Friday, April 27, 2012

Everybody's Doing It

“Everybody does it, so why pick on me?,” is not a viable defense for the alleged actions by Wal-Mart executives in Mexico. As you may have heard since The NY Times ran an expose last Sunday, Wal-Mart allegedly bribed officials in Mexico to pass or expedite approval of building plans for its network of stores south of the border. Moreover, when these alleged violations of law were reportedly brought to the attention of corporate executives, they were swept under the rug, according to The Times. Now, the world’s largest retail company, and the largest retailer in Mexico, has been engaged in major face-saving activity. 

I have no direct knowledge of the allegations beyond what has been reported, but I can tell you with fairly good authority it has not been uncommon for retail and shopping center companies with aggressive growth strategies to engage in activities that are questionable at best, illegal at worst, including favors (okay, bribes) to secure necessary permits or negative action to block competitors from entering a market. 

In other words, Wal-Mart is no more guilty than other companies. It’s just bigger. It’s the same reality whether it’s building permits or low wages or no health care for workers or an anti-union bias—Wal-Mart is no worse than other large (and small) chain store retailers. Which doesn’t excuse or explain away what happened in Mexico. 

This corporate black eye is the latest in a long string of image-blackening revelations about the way American companies exploit their interests in foreign lands. Apple, as well as other technology firms, has had its reliance on Chinese suppliers and their labor practices put under the magnifying glass. Nike did, as well. Half a dozen years ago my magazine co-sponsored a one day conference, “Making it Right,” on the business implications of fair labor standards throughout the worldwide supply chain. Though progress has been made, exploitation of workers persists. 

Sadly, it seems significant progress occurs only when the media spotlights egregious conditions. 

Food for Thought: I’m married to a foodie. Now, some of you might know Gilda is a good, even great, cook. I am fortunate to enjoy many a good meal she whips up, even after she works a long day in Manhattan. 

But being a foodie means her taste buds work differently than mine. Whereas I enjoy foods that are generally sweet, Gilda prefers foods that are bitter, sour and something called umami, a Japanese word for pleasant, savory. It hasn’t been easy meshing our different tastes, but now Gilda has reason to believe she is a trend setter. Read for yourself:

Wrong Number: Just had a most interesting phone call from the Republican National Committee. Seems I’m on one of their “conservative” lists, thus would I be willing to join the RNC with a pledge of $300, $200, or $100 so the ultimate goal of removing Barack Obama from the White House could be realized? 

After telling the woman on the other end of the line I was “fascinated” to find myself on such a list, she embarrassingly fumbled her way through the rest of our short conversation, apologizing for bothering me. I guess the RNC doesn’t read my blog. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Age of Nuance

Here’s a word you need to get familiar with, if you have not already done so—"nuance." It has a soft, lilting sound to it. A sort of Dance of the Seventh Veils spelled out in six letters. Lots of tease, little of actual substance. 

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines nuance as a noun meaning “a slight or delicate variation in tone, color, meaning, etc.; shade of difference.” A classic definition, one that fails to capture the potent force hidden within the modern usage of nuance. Nuance is the best friend of politicians, the bogeyman of an ill-informed or forgetful electorate.

Ever since Mitt Romney emerged as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee with the departure of Rick Santorum and the awaited capitulation of Newt Gingrich from the field of GOP candidates, Romney and the Republican party elite, along with play-along media, have been talking up his need to appeal to mainstream voters, independents who will determine the outcome of November’s election. They’ve been using words like nuance or “pivot” or “redirect” to explain what Romney needs to do to soften the conservative positions he espoused to secure primary victories and delegates. 

Now, we are being told, the real Romney will emerge and present himself as someone who the full electorate can embrace. Are they kidding? Do they hold us in such contempt and disdain that they think we will quickly forget how reactionary Romney has been to any thoughts of compassion for the needy and investment for the country?  

Sadly, I believe they are right. American voters have soooooo little memory it is easy with enough dollars to propagandize yourself to victory—and clearly in this year of the super-PAC advertising blitz it will be easier to warp the truth than ever before. 

Romney’s Achilles’ Heel in all this pivoting and nuancing is the belligerency of his fellow Republicans who continue to ratchet up their attacks on women, children and the less fortunate. Take, for example, their proposed budget, which Romney has labeled as “marvelous.” As a NY Times editorial the other day pointed out, the GOP-controlled “House Agriculture Committee voted ... to cut $33 billion over the next decade out of food stamps. That would immediately end benefits for two million people, and reduce benefits for the remaining 44 million people who use the program. A family of four would find their benefits lowered by $57 a month beginning in September, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The committee trimmed job training for food-stamp recipients by 72 percent; 280,000 students would no longer be eligible for free meals.”

How does that square with Romney's promise to preserve the safety net? Perhaps the nuance of his words is that he will preserve it—in cold storage!

You could argue Barack Obama has not been a great president. But you can’t blame him for the lousy economy, or the growing deficit, at least not if you have a memory that goes back before January 20, 2009. Romney et al would have us believe the Bush years never happened. They’re hoping for collective amnesia. 

Or they’re looking for a scapegoat for all of our troubles. Stephen Colbert came up with one Democrats and Republicans could agree on. Take a look: 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Softball, Stop Signs and Blunts

Chilly start to the softball season this morning. Grey day, with a stiff breeze. More of a wind, I’d say, that kept temperatures in the 50’s. Surely not a day to unveil my standard pitching attire of shorts and high sweat socks, though I did have them on beneath my baseball pants. Started to spritz around the 4th inning, not enough to even consider being a nuisance or a reason to call the game. 

Legged out an infield hit. In my prime I might have outrun another infield chopper, but those are days I can only talk about, barely remember. Didn’t strike out anyone; only walked one batter. All in all, not a bad day on the mound, especially since I returned home without injury. Slathering up with he-man doses of Mineral Ice on my lower back, Achilles tendons and knees before heading off to the ball field surely helped. 

The team’s a work in progress. They gave maximum effort. Now all we need to work on is some fundamentals and skill improvement. We hit decently, even socked a home run. But we ran ourselves out of two rallies. It’s a good thing I’ve been in this rebuilding situation before. Much easier to take a 23-3 shellacking when you’re just out to have a good time, and not get hurt.

Dmitri Krioukov, a Russian researcher and Web data analysis professor in California, has become an Internet darling for posting a paper on how to beat a traffic ticket like the one he received for allegedly rolling through a stop sign (

Big deal. I managed the same feat more than 33 years ago, way before the Internet was widely known. Even more difficult was winning over my wife’s participation in my ultimate defense. As I wrote in January 2010, a policeman in the hamlet of Pine Bush, NY, outside Middletown, claimed I rolled through a stop sign, which Gilda and I denied to no avail. To fight the ticket we had to return six weeks later for night court. Gilda was a willing witness for the defense, but quickly changed her mind when she discovered I had miscalculated the court date. We showed up a day early. She was in no mood to leave work early the next day and trek 60 miles up north to testify in my behalf. I reeeeally had to do some major groveling to get Gilda to go back to Pine Bush with me the next night.

Even so, her demeanor was not friendly. She had the comportment of a hostile witness, but she was all I had. Without her it would be my word against the cop’s. Even though I extracted from him an admission that he was stationed 300 yards, three football fields!, away from the stop sign I allegedly “rolled through,” it was still just the two of us squaring off, and in most jurisdictions that’s bad news for a defendant. 

After Gilda testified, the judge asked if the policeman had a witness. He did. It was the chief of police, who was riding with him that night. OK, where was he?, the judge asked. On patrol, came the reply, followed swiftly by good, old-fashioned country justice—two against one, case dismissed. 

Take that, Dmitri!

Last Wednesday, Thomas L. Friedman devoted his column in the NY Times to a call for Michael Bloomberg to mount an independent run for president, not because he would win, but rather because it would influence Democrats and Republicans to soften their rigid stances and meld their positions into more centrist ones that would benefit the country. “By taking part in the televised debates,” Friedman wrote, “he could impose a dose of reality on the election that would otherwise be missing. Congress would have to take note” (

Let me be blunt about this: Friedman must have been smoking something (maybe a blunt) when he wrote that. How anyone could think the GOP and its Tea Party wing will soften their radical platform clearly has not been paying attention to politics over the last three years. To expect them to change should they win the White House or both houses of Congress is delusional. One of the main criticisms of Barack Obama by his supporters has been his misguided belief he could work with the Republicans, that he failed to make use of the majorities he helped sweep into office in 2008, that he capitulated time and again to conservative demands. 

No, Mr. Friedman, a third party candidacy from a progressive thinker like Bloomberg would only hurt Obama by siphoning off votes from Independents and some Democrats. It could be argued that Ralph Nader’s Quixotic runs for the presidency gave us two terms of George W. Bush. I’m sure Michael Bloomberg has an ego at least as large as Nader’s, but I’m also of the opinion the mayor of New York City is not so enamored of himself that he would purposely tip an election to Republicans who reject almost all of his social and economic beliefs. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fenway Memory

Just as they did 100 years ago today when they opened the new playground of the hometown Boston Red Sox, the NY Yankees (known then as the NY Highlanders) will be afternoon guests at the centennial of Fenway Park. A cherished edifice of Beantown architecture, Fenway is a bandbox of a ballpark where fans sit so close to the action they feel they can almost touch the players. For years they suffered with them in the anguish of never having won a championship from 1918 until 2004. Even with a second World Series title in 2007, Boston fans are forever lamenting the fate of their beloved Bosox. All the while they repeatedly sell out Fenway Park.

My one and only time visiting the baseball shrine off Lansdowne Street was in 1975, for the seventh game of the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. My friend John and I had freebie tickets courtesy of our employer, the New Haven Register. We sat along the third base line, in the lower, covered deck. It was the night after the Red Sox had triumphed in what some people argue was the best World Series game ever, a contest tied in the bottom of the eighth by a three-run home run by Bernie Carbo and won four innings later by a solo shot over the Green Monster down the left field line by Carlton Fisk, a home run forever immortalized in film by Fisk’s willing the ball to stay fair to give Boston a 7-6 victory and a chance to win its first championship in 57 years.

Despite the exhilaration from the night before, Boston fans, including my friend John, seemed to me to carry an air of resignation on their shoulders, even after the home team took an early 3-0 lead. They seemed to be waiting for someone to foul up, to make the error that opened the floodgates for the Big Red Machine. Sure enough, in the sixth inning second baseman Denny Doyle, a mid-season acquisition based on his defensive skills, made his second error of the game, a miscue that prolonged a Cincinnati at bat. Tony Perez promptly made Boston pay by smacking a two-run homer. From then on the home town crowd’s emotional support never revived. Like prisoners waiting for their turn before the firing squad, the fans waited patiently for the coup de grace. Cincy scored single runs in the seventh and ninth innings to win the game and Series, 4-3.

With the exception of Reds players and their families, I probably was among the few fans to leave Fenway a happy fellow that night. I don’t like the Boston Red Sox. My only regret is I could not openly express my feelings. I’m not stupid, after all. No way would I openly cheer against the home team in Fenway.

I have another regret, not tied to the Red Sox, but to baseball in general. My business travels took me to every major league city. I regret not watching a game in each ball park. Too late now.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Day Tripping

Had to wear a suit and tie today. Socks too. A business friend invited me to a luncheon of active and retired chief executive officers at the University Club in Manhattan.

It was invigorating to once again schmooze with some of the corporate elite of capitalism and hear informal presentations from the founder and CEO of FreshDirect and a former Merrill Lynch executive who started a second career as a ski resort owner in Vermont. The 25 financially focused attendees included some star power, as well. Seated around the table were Wayne Rogers (“Trapper John” McIntyre to fans of the M*A*S*H TV series) and Edward F. Cox, chairman of the NY State Republican party and husband of Tricia Nixon. They’re both financial players in their own right, by the way.

Today’s trip to the Big Apple provided an opportunity to revisit my old office haunts. It was gratifying after nearly three years of retirement to be recognized by one of the security staff in the lobby and allowed entry without having to go through identification checks and a call upstairs for clearance.

The sixth floor office had been undergoing renovation as about two-thirds of the space was sublet to a real estate firm. The entrance from the elevators had been redone. As I rode upstairs I wondered what had replaced the Southwest motif of leather banquettes with brown, red and orange accents. When the doors parted I was startled by bright, laminated white on the floor and walls, as if transported into a set from Woody Allen’s Sleeper, or maybe part of the sales floor at Bloomingdale’s.

Catching up with former associates was fun. The visit was short, no time to commiserate over the state of publishing. Just enough time to show off pictures of Finley and hear about their children. The best type of visit.

When I went back downstairs to go to the luncheon, I detoured to say hello to the Indian newsstand operator who, despite my weekly entreaties, never sold me a winning lottery ticket. Alas, he no longer works there. Maybe he kept that winning ticket for himself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Don Draper and I Wore Madras Plaid

For devotees of Mad Men, one of the more amusing scenes during Sunday’s last episode was the appearance of Don Draper at a suburban dinner party wearing a Madras plaid sports jacket, made all the more humorous by its tight, perhaps too tight, fit. I can’t relate to the tightness factor (as a youthful stick-of-a-man, most clothing draped me in excess), but I can identify with the Madras sports coat.

As a high school graduation present my parents sent their 17-year-old son on a six week trip to Israel, followed by two weeks in Italy and France. My brother Bernie initiated this gift of passage with a teen cruise to Israel after his graduation four years earlier. Instead of a similar trip two years later, my sister chose to spend her college sophomore year in Israel, which she talked our parents into extending to her junior year. Now it was my turn to venture to the Promised Land, only I would be more of a freelancer, spending time with Lee and with various family friends and relatives rather than an organized tour.

It was early July 1966 (about a year after the Mad Men episode). I’d like to say I was mature for my age, but I wasn’t. I was a gawky, painfully thin, horn-rimmed bespectacled young man. When the El Al plane landed in Israel in the midday sun, debarkation was by landing stairs rolled up to the aircraft. My sister waited behind a fence off the tarmac, a few hundred yards away. She had no difficulty recognizing me. She cringed at the sight of her younger brother decked out in a red, white and blue Madras sports jacket. Though Madras might have been au courant fashion for men in the United States, how absurd was it to be wearing a Madras sports jacket in 100 degree Israeli weather? Maybe our father would have felt the need to bring along a sports jacket, but why would a teenager? Lee wasted no time in telling me how funny I looked. Needless to say, the jacket never graced my shoulders again for the next six weeks.

Apology Time: I’m lazy about many things but usually not about my writing. Sunday I was under pressure to conclude my blog before going to meet friends for dinner so I didn’t fact check the filing deadline for this year’s taxes. In the back of my mind I thought I remembered hearing the deadline as Tuesday at midnight, but I didn’t check. Instead I wrote that because April 15 fell on a Sunday there was another day before tax returns were due. Oops. It’s tonight. Sorry about that.

Zimmerman’s Side: Sunday’s post also contained a remark that we haven’t heard George Zimmerman’s version of events that led to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I was reminded by a reader that Zimmerman’s father had told Fox News his son shot Martin after the youth attacked him, breaking his nose and repeatedly hitting his head ('s_father_claims_Trayvon_Martin_beat_his_son%2C_threatened_his_life

Of course, all that is hearsay, which many discount because police videos of Zimmerman entering custody that night show no bruising. Even assuming he cleaned up before the video at the police station, I would expect police would have taken pictures of his battered head when they first questioned him. Absent those pictures, I assume the special prosecutor did not find sufficient reason to believe his father’s version.

Could sex be the reason ABC’s Good Morning America ended the Today show’s reign as the most watched morning news show after 16 years? NBC News executives are probably too polite to imply the relationship, but I’m not bound by their prudence.

Consider: After 852 weeks, GMA overtook Today by some 13,000 viewers for the week of April 9-13, according to Nielsen, the tracking agency. Isn’t it strange that on April 12, cable viewers in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Colo., had their GMA telecast pre-empted by several seconds of hard-core porn, mistakenly transmitted by their cable provider (

Could those over-the-top 13,000 GMA watchers merely have been cable subscribers hoping for repeat exposure to nudes, not news, of the day? I know it’s far-fetched, but then, there still are some people out there who believe Sarah Palin is qualified to lead our country.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Taxing Times

April 15. Taxes due. Well, this year because April 15 falls on a Sunday you have an extra day to file. Lots of people gnash their teeth at the idea of forking over money to the government, be it federal, state or municipal. I kind of take my father’s approach. He used to say he wouldn’t mind paying $100,000 in taxes as it would mean he’d have had a very good business year.

Of course, not everyone agrees with how government collects and spends our monies. One of the more tongue-in-cheek commentaries on the “fairness” of our federal tax system comes from Al Lewis who writes a column for the Wall Street Journal that appears every Sunday with our copy of the Westchester Journal News. Here’s a link to his thoughts, “Time to Pay Up, Chump”:

Florida Bound: Now that George Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of Trayvon Martin, will that be enough to quell the rage and outrage of this seemingly senseless killing, or will a conviction be the only thing that can cool racial tempers?

Trayvon’s mother said the family just wanted Zimmerman arrested so he could stand trial. Sybrina Fulton even said on television she thought the shooting was “an accident,” though she later refined her comments to mean the encounter between Trayvon and Zimmerman was accidental but became a case of the Neighborhood Watch captain profiling her black teenage son before killing him.

We have yet to hear Zimmerman’s account of the tragedy but I’d be truly surprised if he is convicted. He might not even have his case decided by a jury. A judge may well throw out the case based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground defense statute which allows deadly force if threatened. Dave Ross, a CBS News radio commentator, provided several examples last Thursday of first-degree murder charges dismissed by judges, including one where the alleged murderer, Michael Monahan, was 20 feet from his victims, yet claimed he felt threatened. Arrest, said Ross, doesn’t necessarily lead to trial. You can listen to Ross’s short commentary, "Will It Go to a Jury," by following this link:

By the way, in case you’re wondering what the Stand Your Ground law says, here’s a salient portion of it: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

The National Rifle Association casts the debate on the death of Trayvon Martin as a gun issue, a right to bear arms issue ( But would it have made a difference if Zimmerman had knifed Trayvon to death? The issue is Stand Your Ground, not gun control. Dave Ross gave an example of Greyston Garcia who used a knife after chasing a thief and then being attacked by the perpetrator. Apparently, pursuing someone and then being threatened is sufficient legal grounds in Florida to have a judge invoke a Stand Your Ground dismissal.

All of this brings out my dark humor side. Friday night over dinner with friends, I couldn’t stop talking about asking anyone I dislike or just want to tease if they would like to go to Florida with me. I’d knock them off in some secluded spot and claim a Stand Your Ground defense after placing a knife or gun in their hand. Actually, as Monahan's case revealed, those threatening you don't even have to be armed. Or close by. The sordid deed doesn’t have to take place in Florida. About two dozen states have similar Stand Your Ground statutes. Of course, I was only joking during dinner (aided by a large glass of chilled vodka). The real effect of all these laws is that one should never lose one’s temper anymore. You can never tell whether the person to whom you are directing your anger feels threatened and takes the ultimate defense, straight to your heart.

Mister Roberts: While we’re on the subject of judges, here’s an interesting fact. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation encountered problems with the Supreme Court, and he considered “packing” it with more judges favorable to his thinking, the swing justice on many of the cases was Owen Roberts. Many of the decisions rested on interpretations of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. How fascinating that the current Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts (no relation) must decide if the Commerce Clause gave Congress authority to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Charity Work: Is it time to start a charity for Levi Johnston? We’ll call it Condoms for Levi. If you haven’t heard, the former boyfriend of Bristol Palin has impregnated another girl, though this one’s mother probably won’t be running for higher office.

For the Birds: Some people have dogs to clean up leftovers. I have birds. Leftover Passover matzo and really hallucious-tasting Crispy O’s (a Passover kosher version of Cheerios) will become bird food now that the holiday is over. In case you haven’t figured it out, hallucious is a Yiddishism for vile or atrocious. But birds being the scavengers they are, I have no doubt they will eat away, as long as they don’t break their beaks on the hard as rock Crispy O’s.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Finally, Some More Political Thoughts

You might have noticed (my ego hopes you have), lately new blog postings have not been showing up as frequently as in the past. There’s a simple explanation, having nothing to do with running out of topics to write about or opinions to discourse. Rather, it’s because five days a week I’m involved in educational pursuits that have eaten into my free time. I’m even finding it difficult to watch the recorded Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, causing me to make a conscious decision as to which source of news and commentary is more beneficial—the two Comedy Central shows or reading the NY Times.

Anyway, here are some thoughts that have been rolling around my brain the last few days...

How could anyone call her a “Democratic strategist”? I’m referring, of course, to Hilary Rosen, who made the asinine comment on Wednesday that Ann Romney, wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, was somehow unfit to comment on women’s economic issues because she never worked for pay outside the home.

Did she honestly believe stay-at-home moms provide no value to the household, that they don’t understand, in very real terms, economics, when the cost of peanut butter skyrockets, when the tab for filling up the car with gas for the soccer/Little League/ice skating/cheerleading practice isn’t gushing forever skyward, when home heating bills force her to swaddle the baby in extra blankets to keep fuels bills from exceeding monthly mortgage payments?

It doesn’t matter that Ann Romney might be rich enough to not worry about those problems. But anyone who has risen to the status of “strategist” should understand basic political talk, and that every comment made, no matter how innocent, might well be turned against them and used by their adversaries.

Rosen has apologized for her “poorly chosen” words, which have been repudiated by President Obama and his re-election staff. That’s not enough. Rosen should be summarily dismissed from any aspect of the Democratic campaign for not only poor judgment but also for giving Republicans an opportunity to carve into the substantial lead Obama has over Romney among women.

Let’s be clear: Even if she didn’t put her foot in her mouth, and by extension, give the impression she was voicing Obama/Democratic thinking, there would be many women who did not support four more years of an Obama presidency. What she did was rile up the opposition, giving it another talking point no matter how many times she (or Obama) apologizes or retracts her statement. An already difficult re-election has been made more difficult. Instead of focusing on other issues, Obama must now spend time cementing his appeal to Independent women (and any Republican woman who thinks for herself).

Don’t Get Sick: Only the most optimistic supporters of the Affordable Care Act believe the Supreme Court will uphold the law. Which means millions of Americans might find themselves without insurance coverage by mid-summer. Which begs the question, what will Republicans do to preserve some of the more well-received features of the so-called Obamacare, such as the provision that denies insurance companies the right to withhold coverage based on a pre-existing condition, and the ability to insure children until age 26 if they don’t have their own insurance?

If Congressional Republicans don’t pass immediate remedial bills in these areas when they return from their summer recess (under the assumption the Supreme Court will void the entire law and not just the mandate part), health care once again will become a core issue in the campaign. Romney should not be allowed to ask voters to wait until he’s elected to secure a new health care law. House Speaker John Boehner should have his staff working on a bill right now, given his stern belief Obamacare is unconstitutional.

I wouldn’t count on it, however. Just don’t get sick after June.

Speaking of Health Care ... Here’s a dilemma Romney will face at the GOP nominating convention in Tampa: To shore up his conservative credentials, how much face time will he give to his rivals? Actually, I don’t see that as too much of a big deal. No, the real dilemma will be, should he allow former vice president and new heart recipient Dick Cheney a turn in the spotlight?

So far, Romney has not embraced former president George W. Bush. He wants no link to the man who sent the country off to two God-forsaken wars after his staff ignored warnings about an Al-Qaeda attack, and who saddled the country in more mounting debt with a Medicare prescription drug plan. But Cheney is a neocon hero, a talk-tough pol who would cause applause to cascade down from the rafters of the convention hall. Could Romney withstand the comparisons to Cheney? More to the point, could he afford to remind voters that Cheney in great part bequeethed to the country a legacy of vitriol, war and debt? A Cheney speech would rouse the convention delegates and inspire the faithful at home, but most assuredly be so partisan it would turn off Independent voters.

Speaking of Vice President: To me, it’s almost a no-brainer—Romney will pick Marco Rubio, the first-term U.S. senator from Florida, as his running mate. The son of Cuban refugees will secure Florida in the Republican column, as well as help Romney close the gap with Obama among Hispanic voters in other states. He’s also more conservative than Romney, so the hard-core will feel better about voting for him for president.

Obama’s only chance of winning Florida again is if Sarah Silverman and her Jewish cohorts descend on the Sunshine State on election day and hold their collective breaths until grandma and grandpa (and maybe some mothers and fathers) vote for a man they repeatedly have been told is Israel’s worst enemy ever in the White House.

Instead of a Florida election, perhaps we should have a competition between ethnics. Let’s see, Dominoes? Pinochle? Mah-Jong? At least it would be a lot more entertaining than picking a president by counting hanging chads.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Matzo Balls, Soft and Fluffy

For dinner tonight, Gilda and I polished off the last of the matzo balls and chicken soup left over from Friday night’s first Passover seder. Gilda boils light, fluffy matzo balls, just like my mother used to make. I know there are some who consider a matzo ball’s density the true test of culinary art. Suffice to say, I subscribe to the belief that hard matzo balls could substitute for cannon balls, while dissolve-in-your-mouth matzo balls are to die for.

One year during the seder in my parents’ home, the matzo balls almost turned into an orthodontic disaster. Without telling anyone, my mother hid a blanched almond inside each matzo ball. Her unsuspecting family and guests assumed they would easily melt inside their mouths. The crunch and resistance we all felt made everyone uneasy. Too embarrassed to say anything, we wondered if she had somehow mixed chicken bones into the matzo ball batter. When she finally noticed everyone avoiding finishing their matzo balls, she volunteered that she had hidden a “surprise” inside each sphere. Enlightened and relieved, we gobbled up the rest, and thereafter joked about it at all subsequent seders.

We had a small, manageable crowd of 18 hungry souls at the seder table this year. For the first time in many years my cousin Michael, with his wife, Mary, drove up from Baltimore. Michael filled the void created when his mother, the last survivor of our aunts and uncles, moved last year to Kansas with his younger brother, Steve, and his wife, Grace. It felt right to have someone representing Aunt Lily’s side of the family.

This was the first year Finley “participated.” He sat next to his mother, for the most part transfixed, intently watching and smiling as we performed various rituals and recited prayers. I think he most appreciated the grape juice he drank as part of the ceremony. He must have been enthralled with the proceedings as he stayed awake talking to his crib companions for about an hour after Allison and Dan put him to bed.

So far, Finley has not discovered the joy of matzo ball soup. But if he’s anything like his dad, he will. One of Dan’s lasting memories of my mother was her spoon-feeding him matzo ball soup when we’d visit her in Brooklyn. GG’s (Grandma Gilda’s) matzo balls are sure to find a soft spot in Finley’s heart in the months ahead.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Magic City Memories

Tonight, as family and friends sit around our Seder table, a nostalgic look at Miami Beach in 1959 airs on the Starz network. “Magic City” is a typical TV depiction of a bygone era, with beautiful people populating the picture.

I've been to Miami Beach many, many times, the first trip in January 1958. On doctor’s advice, my mother took my sister and me to the warmth of Florida. Ten-year-old Lee and our mother had just recovered from whooping cough, I from the flu.

It was Lee’s and my first time flying. We flew Eastern Airlines, a four-engine propeller plane. During the flight a stewardess allowed us to enter the cockpit and observe the pilot and crew. When we returned to our seats she pinned wings on my shirt.

In Miami Beach we stayed in South Beach on Collins Avenue, at the Surfside, an art deco hotel next to its twin, the Seaside (not sure of that second hotel’s name). The hotels served as sentinels flanking a shared pool, with the ocean a few steps down from the elevated pool area. My father’s friend Beno and his son Oscar ran the hotel’s food service, so we ate well. Except that eight-year-old Murray was a finicky eater, meaning my diet basically consisted of hamburgers and French fries, or anything else greasy. Every meal. Midway through our two week stay I developed a skin rash on my chest. The doctor informed my mother the rash was a reaction to all the fried food and grease I was eating. He counseled a change of diet. Knowing her pencil-thin son would surely vanish into thin air if she enforced this suggested regimen, she merely thanked him and relied on my discretion to not eat as many fries with each meal.

We did all the touristy things you’re supposed to do. We ate in Wolfie’s deli. We stopped at the Nosh-a-Rye, famous for its ice cream desserts. We gaped at the Fontainebleau Hotel. We saw a show at the aquarium, as well as at the Parrot Jungle. One day, I went with Oscar’s 12-year-old son to fish off the piers. This was my first time fishing, and I even caught a bone fish, a slim fish about a foot long with sharp teeth. But what I most remember about the fishing expedition was the return bus trip to the hotel. I’d been taking Brooklyn city buses for the better part of three years to and from school. However, I had never encountered a bus like the one in Miami Beach. To exit the back door, you had to wait for a green light to appear above the door and then you pushed the door out. My first embarrassment was just standing there in the stairwell, waiting for the bus driver to open the door. After being told I had to push the door open, my next, more devastating embarrassment ensued. Try as I might, I lacked the might to push the door open. How humiliating! Oscar’s son managed to thrust his arm above my head and push open the door. My excitement at catching the bone fish exited with us as we stepped onto the curb.

Lee and I agree our stay in Miami Beach was not too memorable, though I was a little ahead of the curve when push-door buses came to New York shortly thereafter. I wisely never lined up as the first one seeking to get off the bus. I’m recording “Magic City.” I don’t expect it to be as good as “Mad Men” as a period piece, but I’m sure I will feel a certain bit of pride and identification that I was there when it all began.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Penny Ante

The news hardly stirred a ripple below the 49th parallel, but word came down from Canada last week that our friendly neighbors to the north are about to do away with their pennies. Because they costs 50% more to produce than what they are worth, “the Royal Canadian Mint will end its production this fall as part of (an) austerity budget,” the Associated Press reported (

Hardly a press-stopper, but its implications to American society and commerce no doubt will be felt in the coming years, as our government, too, considers shelving the penny to save money. I doubt many people will lament its passing, except for those of us old enough to share nostalgic memories of penny candy bars, long stick pretzels, two-cents plain sodas, and the fun of pitching pennies against a wall.

I’ll be particularly sad as I associate pennies with one of my most vivid childhood memories—the weekly, Friday night poker games my parents ran for our family of five and two or three of my brother’s teenage friends, Jerry, Stanley, and Michael. As our home was less observant than Bernie’s friends’ homes were, they would file in one by one after their Sabbath eve meals concluded. I never knew if their parents were aware they were violating the Orthodox prohibition on touching money on the Sabbath.

I suspect we started playing poker around the time I was eight-years-old, my sister Lee, 10, and Bernie, 12. Stakes were penny-two. The games were noisy, rowdy affairs, often punctuated by complaints that Michael had sweaty hands and was bending the cards out of shape.

Our parents treated us like adults sitting across a card table. If we were old enough to play, we were old enough to lose, and lose graciously. We usually played deuces wild, seven card stud. Sometimes, jacks or better. I can’t rightly remember how much money we’d start off with, but I definitely can recall many a time I’d have to excuse myself for a few minutes while I went into my bedroom to coax more pennies out of my clear glass piggy bank. Overall, I’d say I won as often as I lost, but I surely learned more proper behavior from the times I left the game lighter, and with eyes not as dry as when I sat down to play.

We played poker for several years until our father returned from a trip to Japan when I was 11. He came back with rules for a Chinese card game, Fan-tan. I don’t fully remember all the strategies of the game, but here’s a link if you’re interested in the rules:

Fan-tan kept our interest for a little while, until we began playing a version of Hearts that incorporated some aspects of Fan-tan.

For about six years, card games were our weekly Friday night diversion, except during the summer when we’d be away at camp. All that changed, however, when Bernie entered Brooklyn College. Our mother decided we needed a more cerebral pursuit, so she initiated Friday night Scrabble games. Bernie and I became quite proficient, but Scrabble did not have the same appeal to his friends, nor to our father. Lee, Bernie’s friends, and Bernie, as well, awakened to more hormonal interests. Friday night at the Forseters no longer enjoyed communal status. Now, it’s only a matter of time before the penny loses its currency status.