Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Sandy, Sandy, Sandy

Three days after Hurricane Sandy, the mailman finally resumed his appointed rounds, one day after the UPS man was able to deliver a package. So much for the “neither snow nor rain ...” motto of the U.S. Postal Service, which by the way, is not an official creed of the agency. Could Romney be right? Could private enterprise function better than a quasi-governmental entity? 

Perhaps, since “brown,” FedEx and any other company probably would not have to operate under the same constrictions imposed on the Postal Service, such as requiring congressional approval for rate hikes and service-related decisions, including the ability to cut off some delivery days and routes. Free enterprise is great but we should realize there are some functions that serve our national best interest if they are either government run or at the least government regulated. For example, could you imagine what would happen if the government did not oversee nuclear power facilities? How safe would you feel living near such a power plant. Even with government oversight I’m not too comfortable living within 28 miles of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY. 

Maybe government supervision of nuclear energy is easy to accept. How’s about something simpler, such as cell phone service. To be honest, our cell phone capabilities are lousy, far behind those in most other countries, including Third World nations. It’s because the government did not set national standards when the industry began. Only recently did consumers obtain the right to keep their telephone numbers when they switched carriers. 

Reagan and his blind followers were wrong to blame government as the problem. Waste is the problem. Even with occasional delays in getting my mail—mostly bills, promos for more credit cards and mail order prescriptions—our postal service is among the best in the world. If you have friends or relatives living in other countries, ask them about their postal horror stories.

By the way, if you didn’t know any better, you’d have sworn Barack Obama and Chris Christie were the best of buddies the way they hung together and talked effusively about each other during the president’s tour of wreckage in the governor’s state of New Jersey. Some reports say Republicans are upset with Christie for praising Obama when the election hangs in the balance. Obama, meanwhile, didn’t seem to hold a grudge for recent attacks Christie has launched on his leadership. The photo-op of Obama looking presidential visiting and comforting the Sandy’s victims was worth swallowing some pride. See, Democrats and Republicans can work together, or at least give the appearance of such. 

Turf Wars: Or should I say, tree wars. I wonder, what with all the downed trees, is there a nesting war going on among squirrels and birds forced to find new homes above us in trees already staked out by their rodent and aviary cousins? (Actually, squirrels live in nests called “dreys,” usually built in the forks of trees limbs.) 

In anticipation of winter, squirrels have been packing food away all around their neighborhoods. How’s the new landscape going to impact their winter feeding? Just wondering ...

More to wonder about ... The Pied Piper legend had him ridding Hamelin of its rats by luring them with his flute to jump into Germany’s Weser River where all but one drowned. I wonder, has Hurricane Sally basement and tunnel flooding killed off many of the rats that reside in subterranean Manhattan? Just wondering ...

Today being Wednesday I usually deliver food to seniors living in Yonkers. But the social service agency couldn’t get its food shipment so the ladies will have to hunker down for another day as a delivery is planned for Thursday. They’re a pretty resilient group, these octogenarians and nonagenarians (those are 80 and 90 year olds, for those not familiar with those terms), so I’m not too concerned they’ll waste away. But I do feel responsible for checking in on them, some of whom still live in free-standing houses.

A few limbs fell off some of our evergreen trees, but for the most part we emerged unscathed from the storm. Some 30 years ago, however, in our first house, we experienced a startling tree casualty. One Sunday as I was working in our breakfast nook around 9 pm, I heard what sounded like a mortar blast in our back yard. Half of an enormous weeping willow tree in one of our neighbor’s yards had snapped and fallen across three yards, ours included. Luckily, no house was hit. No damage except to the neighbor’s pocketbook. It cost more than $2,000 to have the tree chopped down, cut up and hauled away. Willow is not good firewood, so none of it was worth salvaging. Too bad, because at the time 80% of our heat came from wood I gathered for our wood burning stove.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Following Sandy

Gilda and I dodged another bullet. Our home was not affected by Hurricane Sandy. We did not lose power, Internet, cable or phone service. I still think I should have bought that small generator just in case we needed it to run our sump pumps. Perhaps next time I’ll be more aggressive. 

I haven’t become a storm-zombie, watching or listening to Hurricane Sandy 24-hour coverage. But from the little time I did spend pre- and post-landfall, here are some observations:

Prior to Sandy hitting the New York area, CBS-2 weatherman John Elliott, when describing the dangers expected from the storm, said, “We’re not trying to scare you.” Whoa! Of course he was trying to scare his viewers. He was trying to scare everyone into doing the right thing, such as evacuating from low-lying areas. Anyone who didn’t heed his warnings and had the capacity to vacate before Sandy hit but didn’t should be required to pay for any emergency help provided to rescue them.

I found it rather incongruous watching in-studio newscasters nattily dressed and coiffed while telling us about the storm and flooding. I’d have preferred a little more grunge, in the spirit of what their reporters in the field were experiencing. 

Bridges, roadways, tunnels, mass transit were closed. Ferry service was suspended, as well. Ferries? I couldn’t understand that at first. Aren’t ferries supposed to float, even over troubled waters? Gilda and her brother Carl reasoned the ferry terminals probably were damaged. Makes sense.

With Noah and the Flood a recent blog topic, Carl also reminded me Russell Crowe is filming part of a movie titled Noah on Long Island which, according to a noon report, has 90% of its residents without power. The biblical-based film is being directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan and The Wrestler), a boyhood and long-time friend of our nephew, Andrew, Gilda’s sister’s oldest offspring.

President Obama swiftly declared parts of New York and New Jersey disaster areas and eligible for emergency federal relief funds through FEMA. Ever wonder what Mitt Romney’s position is on FEMA assistance? Here’s an article from The Huffington Post:

During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the Joplin disaster and FEMA's cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response.

"Absolutely," he said. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"

"Including disaster relief, though?" debate moderator John King asked Romney.

"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney replied. "It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."

On Sunday, according to HuffPost, “a Romney official reaffirmed the former governor's position Sunday evening in an email.

"'Gov. Romney wants to ensure states, who are the first responders and are in the best position to aid impacted individuals and communities, have the resources and assistance they need to cope with natural disasters,'” the Romney official said."

One has to wonder how any state would be able to afford the billions and billions of dollars it will require to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo already has said states do not have such funds, given their constitutional requirement to balance their budgets. Washington, on the other hand, can supply financing, even if it means adding to the national debt. 

As for Romney’s suggestion to privatize disaster relief, it would open a Pandora’s Box of  troubles including the possibility help would be doled out quicker to more affluent areas than poor neighborhoods. If government did that, voters could react at the next election. But there’s no recourse if private enterprise fails or shows favorites.  

There is a silver lining to all the destruction—replacement purchases by municipalities and individuals for capital goods, home furnishings and apparel will stimulate the economy. Lots of jobs may be created filling the new demand for goods and services. Contractors and related construction industry workers have reason to smile, assuming they didn’t suffer from Sandy. Romney, of course, would see these jobs as a plus, given that in his nominating acceptance speech he mocked Obama for promising “to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” Obama’s idea doesn’t sound too crazy now, does it?

I guess we’re lucky Sandy hit this week and not a week later when the election might have been affected by more than just the campaigns suspending events. Had Sandy come next week, we might have had to extend voting beyond Tuesday in the states affected, most of which lean Blue. Then again, in places like Pennsylvania where Republicans now control the state government, there might have been some thought not to as a way of keeping Obama’s vote total low. (Yeah, I'm being cynical, but not too unrealistic.)

Gilda had the best comment—just let Ohio vote. Whomever wins the Buckeye State wins the presidency.

I wasn’t the only one to focus on the World Series ending on a called third strike. Here’s a link to an article from The NY Times:


Monday, October 29, 2012

Tigers Lose; Yanks, Mets Win

The Detroit Tigers did more than just lose the World Series to the San Francisco Giants Sunday night. They purged New York baseball of two forgettable, embarrassing memories.

Detroit reached the series this year by emasculating the Yankees. They swept the Yankees four straight, limiting New York’s scoring to just three innings over four games (39 innings). Their chief nemesis was a former Yankee, left-handed relief pitcher Phil Coke. He completely shut down the Bronx Bombers in all four games. Miguel Cabrera, this years triple crown winner and certain most valuable player, catapulted the Tigers into the World Series by smacking a home run in the final win over the Yankees. Detroit’s starting pitchers—Doug Fister, Anibel Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer—manhandled the Yankees. Yankee fans were depressed.

Oh how emotions can change in a week. Detroit’s bats went as silent as  the Yankees’. San Francisco’s pitchers shut them out in two games. Detroit scored runs in just four out of 37 innings. They were as inept as the Yanks had been when hitting with runners in scoring position. Fister, Sanchez, and Verlander lost games. In perfect payback, Coke lost the final game.

The Yankees and their fans could feel a little less frazzled by the team’s failure in the playoffs.

And for good added measure, the NY Mets, their former all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran and their fans may sleep a little easier after watching Cabrera take a called third strike to end the Series when all of Detroit was hoping for a home run to tie the game, or at the very least a hit to prolong the contest. Shades of Beltran standing immobile at the plate, his bat on his shoulder, to end the seventh game against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Vindication?  No. Absolution? No. Just recognition that hitting a baseball, especially at a critical time, is among the most difficult sporting feats. New York baseball, once the home of the Giants, salutes the world champions for giving us back some measure of sanity and acceptance that every season cannot end with a salute down the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Waiting for Sandy

Waiting for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall in Westchester County, I am troubled by thoughts I have not done enough to prepare. Gilda and I have gone round and round about the wisdom and efficacy of buying a portable gasoline powered generator (our subdivision is not serviced by natural gas so we can’t get a backup whole house generator). Walking through the Christmas Tree Shop on Friday I was tempted to make an impulse purchase of a 3,500 watt generator for $299, but Gilda talked me out of it when I called her. Over 28 years we’ve never had a power outage, though we have come close. Several years ago a tree fell across our cul-de-sac street, land-locking us for a day. How it didn’t sever any power lines is beyond me. I’m worried our good fortune will run out.

Anyway, the real danger should we lose electricity is the loss of sump pump power. Our basement would flood quickly as we are the lowest house in our development situated over a high water table. Our sump pump has an emergency backup battery. If we do lose power I hope it’s not longer than the life span of the battery.

I’m not a Chris Christie fan but watching the New Jersey governor’s press conference on Hurricane Sandy preparations I was impressed by his beefy determination to be ahead of events. His non-nonsense stance epitomized New Jersey’s tough-minded attitude. Also worth noting that Christie said President Obama called him to assess the state’s readiness and its working relationship with FEMA. Nice to see Obama acting proactively and Christie giving props to a Democrat.

Lots of people and organizations giving tips on how to prepare for the coming deluge. I ignored most of the suggestions but for some reason decided storing water in buckets and even a bathtub was a good idea. 

Dan, Allison, Finley and Dagny are stranded in Sarasota, Fla. Dan’s ultimate frisbee team, Boston Ironside, was playing in the national championship tournament. They’ve finished second three out of the last four years. They came into the tourney rated number one in the country, but lost in the semi-finals Saturday to a team from Texas, Doublewide, which wound up winning the title Sunday afternoon. Small compensation was the NY Giants’ thrilling, nail-biting, clinging victory over the Dallas Cowboys early Sunday evening. Dan’s family can’t get out of Florida until Tuesday at the earliest. My brother, as well, is stuck on the east coast of Florida. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Be Prepared

If I were president of the United States running for re-election and faced with a shifty opponent, I’d marshal all my resources in the coming days to react swiftly and humanely should a crushing blow land. I’m talking, of course, not about Mitt Romney but rather a transmuted Hurricane Sandy, or the “Frankenstorm” being predicted to strike the Eastern Seaboard and parts of Ohio and West Virginia as early as Sunday after Sandy’s winds mix with an early winter storm coming from the west. Politicians can’t do anything to prevent storms, but they sure can suffer the consequences if they fail to react appropriately (see George W. Bush and Hurricane Katrina, or New York City Mayor John Lindsay and the snowstorm that buried Queens). 

So, President Obama, forget about any planned campaign stops early next week. Your priority is to appear presidential. Get yourself to the stricken areas lickety-split. Make sure FEMA responds in a timely manner. Declare disaster areas and the availability of emergency relief funds. Don’t let Romney say you’re ignoring the pain and suffering of people in the affected areas as you care only about keeping your job. 

Speaking of keeping a job, word came yesterday that Mariano Rivera, the NY Yankee relief pitcher beyond compare, is considering retiring rather than return post-injury to the 2013 roster. Why would the all-time saves leader not want to try another run for glory? Doesn’t he want to re-unite with Derek Jeter, once he recuperates from his injury, and possibly Andy Pettitte should he decide to come back? 

Perhaps Rivera’s been pondering the team’s playoff futility record over the past 12 seasons. Eleven playoff qualifications, World Series appearances in 2001, 2003, and 2009, but just one title (2009). Better than most teams, but surely not up to the standard the Yankees set for themselves. Their hitting prowess seems to vanish all too often in the playoffs, as it did this year. Too often the team’s closer has not even entered a game, so why put oneself through more than six months of practice and games? Rivera has nothing to prove. He is the best. He already has five World Series rings.

Time to spend more time with his family. My guess is Rivera will opt to conditionally retire from baseball. He won’t come back unless his successor, Raphael Soriano, decides to leave the team or gets injured. So, Yankee fans, be prepared to never hear “Enter Sandman” ever again, except for the day Rivera’s uniform number 42 is officially retired. 

Perhaps you’ve noticed fewer posts of late. Not that there’s less to write about, it’s just I am very discouraged by the quality of the rhetoric in this campaign and the inability of too many Americans, especially women, to grasp the social changes that would transpire if Romney wins. Romney may claim to tolerate a woman’s right to an abortion in cases of rape, incest or danger to her life, but he lacks the spine to stand up to the ultra-right wingers, which include his vice presidential running mate, who want to outlaw all abortions and even believe contraception is heinous and should not be permitted. Nor does Romney champion equal pay for women. Nor does he support funding for Planned Parenthood which provides health care, not just abortion services, to millions of women who cannot afford regular doctor’s visits. Romney says hundreds of thousands of women lost their jobs during the Obama years. The actual figure is less than 100,000, bad, yes, but understandable given the economy Obama inherited. Romney blasts Obama for investing stimulus money in failed companies. He says half of the companies that received stimulus funds have filed for bankruptcy. CNN, however, points out just 8% of the stimulus companies have failed, compared to 22% of the companies Romney invested in during his years at Bain Capital. 

I don’t normally watch Fox News. I admit most of what I view of it comes from clips on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. Snippets can be made to sound whichever way you want them to sound, but when they play an extended clip you really have to wonder how these people get away with what they say. Take, for example, recent comments by Peter Johnson, Jr. Saying that he had no evidence to back up his claim, Johnson opined the deaths of our Libyan ambassador and three other Americans were acceptable to the Obama administration if it meant militants would be appeased. What upsets me is that Johnson, or apparently anyone on Fox News, can make a claim without evidence. What upsets me more is that people take these rants as fact. That they believe the birthers. That they care about what Donald Trump says. 

In the ongoing rage over Republican comments about rape, one has to be struck by the fervor these GOP candidates possess that God intended these despicable acts to occur. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, that they truly believe all events are God’s will. With that reasoning in mind, why is it they deny the legitimacy of Obama’s election in 2008? Are they willing to work with him if he wins re-election, for surely God would have shown his pleasure in Obama if he triumphs a second time? Are they prepared to accept God’s mysterious ways if Obama emerges victorious from the fires of election politics and Electoral College mathematics? They may be true believers, but doubtful they have it within their souls to go that far in service of their deity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tales of Men from the Bible, WWII, the Election

It has taken me longer than I would have wanted, or care to admit, but I finally completed reading The Preservationist by David Maine at a most opportune time. The book is an imaginative re-creation of the story of the Noah and the flood, coincidentally the portion of the Torah read this past Saturday in synagogues throughout the world.  

The Preservationist is not a great book; it’s part of a genre, like The Red Tent, known as midrash that transforms Jewish Bible stories into extended prose, in this case beyond the 125 verses dedicated to Noah in the Old Testament. It allows the writer and reader to delve into the personalities of the family saved on the ark, of Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives. It creates back stories for all of them, humanizes them, and gives only the faintest hint of what must have gone through their minds when the waters abated and they were left devoid of any other humans. They might not have had to worry about marauders or any others bent on the injustices that caused God to wipe out the rest of humanity, but they were all alone. Not even God talked to Noah anymore after He set the rainbow as a sign there would be no more all inclusive and destructive floods. 

Here’s how Noah’s wife interprets God’s silence: “The test doesn’t end when the flood does. It’s only the start. Without Yahweh whispering in your ear you’re no more nor less than anybody else. No special assurance that you’re blessed or that God gives a rat’s ass what happens to you ... Now you’re just like the rest of us.”

According to the Bible, Noah lived another 350 years as an ordinary man. 

George McGovern considered himself a prototypical American. “I’m what a normal, healthy, ideal American should be like,” the former South Dakota U.S. senator and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate told The NY Times in 2005, seven years before his death Sunday at age 90. “May dad was a Methodist minister, I went off to war (World War II). I have been married to the same woman forever. I’m what a normal, healthy, ideal American should be like.”

Which got me to thinking that we have entered an era when most of our political leaders never experienced the horrors of war. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan—none of them fired a weapon at an enemy combatant or was targeted by one. Not that it takes combat experience to lead a nation into battle, but it does seem that the strongest voices for peace, from Eisenhower to JFK to McGovern to John Kerry, were tempered by their time at war. 

Speaking of temper, what jumped out at me from watching the three presidential debates, and some of the Republican primary debates, is that Mitt Romney is petulant and does not have a high opinion of those who would question his judgment, whether it be Obama, Rick Perry, or the debate moderator. Time and again Romney displayed a haughtiness that transcended acceptable behavior. To be fair, I didn’t find Biden’s cheesy smiles too endearing during his debate with Ryan, either. 

I thought Obama did better than Romney in the last two debates, but Romney’s rapid salesman’s litany of negative commentary on the performance of the current administration no doubt scored points with those who favored his positions and, regrettably, with those who valued image over substance. When rehearsed, Romney has the gift of gab. He’s much smoother than the plodding, thoughtful Obama. 

The election will boil down to substance or sizzle. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Prophecy Fulfilled

After complaining all season long about the inability of the NY Yankees to hit with men in scoring position, to score runs other than by hitting the ball out of the park, am I justified in being depressed about their futile performance in the post season? I meant to post this entry two days ago but was too depressed to write it. Imagine how bad I’d feel if I had not anticipated the result.

Making it past the Baltimore Orioles in the first playoff round did not camouflage their flaws as a team. Nobody wants to lose but what's galling to Yankee fans is the way the team went down. They batted like Little Leaguers swinging at balls way inside, outside, in the dirt or at eye level. Pitches down the middle they took for strikes. They tried to hit an impossible five-run home run each at bat. They don't employ situational hitting. No sacrifice flies. No hitting to the opposite field to advance a runner. The few times they worked a full count they usually wound up striking out. It was painful to watch, especially when the graphic displayed by TBS showed them swinging at balls and taking strikes. It was painful because most of the pitchers who dominated them were just mediocre. They've made them into giant killers. The Yanks turned journeymen Phil Coke and rookie Drew Smyly into a latter day Sparky Lyle and John Franco. At the same time Yankee hurlers pitched their hearts out most of the time but received little support at bat or in the field. 

It was a total team loss. They couldn't hit, hit with power or with men in scoring position, they couldn't pitch perfectly and their fielding lapses—not always errors—led to decisive runs. The only things they didn't do wrong was run the bases poorly or hit into double plays. But for those you have to have men on base and the Yankees had depressingly few such opportunities.

Total domination. Don't fool yourself into believing the outcome would have been different had the Yankees won the first game. They'd have lost the series 4-1. Their only moral victory was knocking out the Tigers’ closer in game one. It didn't matter.  Years ago the NY Football Giants routed the San Francisco 49'ers 49-3. SF wide receiver Jerry Rice was asked if the game would have turned out differently if he hadn't fumbled without being touched on his way to an easy touchdown on his team’s first possession. Yes, he conceded, the final score would have been different. It would have been 49-10. Rice comprehended the total annihilation his team had sustained. No Yankee or fan should delude themselves into thinking any differently even had Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera been upright and active.

So what should the Yankees do? It begins by first recognizing that the first order of baseball business is making the playoffs. They succeeded this year, and most other recent years, but it will be harder to win their division given a resurgent Baltimore team and what should be an improved Toronto squad once all the injured Blue Jays heal. The Yankees keep getting older while the opposition gets younger and hungrier. 

What can be done? The Yanks are set at first, second and shortstop. Alex Rodriguez at third is a high-priced singles hitter. But he's still good defensively and as long as you only expect 20 or so home runs a year from him you won't be disappointed. He won't be able to carry the team for games at a time. Singles hitters aren't expected to.

Should they resign Ichiro Suzuki? Only if they commit to a more Punch and Judy National League style of play. Scrap the home run strategy. Scratch out runs by stealing bases. Hitting behind the runner. Hitting to the opposite field. Sacrifice bunt. Sacrifice fly. Turn the Bronx Bombers into the Bronx Bunters or Bronx Afterburners. Turn Eduardo Nunez into a left fielder to keep his bat in the game. Shift Ichiro to right. Commit to Brett Gardner as your center fielder. Trade Curtis Granderson for a starting pitcher and an outfield or infield prospect. Let Nick Swisher go, or sign him and then trade him for another starting pitcher. Resign catcher Russell Martin. For the bench resign Raul Ibanez, Jayson Nix, and Chris Stewart. Find a right-handed batting replacement for Andruw Jones. Perhaps young Melky Mesa. Overall, instead of the 245 home runs the Yankees hit in 2012, they’ll be fortunate to hit 150, but total run production might not drop too much because of more rallies.

The go-go strategy works only if pitching is tight. Yankee starters next year could include C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte (if he chooses to return), Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova. Plus anone they might get for Granderson or Swisher. It's a good, not great, starting rotation, but competent enough to keep them in games provided the bullpen is solid again. So I’d keep Boone Logan, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley and Raphael Soriano, along with a returning Mariano. The pitching should be good enough to get them back into the playoffs. After that it’s a crap shoot. Remember, the team has lost when trying to bomb its way to a championship. It would be exciting to watch them slap some hits, run, and hit and run their way to a title. 

Some final baseball thoughts: The Detroit Tigers deserved to beat the Yankees. Their star players came through in the clutch, as did their role players and rookies. A total team effort. At least Jeter didn’t have to be part of his team’s debacle, though he might always remember his inability to drive in the winning run in the 10th inning of the first game prolonged the game in which he was injured in the 12th inning. Second, at least A-Rod didn’t make the last out of the season. That “honor” went to Jayson Nix. Third, in the words of Mike Lupica, The Daily News sports columnist and ESPN radio host, today marks the official start of the football season in New York (though it might have unofficially started with Jeter’s ankle injury which has been described as more common to football players than baseball players).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What We Want, What We Need

What we need and what we want in a president sometimes doesn’t mesh. We need someone reflective, not rash, who sets a strong policy course but who is willing to adapt to changing circumstances. What we want is someone bold, righteously aggressive, presidential in demeanor, a good talker.

What we don’t want is someone perceived as weak, someone we visualize waiting for the tumblers to fall into place in their brain before they spew out the answer they think we want to hear. We want sharp, quick command of facts (even if, in reality, we are given falsities or half-facts—it’s the appearance, unfortunately, that matters most to most of us). We don’t want a lot of ums, ahs, and aaaands. 

Which is to say, during tonight’s second presidential debate, actually less of a debate than a conversation with the American public, Barack Obama must show HE is THE president, that his command of the facts and themes of this election are at his fingertips and upon his tongue, that he will vigorously defend his administration, blasting away at misrepresentations and driving home the inconsistencies and warts of his challenger, Mitt Romney, a self-declared “extreme conservative” who has been campaigning of late as a moderate. 

Romney’s given ample ammunition for exposure—Obama must ignite those charges with the same conviction and steely resolve he demonstrated in ordering the assassinations of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives. Al-Qaeda wants to destroy Western civilization. It is not too extreme for a progressive to say conservatives want to destroy America as it is today and return it to a time when government did not provide a safety net for its citizens, a time when the quality and quantity of health care depended on the quantity of dollars in your pocketbook, when equality of opportunity rarely extended beyond rich white menfolk. 

Some might say I am being too extreme, that Republicans simply want to transfer government back down to the levels closest to the people, from federal to state to local municipalities. One need only look to the meningitis epidemic coursing through the country to see the danger inherent in placing trust in such a transfer. The compounding pharmacy that distributed the lethal doses of tainted serum was under state, not federal, supervision. Do we really want to shift environmental oversight of our air, land and waterways to the states? Immigration rights? Health care? Do we want a system where one’s protection is based on the wheel of fortune of which state one was born in? 

During last week’s vice presidential debate the candidates were asked how their Roman Catholic faith affected their public life, particularly as it pertained to the right to have an abortion. They both gave from-the-heart responses, but I was more touched by Joe Biden’s answer as it first voiced the Church’s central mission to help the less fortunate. Biden then expressed the theme enunciated by John F. Kennedy back in 1960 as he sought to be the nation’s first Catholic elected to national office, namely, that he would not impose his religious beliefs on those who did not share his faith.

I have no doubt Mitt Romney will try to project an image of moderation tonight. He’ll try to be an endearing, thoughtful, compassionate candidate whose only mission is to save America from a decline he sees as inevitable if Obama is re-elected. He’ll be smooth talking. He is, after all, versed in being a salesman, be it for his religion or for his former company, Bain Capital. Salesmen are smooth talkers. They’ll tell you what you want to hear (which isn’t always the truth). They’ll work hard to close the deal. 

We’ll see just how much Obama wants to keep his job by how well he does tonight. He doesn’t have to cop an in-your-face attitude toward Romney. He has to look engaged. He has to prime specifics about his accomplishments—saving the auto industry, getting a middle class tax cut as part of the economic stimulus bill, passing Obamacare, killing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, restoring American prestige across the world, lowering unemployment, creating a positive environment for private sector jobs, protecting consumers, passing financial oversight regulations even as the stock market has doubled since he took office—while strongly contrasting Romney’s prior statements to the comforting, warm uncle positions Mitt will espouse tonight. Use Romney’s own words to, quoting Shakespeare, “hoist him with his own petard.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Drumbeat of Personal Tie-ins

Lots of personal tie-in stuff to write about today:

Not sure how proud I should be of this item, but the lead lawyer who argued in the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday against upholding the University of Texas’ affirmative action guidelines for admission is a cousin on my father’s side of the family. Bert Rein is a second or third cousin (I can never figure out how you figure out cousin relationships beyond first cousins). Bert’s father, Moe, was my father’s first cousin. They grew up in the same small Polish town, Ottynia. 

Bert’s a founding partner of the well-connected Washington law firm of Wiley Rein LLP. Sad to say, he’s pretty conservative. He often advocates for business interests. Though he’s previously appeared before the Supreme justices, it’s no small matter to have our family represented before the nation’s highest court. 

The Real Thing: Speaking of my father, I’ve written before about his factory on lower Broadway. One of the pleasures of visiting him there was the chance to raid the Coca-Cola vending machine. It was fire-engine red. A favorite job was filling it up. I’d stick the key into the lock on the right side of the refrigerator-sized machine and pull back the heavy door to reveal vertical serpentine rows of grey tubes ready for replenishment. My reward usually was a cold one. Often, at the end of the day, my father would hand out sodas to his workers. The rest of the time, for 10¢, you’d push down on a brushed steel lever, open a door on the left front of the machine and pull out a cold 6.5 oz. glass bottle of Coke. 

Sadly, I read Wednesday the last manufacturer of 6.5 oz. returnable bottles has stopped production Not sure what ever happened to that old Coke machine. My brother and I, maybe my sister as well, always regret we didn’t salvage it when our father closed down his factory in the 1980s.

The Survey Says: Among the many polls being cited in this nail-biting electoral season is one from America’s Research Group. For many years I worked with ARG and its founder, C. Britt Beemer. My magazine had been using several research firms to track consumer spending and lifestyle trends when Britt sent me an unsolicited offer I could hardly refuse. He said he’d provide free research. I didn’t chuck the other research firms, but I did incorporate ARG into a meaningful part of our coverage of the retail industry. 

Speaking of polls, one of the weirder ones is taking place daily at 7-Eleven stores throughout the country. As it has since the 2000 presidential election, the convenience store chain has given customers a choice of self-service coffee cups imprinted with the names of the two major party candidates. It also color codes the cups, blue for Democrat, red for Republican. Undecided voters can pour their java into plain cups. Don’t discount this poll—it’s picked the winner every time.

To date, Barack Obama is swamping Mitt Romney by a 60-40 margin. In Ohio, after undecideds are removed from the count, Obama leads 57-43.

There might be an explanation as to why the 7-Eleven coffee cup poll is not as close as almost all other national surveys. “There’s a bias on 7-Eleven because their entire poll has a margin of error of plus or minus Mormons can’t drink coffee,” according to Stephen Colbert. 

Magic and Mystique: There may be some truth to the claim Yankee Stadium is enveloped by some supernatural force, especially after Raul Ibanez, pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez no less, stroked a ninth inning home run to tie Wednesday night’s game and then capped that feat by blasting a game winning four-bagger in the 12th. Everyone who witnessed his extraordinary heroics was stunned, doubly stunned. Those weren’t cheap, short-porch Yankee Stadium shots. The first one was estimated to have traveled 403 feet; the game winner 390 feet. 

Was it magic? Am I the only one who sees the resemblance between Ibanez and Voldemort as portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the Harry Potter movies? Could they have been brothers separated at birth? Is Ibanez really a wizard? Yankee fans and muggles the world over don’t really care. We just want Ibanez to continue his magical streak, and hope it is contagious to the rest of the team.

By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you loyal readers that I semi-predicted Ibanez’s ride to the rescue. I wrote he would pinch-hit for Nick Swisher, but as it happened, Swisher was scheduled to be the fifth batter in the bottom of the ninth. Manager Joe Girardi realized he might not get a chance to use Ibanez if A-Rod and then Cano made out to end the game, so it was pull Rodriguez or let the opportunity pass by. 

Further by the way, over post-tennis pizza I actually suggested to a friend Ibanez might hit for A-Rod. He thought I was crazy but sent me a congratulatory e-mail this morning.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Second Looks at FDR, Trickle Down, Talk Radio and Yankee Playoffs

The calendar may read 2012 but take a look at this news clip from September 29, 1936 (courtesy of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). You can speed through the first minute of the 2:30 minute video if you don’t want to hear Stewart’s cheeky analysis of Republican budget promises, but do view Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s biting sarcasm as he describes Republican interest in providing Social Security, work for the unemployed and saving people’s homes during the Depression: Oh how similar it sounds to today’s political discourse. 

Mitt Romney has been getting lots of mileage from his transformation of the anti-GOP phrase “trickle down economics” into an anti-liberal entitlement message of “trickle down government.” Are Barack Obama and Joe Biden going to be swift enough with retorts to point out all the trickle down government benefits one-percenters like Romney and Paul Ryan get from off-shoring their money while corporations get energy and farm subsidies and other tax benefits for locating businesses in specific communities? Obama blew his first opportunity during last week’s debate. There are three more head-to-head formats to challenge an ever-position-changing Romney.

It’s probably safe to say most leaders of big businesses favor Romney and his lower taxes, fewer regulations stances. But few corporate biggies, I would venture to say, are so openly blatant in their assessment of what would trickle down to their workers if Obama is re-elected. If he wins, David Siegel told his 7,000 employees, their jobs at Westgate Resorts would be at risk. "If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company," he wrote in a 1,400-word e-mail. "Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone."

Riding home from Massachusetts Monday afternoon, with Gilda reading from her iTouch, I listened to some sports radio. Eventually she wondered how I could listen to such drivel. She was right. It was quite banal. But I just couldn’t tolerate hearing more presidential politics from the talk shows. At least with baseball or football talk I could laugh off the stupidity and inanity of the callers and hosts. What’s the worse that could happen? The Yankees could lose the playoff series to the Baltimore Orioles. It’s not as if the nation would reverse gear and go back to the 1950s in its treatment of minorities and women. At least I hope it wouldn’t. Wait a minute ... in the 1950s the Yankees won eight American League pennants and six World Series; the NY Football Giants played in three championship games, winning one. Maybe the 1950s wasn’t such a backward decade, after all.

Seriously, all my fretting about the Yankees not making the playoffs this year is forgotten, though the reasoning behind my worries continues. Throughout the 162-game regular season the Bronx Bombers displayed an aversion to scoring unless it was by the long ball. But home runs are hard to come by in the post-season, and the first two games showed their vulnerability. With the exception of Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, they all seem to be swinging for the fences instead of practicing situational hitting. 

Alex Rodriguez, as always, is the lightning rod for fan discontent. So many fans want him demoted, either taken out of the lineup for tonight’s game or moved lower in the batting order from his usual third spot. Manager Joe Girardi won’t grant their wishes. A-Rod is batting third, followed by Robinson Cano and then Nick Swisher. 

Swisher is one of my favorites, but he has been dreadful for many years in the playoffs when batting with runners in scoring position. He has one hit in some 33 at-bats. So don’t be surprised if Girardi has the left-handed hitting Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for the switch-hitting Swisher in a critical spot late in the game against a right-handed pitcher. Even if Baltimore countered with a left-handed pitcher, Yankee fans might feel there’s more of a chance for a hit with Ibanez swinging the lumber. He did, after all, bang two big home runs to tie ball games in the ninth inning and added a game-winning single in the last week of the season. If Swisher doesn’t want to be replaced when the game’s on the line, he has to produce earlier in the contest en route to a Yankee rout of the Orioles.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Losing It

I’m losing stuff around the house, and I’m not talking about the normal things one can’t find, such as a single sock in the laundry. I actually solved that problem several years ago by safety pinning pairs of socks together. My current laundry loss is one of those plastic dryer balls that replace the chemical dryer sheets like Bounce we used to put in with the laundry. The spiked dryer balls tend to hide in the folds of fitted sheets, but I searched all my bed linens to no avail. Weird.

Also strange are the nearly empty water jugs I kept in the basement following last year’s storms that cut power in many areas. Survival experts suggested you keep several gallons of water on hand, so I dutifully bought a couple of two-gallon plastic containers of water to store in the basement. Last week I noticed they were almost empty. No telltale puddles or water marks around them. So much for disaster preparedness. 

If Mitt Romney wins the election he’s expressed a commitment to eliminate funding for Public Broadcasting Service, including Sesame Street and its signature character, Big Bird. Putting aside the left-wing mind-control argument Republicans have postulated about Sesame Street, the now 43-year-old children’s educational program has been a fount of early learning.

When one of our nephews was a toddler, his mother sat him in front of the television to watch the then new show. Some months later, he stunned her by reading the label of a cereal box. As she and her husband had not practiced reading with him, the only explanation was Sesame Street. 

Gilda and I employed Sesame Street when our kids were young. Saturday mornings we’d let Dan and Ellie watch Sesame Street and Electric Company as we lounged in bed. We, along with tens of thousands of other parents, protested when PBS changed its Saturday morning programming from kid-friendly to politics and business shows. I think we might have stopped sending money to PBS for a while.

Over the Columbus Day weekend Gilda and I visited Dan, Allison, Finley and Dagny in their new home in Acton, Mass. They live in the Fifth Congressional District represented by Niki Tsongas, widow of Paul Tsongas, the former U.S. Senator and one-time Democratic presidential hopeful. I met both of them during a business trip to New Hampshire in early 1992.

Before boarding the shuttle flight to Boston from LaGuardia, I recognized Tsongas. As luck would have it, I sat across the aisle from him. But he never looked my way during our time waiting for takeoff. His body was shifted toward his wife’s window seat. I’m notorious for falling asleep on airplanes even before getting airborne, so I fretted about missing an opportunity to talk with him.

I tried to stay awake by reading The NY Times. I was midway through the first section of the paper when I saw my opportunity. After finishing an article on Tsongas’ chances in the upcoming New Hampshire primary, I tapped him on the shoulder and said I couldn’t resist talking to the man profiled in the article I had just read. He was most gracious. We chatted for several minutes. When I told him I was headed to New Hampshire, he joked he had spent some time there himself. 

Last night while watching the Yankees-Orioles playoff baseball game, I believe I heard John Smoltz, one of the announcers, say he wanted to get a ride on one of the blimps providing overhead shots of the game and surroundings. I can empathize with him.

Back in 1972, as part of a graduate journalism program at the Newhouse School of Public Communications of Syracuse University, my class covered the Florida presidential primary. We were stationed in Miami. I was assigned to follow the campaign of John Ashbrook, a conservative Republican congressman from Ohio. He had little chance of winning, especially in the Miami area, so I had lots of free time. Two of my classmates and I came upon the Goodyear blimp moored at a field. The blimp was there for coverage of a sporting event some days later. We talked up the crew who promised us a free ride the next day. When we arrived Tuesday morning at the mooring site, the blimp was not there. Seems Walter Cronkite’s crew had been ordered to film Miami vistas for that evening’s election coverage. I never forgave Cronkite for pre-empting my chance to float in air.

There’s a truism in sports—never let a weaker opponent stick around. Score points early and often, so they’ll be discouraged and give up. If you let them hang around, they could surprise you and win. What’s true of sports is also true of politics. Barack Obama, an avid sports fan, has just learned the truth of that aphorism with his lackadaisical performance during last week’s debate with Romney. 

What possessed him to breathe new life into his opponent’s chances is beyond anyone’s analytic powers. Perhaps he himself can’t explain why he played the debate the way he did. I can’t explain it any more than I can explain where my dryer ball disappeared to or why there was no telltale sign of my stored water. I can replace the dryer ball and the water. The question is, can Obama replace the lost affection and momentum among his supporters and undecided voters? 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Back to School

I started teaching again this week, or more precisely, I returned to the English as Second Language study hall at White Plains High School to offer assistance to students who need help mastering some of their assignments (I stay away from math and most science tutoring). I did not, however, return to my driver’s education seat next to budding motorists.

You probably weren’t aware of my tutorial pursuits, especially the latter endeavor, so I’ll begin there. 

Last September, in search of something to get me outside the house, I decided to become an in-car driver’s ed instructor affiliated with a company hired by numerous school districts in Westchester and surrounding counties. Though I didn’t sign up for the pay ($12 an hour), there were quite a few in my training group who clearly were relying on this opportunity to buttress their household incomes. I was content to teach two or three classes a day, 6 to 12 hours, three days a week; they wanted to sit next to the kids behind the wheel at least 20 hours a week. 

Teaching in-car driver’s ed (there are separate classroom instructors) is not as dangerous as one might think, though I won’t downplay the potential for mishaps. The first day was the most apprehensive, as you had no idea how much experience the students already had. One girl last February started her first lesson by stating she had no desire to learn. She was there because her parents forced her. She related her father took her driving the previous Sunday in an empty parking lot. She hit a light pole!

After the three other students in the car and I gulped and giggled, I confidently told her that wouldn’t happen in driver’s ed because unlike her father’s car, the training car had a dual brake. I would always have my right foot resting on the brake. In an emergency I’d also be able to reach out and seize the steering wheel. That explanation seemed to reassure the other students. She, however, lived up to, or should I say down to, expectations. Halfway through the semester she transferred out of my class. I don’t know if she ever passed a road test. For everyone’s safety, I hope she abandoned her parents’ quest for a license.

Students receive just six hours of driving instruction, usually meted out in 22-1/2 minute sessions per week over the course of 16 classes over four and a half months. New York State requires 50 hours of drive time, including 15 hours nighttime driving, before one can take a road test. Prior to the first day of class many students have logged time behind the wheel. It’s those anxiety provoking students whose parents fear for their lives and automobiles, and who subsequently do not let them practice in the family car (which here in Westchester is often a Mercedes or Lexus or some other luxury vehicle they’d rather not dent, or worse), that made my time as an instructor a potentially challenging experience.

Still, over two semesters we never had an accident. Except once. We were stopped at a traffic light on North Street in Harrison, right across the street from the police station. The three boys sitting in the rear of the Ford Taurus—most of the cars were that model, usually with 150,000 to 225,000 miles—wondered aloud why there were no headrests for the back seats. I had just finished saying headrests weren’t required for these older cars when WHAM!, we were hit from behind. An elderly man driving a new Acura confused his brake pedal with his accelerator and slammed into us. Two of the boys suffered mild whiplash. Both cars sustained no damage, but we spent the next hour in the police station filling out reports. All in all, one of the better real-life driving lessons worth experiencing.

I’m not teaching driver’s ed any longer because an old basketball injury to my right knee flares up when I keep my leg hovering over the brake. By the end of the first class of the day I could barely sit without yelping in pain. It’s too bad. I really enjoyed (most of) the kids, even the ones who put the rest of us in jeopardy when they first got behind the wheel. I enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing them turn into accomplished drivers.

Tutoring English as Second Language students provides even more personal satisfaction. One of our friends runs the program at WPHS. Over dinner at a mutual friends’ home last January, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to spend several hours a week helping out. Though some of the students are less than thrilled to be in study hall, or school in general for that matter, the vast majority are interested in improving their learning skills. 

They come from many countries. This week I tutored students from Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Jamaica and Saudi Arabia. Aside from helping them with reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and social studies, they instruct me in some of the customs of their native lands. Once we overcome their initial guarded feeling, after they comprehend I’m not a disciplinarian but rather a helper, they can be eager to share their thoughts. Unsolicited, one girl asked me to read a poem she wrote about the loss of her father. It was beautiful, better than anything I could have written. 

I’ve filled my retirement with a variety of interests. Helping people in need, whether it be delivering food to the elderly, or tutoring students, provides the greatest return on my time investment.   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Let the Debate on the Debate Begin

Did you see the same debate I did last night? If so, there can be no debate Mitt Romney bested Barack Obama during their first face-to-face square-off. Yeah, square-off is a good term. Both of them looked so un-cool it was disturbing how much greyness they projected.

But getting back to their actual words, body languages and demeanors, in my assessment, without the aid of listening to or reading any of the so-called expert opinions from spinmeisters or pundits, Romney carried the night. He didn’t score an outright knockout or even a technical one, but he definitely won the first round of the debates on points. Here’s why:

For starters, Romney’s flag pin was twice the size of Obama’s. He was more animated, moving fluidly at his lectern. His helmet-hair was softer-looking, not so plastic as in prior televised events. At the start and finish of the debate, they stood shoulder to shoulder. By not being dwarfed by Obama, as John McCain was four years ago, Romney appeared the equal of the president. 

Obama seemed to employ a rope-a-dope strategy with few discernible counter-punches. For example, despite repeated assertions by the former Massachusetts governor that the president cut the Medicare budget by $716 billion, Obama barely deflected the charge. It left the impression Romney was right. Here are more examples: who’s right about the tax benefits of moving a plant overseas? Obama said it was a tax dodge, Romney said in his experience as a businessman it doesn’t exist. Why didn’t Obama counter with a specific instance or tax code rule? If he’s going to make the charge, have the back-up to support it. If Romney, despite his denials, is advocating a $5 trillion tax cut, as the president says he is, why didn’t he cite specific speeches or pages on Romney’s Web site where he proposed it? Instead of referring to actions taken in 2001 and 2003, why didn’t Obama specifically link Romney by name to George W. Bush’s failed policies? When Romney accused Obama of not working with Republicans, why didn’t he counter with specific instances where Republicans failed to work with him? Often, the split TV screen showed Obama wincing or smiling, as if ready to pounce in response to one of Romney’s allegations. But his retorts were as toothless as an old lion's. He simply let Romney get away with portraying his presidency on Republican terms.

Overall, Romney came energized with statistics both to bolster his arguments and bombard Obama’s positions. Sure, some fact-checkers today will deflate Romney’s bluster. But it won’t matter, as fewer Americans will see the corrections, much as retractions to page one stories are buried deep inside newspapers. The time to poke holes in Romney’s barrage was during the debate, and Obama did not do so strongly enough. Americans want a president who will not let anyone—not al-Qaeda, Cesar Chavez or the candidate of the opposing party—push pie in their face. Obama, this morning, is wiping meringue from his.

It didn’t seem to bother Obama. He lacked passion. You can disagree with Romney all you want, but his energy and passion came through clearly. A lot of that had to do with their speaking styles. Obama was professorial, with waaaaay too many “ANDs” linking his thoughts. Nothing new to anyone who’s listened to him before. Romney channeled his bond salesman being, talking rapidly, with conviction. You gotta buy this option or your future is bleak, Romney was saying. 

It was a disheartening performance by Obama, especially in light of the resounding rebuttal Bill Clinton provided at the Democratic National Convention. If Obama wants to win, he must alter his approach. He must reveal a passion for a vision of America that he, not Romney, can provide. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Clutter, Clutter Everywhere

If you took the time to read the voluminous obituary of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger in Sunday’s NY Times, you'd have come across this description deep inside the story of his life and work as publisher of The Times:

“By nature, he was fastidiously neat. The habitual clutter on reporters’ desks drove him to distraction.”

As a former reporter, I can vouchsafe a cluttered desk is part of a journalist’s DNA. Our desks could be, should be, condemned by fire marshals as potential fire traps. But as seemingly disheveled as it appears, a reporter’s desk is unique to him or her in its self-ordered filing system. With a deft hand, a reporter could sift through the mess on his desk and surrounding floor space to produce the report or notebook containing the exact quote or citation needed for the story approaching deadline.

One of my favorite Abbott & Costello routines was their take on efficiency experts. Abbott upbraided Costello for the mess on his rolltop desk. Papers were strewn every which way. Calmly, Costello reassured Abbott everything was in order, in its proper place. Anything Abbott would want could be easily retrieved. Go ahead, test my system, Costello challenged him. Sure enough, whichever contract Abbott requested, no matter how deeply it was buried under mounds of paper, Costello pulled it out from the pile with a pair of scissors. Duly impressed, Abbott raced off to tell their boss and invite him to a demonstration of Costello’s efficiency. Costello’s triumph was aborted by a sudden gust of wind when the door to their office was opened by their supervisor, sending all the papers flying across the office. They were fired on the spot.

I carried the reporter’s prototype desk well into my days as an editor and publisher. It would exasperate my superiors who forever were urging me to clean up my surroundings. I'd reply with the time honored line, “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.”

During one of my vacations, our company president demanded my office be cleaned up. My boss's assistant dutifully straightened up all my papers. Barbara didn't throw any out, she made neat piles of loose papers, magazines, newspapers, and assorted reports. But when I returned to work I was unable to find anything for more than a week. I threatened to have her fired if she ever touched any of my stuff again. She never did (shortly thereafter I promoted her to an editorial position; she’s been reading and editing copy for the last 15 years). 

My desk resembling the aftermath of a typhoon blowing through a stationery store, I had to advise my staff they should never put anything they want me to see on my desk if I wasn’t sitting before them. Always, I told them, put papers on my chair. I always looked at my chair before sitting down.

Much to Gilda’s chagrin, now that I'm retired, my desk in the home office we share remains messy. She has a hard time concentrating at her desk amidst the clutter on mine. Why my desk should bother her is beyond my ken. She's always promoting the virtues of a neat desk. Sometimes, even I find it necessary to clear the decks and throw out really old newspapers with stories I had tagged for blog posts but never got around to writing. Try as I might, I revert to old pack-rat ways. My clutter is habitual. I guess that will always confirm I’m a reporter at heart and in mind.