Thursday, May 31, 2012

Health Notes

Gilda’s far more well-read than I. She absorbs books, magazines, newspapers and Web sites at a prodigious rate. She finds way more articles than I do to pass on to her mate, especially ones on exercise, diet and health. I’m forever fed a full plate of ways to improve myself—less red meat, more exercise, more fruits and vegetables, more exercise, fewer sweets, even those with sugar-substitutes, more exercise. 

Naturally, I relish the few instances when I can defend my almost indefensible (prone) position of non-activity. Two months ago I forwarded to her an article from the NY Times on a study of how statins can cause muscle aches and fatigue. The Times said the effects may be especially pronounced in people who exercise. As I take Simvastatin to reduce my cholesterol level, I found comfort in the study. Of course, the study subjects were rats, but I’ve been called worse, so I identified with the results. 

Today, The Times front-paged more anti-exercise ammunition. “For Some, Exercise May Increase Heart Risks, Researchers Find,” screamed the headline ( The article suggested 10% of the population may fall under this risk classification. Not that I’m desirous of being susceptible to increased heart risk, but there’s no reason to tempt the Fates by openly inviting their wrath through exercise. Naturally, I sent the article along to Gilda. 

Another Times article today discussed the reluctance of patients to talk about their conditions with their physicians ( I generally don’t have that problem. Indeed, Gilda tells me I am too loquacious, providing extraneous data, at least in her view as a medical professional (a nurse practitioner). Could be I’m camouflaging my anxiety by talking too much. 

Anyway, my next annual physical is tomorrow. My blood work is generally good—cholesterol down to 165; HDL 41, LDL 79. Triglycerides, while still above normal, are 31% lower than six months ago. Still have to work to reduce my blood sugar levels, though. 

Here’s a headline from today I really like: “Murray Fights Through the Pain to Advance.” It’s over an article about Andy Murray advancing to the third round of the French Open despite back and leg ailments. As anyone who has played ball with me knows, I’m always complaining about sore knees, sore Achilles tendons and lower back pain. I play through it all, as well, though I don’t always win. By the way, in games I have pitched in so far this year, including a nine-inning stint a week ago, our softball team is 2-1 (overall, 2-2). 

It’s been months since I tried to see a free movie on a Tuesday. But with a new flick out titled “Bernie,” my brother’s name, I was compelled to try the other day. I arrived half an hour before the 4:10 pm showing, but the film, starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black, was sold out. “Sold out” is really a euphemism for senior citizens and the unemployed taking advantage of free film cards they get as part of our cable company triple-play package. “Bernie” is about a mortician who befriends a wealthy, nasty old lady in Texas who he eventually kills and stuffs into a freezer on her property. It’s based on a true story. I’m hoping it will be at least as entertaining as “Weekend at Bernie’s.” 

Speaking of my brother, he and wife Annette just returned from Vietnam, a side trip from a visit to Hong Kong. My sister Lee and husband David toured Vietnam two years ago when their son Jonathan was working in Singapore. I’m a little envious of these trips. Now, that is. I could easily have preceded them to Vietnam 40 years ago had I passed my draft physical. As I previously wrote, I flunked my physical by being underweight, the first time in my life I ever was proud of my physique. 

Here’s another sign the NY Yankees of 2012 are a shell of their former selves. Despite a recent power shortage, particularly with the bases loaded (they’re 0 for their last 17), the Yankees really need more starting pitching, given the inconsistencies of Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda plus the season-ending injury to Michael Pineda. Yet, the George Steinbrenner-less Yankees did not, or could not, convince Roy Oswalt to join their staff. Oswalt signed a reported $5 million, one-year deal with the Texas Rangers, more validation that the mantle of baseball dynasty, at least in the American League, has been transferred to the Rangers, league champions the last two years. 

True, the free-agent Oswalt is coming off an injury-plagued 2011, but there is little doubt he would be at least as effective as Hughes or Kuroda. It’s painful to watch the Yankees slip into mediocrity, at best, insignificance, at worst. I never thought I’d miss George. 

It’s enough to drive a fan to drink. But in New York City, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, you’ll be restricted in the size of sugary soft drinks you can purchase in a restaurant, deli or sports arena—no more than 16 ounces of pap per serving. It’s a health issue, part of Bloomberg’s continuous war on obesity and its causes. 

It’s disingenuous to argue sugared soft drink consumption doesn’t contribute to added weight and possibly to adult onset diabetes. Bloomberg’s opponents would argue he is dictating how people may live their lives, that he’s usurping (or is it un-syruping) their rights. Yet it is also indisputable the rising cost of health care for the obese and diabetic is a silent tax on everyone, that it is in the public interest to control consumption of products that destroy lives and cost the taxpayer to medicate. It’s just like efforts to fight tobacco use, or trans fats in restaurant food.

Now, as a long-time Coca-Cola drinker—the real stuff, not diet—until about 20 years ago, I can tell you some people do not gain weight from it. I wouldn’t have flunked that draft physical if Coke had packed pounds onto my frame. But Coke did play a part in elevating my blood sugar levels. 

I’m not thrilled the public and businesses would have some of their rights curtailed. But I am supportive of a government policy that aims to improve the quality of life for everyone, even if they don’t realize it’s in their best interests. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nixon's The One

It’s all over but the trite, obligatory ceremonial dropping of balloons and confetti on the Republican nominee for president of the United States, along with his wife, running mate and spouse, at the close of the GOP nominating convention in August in Tampa. It will be a perfunctory coronation of a standard bearer who by most accounts does not excite the party base except in the prospect he could defeat the incumbent because he would not scare too many Independents into believing a Romney administration would hoe so much to the right that women and minorities would find many of their rights put back in the closet while the middle class and blue collar workers put false hopes in the mantra of trickle down economics.

Two weeks ago David Brooks in The NY Times asked why Barack Obama is still competitive in the presidential race, given the problems with the economy and the resulting malaise of much of the public, his left-leaning ideological bent while the electorate slants more and more to the right, and the fact that 52% of those polled in a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey say the current level of economic inequality is acceptable (for the full article, follow this link:

It was an interesting take, but one that failed to properly put into perspective the failure of the GOP to seize the moment. Had Republicans put aside their ideological warfare, their divisive, anti-everything-and-anything progressive or compassionate during the primaries, they could have solidified their prospects come November. They could have selected a fiscal conservative, socially moderate candidate in the image of ... Richard Nixon.

How’s that for a shocker? I’m no Nixon fan, but his paranoia aside, Nixon did some fairly progressive acts during his presidency. Let’s ignore for the moment his foreign policy and war mongering. Did you know, for example, that during his presidency revenue sharing between the federal government and states began? He signed into law establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Equal Opportunity Employment Act and Title IX that provides funding for girls athletics programs in schools. 

He created the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, worked to increase the hiring of minority-owned contractors on large federal projects and favored affirmative action programs setting goals and timetables for minority hiring. Nixon signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1970 that abolished voter literacy tests. He began the War on Cancer, banned cigarette advertising on television, increased social security benefits, established the National Business Council for Consumer Affairs. He founded the Drug Enforcement Administration. He signed the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973, the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act of 1974, the Fair Labor Standards Amendment of 1974 and the Federal Energy Administration Act of 1974.

Sure, he might not have wholeheartedly championed all of these programs. But he didn’t veto them. He worked with Congress, a Democratic-controlled Congress. It’s safe to say Nixon would not be considered a true Republican by those controlling his party’s fate these days. Many have their doubts about Romney, as well.

Today’s Times brought another example of Romney-speak versus Romney-reality. According to James. E. Ryan, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, Romney’s education reform plan speech last week included a proposal to “give poor students and those with disabilities the right to attend any public school or charter school in their state.” Current law does not permit students to travel beyond their municipal borders (

It’s a pretty radical idea, one that has the potential to revolutionize the distribution of education in our country. I strongly doubt, however, that Romney is being any more than demagogic in suggesting this radical idea. Are we sincerely to believe Mitt could get bedrock GOPers to support a change that would allow inner city youth to stream into their suburban communities? 

Let’s get real. This election will be about shared community versus individual greed, about tolerance versus dogma, about future opportunities versus past practices that included closed doors. For all his faults, Nixon’s accomplishments helped push our country forward. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Thoughts

Madonna and Lady Gaga are no strangers to controversy. Now they are providing an almost parallel case study of tolerance by two of the worlds great religions, Islam and Judaism. Lady Gaga had to cancel her June 3 concert in Jakarta, Indonesia, after fundamentalists railed against her as a devil, not being in the best interest of Islamic morals. Violence was threatened. 

Madonna, meanwhile, has been targeted by Jewish extremists. Her concert in Tel Aviv Thursday is still on but there's no guarantee she will not submit to religious pressure, too, or that protests could mar the event.

FYI, Lady Gaga has scheduled a Tel Aviv concert for August.

On another religious note, here's something I overheard in a car full of teenagers last week: “Why is the devil evil if he punishes bad people?” Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

One of the most emailed stories from The NY Times last week profiled Robert Page, the founder and CEO of Replacements Limited ( Replacements is a host’s salvation for filling in missing or broken pieces of discontinued china, crystal and flatware. 

Page outwardly supported opposition to the North Carolina constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a position that has hurt Replacements’ business. Page is gay; with his partner of 23 years he is the parent of 13-year-old twins adopted in 1999 in Vietnam.

I've known Page since 1991 when my magazine profiled him as an Entrepreneur of the Year selected by Ernst & Young. About 10 years ago I visited Page in his showroom outside Greensboro, N.C. He couldn’t have been more gracious and proud of his company.

I know all the reasons businessmen avoid taking public stands on controversial issues. Here are two comments posted on The Times Web site about the story. They pretty much capture the sentiment surrounding the plus and minus of speaking out: 

“Any smart business person will tell you that picking a public political fight is almost always bad for business. Good intentions rarely bring profits,” said Robert from Tuckahoe.

On the other hand, Rob from New York City said, “How sad more people aren't like Mr. Page and stand up for what is right. ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’” That quote is from Edmund Burke.

I wonder if Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana believes in that quote. Recently defeated in a Republican primary by a conservative candidate who has openly said he would not compromise with Democrats (actually, Richard Mourdock said his view of bipartisanship entails Democrats acceding to GOP positions), Lugar told CBS’ Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer Sunday he has no plans to campaign for Mourdock. As part of his explanation for being defeated, Lugar opined, “A large portion of the Republican Party of Indiana believed, apparently, in the idea of individualism as opposed to community, a sense of compromise, or a sense of talking across the aisle."

Fair enough, but if he were truly a patriot, Lugar would campaign against such narrow-mindedness. He’d put country over party. If he truly believes Mourdock and those similar to him, who have taken control of the Republican Party and turned it into a bastion of individualism versus community, how could he not support candidates who would embrace compromise, even if they are Democrats?

It’s taken me two weeks to get to it, but I’ve started to fill out the crossword puzzle from the May 13 Sunday NY Times Magazine. Lo and behold, I’ve uncovered an anti-birther bias. The correct answer to the clue for 41 Down, “Obama’s birthplace,” is “Hawaii.” 

Take that, you skeptics, including the secretary of state of Arizona (who just dropped his threat to keep Obama off the ballot if he couldn’t verify his birth certificate), Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona who has fielded a voluntary investigation unit into the matter in Hawaii, and Donald Trump who once again is stoking the fires of disbelief Barack Obama was born in the United States and qualifies to be president.

Ah, well, it’s Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the service and sacrifice men and women provided our country in support of the liberties we hold dear, including the right to challenge reality. Last evening Gilda and I had the pleasure of spending time with a veteran of World War II, Herb Bilus, and his family. Herb served in the Coast Guard and was part of a landing craft team that ferried troops to the shores of Normandy on D-Day. At 91, he’s slow afoot but still sharp as a tack. 

Memorial Day weekend has special significance for our family, as well. Twelve years ago, at the national collegiate Ultimate Frisbee championships in Boise, Idaho, our son Dan started dating Allison. Six years later they married. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Union Blues, Email Blues, Baseball Blues

Union Trouble: A federal judge has ruled a large retail company violated federal labor laws and had intimidated workers seeking to become the first unionized store in the chain. He set aside the vote taken last June to deny unionization and ordered a second election be held.

Sacre bleu! Had Wal-Mart once again infuriated the populace, supplying more ammunition to those who would keep it out of the Big Apple while they happily shop in discount store heaven at Tar-jay? But wait. Zut alors! It was not Wal-Mart that incurred the wrath of Steven Davis, an administrative law judge with the National labor Relations Board. It was Target!

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, Wal-Mart and Target act essentially alike in most operational matters, such as hourly pay scales, benefits including health insurance, and a fervent anti-union bias. Wal-Mart bears the brunt of most objections because it is much larger than Target and, to be honest, the elites who govern municipalities and those who comment on it prefer the d├ęcor and merchandise inside a Target store to that of Wal-Mart. It’s only recently that union leaders, who allowed Target to gain a foothold in New York City without serious objection, have finally turned their sights onto the bullseye-logoed chain. 

"When Target tries to open stores in this city, we'll bring this decision to the City Council," said Pat Purcell, assistant to the president of Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. "This is important information we need to disseminate. This is not the image people had of Target a year ago." 

Email Screeds: My retired friend Gary sent me a video of divers swimming around a coral reef. Beautiful video, but as you may know, coral reefs are dying because of too much pollution and intrusion by humans. So what's the solution—let them die off or place restrictions (yes, by government action) on their use so that they may be enjoyed forever and contribute to ocean life (and that of mankind, as well, through the food chain)? 

It's a tough choice. Do we care just about our pleasures and the here and now, or do we care about future generations? 

Being retired and recuperating from knee surgery, Gary has too much time on his hands, I believe. He’s always sending me right-wing screeds, most of which he doesn’t bother to vet through or some other source. In the last few days no fewer than 10 emails. 

One of the latest I received had two parts, the first citing an article reportedly from Investors Business Daily that compared medical statistics compiled by the United Nations for the United States, Canada and England. By wide margins the U.S. came out ahead in the following categories: percentage of men and women who survived a cancer five years after diagnosis; percentage of patients diagnosed with diabetes who received treatment within six months; percentage of seniors needing hip replacement who received it within six months; percentage referred to a medical specialist who sees them within one month; number of MRI scanners per million people;  percentage of seniors (65+), with low income, who say they are in "excellent health”.

All this by way of getting to the email’s central first point—England and Canada have national health insurance; the U.S. doesn’t, thus underscoring why we have better health care and should resist Obamacare.

Assuming the data was correct, I pointed out to Gary another United Nations study, this one of life spans among 194 countries. In that study, the United States came in 38th, with an average life span of 78.2 years for everyone, 75.6 for men and 80.8 for women. The United Kingdom (England is not broken out separately) ranked 20th, with an overall average of 79.4 years, 77.2 for men, 81.6 for women. Canada was number 12, with an overall figure of 80.7 years, 78.3 for men, 82.9 for women.

So I guess if you want to live longer the U.S. isn't such a good place to reside, compared to 37 other countries including England and Canada.

By the way, a Central Intelligence Agency study ranked Canada in 13th place, the United Kingdom 28th and the United States 50th!

The second part of Gary’s email focused on allegations President Obama’s cabinet lacks members with prior business experience (only 8%), as compared to previous administrations going back to that of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s another falsehood spread by right wingers, I told him, but even if we assume the numbers are correct, here are some interesting points to be extracted from the bogus data: 

Harding, Coolidge and Hoover each were said to have had more than 40% of their respective cabinets stocked with business experienced secretaries. Yet they failed to monitor excesses of industry and business and led us into the Great Depression and couldn't get us out of it; Reagan’s cabinet was said to have 56% with business experience, yet he raised taxes 11 times; George W. Bush supposedly had 55% with business experience, yet he led us into the worst recession since the Great Depression. 

In other words, having businessmen in your cabinet does not necessarily lead to having a smart cabinet, one that knows what to do with the economy or has compassion for the common man.

Baseball Redux? From my birth in 1949 until I was 16 years old, there was one constant in my sporting life. Except for 1954 and 1959, I could count on the NY Yankees being in the World Series. They won 14 American League championships in the span of 16 years, converting nine of those pennants into World Series victories. 

From 1995 through 2011, the Bronx Bombers displayed an equally prodigious appetite for post-season play. They participated in 16 out of 17 playoffs. They represented the American League in seven World Series, winning five. 

But this 2012 season has all the earmarks of 1965 when the Yankees collapsed after losing a seven-game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. Interestingly, St. Louis won the baseball title last year, again in seven games, this time over the Texas Rangers, the new powerhouse of the American League.

In 1964, the Yankees had a 99-63 record. In 1965, the Yanks tumbled to a 77-85 record as their stars, including Mickey Mantle, Joe Pepitone, Tom Tresh, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Mel Stottlemyre, and Al Downing, all seemed to get old at the same time. 

After 42 games this year, one-quarter of the schedule, the Yankees record is 21-21. Age apparently has overtaken this year’s roster. I’m not going to pile on and relate the causes of their ineptitude. You can read about it on any sports page or listen to it on any sports radio or TV show. I’m just going to note I’m old enough to have enjoyed two exceptional periods of baseball productivity. When the first ended in 1964, Yankees fans suffered through a drought of 11 years of early season-ending good-byes. 

No Yankees baseball in October was especially hard given the pathetic play of the NY Football Giants during that era. I fear the Yankees have entered another baseball desert wasteland. I hope I’m proved wrong. I’ll check back with you in October (if not sooner), but at least the Giants appear to be on solid ground.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Odds & Ends: Yankees, Swimming, Vegetable Oil, Romney, E-Mail

After another disheartening loss by the NY Yankees, this time to the Cincinnati Reds, I thought I’d ask one of my friends, a long-suffering NY Mets fan, how I could cope with a season of unfulfilled expectations. 

“Realistic expectations,” was Ken’s response, a philosophy he has perfected over many years but which he readily admitted was foreign to Yankees fans who have grown accustomed to regular season success, at the very least. 

Based on their play and their injury-laden roster, the Yankees and their fans are in for a very loooong season. Will it be a success if we manage to finish ahead of Boston?

Ken is my swimming instructor. He’s opened his pool, but it’s weeks too early to even consider dipping a dainty toe into the water, even if he heats it up. We agree I have the fundamentals down, that my failure to stay afloat is mostly, if not all, mental. Ken suggested adding a psychologist to the instructional team. My sister suggested a hypnotist. 

It’s still open to debate who will learn to swim first—two and a half year old Finley or his 63 year old grandfather.

The other day while driving home I was stopped behind a Mercedes with a decal across the back window proclaiming, “Powered by vegetable oil.”

Cool. Except the car really smelled like cooked French fries. 

The Sunday NY Times ran a profile of Mitt Romney and how the Mormon religion has shaped his life (“Romney’s Faith, Silent but Deep,” 

He is, no doubt, a religious man. Nothing wrong there. But I was troubled especially by the last paragraph of the story, the one where Ann Romney was quoted about his decision to run for president. According to Gloria White-Hammond, a friend and pastor of a Boston-area African Methodist Episcopal church, Mrs. Romney said she and her husband “felt it was what God wanted them to do.” 

I’m troubled whenever anyone, other than maybe a clergyman, ascribes actions to what God wanted them to do. Is that how our government will be managed, by what is perceived to be messages from God? Romney, it turns out, as a practicing Mormon, is said to believe God has chosen the United States to be a special nation, that its Constitution is divinely inspired. 

“God is on our side” often is a rallying cry of countries that go to war. Heaven need truly help us if we devolve into a 21st century nation that believes our actions are always godly and beyond reproach. 

A friend sent me one of those right wing emails that deplore what is wrong with America and what we need to do to fix it. The thrust of this missive was too many people are taking money from the government without contributing anything in return. In other words, the have-nots are bleeding the haves dry. “We have let the free stuff giving go on for so long that there are now more people getting free stuff than paying for the free stuff.” 

Here’s the final credo:

Borders: Closed!
Language: English only
Culture: Constitution, and the Bill of Rights!
Drug Free: Mandatory Drug Screening before Welfare!
NO freebies to: Non-Citizens!

I can’t let these screeds go unanswered, so here’s a little of what I wrote back:

Here's a link to a USA Today article . In essence it says: 
50 million are on Medicaid
40 million get food stamps
10 million are on unemployment
4.4 million are on welfare.

Assuming no one is double dipping, that means 104.4 million receive some form of government assistance. That's roughly one-third of the U.S. population, not a majority. Enrollments in these programs have gone up because of the recession George W. Bush left as his legacy. 

Would you really like to live in a country that does not care for its elderly, for its infirm, for those who are not provided a proper education so they can climb out of poverty? Would you really like to live in a country that has no compassion for the less fortunate? Are you comfortable living in the richest country in the world while millions of children go to bed hungry each night? 

For sure there is waste, lots of waste, in these programs. But just as we don't tar the full military for the wrongdoings of a few idiots, we shouldn't dismiss the benefits these programs provide to the needy, of all ages, sexes, creeds, religions, background, and country of origin. 

Many in our country donate to worthwhile charities and other helpful programs. Yet poverty persists. Hunger remains. Education budgets are cut at a time when we need better trained employees. Private solutions are not sufficient to solve our problems. An economy without controls will lead to more abuses a la Enron, Tyco, JP Morgan Chase, and the derivative crisis that is the derivation of much of the financial problems of today. Surely you can't believe that we live in a Pollyanna world where everything will turn out just right if we pray hard for it and wish for it because in their hearts all men and women are good and would not take advantage of their neighbors and countrymen? There's a reason the first thing new settlers build is not a church but rather a jail. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Going Sideways

On my way to deliver a Meals on Wheels package in Yonkers Wednesday, I entered an elevator with a woman already inside. When the elevator went down instead of up, she said down and up were the only directions you could go in an elevator. I respectfully disagreed.

About 25 years ago, on a rainy work day, I decided not to venture outside to secure my lunch. Instead, as I had done on numerous occasions, I chose to fop my way off as one of the lawyers of Finley Kumble, a large legal firm with multiple floors in our building with a short-order staff cafeteria on the 14th floor. I descended from my sixth floor office to the lobby and entered the elevator bank that would take me to the 14th floor. Sandwich and soda in bag in hand, I re-entered the elevator with two Finley Kumble associates, one man, one woman, no wiser to their fellow traveler’s interloper status.

The doors closed. We started our controlled descent. Suddenly, we stopped. Between floors. No panic. Building security quickly contacted us through the elevator telephone. They’d have us out in no time, they said.

“No time” dragged on for more than half an hour. It was now close to 1 pm. I was hungry. I had my lunch with me, but reasoned if I broke out the goodies I’d be obligated to share with my stuck elevator companions. I’m embarrassed to say I was not in favor of that option, at least not then. Perhaps if hours went by and everyone had expressed hunger pains I’d be more forthcoming with my food. I opted to hold out. 

Almost an hour after our interrupted journey, building security advised the elevator could not be restarted. To extract us from our vertical shell, they’d would have to line up another elevator next to ours, remove the side panels of both transports and have us gingerly walk across the exposed elevator shaft to the working elevator. 

Trepidation, not yet panic, set in. We joked it would be like walking across a log over a stream. Of course, the stream would be about 10 or more stories below. When the technicians entered our car, they cautioned us not to look down, to just walk naturally across the chasm into the adjacent elevator. 

In truth, the distance was probably no wider than two feet, a regular stride, for me, at least. Still, I was sufficiently repentant to believe someone was sending me a message my not-so-legal use of the Finley Kumble cafeteria was not kosher, if you get my drift. I never returned to the Finley Kumble cafeteria.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wild Things

If there was one book I loved reading to our children when they were young it was “Where the Wild Things Are.” Maurice Sendak’s vividly dark, surreal tale of the rambunctious, undisciplined Max in his wolf suit let me entertain Dan and Ellie with my best growls and snorts. Naturally, I was saddened by Sendak’s death last week, but I was comforted by the prospect of reading “Where the Wild Things Are” to Finley during our Mother’s Day weekend visit. Alas, as Gilda was putting Finley to bed last night, I heard her reading the book to the little fellow, and having quite a good time of it gnashing her teeth and making wild things sounds. This morning I asked Finley if he wanted me to read it to him. He responded like Max with a firm, “No.” Ah, well, maybe next time we see him.

Perhaps one reason I enjoyed Sendak is we shared a first name. In his early years Sendak’s moniker was Murray. Why he later preferred Maurice, I cannot tell you. Maybe he thought it had more of an artistic flair. His most famous character, Max, was the name of my father’s youngest sibling, killed in the Holocaust. I almost was named Max in his memory (my mother chose Murray, instead). The son of my father’s only surviving sibling was named Max. 

Sendak, for those not aware of it, was homosexual. He had a 50 year relationship with the late Dr. Eugene Glynn. It’s another example that LGBT couples are just as likely to have loving, lasting relationships as do straight people. Sadly ironic that Sendak passed away the same week North Carolina voters chose to join some 30 other states in declaring marriage is to be solely between a man and a woman. 

Here’s an interesting statistic—North Carolina, according to the most recent data, has an above average divorce rate, as do many of the anti-LGBT states. So much for those Bible-belters holding marriage as a sacred state. New York’s divorce rate, by contrast, is below average.  

One of the best commentaries on the whole affair comes courtesy of a friend of daughter-in-law Allison. She posted a Facebook message of the following chalk sign, “If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.”

Speaking of Facebook, some Wall Streeters expressed annoyance at Jeffrey Zuckerberg for wearing his signature hoodie sweatshirt, and not a suit and tie, at an investors’ presentation prior to the company’s initial public  stock offering (IPO) slated for next Friday. “I think he has to realize he’s bringing investors in as a new constituency right now, and I think he’s got to show them the respect that they deserve because he’s asking them for their money,” Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Securities, told Bloomberg TV.

Excuse me! We all know that in IPOs the little guy, the individual investor, rarely has access to new stock issues. So if Wall Street doesn’t care for Zuckerberg’s attire, let them stay away. I’m sure there are plenty of Joe Publics out there who would like nothing better than to latch onto Zuckerberg’s hoodie laces and snatch up some Facebook stock at its offering price. 

I’m simply amazed at the gall, the chutzpah, of anyone on Wall Street thinking they deserve “respect” these days. 

Which brings me to my final point of the day. Much has been written and spoken about Mitt Romney’s insensitivity to a younger, fellow high school student who had bleached his hair blond. Let others decide whether Romney bullied the lad while snipping his locks. The insensitivity has seemingly lasted nearly a half century as Romney only half-heartedly apologized for his high school hi-jinks. 

Equally if not more telling was another high school incident that has come to light—his walking a nearly blind teacher into a closed glass door and laughing hysterically about it. 

Two weeks ago the Torah portion read in synagogues included the admonition “Thous shalt not ... put a stumbling block before the blind.” I wonder just how caring and considerate Romney is to those less fortunate than him. We've already seen during the primary season Romney’s inability to relate to the common man, his silver spoon upbringing exposing a leaden tongue and duller brain. Now we are finding out this behavior pattern is in his DNA and goes back at least to his high school days. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Capitol Gains, Unholy Acts, Billions and a Beauty

Capitol Gains? He’s tall, lanky, decently good looking, but not my type, and I’m not talking about sexual attraction. I’m talking politics. Paul Ryan, the wunderkind of the Republican Party with the widow’s peak dark hair line (a little like Eddie from “The Munsters”), passed me on a walkway into the U.S. Capitol. I realized too late who it was to stop him and express my thoughts. Besides, he was engaged in conversation with another man. 

As he paused at the steps where only congressmen may enter the Capitol, I alerted the eight Israeli women I was chaperoning they had just seen one of the most powerful men in the country. It was a far more exciting moment than what they had just witnessed from the gallery of the House of Representatives. The House was in session, if you could call it that. Barely a dozen members sat in the seats reserved for 435 members. We watched parts of two presentations, the congressmen speaking to the balcony, or more precisely, to the cameras affixed to the balcony so their words could be beamed back to their districts and recorded for posterity. 

It wasn’t easy explaining American politics to women who daily tend to trauma victims along the Gaza Strip or in a shelter for battered women and children in Jerusalem. They have political concerns of their own, especially after a major initiative was announced this week to forge a coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party with the more left-leaning Kadima. One of the hopes among many Israelis and supporters of Israel around the world is that this new government majority will be able to reduce the influence of ultra-religious parties in the daily lives of Israelis. Israel is a Jewish, democratic state; it was never intended to be the religious state it was increasingly being turned into by the power ultra-religious parties exerted because of their ability to make or break coalitions.  

Holier Than Thou—Not! Deviant behavior is not restricted to any one group. The “pleasure” many in the Jewish community took in the decades-long troubles of the Catholic Church with sex abuse cases while virtually nothing came to light among their brethren has vanished now that details of extensive abuses and cover-ups within Hasidic communities have been reported in The NY Times

Whereas in the Catholic Church perpetrators were shielded from punishment by leaders of the church, the Hasidic sects, from their rebbe leaders to their “blind” followers, ostracized the victims and their families for coming forward, not those who assaulted and abused. 

It’s another shameful example of religion working against, not for, the benefit of those who need it most.

So How Come I’m Not a Billionaire? Or at least related to one. 

After I returned from Washington, Gilda was very excited to show me an article in New York magazine. It was the cover story, “The Zuckerbergs of Dobbs Ferry.” Zuckerbergs, as in Mark Zuckerberg, he of Facebook fame and fortune.

Seems the Zuckerberg parents bought their Westchester home in 1978 (so did we). Seems Ed Zuckerberg was an early adopter of home computer technology, especially online banking using a Citibank modem (so was Gilda). Seems Ed’s wife, Karen, ridiculed him for using a computer to pay bills rather than simply writing a check (as I ridiculed Gilda). 

Ed and Karen Zuckerberg still live in Dobbs Ferry. We still live in White Plains. The similarities end there, except for the fact Ed has a scraggly salt and pepper beard like mine. He might have more money, but I have more hair.

Bio Pic: I heard Vanessa Williams talking on NPR about a memoir, “You Have No Idea,” she and her mother Helen wrote about their lives, particularly her selection in 1983 as the first Afro-American Miss America. For those not familiar with the full story, Williams was stripped of her title late in her one-year reign because of nude pictures she had posed for prior to her selection. Release of the photos did not jive with the pure-as-driven-snow image the Miss America pageant wanted to cultivate.

During her reign Williams was a spokesperson for American Greetings. The Cleveland-based greetings card company brought Williams to the annual Houswares Show in Chicago. It was there, as editor of Chain Store Age, I met Williams and had my picture taken with her. She was (still is) beautiful. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rocket Women

Long time between posts. Sorry about that ...

Just back from what has become an annual three-day trek to Washington, DC, accompanying eight Israeli women who provide social welfare services to their countrymen. A group called Shalom Yisrael sponsors their two-week rest and relaxation tour of New York and Washington. Two were from Jerusalem. They work in a shelter for battered women and children. The remaining six live in the Eshkol region along the border with the Gaza Strip. They are first-responder trauma care providers, along with being targets themselves, as are their families, to the frequent missile attacks from across the border. Over the four day period surrounding the holiday of Purim (March 8), for example, 80 of the 200 missiles landing in Israel fell in the communities of the Eshkol region. A rocket not so long ago landed on the desk of one of the women. Fortunately, it was a Saturday so no one was working. 

Israel has implemented an “Iron Dome” defense against rocket attacks, but what is not widely known is the missile shield is in place to protect larger cities, such as Ashkelon, not the small kibbutzim and moshavs adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Residents of the Eshkol district have about 15 seconds’ warning of incoming rocket fire to seek shelter. 

Here’s another fact gleaned from my time with these brave, resilient women—homes within four and a half kilometers (2.7 miles) of the border have been outfitted by the government with “safe rooms” built to withstand a direct hit (fyi—since the first Gulf War all new residential construction in Israel must include a safe room). In communities four and a half to seven kilometers from the border, no safe rooms are retrofitted to existing homes. The only government funded security is a shelter for kindergarten children. Beyond seven kilometers, everyone is vulnerable. No safety measures are provided.

If you’re as surprised as I was to find this out, you’re in good company. As they related this state of affairs over breakfast in the Congressional Dining Room to Representative Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, she sat with mouth agape. Clearly the success of the Iron Dome, while a source of national pride, has done little to make the lives of these vulnerable Israeli women and their neighbors any safer. 

What also emerged from the breakfast meeting was a suggestion that our government needs to do a better job explaining how foreign aid not only helps other countries but also is a direct contributor to American jobs and our economy. Almost all foreign aid monies must be spent in the United States on equipment, materiel and other goods before being shipped overseas. Foreign aid is a good example of your tax dollars at work, here and abroad.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Media Daze

Every time I hear Eliot Spitzer I get sooooo angry. Not because I don’t like him. Rather, because I generally agree with what he says and his fall from grace has deprived New York and country of a leader who could have made a difference. Now, he’s just another talking head, albeit one who makes sense and isn’t too pompous and self-righteous. Like most pols, he has an ego, but he’s working hard to control it.

The former governor and attorney general of New York, or Client #9 in the federal sex probe that cost him his leadership of New York State and potential national candidacy, is now a host on Current TV. Yesterday he was interviewed on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show. ‘Twas an earnest analysis of issues, well worth your listening to:

Holy Communion: I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with some of the positions emanating from the Catholic Church. I support its call for a higher minimum wage in New York. 

But my real communion is for the criticism Catholic bishops have heaped on Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Catholic, for his budget proposal that would strip government support for the needy. As explained by Father Thomas Reese of Georgetown University on Tuesday’s The Colbert Report, the Catholic hierarchy believes Ryan’s budget would cut benefits to the poor and hungry while enriching the rich. 

Here’s a clip of Stephen Colbert’s interview with Father Reese. You’ll also see and hear how duplicitous politicians can be and how easy it is to expose them in this age of everything-you-say-is-recorded-and-will-be-played-back-at-some-future-date:

Let’s Get Real: Over lunch yesterday I caught up with last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher. I won’t tax you with another link. Instead, here’s a quote from Bill himself I thought was particularly cogent: 

“Mitt Romney is running on the question, ‘Can I run this economy better than Barack Obama?’ 

“How can you run on this idea that I’m going to take over an economy that my party ruined?” 

Like Maher, I’m baffled that anyone, even die-hard Republicans, would believe the ideas of the party that turned a record surplus into two debt-producing wars and an unpaid prescription drug benefit program could be palatable to any voter with memory.

Catch Up, Not Ketchup: Here’s another example of why my wife is a foodie. For years Gilda’s been an advocate of dark meat when it comes to eating chicken. It seems the rest of the consuming world is catching up to her. Cluck along as you read this:

Rider of the Purple Sage: Last weekend Gilda enlisted me (notice I didn’t volunteer) to help with some yard work. Heavy lifting stuff, like moving five 50 lb. bags of potting soil. After she trimmed some bushes I collected the discarded branches, some for kindling, the rest for collection by city crews. I noticed the pile of brush resembled a tumbleweed, which brought back memories of my one and only trip to Reno 34 years ago. I was in Nevada to cover the opening of a J.C. Penney catalog distribution center. 

As I sped down the highway—everybody speeds along Nevada highways—I saw tumbleweeds blowing towards me. There were tumbleweeds in every lane. They were as wide as my car. Have you ever collided with a tumbleweed? I hadn’t. I’m not ashamed to say I was pretty scared. I couldn’t take any evasive action. We collided. At least that’s what I think happened, for you see, when a tumbleweed hits a car it vaporizes into thin air. All that frenzy and fear for nothing more than “poof!” 

Victory, At Last: I had expected to post this blog entry last night but wound up enthralled by the triple overtime NY Rangers 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The game, which started at 7:40, didn’t end until 12:14 am this morning. 

During high school and through college I was a rabid hockey fan; I lost interest in the Rangers when most, if not all, of my favorite players retired or were traded. My passion renewed during the Mark Messier era of the early 1990s. When Messier delivered on his promise of a Stanley Cup in 1994, the first one for the Rangers in 54 years, I was the most happy for any championship any of my teams in any sport ever won. When the Rangers let Messier go in a contract dispute a year or so later, my allegiance became dormant again. I didn’t follow the team during this past regular season, so I’m a little lost recognizing players by their numbers or faces. Nonetheless, the viewing intensity is still there. 

Watching Stanley Cup hockey wears you out. Scoring is typically low; every touch of the puck can be a game changer, every miscue can result in a goal, or a fantastic save. Gilda was fast asleep when the game ended, so I couldn’t shout “goooooal” when Marian Gaborik poked a perfect pass from Brad Richards through the pads of Washington goalie Braden Holtby to finally end the contest four and a half hours after it began. Sudden death. Sudden victory.