Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Super Bowl Crystal Ball

It was media day of Super Bowl week in Indianapolis today. I am not an accredited journalist for the ultimate football game of the year, nor did I go out of my way to listen to the drivel emanating from the heartland about the Super Bowl. But I will give you my prognostications about the contest between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady and the Patriots will employ a no-huddle offense from the beginning of the game in an effort to tire the most dominant part of the Giants defense, its pass rush. Only if the Pats take a lead will Brady revert to a traditional huddle offense.

As this year New England has mostly thrown short passes, early on the Pats will attempt some deep pass patterns in an effort to loosen up the planned tight Giants pass coverage. The Giants have been victimized by the long ball all year, including the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, so Brady will try to land some bombs.

Also look for the Patriots to throw more than a usual amount of passes to running backs as top tight end Rob Gronkowski will play at less than optimum level because he will not have sufficiently recovered from a high left ankle sprain sustained during the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Half-time score: Giants 10, Patriots 7.

Contrary to popular thinking that the Giants will be pass-happy against a less than highly regarded Patriot pass defense, the Giants will work early to establish a bruising running game. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will anchor a running attack that will rack up at least 130 yards.

Tight ends will play a big part in the New York offense, at least 6 catches. Eli Manning will throw one touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks; Bradshaw will score on a six-yard run.

The Giants will have to settle for three field goals from inside the red zone as the much-maligned Patriot defense stiffens inside the 20 yard line.

Brady will be sacked in the end zone for a safety. He’ll also be stuffed on a fourth down quarterback sneak late in the first half or the game.

Final score: Giants 25, Patriots 17.

MVP: Ahmad Bradshaw.

Now that you know the outcome of the game, you can relax and concentrate on the commercials.

Monday, January 30, 2012

GOP Dilemma: Party or Country First?

Florida Republicans will troop to the polls Tuesday (ok, maybe some of them will roll in wheelchairs or shuffle along using walkers, while others drive in pick-up trucks with gun racks) to provide the latest answer to a dilemma facing their counterparts across the country—are they more interested in choosing a presidential standard bearer who could attract a spectrum of support among independents and even some Democrats, or are they more interested in ideological conservative purity deeply tinged with personal and emotional failings?

Polls show Mitt Romney comfortably ahead of Newt Gingrich by double digit figures. The perception of electability, along with confidence he would not be as divisive as Gingrich, his business background and his stain-free past (other than, in the repetitive refrain of Gail Collins of the NY Times, driving to Canada for a vacation with his dog strapped to the roof of the family car) make Romney a formidable challenger to President Obama’s re-election. True, there’s not much passion behind his candidacy, but it’s rare to see an automaton provoke deep feelings in humans.

Gingrich, on the other hand, stirs emotions. He is the personification of the “tumulter,” a term from many languages identifying someone who thrives on “the commotion or agitation of a multitude, usually accompanied with great noise, uproar, and confusion of voices; hurly-burly; noisy confusion.”

The former House speaker says he will stay in the race all the way to the GOP convention (or, more realistically, until the Adelsons stop funding his campaign). If he continues to rile up the conservative base against Romney he’ll be doing double-barreled damage. First, he’ll be providing fodder to Obama’s campaign. There’s nothing better than using fellow Republican smears to smear your Republican opponent in the general election. Obama benefits regardless of who becomes the GOP nominee.

Second, and perhaps more troubling for Romney, will be the cumulative effect on the hard-core right wing of the Republican/Tea Party. Will arch conservatives, evangelical Christians, have enough passion (read that, hatred) in their hearts against Obama to swallow hard, hold their noses and vote for Romney if he’s the candidate, or will they stay home?

Back in 1964, moderate Republicans abandoned the party’s nominee, Barry Goldwater, and voted for President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968, lots of disaffected Democrats failed to rally in time to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, letting Richard Nixon eke out a narrow victory. In 1976, President Gerald Ford couldn’t command enough Ronald Reagan-inspired conservatives to beat back a challenge by Jimmy Carter. Vice President Al Gore couldn’t attract enough of Ralph Nader’s ardent environmental supporters nationwide in 2000 to prevent George W. Bush from eventually getting the keys to the White House handed to him by the U.S. Supreme Court after the hanging chad fiasco in Florida.

Nothing will be decided tomorrow except who gets Florida’s 50 convention votes. But the size of Gingrich’s tally might provide an indication of how strong the anti-Romney sentiment is and whether the GOP in the fall will be able to mount a full-frontal, broadly coordinated assault on the White House’s current occupant.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Entertainment Edition

To celebrate our 39th anniversary, Gilda and I last night went to see Relatively Speaking, three one-act plays by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen exploring relationships. Would we recommend it? Let’s just say it was a good thing we bought the tickets as part of Broadway’s two-for-one winter promotion.

One of the delightful aspects of the Woody Allen playlet, Honeymoon Motel, was the chance once again to see Richard Libertini perform on stage. Gilda and I first saw Libertini in Paul Sill’s Story Theater back in 1971, a series of vignettes based on fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm.

Seeing the same actor over a span of 40 years is part of the amazing arc of live theater. Libertini is easily recognized. A balding, gangly actor with a melancholy demeanor that belies his comic antics, he’s made a career of playing character parts, most notably General Garcia, the insane Latin-American dictator, in the original film of The In-Laws starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, and spiritual advisor Prahka Lasa in All of Me, with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin.

Recognizing actors on stage or screen is easy. Identifying them in public is harder. If I say so myself, I’m good at it, at least for, shall we say, actors who are not young, pop culture phenoms. A year or so ago, as audience members milled about during intermission of a Playwrights Horizons play, I walked over to shake the hand of a slightly older gentleman not arousing interest from any other theatergoer. As Gilda and our friends Ken and Jane looked on, I told him I saw him perform more than 46 years ago as Motel the Tailor in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Austin Pendleton was grateful for the recognition so many years later, both for his acting and for being recognized and remembered.

The Fourth Troubador: Dick Kniss died last week. For those not familiar with the name, he was, in the words of a NY Times obituary, the stand-up bass player who became “a veritable fourth member of the folk-singing trio” Peter, Paul and Mary.

Always standing behind and usually to stage left (the audience’s right) of the featured folksingers, Kniss enjoyed a following of his own among Peter, Paul and Mary devotees, among whom I number myself. As I wrote back in September 2009 when Mary Travers passed away, my friends and I were responsible for Kniss missing a beat during one of their concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

We were there on a day off from our summer-camp counselor jobs. Sitting in first row center seats, we caught Kniss’ eye and started a silent dialogue with him, distracting him enough to miss a beat in a song, the name of which escapes me.

As you can read from his obituary, it probably was one of the few times in his career Kniss made a musical mistake (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/28/arts/music/dick-kniss-bassist-for-peter-paul-and-mary-is-dead-at-74.html?_r=1&hpw).

Into the Woods: This summer, in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, one of my favorite musicals will be revived. Like Paul Sill’s Story Theater, the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine creation Into the Woods is based on Grimm fairy tales. But with a twist. The second act depicts the not-so-happily-ever-after lives of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack of beanstalk fame and assorted prince charmings, courtiers and ordinary townsfolk, including a baker and his wife. Gilda and I saw Into the Woods shortly after it opened in 1987. When PBS broadcast a production of the play in 1991, I taped it for Ellie, who was 10 at the time.

She viewed it often. During a play date with a friend one day she asked if they could watch the tape. I set it up and went outside to do some yard work, only to be surprised when they emerged from the house about an hour later. When I asked why they weren’t still watching, Ellie said the tape was over. It dawned on me that during all her previous viewings Ellie had never realized there was a second act.

Perhaps it was wrong to disabuse her of the fantasy that all stories end sweetly. Perhaps it could have waited until she was a few years older. I reacted before fully thinking through the consequences, ushering them both back into the house to watch the dark conclusion of Into the Woods.

I can’t rightly say Ellie or her friend were traumatized by the second act. Ellie’s passion for Into the Woods continued. About five years later Ellie played the baker’s wife in a Play Group Theater production of Into the Woods. It was one of many leading lady parts that defined her teenage acting years.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Wife's Better Than Yours

Did it surprise you that all of the remaining Republican presidential hopefuls think their current wives would make suitable first ladies? (I say “current” in deference to Newt Gingrich’s prior two wives, the second of which he left because he reportedly did not feel she was fit enough to hang around with him in the White House, the way he feels about current squeeze Callista.)

During last night’s 19th GOP presidential primary debate, the candidates were asked why their wives would make great first ladies. I turned off the television right before they answered, reasoning it would be fluff. But when I viewed it this morning (here’s a link: http://dailycaller.com/2012/01/26/gop-candidates-gush-about-their-wives-gingrich-points-out-callista-is-artistic/), I realized there was more insight into the candidates from their responses than from almost anything else they said last night or in prior confrontations.

Ron Paul had the least to say about his wife of 54 years, with another anniversary coming up February 1. Carol has been a mother to their five children and grandmother to 18. Paul’s “aw, shucks” attitude reflected his homespun values. He plugged the Ron Paul Cookbook she authored.

Mitt Romney’s condescension of the common man came through immediately. After Paul took just 19 seconds to praise his wife, Romney started his 87-second dissertation by saying he would take a little more time and be more serious. To his credit (?), he quickly realized his gaffe and apologized to Paul for dissing his response. Ann Romney, he said, is a real champion and fighter, having survived multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. Unspoken, but clearly obvious to anyone who has followed Gingrich’s marital history, is Romney’s allegiance to his wife of 42 years, while Gingrich walked out on his first two wives during their periods of illness (cancer and multiple sclerosis). Romney also used his wife’s beliefs to encourage marriage before babies.

Newt Gingrich came off as the Uriah Heep of presidential prospects, pandering to one and all. Earlier in the debate Romney accused him of shifting his message and promising multi-million programs based on the states he was visiting. Now, answering CNN’s Wolf Blitzer’s question, Gingrich fawned over all the wives, acknowledging their credentials to be first lady (of course, he doesn’t believe their husbands would make great presidents, compared to him, that is).

For 80 seconds he gushed over Callista, his wife of 11 years, and her artistic bent, saying she would encourage the study of arts in education. How that jibes with budget-slashing efforts across the country to remove art and music programs from school curricula was not addressed. But Gingrich did manage to slip in a veiled thrust at current first lady Michelle Obama when he said his wife was “very patriotic about American exceptionalism.”

Passion has been one of the hallmarks of Rick Santorum’s candidacy. It clearly came out when talking for two minutes, two seconds about his wife of more than 20 years (by the way, CNN, would it have been too much trouble to display a still picture of Karen in her absence from the debate audience?). The Santorums have gone through a lot—one of their eight children dying two hours after birth, their youngest suffering from a genetic disorder.

Santorum speaks from the heart when he espouses family and religious values. No one can judge personal decisions made by another, but I found myself wondering about Karen Santorum’s drive and career—a neo-natal intensive care nurse for nine years who went on to earn a law degree. “And then when she got married, she gave that up, she walked away and walked into something that she felt called to do, which was to be a mom and to be a wife,” said Santorum.

I’m a little uncomfortable with anybody “called to do” something.

On another personal note, Gilda and I will celebrate 39 years of marriage tomorrow. As I’m not running for president, she has no chance of becoming the nation’s first lady. She’ll just have to continue her role as first lady (and chief executive) of our household.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Economic Lessons From An Early Age

Choo Choo Coleman is back in town.

I wasn’t a NY Mets fan growing up, nor at present, but I saw Choo Choo play for the Mets in the old Polo Grounds, the team’s first home before Shea Stadium and now Citi Field rose in Flushing Meadows. It was at the Polo Grounds I witnessed first-hand the mastery of Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the Polo Grounds, pitchers would warm up before the game near their respective dugouts. As Koufax warmed up, my brother and I made our way to the front row. I still can visualize the 12-to-6 curveballs Koufax spun during his warm-ups, hear the thumps of his fastballs as they hit the catcher’s mitt.

Choo Choo (nobody called him Coleman) came back to New York for the first time since 1966 to be a featured guest at baseball memorabilia shows and a baseball writers’ dinner (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/sports/baseball/mets-choo-choo-coleman-50-years-later.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=sports).

One of the foundations of any sports show is the showcasing and trading of baseball cards. Like most youngsters I had a massive baseball card collection, cleaned out one day by my mother. I didn’t have a hard to secure Rogers Hornsby card, but I had my fair share of Mickey Mantles, Yogi Berras, Roberte Clementes and Stan Musials.

Baseball cards were not just for collecting. They were also for playing with, often in ways that were sort of like gambling. Just like pitching pennies, where the winner is the one who flicked a penny closest to the wall, kids would cast cards toward a wall. A variation on this game was tossing a card towards a wall already targeted by your opponent; if your card landed on top of your opponent’s, you claimed his card. If it didn’t, he took yours.

Another game entailed holding a card to a wall and letting it tumble down. Your opponent won your card if his fell on top of yours. He lost his if it didn’t.

A fourth game was dropping cards from your hand to match the front or back of your opponent’s cards. One trick we used—if you wanted the card to land on its picture side, you’d hold the card with the back facing out. Fifth game variation: dropping cards from a wall, your opponent trying to match the fronts and backs.

Baseball cards were not just gambling devices. Using clothes pins, kids affixed cards to bicycle wheel spokes to make clicking noises while speeding through neighborhoods. Of course, I didn't do this because I never learned to ride a two-wheeler as a child.

Cards were also used to set up a defensive field in a game of marble baseball. If a batted marble rolled to a pre-determined spot on the field without first touching a card, you reached base safely. But if a marble skimmed over a card, you were out.

Perhaps the greatest contribution baseball cards made to the youth of America was their part in our education into the ways of capitalism.

Baseball cards were our currency of exchange We learned about supply and demand. We learned not all cards had equal value. We learned how to trade for the cards we wanted. We learned how to be good losers. We learned how to size up the competition, how to stay away from sharpies, how to exploit suckers. We learned fortunes could be won or lost in an hour. We learned sometimes it's the smart thing to walk away during a hot streak, that success can be fleeting if based on the flip of a card.

We learned, ultimately, that not everyone shared our values, that what we thought was gold our mothers thought was trash.

We learned to forgive, at least on the outside, but never to forget the simple joys of baseball cards.

And lest anyone think I'd forgotten, mom also threw out my comic book collection.

Monday, January 23, 2012

GOP's Last Stand

Regardless of who secures the Republican party presidential nomination, one overriding compulsion the Grand Old Party has is to hold back the sands of time. The election of 2012, according to Thomas Byrne Edsall, an academic and 25-year political reporter for The Washington Post, might well be the last chance for conservatives before demographic changes (more Latinos and Asians, more younger voters) deny them the opportunity to win national elections.

Speaking on NPR’s Leonard Lopate radio show last week, Edsall said if Republicans win the White House and seize both houses of Congress they will work feverishly to reverse the “welfare state” first conceptualized 80 years ago by FDR to lift the nation out of the Depression and to provide safety nets to assure we wouldn’t be so stricken again. Even if Democrats win four years later in 2016, it would take at least a decade to re-enact social welfare legislation, Edsall believes, because the rules of the Senate now require a super-majority to effectively pass any new laws.

It’s a harsh reality, or forecast, especially given the need so many in our country have for a helping hand. Republicans would have you believe private institutions and individuals, not government, can and should take care of the needy. Trouble is, as the economy sours, private contributions dry up. Last week, Crain’s New York Business reported, “Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut its charitable contributions to its donor-advised fund by more than three-quarters to $78 million last year, amid a drop in profits. The smaller donation to Goldman Sachs Gives represents the second reduction in three years. The fund is solely supported by the bank and its partners. In 2010, $320 million was allocated for the charitable fund, down from $500 million in 2009.”

Hard really to blame Goldman Sachs and its partners. After all, the firm’s revenues dropped 26% last year vs. a year earlier. Compensation and benefits were trimmed by 21% to just $12.2 billion. Hey, you know how hard it is to get by on just $12.2 billion? Try it, some time. It’s not unlike Mitt Romney saying last week “not very much” of his multi-million dollar income came from speaker fees in 2010. Only about $374,327.62. A mere pittance. Try living on that, America!

Here’s an interesting bit of information from the Internal Revenue Service (courtesy of a Colbert Report episode last week). According to the IRS, for the year 2009, the top 1% of Americans reported adjusted gross income (AGI) of $343,927.
For the top 5%, AGI was $154,643;
for the top 10%, $112,124;
for the top 25%, $66,193;
for the top 50%, $32,396.
Half of the country earned less than $32,396 in 2009.

Sending a Message: Eartha Kitt chose a White House luncheon with Lady Bird Johnson to express her outrage over the Vietnam War. Tim Thomas, the Most Valuable Player of the reigning National Hockey League champion Boston Bruins, registered a personal political protest today against President Barack Obama by refusing to attend a White House ceremony honoring his team’s Stanley Cup victory last year.

When I first heard this story during Michael Kay’s radio show on ESPN, I agreed with Kay that Thomas, a Michigan native and a conservative Republican, was wrong, that his actions failed to show proper respect for the office of the presidency. Kay, the long-time voice of the NY Yankees, said some Yankees wanted to skip White House ceremonies with President Bill Clinton (baseball players are predominantly conservative, he explained). Owner George Steinbrenner, however, required their attendance because he felt it was a team honor bestowed by the White House, not an individual president.

The Bruins opted not to require Thomas’ attendance. I don’t agree with what Thomas did, but it seems to me he was perfectly within his rights. Athletes and other public figures do not give up their right to express their opinions, and what could be more to the point than snubbing the president?

Is Alito for Real? Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. is part of the conservative wing of the U.S. Supreme Court, the group that always seems to be looking to the Founders of the Republic for their intent before deciding a case. But in a decision Monday in which the court ruled police could not place a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car without a warrant, Alito chastised several of his colleagues “for trying to apply 18th-century legal concepts to 21st-century technologies. What should matter, he said, is the contemporary reasonable expectation of privacy,” according to The NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/us/police-use-of-gps-is-ruled-unconstitutional.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&nl=afternoonupdate&emc=aua2).

Wow. Is this the first indication Alito has finally recognized all truths, and constitutional rights, do not reside with the Founders? I surely hope so.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Righteous Indignation

And so it was that, exactly one year to the day when the next president of the United States will be inaugurated, we are being served a full portion of righteous indignation by one Newt Gingrich.

Perhaps with an eye toward this Sunday’s NFL conference championship games, Newt tapped into an old football axiom, that the best defense is a strong offense. He verbally exploded with righteous indignation during Thursday night’s South Carolina presidential primary debate, challenging CNN’s John King for repeating charges made by his second wife that Newt wanted an open marriage.

Why is it that “family values” has only a one-way meaning for conservative Republicans? Why do they decry the supposed lack of family values among Democratic politicians, tsk-tsking affairs by Gary Hart, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, et al, but turn a blind eye when one of their own transgresses? They ignore the fact that Ronald Reagan impregnated Nancy before saying “I Do.” They forget that while Gingrich and his GOP pals in Congress Henry Hyde and Bob Livingston were lambasting Clinton and calling for his impeachment, they were conducting their own extra marital affairs, six years running, by the way, in Newt’s case.

How does Callista, wife number three of the cherubic (let’s be nice and not call him portly) former speaker of the House, a reportedly devout Catholic who sings for pay in her church’s choir, jibe her faith with being a marriage buster, with engaging in pre-marital sex, and, since she was of child-bearing age back then, of having sexual relations not for pro-creation purposes? Since she’d become first lady if Newt were elected, these are not irrelevant questions given the raking over the coals Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton suffered when their husbands ran for office and were elected. The public looks to the president’s wife as a beacon of rectitude, not as a sexual predator. How could she or any Newt administration figure counsel abstinence, or integrity, or the sanctity of marriage when the hopeful commander-in-chief couldn’t keep his saber sheathed in front of another woman?

Gingrich’s response is that his past is his past. If it’s a problem for people, so be it, but he’s moved on. These personal failings, he believes, are not to be equated with policy failings by his opponents. Newt can flip-flop between beds, but Mitt Romney is not allowed to change his position from abortion rights to right-to-life.

Perhaps the best summation of Gingrich’s strength as a candidate and possible leader of the free world came from John Oliver of The Daily Show. Thursday night he said Gingrich would be the best person to negotiate with China. “Chinese culture is based on shame,” said Oliver, “and Newt Gingrich has none.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Foreign Affairs

Almost everyone agrees the linchpin issue in the upcoming presidential election will be the economy. No argument there. But I do have an opinion as to why foreign affairs commands relatively little attention, or respect, from the American public.

In my view, we can’t relate to people and countries where we cannot easily figure out the gender of those interviewed or profiled.

Humor me. Take this short quiz. Listed below are 12 names of people recently quoted in The NY Times. Your task is to match them to their countries and, more importantly, determine if they are male or female. Some countries are the answer for more than one person. The correct answers are at the bottom of this post.

Score 1 point for each correct answer of country and and 1 point for the right sex:

0-5 points qualify you to work at IHOP (the International House of Pancakes)
6-10 points qualify you to be Herman Cain’s national security advisor
11-15 points qualify you to be a guard along the Texas-Mexico border
16-20 points qualify you to be United Nations ambassador
21-24 points qualify you to be secretary of state

1. Nargis Sethi
2. Ma Ying-jeou
3. Tsai Ing-wen
4. Bi-khim Hsiao
5. Keri Chang
6. Wen Jiabao
7. Chafik Chraibi
8. Shirin Ebadi
9. Wey Kwo-dong
10. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
11. Enver Baig
12. Dilma Rousseff

A. Brazil
B. Burma
C. China
D. Pakistan
E. Morocco
F. Iran
G. Taiwan

The B-word Is Back, Never Gone: Apparently, Jay-Z didn’t author the poem in which he renounced using the b-word in his songs to describe women, including his wife Beyoncé and his daughter Blue Ivy. Jay-Z told The NY Daily News the whole thing was a sham perpetrated by parties unknown.

Too bad. Jay-Z could have struck a blow for gender respect. Instead, he will continue to be a misogynist.

Now, back to the quiz...

Answers, including sex
1D-female; 2G-male; 3G-female; 4G-female; 5G-female; 6C-male; 7E-male; 8F-female; 9G-male; 10B-female; 11D-male; 12A-female

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Topics Today: Giants, Titanic, Blue Ivy, Dieting, Europe, January 15

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer—I watched the NY Giants defeat the Green Bay Packers on the wall-mounted 52-inch LCD, High Definition Sharp Aquos television in my bedroom, thus shattering the superstition that my team needed me to view its success on the 35-inch Mitsubishi TV in our den.

One superstition down, one more to go. Can the Giants beat a Ryan-less team? Over the last four weeks the Giants have vanquished four teams with Ryans on their roster of either players or coaches: They thumped coach Rex Ryan’s NY Jets, his brother and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Matt Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons and running back Ryan Grant’s Packers. I checked. There are no Ryans on the San Francisco 49ers squad, their next opponent, unless someone is hiding a middle name.

I’m never confident going into any game, and I also have a logistics issue, now that I no longer fear watching the game in my bedroom. You see, we DVR two shows at 9 pm (Downton Abbey on PBS and CBS’s The Good Wife) on the bedroom TV, meaning the technology wouldn't permit me to concurrently watch the game on that set. Should I start the game in the bedroom before shifting to the den and hope the Giants are sufficiently ahead to hold onto a lead on the TV in the den, or should I maintain consistency throughout by starting and finishing in the den? For those wondering, there is absolutely no option of staying in the bedroom.

Who knew football was such a baffling, complicated sport?

The Hand of James Cameron? Surely anyone following the tragic capsizing of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia had to think back to the sinking of the Titanic after it struck an iceberg in the Atlantic 100 years ago this April 15.

Perhaps their thoughts also locked onto James Cameron’s epic film recreation of the disaster. How could they not if they read a NY Daily News article on survivors’ stories with the following account of a British dancer’s posting on her Facebook page:

“My name is Rose, it’s Friday the 13th and I’m one of the last survivors still on board the sinking cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Pray for us to be rescued.”

Rose Metcalf was saved, “plucked off the slanted deck by a rescuer hanging from a helicopter,” the Daily News reported. In Cameron’s version of Titanic history, Rose DeWitt Bukater was plucked out of the icy Atlantic waters after her love, Jack Dawson, sank beneath them.

How should Beyoncé feel? Not worthy enough, apparently, to have persuaded rapper-husband Jay-Z to stop calling women bitches. It took the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy, to elicit a promise from the music and media mogul to disdain from slurring women in the future, at least when it comes to using the “b”-word. Here’s an excerpt from a poem he wrote eight days after Blue Ivy arrived on the scene:

Before I got in the game,
made a change,
and got rich
I didn’t think hard about using the word bitch.
I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it
Now with my daughter in this world
I curse those that give it.
I never realized while on the fast track
that I’d give riddance to the word bitch,
to leave her innocence in tact.

Let’s hope Jay-Z stops his misogynous attacks and that he influences fellow rappers to see the light. Let’s also hope he realizes he dissed Beyoncé by waiting until Blue Ivy showed up. She, and all women, deserved better.

Suggestion of the Day: Not sure what the over-under betting line is on how many days it will take Beyoncé to regain her pre-Blue Ivy shape, but here’s a dieting suggestion I heard this morning on WCBS 880 news radio—one way to eat less is to switch your fork to your less dominant hand.

Seems your dominant hand works without your thinking too hard so it mindlessly shovels food into your mouth. Switching to your other hand will slow down your intake and make you think if you really want to clean every last morsel from your plate, or, heaven forbid, go back for seconds.

Hackergate: I think The NY Times has hacked into my notebook. No, not my computer notebook (actually, my Mac), but rather the spiral notebook I carry in my back pocket in which I jot down story ideas and even occasionally long-hand blogs.

I have no other explanation for the fact The Times once again printed an article I intended to write but never got around to inputting. This one I had tentatively titled, “What’s So Wrong About Europe”, meant to compare economic, educational, health and social indices for the United States vs. Germany as a counterpoint to incessant Republican accusations that president Obama and the Democrats want to turn our country into Europe.

I had dated the entry in my notebook January 12, 2012. Three days later, just three days!, an Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof titled, “Why Is Europe a Dirty Word”, appeared. He gets paid a lot more than I do, so here’s his commentary to read: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/kristof-why-is-europe-a-dirty-word.html?_r=1

Coincidence? Here’s another interesting coincidence from January 15.

Perhaps no current sport is more identified with the Afro-American experience than basketball. Isn’t it fascinating that January 15 is the birthday of Martin Luther King, one of, if not, the greatest Afro-American leaders, and the date in 1892 Dr. James Naismith published the rules of the game he invented, basketball? I think so.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Superstitious Am I?

Only a crazed sports fan would relate to what I am about to write.

How superstitious should I be today? Should I adhere to my time-honored practice of sitting in our den to watch the NY Giants on our 35-inch, 21-year old Mitsubishi console television, a TV that has served me well during the recent playoff drive and previous Super Bowl contests (let’s forget, for now, the debacle in 2001), or should I tempt fate and lay on my bed to watch the Giants take on the Green Bay Packers on our wall-mounted 52-inch LCD, High Definition Sharp Aquos television?

Normally, Gilda prefers I seclude myself in the den, but she’ll be at the gym later. I lean towards going with what’s gotten me, and the Giants, to their present possibility of upsetting the Packers, but I am tempted by Saturday’s viewing of the Saints-49’ers game on the big screen. No doubt about it, everything popped brighter, more vibrantly upstairs. It was indeed sharper on the Sharp.

But if the Giants lose, will I blame myself for switching? Non-sports fans (if they’ve read this far) are no doubt shaking their heads at the absurdity of my thoughts. How infantile can I be?, they are saying. They just don’t understand sports superstitions. Never have. Never will.

From Sports to Politics: You don’t need a TV screen to follow the tussles within the Republican party presidential primary. I’ve got a passing (yes, pun intended) interest in Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

For Gingrich, my link is to his money-bagged buddy, Sheldon Adelson. As I wrote back in May, Adelson was not one of my favorite business contacts. He is transfixed on what he sees as right, and uses his money and influence to advance his causes. Here’s what I wrote eight months ago: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/05/my-link-to-newt.html

Memory fails to confirm if I ever met Mitt Romney some 20 years ago when I interviewed several Bain Capital executives about their interest in retail companies, such as Staples. This much I do remember—the three men I did meet all dressed the same. They could have stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog with their blue suits, white buttoned down shirts, rep ties, and black oxford shoes. They were clean-shaven with short, dark hair, not one strand out of place.

No, I can’t say Romney was among them. I have met two presidents before they became our nation’s chief executive. Jimmy Carter crossed my path during his 1972 presidential campaign while I was covering an event attended by Rep. John Monaghan of Connecticut. Carter was testy that night, I recall.

Bill Clinton was a guest at an annual shareholders meeting of Wal-Mart about 30 years ago. Sam Walton always liked to have the governors of Arkansas make an appearance and talk about the business-friendly climate in the Razorback state and how Wal-Mart was good for the local economy. A few years later Walton solidified his ties to Clinton by appointing Hillary to Wal-Mart’s board of directors. She served from 1986 to 1992.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Twinkies and Other Food Tidbits

Gilda thought I’d be devastated. She told me Hostess, the maker of Twinkies and other soft confectionaries, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. So kind of her to be concerned for my culinary welfare, but no, sweetheart, I have no fondness for Twinkies, I replied. My cravings are for Drake’s Devil Dogs, or Yankee Doodles, and the occasional Ring Ding. No my sweet, Hostess filing a second bankruptcy petition just three years after emerging from similar protection was no reason on my part to be alarmed.

Of course, that was before I read the newspaper article and discovered Hostess owns Drake’s and has for more than a dozen years. I plead ignorance because I haven’t eaten a Devil Dog, Ring Ding or Yankee Doodle in more than 15 years.

I wasn’t always a snack food snob. Back in my 20s, I consumed Drake’s products daily. My routine before embarking on my morning police department checks in Derby and Seymour, Conn., was a breakfast that included a Devil Dog or three-pack of Yankee Doodles. By 10 am in the New Haven office, I’d take a Coca-Cola and Baby Ruth break. I had another Coke at lunch and at least another one with dinner. That’s at least three sugar-packed Cokes each day, though Gilda would tell you I sometimes started the morning off with another one at breakfast as I don’t drink coffee except on rare occasions. It was no surprise then that by my mid-30s my triglycerides had zoomed past the 1,000 mark (less than 200 is considered healthy). They’re under control now, but at the cost of giving up almost all sweets, including Drake’s cakes. I’ve learned to even enjoy Diet Coke.

Growing up in Brooklyn, my family usually stocked the cupboard with cakes from the Polish bakery two blocks away. Marble cake, seven layer cake, checkerboard cake, cherry, blueberry, and custard danishes. You could always find a piece of cake on our dinette table. My parents, especially my father, enjoyed a piece of cake with his coffee each night. Our children always knew when my parents were coming to visit by the sudden appearance of cake in our house.

I really miss not snacking on cake. It really pains me when we have to dump leftover cakes we put out for dinner parties we host. I inherited my father’s desire for cake. But I also inherited my mother’s inability to cope with too much sugar.

Fish & Chips: CBS Sunday Morning ran an interesting piece on the quintessential British fast food, fish & chips, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary as a pillar of the English diet.

Surprised me that fish & chips is so young a dietary staple of the mother country. Even more surprising was the belief that a Jewish fishmonger was responsible for at least the introduction to the English menu of the fried fish component (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8419026.stm). Gee, I always though gefilte fish was the extent of Jewish influence on seafood cuisine.

Princes of the Fisherman: Please don’t take this the wrong way, no sacrilege is intended, but I was amused the other day when a reporter asked New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan if he was doing anything special before his investiture as one of the 22 newly named cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI. He replied he was trying to lose weight to get into his new uniform.

Which made me wonder, why is it that so many religious leaders, of all denominations, are, shall we say, more corpulent than one would expect from religious orders that cherish not only piety but a certain amount of asceticism that would preclude the over-indulgence of food?

Just asking...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

America of Our Past and Future

There are a lot of Independents, and even some disillusioned Democrats, who are hoping Mitt Romney, if elected president, will become the flip-flopper-in-chief, that his rightward leaning on social issues has been just a ploy to get the Republican nomination, that he will revert to the more progressive positions he held as governor of Massachusetts.

How naïve! If Romney, or any Republican, wins the keys to the White House later this year it would be in tandem with a conservative GOP sweep of both houses of Congress. In a twinkling of an eye we’ll again be living in a time when safety nets were relegated to circus tents alone.

Consider, if you will, what “restored American values” will mean to life in the teen years of the 21st century:

At first, there’ll be a wire hangar shortage as back alley practitioners of now banned abortions for any reason will stock up on the tools of their trade. Then, as the free enterprise system always does, “job creators” will open up new factories and production lines to meet the demand.

Of course, sordid locales and hangar-therapy isn’t for everyone. Rich women, read that Republican women, will still be able to undergo abortions either abroad or by licensed American doctors in the privacy of their medical suites. The doctors, after all, are mostly Republicans too, and now that health care no longer would be a universal right, they’ll be free to charge whatever they want, or the patient can afford. Since these women, or their paramours, are rich, well, the sky’s the limit.

In a Republican future, there’ll be no more coddling of the disabled or the infirm. No more Americans with Disabilities Act mandates on how business must run business. No more social security or Medicaid. Or Medicare. If the individual doesn’t have the resources to care for themselves, that’s their problem or their family’s problem. It’s not government’s job to provide a safety net. This country was built on the independent spirit and wherewithal of our citizens, and gosh darn it, we’re going back to those days when you relied on yourself. Don’t expect a handout from your Uncle Sam (unless you really do have a generous brother of your father or mother named Sam).

We’re going to be a religious country, and by that Republicans mean a Christian country. No more of this “happy holidays” malarkey. We all know it’s “Merry Christmas” we’re talking and singing about. Get over it Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. We’re going back to a time when we all knew God blessed America and this country was one nation under God (though we never stated that in the Pledge of Allegiance before 1954). We’re going back to a time when men proudly wore designer white sheets and pointy white hats in public and openly hated anyone who wasn’t Protestant (not sure how Romney and his Mormon friends are going to finesse this one, but, heck, even Newt no longer is Protestant, Rick Santorum, unlike Gingrich, is a lifelong Catholic, and Jon Huntsman’s a fellow Mormon, so Mitt’ll have plenty of “cover” once the Evangelicals start shooting).

Speaking of shooting, the NRA will set up an indoor firing range in the basement of the White House, and, based on previously securing the right to carry even concealed guns into bars, will challenge the prohibition on toting firearms into the halls of Congress. That’ll put a muzzle on any Democratic attempt to restrict the bearing of arms.

Once in control of Congress and the White House, Republicans will do away with pre-school education programs. We won’t need them. Who better to rear our children than their mothers? Moms will do the jobs God intended them to do—cooking and cleaning and getting themselves ready for the moment the man of the house returns home. Marabel Morgan’s 1973 Total Woman concept will finally be the way of the land. Getting rid of women in the workplace will free up lots of jobs for the unemployed. See, Republicans have an easy fix to reducing the unemployment rate.

Also on the home front, we’re going to have to remodel lots of houses and apartments. We’re going to need much larger closets. Closets with no doors. Enough said.

We’re also going back to a time of real entertainment, a time when white singers made hits out of colored singers’ songs (yes, we’re going back to calling Afro-American people “colored). And, listen up Denzel, Will, Samuel L., Cuba, Tyler and all you other colored thespians, there’s just two words we’ll have for you: “Oh, Rochester!” (Young readers might not get that Jack Benny reference, but don’t fret, you’ll catch on in short order). Speaking of short order, as in a stack of pancakes, for you female Black actors, you’ll be competing to be the model of an updated Aunt Jemima portrait.

This country became great in the age of the automobile. Big automobiles. We can trace our decline to the entry of small foreign models in the 1960s (it’s a little like the immigration issue we face today, their taking jobs from Americans who don’t really want to do the dirty work anyway but need a scapegoat to talk about the decline of America). Our downfall began when we tried to make more efficient cars, not caring that we were boxing in our ever-growing torsos into small and smaller spaces. No more. We’re going back to big grilles, oversized bumpers, fins and V-8 engines. We’re going to pave our way to economic freedom. We’re going to drill our way to energy independence. Forget mass transit. That’s for the masses, and we know that just as in America’s past (and present) the elites are the only ones that count.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Elementary Ties

Many people use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites to keep abreast of, or catch up with, relatives, friends, acquaintances or business associates. I mostly rely on the old fashioned conveyers of information: traditional media including newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

Take, for example, a column by Nicholas D. Kristof in the NY Times last Thursday. Entitled “Waiting for Mitt the Moderate,” the Op-Ed piece listed several of Romney’s foreign affairs advisors including Dov Zakheim. Some might recognize that name as a former Defense Department official in recent Republican administrations, most prominently identified as the analyst who shot down support for Israel’s internal development of the Lavi jet fighter in the late 1980s.

I know Dov as a masterful Talmudic scholar from our elementary school days at Yeshiva Rambam in Brooklyn (modesty does not keep me from saying I was no slouch either in the ways of our learned sages). He delivered the English valedictory address at our graduation ceremony in 1962, along with being the co-winner of a Hebrew Department scholarship.

Lest you think Zakheim was a unique performer, our class of 31 boys and 13 girls (yes, this was a co-ed, Orthodox Hebrew school—my, how times have changed!) had several notable achievers.

One of our more interesting classmates was Alan Zelenetz. He was a good graphic artist. To amuse us, he would eat chalk and paper. Perhaps that was the source of his creativity juices. After becoming a rabbi and a junior high school principal at the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, Alan became a film producer and comic book writer. He co-created the Alien Legion series for the Marvel Comics book imprint Epic Comics. He also co-founded Ovie Entertainment, an independent film production company.

Alan’s cousin, Arnold Saltzman, is a rabbi as well but is probably more well known as a cantor, composer and recording artist. At Rambam, Arnold’s voice was head and shoulders better than any other. Indeed, he was a child singer with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Dennis Prager stood taller than anyone in our class. Dennis and I continued our association through high school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush and Brooklyn College. While the rest of his high school mates were learning compulsory French, Dennis quietly taught himself Russian. He was, you might say, a gifted student. It was in high school that Dennis met future rabbi Joseph Telushkin, his co-author of several books on Judaism (I knew Joe before Flatbush—we bunked together in Camp Massad Aleph for four or five years in the late 1950’s). Today Prager is a well-known conservative columnist and radio talk show host.

Michael Shmidman is a rabbi, too (is there a pattern here?). He's now the dean of Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies. I don't know how tall he is today, but as a youngster he was short. Still, when it came time to pick our school basketball team, the coach chose him over me. I exacted some measure of unintended revenge the following spring during a class outing softball game. Michael was pitching for his team. I batted a ball right into his stomach, hard enough to double him over and end the game.

Yeshiva Rambam closed the doors to its elementary school in 2005 but it's nice to know my classmates still can make the news. Of course, they don't always do so in a positive light. One of them, who shall remain anonymous, is a major New York City landlord not known for the beneficent treatment of his tenants.

By the way, in case you’re wondering why I have not included any updates on the girls in my class, it’s not because they have not done anything noteworthy. But under their maiden names their accomplishments did not show up in any of the social media I consulted.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Birdhouse, Bark-Mitzvah, Maxxed Out

Don’t tell the tax assessor, but we have a new residential unit on the Forseter homestead. It’s a single occupant birdhouse, lovingly painted by our grandson Finley.

I naturally was quick to hang it up next to the bird feeders and promptly sent off a picture to Finley’s parents, only to be cautioned that the little fellow used water color paint that needed a coating to insure it would not wash off in the first rain. A quick trip to the paint store solved that problem. So far, however, I haven’t noticed any birds taking up residency. Of course, this balmy spring-like weather could be the reason the vacancy sign is still lit.

I have noticed, meanwhile, that the Winter King Hawthorn tree we planted in our front yard in Finley Hawthorne Forseter’s honor has been attracting birds and even squirrels eager to munch on the red berries that sprouted on the branches in the late fall. Though horticulture Web sites say the berries last through the winter, when I looked outside a few minutes ago I noticed the berries were all gone. Ah, well...

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Did you catch the latest craze, as in crazy. Seems some Jewish families are celebrating their dog’s “bark mitzvah” when the critter turns 13 in dog years, roughly when it is two years old. I kid you not. They drape a small prayer shawl over the canine’s body and place a yarmulke on the dog’s head. Here are mutt-shot views of some religiously-garbed hounds: http://www.google.com/search?q=bark+mitzvah&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=7dy&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=imvnsu&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=9hcLT9m1KuLL0QGe6si3BQ&ved=0CGAQsAQ&biw=1215&bih=583. The potential for more excruciatingly bad puns—”muzzle tov,” chanting the “arf-Torah”—abound.

Several Christian denominations hold annual church services where all manner of animals are blessed, but for pure exhibitionism and, in my view, mockery of the religion, I can’t find a more silly and inane practice than that displayed by some of my co-religionists. See for yourself. Here are two examples of bark-mitzvahs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsNjEzblZDw and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHyKrJgpQqM&feature=related. As one viewer commented on the second video, “The dogs are the most intelligent animals in this video.”

Maxxed Out: Has anyone else been amused by the choice of Pepsi Max to feature the NY Jets in one of its latest commercials? The gist of the spot is an inspirational half-time moment in the Jets locker room that exhorts them to victory.

Well, we all know the Jets failed to make the playoffs this year, the year coach Rex Ryan guaranteed a Super Bowl victory. Based on his size, Ryan no doubt would be better off drinking a reduced calorie beverage. But we also know from Jets players and other team observers that their locker room was far from a unified sanctuary. Indeed, rookie quarterback Greg McElroy labeled several players as selfish, not team-oriented. “I think the fact that we struggled at times this year really led to a really just corrupt mindset within the locker room,” McElroy told an Alabama radio station.

Pepsi Max is not the first, and surely won’t be the last, marketer to have a celebrity endorsement explode in its face because of inappropriate behavior or some other event beyond its control. My personal favorite happened in 2005. American Express built a campaign around Andy Roddick’s quest for the U.S. Open Tennis championship. It engaged then-budding comedian/actor Nick Kroll to play Roddick’s “mojo.” After Roddick would be shown going to sleep, his mojo would party and otherwise use his AmEx card to have a good time.

Based on his reaching the quarterfinals during the prior four U.S. Opens, American Express expected Roddick to play deep into the tournament. Kroll’s friends and acquaintances were eager to follow his mojo performance (we’ve known Nicky since our children went to school together— Dan played basketball with him on their championship elementary school team—and I’ve interviewed his father, Jules Kroll, the well-known financial investigator).

Someone, however, forgot to tell Roddick’s opening round opponent, Gilles Muller, about the multi-million dollar ad campaign. He knocked Roddick, and his mojo, out of the Open, in straight sets. I imagine AmEx executives and their ad agency contacts drank something a little stronger than Pepsi Max when that happened.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Recalling Bike Helmets

One of the more exciting gifts our grandson Finley received for Hanukkah from his aunt Caitlin (Allison’s sister) was a helmet to wear while riding the tricycle she gave him for his second birthday a month earlier. He loves wearing it as he scoots around the basement. He even makes his parents wear their helmets as they watch him. I can’t tell you what brand it is, but I was immediately concerned when I saw a news release last week about a bicycle helmet recall because of the risk of head injury. I was concerned for good reason, as both our children survived nasty crashes.

Ellie’s head-over-handlebars tumble came shortly after I learned to ride. I was 40. Ellie was seven and had also recently mastered a two-wheeler. Gilda, Dan, his friend Aaron, Ellie and I loaded our bikes into the mini-van one Sunday afternoon and headed out to SUNY Purchase to ride around the perimeter car loop, a popular bike-riding venue. The boys and Gilda swiftly left Ellie and me in their wind-wake as we cautiously traversed the roadway.

About two-thirds of the way we came to the top of a steep descent. We gulped, then Ellie pedaled forward. And downward. And with increasing speed. She couldn’t hold her foot brake. Before my eyes, she flipped over and bounced on the pavement. Several times. Of course she cried, more from the trauma than from any injuries, which were almost negligible, thanks mostly to her helmet. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, she got back on her horse, I mean, bike, and we pedaled, sloooowly, to meet up with Dan, Aaron and Gilda, all the way Ellie alerting those ahead of us with her loud wailing.

Dan’s helmet-case was far more heart-stopping. After he turned 14, Dan said he no longer wanted to go to sleepaway summer camp. Instead, he desired to go on a mountain-bike tour of the West, beginning in Denver. We shipped him out on a Wednesday, one United Airlines ticket for him, another for his bike (United gave us two round-trip tickets as compensation for an aborted flight Gilda and I took from San Francisco to New York during which we had to slide down the emergency shutes. Here’s a link to that story: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/04/on-wing-and-prayer.html). From the airport the group of some 20 teenagers were trucked to Estes Park, about 80 miles northwest of Denver, for their first ride.

Going down a mountain trail, Dan flipped over the handlebars and did a head plant into the ground. His eyes rolled back in their sockets. The whole right side of his body, from the top of his head to his ankles, was bruised, bloodied and skin-torn. Naturally, the trip leaders wanted to get him to the hospital right away. But a thunderstorm developed over the mountain; everyone had to lay prone to the ground to avoid being hit by lightning.

Later that night we received a phone call from one of the staff. You know something bad has happened when the conversation starts with assurances your son is all right now, that he’s resting comfortably in the hospital.

Hospital? How big a hospital? 14 beds? You call that a hospital? It took us several minutes to realize the Estes Park hospital was a trauma center mainly focused on skiing and snowboarding accidents in the winter and mountain-bike and hiking accidents the rest of the year, with the occasional lightning strike victim thrown in. Indeed, two other patients brought in with Dan that day had been blistered by lightning. We couldn’t have asked for better professional care.

Dan emerged from the plane ride back two days later swaddled in bloody, pussy gauze and bandages. To this day Gilda wonders how anyone would have tolerated sitting next to him. To prevent scabs and then scars from forming on his body, she followed the advice of a plastic surgeon to keep his injuries moist. She bathed him (Dan accepted without debate or too much embarrassment the reasoning that his mother was a nurse practitioner and had seen many a naked man). His only “trophy” from the accident was a small scar on his knee on a spot he purposely did not want moistened.

So we sent him out on Wednesday and he returned to us Friday. The tour group graciously refunded his tuition and Bell exchanged his helmet for a new one. Seems a helmet is good for only one crash. Allison has informed me Finley’s helmet is not from the company involved in the recall. Here’s hoping Finley has no need for a new helmet until he outgrows aunt Caitlin’s gift.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Marking a Birthday

The yahrzeit memorial candle commemorating the 13th Jewish calendar anniversary of my father’s death burned longer than 24 hours. It flickered Wednesday night, the eve, by coincidence, of my father’s secular calendar birthday, January 5. He would have been 101 today. Or maybe 100. My brother, sister and I simply don’t know.

Several Polish documents—a “morality testimony” and a “certificate of belonging”— list his birthday in 1911. But he often said records were not very exact in Ottynia, the little town, a shtetl, in Galicia where he was born. He would say he was born in 1912. So that’s what we put on his tombstone.

Now part of Ukraine, Ottynia passed through many hands over the centuries. When my dad was born, Ottynia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After World War I it reverted to Poland. During World War II, Ottynia fell under Soviet Union control as part of the partition of Poland pact Stalin forged with Hitler. Nazi Germany overwhelmed Ottynia after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. At the end of the war, Ottynia became a military-restricted area in Ukraine.

My father left Ottynia when he was 16, venturing first to the Free City of Danzig (now known as Gdansk) on the Baltic Sea before coming to America via England in January 1939, months before the second world war broke out. All of his immediate family, except his younger brother, Willy, were killed. Though he would tell his children folklore stories, really parables, about life in the Old Country while we were growing up in Brooklyn, he rarely talked about conditions in Ottynia or Danzig.

Perhaps they were too painful to relate. Trying to raise funds to bring other members of his family here, he was powerless to relieve the pressure on their lives. Among his possessions when he died were three postcards from his parents we’d never previously seen. In painstakingly small Yiddish handwriting, they convey the sorrow of parents who haven’t seen their eldest child in two years, the agony of life in a weakened state. The first two were postmarked by Russian authorities. Stamped on the front of the third and final postcard, just under his name, is a symbol of the Nazi flying eagle holding a swastika.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Second Bill of Rights

As night falls, the nation’s quadrennial process of picking the next president of the United States begins in earnest with the Iowa caucuses. There are a lot of scary people running for the highest office in the land this year. No doubt, my Republican-leaning friends would count Barack Obama among the most scariest, particularly since he currently holds that office.

I’m not here tonight to shower criticisms on those who want to succeed him. Nor am I here to praise Obama. Rather, I’d like to share with you the thoughts of one of our greatest presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Similar to Obama, FDR was labeled a socialist in his time. Perhaps it’s because he advocated for the less fortunate.

Most of us know about his New Deal policies and programs intended to raise the country out of the Depression. We know of his leadership during World War II. But few, I’d venture to say, know of his advocacy for a Second Bill of Rights, an initiative he championed in his January 11, 1944, State of the Union speech to Congress and the country, a speech he made by radio from the White House as he was too ill from the flu to venture to the Capitol. Near the end of the radio address, FDR paused so cameras could be brought in to record his new proposal. Here’s a link to view most of it, with a transcript below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoFLH8D7Xys

In our day certain economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. A second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, or race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom, freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

I’m struck by the parallels between currents events and the challenges FDR and America faced. We’re fighting a war on terror, seemingly never ending, a conflict of civilizations. Sixty-eight years ago we battled forces determined to undermine all of our liberties and way of life. No one would doubt the argument that a strong America is vital to world peace. FDR understood the relationship between security, at home and abroad, and the economic fortunes of Americans. It’s a relationship we need to embrace today, given the fiscal distress too many of our compatriots experience.

Here’s what FDR said just moments before the earlier sound bite:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

I don’t think we’re at the point of being susceptible to dictatorships. But I do wonder how anyone who aspires to lead our country, in the White House or Congress, can rest comfortably knowing millions of our fellow citizens need help. I don’t know how they could reasonably believe private enterprise will take care of the needy, not when the primary function of business is to turn a profit.