towns of Shelton, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby took a hit as 1,200 jobs were lost. Today, the site of the factory is a park along the Housatonic River.

Driving over the aptly named Bridge Street, we made out way into downtown Derby. Thirty-nine years ago, as I drove through Derby for the first time during my job hunting travels, I thought it looked like Dresden after World War II, with dark, hulking, dilapidated buildings blotting out the sun. Hours later, when the co-managing editor of the New Haven Register, Murray Farber, offered me a job, he said the assignment would be covering Seymour and Derby. I inwardly cringed at the prospect of revisiting Derby on a daily basis but quickly accepted the $150 a week position ($773 in today’s values).

Derby’s downtown is brighter today. Gone are the turn of the 20th century buildings along the riverfront. Though still not vibrant, the area is less depressing. Deeper into the city, along Elizabeth Street, Griffin Hospital, where Gilda did some of her nursing school training, where they clung to the tradition of wearing uniform hats and pins, where the nursing stations were at the far end of each corridor and the head nurses ruled with iron fists, the hospital still stands and is now affiliated with the Yale School of Medicine.

Also on Elizabeth Street is the now shuttered Dworkin Chevrolet where we bought our first car, a Vega, in 1973. A few blocks closer to the downtown the temple we attended, Beth Israel, has been turned into a New Life Community Church, the only outward sign of its previous calling being the Hebrew words etched into the façade near the roof: “The world stands on three things: justice, truth and peace." It was in Beth Israel that we sat with other congregants Yom Kippur morning 1973 wondering about and praying for the fate of Israel after the surprise attacks by Syria and Egypt.

The women of Beth Israel always were amazed Gilda had met and married a Jewish man at college. She’d gently respond that with 95% of Brooklyn College’s 30,000 student population being Jewish it would have been hard not to find a mate from the “chosen” religion.

As we drove north toward Ansonia, we passed the restaurant where we’d treat ourselves to a meal away from home, the McDonald’s on Division Street straddling the border with Derby. Spector Furniture in Ansonia is still open for business. We bought our first TV there, a Magnavox, plus a desk we still have, now consigned to our garage. Around the corner, the Register’s bureau office is long closed. It was in that office I first heard the phrase “to Jew someone down.” It was not a saying common to the Brooklyn shtetl I grew up in.

Before visiting our first home, we entered downtown Seymour, dominated by a post office two to three times the size required for a town of 13,000. As related by local historians, the town benefited from a bureaucratic mistake. Seems the post office the head of the congressional oversight committee had earmarked for his hometown of Seymour, Ind., had mistakenly been erected in Seymour, Conn.

The locals are trying to remake downtown Seymour into an artsy community, with antique and curio shops. They need more restaurants, though the one we lunched in, Jimmie’s Place, was a classic throwback saloon with lobster roll, French fries and cole slaw for $8.99, a hard to beat price.

The house we lived in had been divided into a two-family dwelling. We had three rooms on the first floor: a big country kitchen where Gilda learned to cook, a living room and a bedroom with bright red walls when we first moved in but quickly painted over to reflect Gilda’s more refined sensibilities. Upstairs, our landlord’s daughter and son-in-law lived.

As I stood at the bottom of the porch steps, Gilda knocked on the door. The twenty-something woman who opened the door cheerfully let us in. Her big dog, and really big husband, gave her the confidence we weren’t going to harm her. Their family had bought the house from the previous owner and converted it back to a one family home. Our bedroom was now an office. The kitchen had been expanded and updated. They seemed happy there.

As we drove to and through New Haven where we lived for two years in a subdivided Tudor mansion off Forest Road (Gilda’ couldn’t gain access to that apartment unit), we reflected on how far we had come during the last 39 years. More on that, perhaps, another day.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Eleven

Look at your calendar. It’s the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the millennium.

For Gilda and me it couldn’t be a more auspicious day for, you see, 11 is our lucky number, and by extension so is 11:11 and 11:11:11. It began our first night of marriage in our first apartment in Seymour, Conn., nearly 39 years ago. As we cuddled in bed, we glanced at one of our wedding presents, a digital alarm clock, the type back then that flipped over numbers in the way airport terminals would display flight information. The clock had been a gift from one of my father’s friends from Israel. The clock read 11:11.

Since then we’ve noticed how elevens have intersected our lives. I am 11 days older than Gilda. In 1984, we moved into our current house, 11 years after we married. The street address number is 11. Dan’s favorite NY Giants football player growing up, Phil Simms, wore number 11 on his uniform. It’s the number Dan has always chosen for his sports activities. Dan and Allison started dating 11 years ago. My mother’s birthday was November 11.

Today’s Veterans’ Day, a time to remember all who selflessly devoted their energies and sometimes their lives in defense of our freedoms and those of many oppressed people. Gilda and I won’t forget them, but we’ll also commemorate the special intersection of elevens with our lives together.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Corruption of Power

I’m continuously amazed by the random confluence of real world events and aspects of my life and those close to me. Monday I wrote about Gilda’s link to Magic Johnson’s announcement 20 years ago that he was HIV+. Gilda had been part of a research study back then that showed the HIV virus could not be transmitted via sweat, meaning Johnson and other players need not worry about close body contact during a basketball game.

Today, as I was riding around listening to sports radio talk show hosts comment on the horrific alleged child sex abuse incidents at Penn State University and their belief that long-time coach Joe Paterno should resign or be fired before this Saturday’s game because of his moral failure to pursue the charges against his long-time assistant and friend Jerry Sandusky, I realized the team’s next game is against the University of Nebraska. Ellie’s fiancé, Donny, is from Omaha. He and his family are BIG Cornhusker fans.

As I write this the university board of trustees has just decided Paterno cannot retire at season’s end under his own terms. They voted his immediate dismissal. If I had a vote, I’d have cast it for immediate termination.

While details of Sandusky’s alleged child molestations have come out, including eye witness accounts, it is fascinating to note the parallel reporting of the alleged sexual bias charges leveled against Herman Cain. It might have been plausible to think one woman could be delusional, or motivated by self-interest or revenge for a perceived slight. But now that five women have become part of the record, it is more plausible that Cain is a serial abuser. Perhaps he doesn’t see his behavior as such. After all, anyone who can say he was joking about electrocuting illegal aliens as they try to come across our border, might not realize the impact his words and actions have. As the head of the powerful National Restaurant Association, and before that as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, he possessed power over these women.

Power. As the saying goes, it corrupts. Paterno at Penn State was considered a king, the most powerful man in Pennsylvania. Cain had power, the power to provide employment, or take it away. What does it say about Cain that he does not remember any of the incidents raised by the five women, that he had difficulty recalling settlements in several of the cases, that he couldn’t remember acknowledging the settlements some 10 years ago when he first sought elective office? What does it say about Paterno for not alerting police to the alleged monstrous behavior of his subordinate? Have we learned nothing from the scandals within the Catholic Church, that we should immediately report alleged abusive acts to the police?

Here’s another sign of how deeply troubled and wrong-centered we are as a country: Scott Pelley on the CBS Evening News tonight devoted 23 seconds to Tuesday’s elections in Mississippi and Ohio, results that have wide implications on national politics. In Mississippi, voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution that would have set the beginning of life at fertilization. In Ohio, voters rejected efforts by the Republican governor to limit collective bargaining rights for public employees.

While those two stories got a combined 23 seconds of air time, Pelley devoted 20 seconds to news that Eddie Murphy had resigned as host of next year’s Academy Awards telecast, a story more appropriate to Entertainment Tonight than the evening news.

The news just gets dumber and dumber.

Monday, November 7, 2011

This Magic Moment

Perhaps you heard him on some sports radio talk shows today commemorating the 20th anniversary of the day he, Magic Johnson, one of the premier basketball players of his and all-time, stunned the world by announcing he was HIV+. Unlike other HIV+ celebrities, such as Rock Hudson, Johnson was at the peak of his career, leading a vibrant life. He was still an active member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Magic’s admission helped transform the public perception of HIV patients. Johnson became the face of HIV and its successful treatment.

Twenty years ago Gilda was the research coordinator of the Division of Infectious Disease at NY Medical College/Westchester County Medical Center. She studied Hepatitis, Lyme Disease, and HIV, contributing to numerous research papers.

Among the first studies she worked on was one that directly affected Magic Johnson and all other athletes. The study explored whether the HIV virus could be transmitted through sweat. To gather the sweat, HIV patients were placed in steam rooms. Their sweat dripped into plastic gloves to be tested.

The bottom line: HIV was not passed on by sweat. It was safe for Johnson and other athletes to continue playing together without fear of contracting HIV from the sweat of an infected player.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Marathon Man and Other Sports Updates

It’s NY Marathon Sunday.

I’ve never run a marathon, never took up jogging for that matter. Bad for the knees, I always reasoned, only to have my precautions wasted. My knees were assaulted during a basketball game some 15 years ago when they hooked up with a much stronger set than mine. Knee on knee contact is supposed to be among the most intense of injuries. I wasn’t bothered by the contact when it occurred but within two years I underwent surgery on my left knee. After returning to the hardwood upon completing my rehabilitation, my right knee started acting up. Rather than undergo another operation, I stopped playing basketball. It was no big loss to the game James Naismith invented.

My physical problems not being the intended reason for this blog, let me continue with my marathon memory. Gilda’s brother Carl did run marathons, so one Marathon Sunday some three decades ago we decided to brave the chilly weather and cheer him on. We waited behind blue police barricades at the 20-mile point, up in the Bronx. Carl was a good runner. We expected him to pass within an hour of the leaders.

We waited and waited for nearly four hours. No Carl. Numb from the chill and hungry, we headed home, figuring Carl must have pulled up lame before our vantage point. Being pre-cell phone days, we had to wait until we returned home to contact him.

Turned out Carl was not injured, that he indeed had kept to his expected pace. But the stress of the race had so contorted his image that we didn’t recognize him as he loped by. Ah, well...

Carl doesn’t run marathons anymore, but he jogs almost daily with his German shepherd dog Pas in Riverside Park and environs.

Swimming Update: I still need water wings. Or those pastel water noodles to stay afloat. A couple of things conspired to thwart my effort to learn to swim last summer.

First, my friendly, competent instructor Ken and I couldn’t maintain a consistent lesson schedule. I think it had something to do with Ken and his need to go to something he called “work.” We managed just three lessons, including the one where Ken had to “rescue” me in deep water. Perhaps that led to reason number two—Ken needed angioplasty shortly thereafter. Well, there’s always next year, but I’m going to insist Ken take a physical before he gets back into the water.

Kim and Kris: If you’re waiting for my thoughts on the nuptuals that are no more, sorry to disappoint you. I do hope, however, the public is not being set up for a spin-off reality series on Kris Humphries’ comeback attempt to be Mr. Kim Kardashian or his battle to re-enter the real world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Green Giant Chevy Vega

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet, that iconic American automobile brand.

The first car Gilda and I bought with our own money was a Chevy Vega. In 1973, we paid Dworkin Chevrolet in Derby, Conn., $2,100 ($10,188 in today’s dollars) for the privilege of driving a four-cylinder, forest green hatchback. We took out a 9% two-year $1,800 car loan. My parents were upset we didn’t borrow the money from them, but we reasoned we needed to establish a credit history to enhance our chances of securing a mortgage one day.

I loved riding around in that car. It was not peppy, but it reliably got me where I wanted to go despite an on again-off again oil leak common to many aluminum-engined Vegas. Plus, the hatchback proved useful in toting things, especially tree limbs I would find along the roadside for the wood-burning stove we installed in our first house in White Plains seven years later.

It was at that house our son Dan had his first driving experience at the tender age of 4. While I raked autumn leaves, Dan sat in the Vega’s driver’s seat with the car parked in the sloped driveway near the closed garage. He somehow managed to engage the gear shift. Fortunately, the car stopped as soon as it rammed into a panel of the garage door. It was hard to tell who was more shaken by the experience, Dan or his parents.

Since the Vega didn’t have air conditioning (I foolishly believed the salesman that a/c wasn’t necessary in Connecticut), I installed a small fan to the dashboard. I added a Citizen Band radio during the CB craze 30 years ago, playfully giving my handle as the Green Giant.

In 1986 as I waited to make a left turn in downtown White Plains while picking up some last minute supplies for Gilda’s Passover seder meal, the Vega was rear-ended by a teenage driver who mistook the accelerator for the brake pedal. I wasn’t hurt, but the back of my car was crunched into the rear wheels. I had it fixed but the Vega was never the same. My brother-in-law needed a car to drive to Camden, NJ, every day, so we arranged for him to take title after I made one last business trip in it to New Jersey. As I approached the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel the muffler fell off. By the time I reached the Manhattan corner where I was to give the Vega to my brother-in-law, the car could barely travel more than half a block without stalling. Clearly my Vega was sending a message our time together was over.

Driving Blocks: I’m six feet tall, Gilda almost a foot shorter, so it was not easy finding a car we both felt comfortable driving. In 1979, within a year after Dan was born, Gilda could no longer abide the Buick Regal my father had given us a few years before in exchange for the red Buick Skylark Gilda had learned to drive in and had lovingly named Bertha. We embarked on a car buying excursion that reached its height of frustration at a local Chevy dealer. When Gilda complained she couldn’t reach the pedals even when the seat was positioned as close as possible, the salesman countered that other short people had no problem. Further, if she really had a problem she could have wooden blocks installed to raise the level of the brake and accelerator pedals.

We quickly beat a retreat from the dealership and found joy with a Datsun (now called Nissan) Sentra wagon. Perhaps it was because Japanese are generally shorter than Americans, it was eye-opening to sit in a car that easily accommodated our different heights. Maybe that’s one reason Japanese cars enjoyed such success in America over the last 30 years.

Copycat Cain: So how upset or flattered should I be that one day after I wrote about Herman Cain’s presidential aspirations the NY Times co-opted my headline “Cain Not Able” for a column by Maureen Dowd (

I don't think its a copyright violation, just another example you no longer need to rely on The Times for commentary.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cain Not Able

Whether you believe the accusations of sexual misconduct by Herman Cain or his protestations of innocence, the tempest at long last shines a light on his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association. Contrary to a NY Times article last Thursday suggesting Cain has no legislative or political track record, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza has an extensive history of anti-working class positions.

As the chief lobbyist for the NRA and before that as an influential member and president of the trade group, Cain diligently worked to oppose minimum wage hikes, health care provisions for workers, and other progressive legislation. He championed libertarian causes. As someone who allied the NRA with tobacco interests, it is not surprising he did not object to the recent ad on his Web site featuring chief of staff Mark Block smoking a cigarette.

I know Cain appeals to voters as a supposed Washington outsider. Plus, his career as a motivational speaker provides him a glibness not found in almost all of the other candidates. I am perplexed, however, how anyone who has looked into his record, or listened to his ill-considered responses to questions, could support him, unless they were millionaires or regressive thinkers. The presidential primary run is intended to flesh out a candidate’s thoughts, yet Cain has indicated he will limit public speaking engagements so as not to self-inflict foot-in-the-mouth disease with erroneous or flawed thoughts.

Cain is an interesting diversion, but clearly he is not able to be, or capable of being, president of the United States.

Can You Hear Me Now? The other day while washing my hands in a local office building’s public restroom, a man came in to use the facilities and continued a business conversation on his cell phone. I was astounded.

Sometimes my cell phone rings in a public restroom. If it’s a family member, I’ll reluctantly answer. But I’d never answer for anyone else. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I just don’t understand how anyone would conduct a business call in a public bathroom. How would you explain that gushing sound from the next stall? Has our collective etiquette been flushed down the toilet?

Winter Wonderland?: Not exactly, given all the broken tree limbs from the late October snowfall that hit the northeast. Even before the storm I was amused to see at least two locations, one a residence, the other a professional office building, decked out in Christmas lights. Halloween had not yet passed. Gimme a break.

Speaking of Halloween, once again my best laid plans to provide candy to the trick-or-treaters came up short. Only one kid ventured out Monday night, and she came at 8:30! Perhaps it was the snow, or the down power line halfway up the block that scared away the little beggars.

Back to Christmas, I’ll go on record again as being against plans by retail companies to prime customers to rush to their stores on Black Friday, or in this year’s case, at midnight at the end of Thanksgiving Day. Sure, there will be many too-good-to-pass-up sales, which in turn will cause some to literally crush the competition (i.e., other customers) on their mad rush to scoop up as many bargains as possible. We’ll be lucky if no deaths or serious injuries befall any customers or store personnel, as happened a few years ago at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, NY.

Most people’s wallets are hurting, given the high unemployment and their reduced buying power. It’s understandable they will be enticed by sharp deals. But why must we as a society condone and perpetuate behavior akin to beasts tearing at the flesh of prey? Why must we turn our holidays into a circus of greed and animus toward fellow shoppers?

Aside from the depravity retailers encourage among customers, they also subject their staffs to work conditions most of us would not tolerate if we had a choice. How many among us want to leave our families to work on national holidays, or start a shift at midnight? I guess when most store personnel are working at minimum wage or just slightly better they have little choice but to accept the assignment, even if it’s at time and a half.

It all makes for good television news spectacle, crowds gathered around a store, especially if the weather is inclement and their tribulations are multiplied. Many TV reports will try to divine a sales trend. Black Friday, however, years ago stopped being a harbinger of holiday season sales. Now it is just a cruel manifestation of the class division that has cleaved our country. When was the last time you saw Neiman Marcus, or Bergdorf Goodman, or Tiffany, or Gump’s open for business in the middle of the night? No, the rich can shop during civilized hours. The rest of America, the 99%, must fight for discounts in the middle of the night.

A Thoughtful Goodbye: Robert Pierpoint, a longtime CBS News correspondent, died last week. He was 86. I met Pierpoint in 1972 during his tenure as a White House correspondent. His office was a little larger than a phone booth, but he invited me in to discuss the thesis of a term paper I was researching for my master’s degree in journalism. I always appreciated his hospitality and reporting.