Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sports Edition: Pettitte vs. Clemens; Glickman—A Giant Voice; Midget Football

What’s in a Name? Were the Houston Astros playing with Andy Pettitte’s head Saturday? How weird was it that the starting pitcher for the home team Astros in Pettitte’s final game of his career was Clemens? No, not Roger Clemens, Pettitte’s one-time friend and teammate, both with the NY Yankees and the Astros, who is now his legal adversary in Clemens’ alleged use of anabolic steroids. Paul Clemens pitched for Houston. No relation to Roger, as far as I can research, but clearly a weird confluence of names too eerie for anyone in the Astros organization not to be cognizant of. Perhaps it was added motivation that enabled Pettitte to end his career, some might argue, a Hall of Fame career, with a full game 2-1victory. 

How fitting that two teams that have struggled all year to score runs could not end the season in nine innings Sunday. Today, the Yankees and Astros took a 1-1 tie into the 14th inning. In the top of 14th, Yankees TV announcer Michael Kay said, "For those who didn't want the Yankees season to end, you're getting your wish." You could hear the frustration in his voice as the futility of the play on the field permeated the play-by-play booth. On the next pitch, however, Mark Reynolds hit a tie-breaking home run. And then the Yanks added three more runs, giving the team a 5-1 victory, their 85th against 77 losses, not good enough to make the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons. 

Sunday’s finale took so long that Reynolds was shown gathering his equipment and leaving the dugout before the end of the game to seemingly rush to catch a plane home as players dispersed at the conclusion of the last game of the season. It’s been that type of season. Not even a dignified goodbye could be mustered.

A Giant Voice:  Today being a Sunday in the last third of the year, I did what I have done for more than half a century. I experienced a NY Giants football game. I say “experienced” because in the years before the National Football League lifted its television broadcast ban on home games, even those that were sold out, the only way I could indulge my fix was to listen to WNEW AM, the radio home of the Giants. Listening to Marty Glickman call the games became an addiction. Even when Giants games were telecast I would turn off the sound (sorry Jim Whitaker or Chris Schenkel) and supplant it with Glickman’s play-by-play from a radio atop the TV console. Even fans who attended Giants games at Yankee Stadium brought their transistor radios with them to listen to Glickman. 

If you’re a sports fan, sure you root for a team and feel a special alliance with individual players, especially those who played during your youth. Y.A. Tittle of the NY Football Giants (with his balding head he looked a little like my father, though one would never confuse my father’s athletic prowess with that of Tittle). Mickey Mantle of the Yankees. Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Willie Mays of the NY Giants. Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics. Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Yet, as powerful as those associations were, perhaps even more deep-rooted were the impressions made by the sportscasters of their time—Mel Allen who called Yankees games, Lindsey Nelson of the NY Mets, Vince Scully of the Dodgers, Ernie Harwell of the Detroit Tigers. The list can go on and on, but it begins with Marty Glickman.

I’m nostalgic for the rich tones of Glickman’s play-by-play reportage after watching an HBO documentary of his life. I knew Glickman as the announcer of the Giants during my formative years of appreciation of football. Like many, I also knew he had been denied participation in the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin because of anti-Semitism and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s cowardly acquiescence to Nazi intimidation. Glickman and another Jewish runner, Sam Stoller, were removed from the 4x100 meter relay team the morning of the race, which the U.S. easily won. There was lots about Glickman’s life I did not know, including his crafting many of the terms we take for granted when listening to broadcasts of basketball games, such as “swish” and “top of the key.” 

Viewing Glickman should be mandatory for anyone who cares about sports, and for anyone who cares how one man can help shape an industry, for Glickman truly pioneered many of the broadcasting standards currently enjoyed in numerous sports. It wasn’t in the film, but my favorite story about Glickman happened one season in the 1960s when the down-in-the-luck Giants needed a win to gain some respectability. Late in a game, Glickman exhorted his listeners, wherever they were, at home, in their car, at the Stadium, to show their support by chanting out loud, “Let’s Go Giants, Let’s Go Giants.”

I’m not too proud to admit that as I listened to Glickman in the basement bedroom of my parents’ home, I cheered along. But what really made the moment special was hearing from my brother’s friend Jerry who was attending a NY Jets game at Shea Stadium. All of a sudden, he later related to us, Shea Stadium erupted in a “Let’s Go Giants” cheer. Jets players and their opponents wondered if they had been transported to another arena. Back then, many attending Jets games were Giants fans who simultaneously listened to the Giants radio broadcasts. 

I always thought Glickman had improvised that call-to-cheer but it turns out the idea originated with Wellington Mara, the owner of the Giants. He suggested the cheer as an in-your-face gesture to the upstart Jets organization, a way of showing which team New York fans truly loved and followed. Of course, the Jets earned a Super Bowl ring before the Giants, in 1969, but since then the Giants have won four titles and the Jets have yet to play again in the penultimate game of the year.

Midget Football: I keep calling them Giants. So far this year they are playing like midgets. They lost their fourth straight game today. They are 0-4 after another shellacking, this time by the Kansas City Chiefs. Though they played better than last week, when they lost 38-0 to the Carolina Panthers, they still managed to be embarrassed, 31-7. 

Why, I wondered, with two minutes to go and the game clearly beyond redemption, why did the coaches risk injury to their best players by keeping Eli Manning and Victor Cruz in the game? It's not as if they needed more experience at their positions. Could it be that the coaches were just as dumbstruck as the players have been? 

It’s going to be a loooong season, one that even a “Let’s Go Giants” chant from Marty Glickman could not hasten to a positive conclusion. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Expanding on The Times and Other Media

Under the headline, “Ghosts Be Gone,” and above an 11”x7” picture of the main hall of Belcourt Castle, The Home section of Thursday’s NY Times featured the renovation of a grande dame mansion of Newport, R.I., society from back in the days when robber barons built empires based on steel or railroads, not bits and bytes (  

Gilda and I first toured Belcourt back in the mid 1970s. It was part of an idyllic vacation, still fondly recalled for the thick and delicious clam chowder we enjoyed at the Black Pearl restaurant on Newport’s waterfront. Our next visit to Belcourt was a family affair, part of a weekend conference my magazine co-hosted with Digital Equipment Corp. in the 1990s. For about a decade we together sponsored the Retail Innovation Technology Award (The RITA). We invited a half dozen retailers, and their significant others, to a judging venue, either on Cape Cod or Newport. Dan and Ellie would join Gilda and me for the weekend, though on this trip to Newport only a pre-teenage Ellie came along.

To be sure, these judging weekends could be compared to congressional junkets. We did a lot more socializing and entertaining than judging, but as in most industries, retailing and publishing laid their foundation on the building of relationships. Thus, in late June, we enjoyed a beautiful sun-filled weekend in Newport. Gary Finerty, my counterpart at Digital, had an in with someone at Trinity Church who provided access to the top of the steeple overlooking the harbor and city. Gilda still recalls with fright the climb on a vertical ladder to the cramped pinnacle of the church.  

But the highlight of the weekend was our Saturday night dinner at Belcourt Castle, in the same room pictured in The Times. It’s not the food I remember, but rather an abridged but fine production of Phantom of the Opera performed for our modest group of maybe 20 guests. The Gothic ambiance, the cast walking around us or appearing in a balcony above the floor, and chandeliers, of course, chandeliers suspended above our table by long, very long chords. It was, simply, a night to remember, not the least of which was seeing the dazzle and awe in Ellie’s eyes. Perhaps that’s what inspired Ellie to become a leading lady in theater productions during her teenage years.

Are You Carrying Today?: Thursday’s Times also carried a article in the Business section about Starbucks’ decision to ask customers not to carry guns inside its stores or in its outdoor seating areas. The article noted that in his Doonesbury comic strip Gary Trudeau lampooned the company’s prior policy to adhere to local laws, many of which permit guns to be openly carried. The Times referenced one comic strip panel in which a barista greeted a customer with “Welcome to Starbucks, sir. Would you be openly carrying a weapon today?” (

Let’s avoid the gun control debate for now while I recount an incident during Gilda’s and my trip to Israel in 2003. It was during the second Intifada. As I inched our car up to the entrance of the parking garage of the shopping center in a high rise building in Tel Aviv, we saw security guards carefully checking each vehicle, looking inside each trunk, extending an elongated mirror under each chassis. 

I’m fluent in Hebrew but was unprepared for the question posed by one of the guards. “Are you carrying a weapon?,” he asked. I hesitated at the seemingly contradictory reality that a country intent on stopping surprise shootings saw no conflict with its citizenry packing heat in public places. Quickly the guard sized up the situation and asked again, this time in English. No, I was not armed. Never have been. Hope to never be. 

But for Israelis, carrying arms is second nature. Back in 1976, our friends Yakov and Chaya drove us from the Galilee to Jerusalem via the West Bank. Before we left Yakov’s parents’ kibbutz, his mother asked him to be careful. He touched Chaya’s pocketbook to indicate his Uzi was inside. I’d like to say we were reassured, but if so, it was only slightly.  

Beards of a Feather Flock Together: Gilda sent me an article from AMNY that Joe Lhota would become the first bearded mayor in 100 years if he is elected in November (

Seems there are some people who question the honesty of bearded men (probably bearded ladies as well, but that’s another story). Anyway, forgetting his politics for now, I don’t have any problems with Lhota sporting a beard. I’d be much more concerned if he practiced the comb-over on his shiny head. That definitely would send a message he was not to be trusted. 

Speaking of bearded men not to be trusted, here’s another story from Gilda, this time from The Forward. The ultra-Orthodox rabbis of a town in Israel have issued a ban on women running or attending zumba classes, even all-women sessions. To the rabbis’ way of thinking, zumba “is entirely at odds with both the ways of the Torah and the holiness of Israel, as are the songs associated to it.” (

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the foibles of religion. 

Other times you have to cry: It's normal for observant Jews to go to ritual baths Friday afternoons to cleanse themselves before the sabbath begins at sundown. For a hopefully small group of religious practitioners it also was their custom to buy and sell illegal drugs before the sun went down.

New York police recently arrested five men for allegedly dealing illegal drugs including heroin. What’s more, the dealers allegedly sent text messages advising their buyers of the upcoming sabbath restrictions.

"We are closing at 7:30 on the dot and we will reopen on Saturday at 8:15 so if u need anything you have 45 mins to get what you want," one text read, according to investigators (

That, as they say, is a real shanda!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On This Day, Time to Remember

On the eve of the Festival of Sukkot (tabernacles) which began today according to the Jewish calendar, the Jewish population of Ottynia, a small town in eastern Galicia, variably part of Austria-Hungary, Poland and Ukraine, was essentially eradicated six decades ago. Sources differ on whether it happened in 1941 or 1942. There’s reason to believe mass executions took place both years—October 5, 1941 and September 25, 1942—on the eve of one of the more joyful Jewish holidays, a time usually set aside to celebrate abundance and gratitude. 

It doesn’t matter. The “aktion” was the same: On that fateful day 61 and/or 62 years ago, German and Ukrainian beasts rounded up the Jewish residents of Ottynia and transported them by truck to a nearby forest where mass graves had been dug. They were lined up and shot. In all, some 1,400 souls departed. Though nearly 400 Ottynia Jews survived the war, Jewish life ceased to exist there. My father’s family lived in Ottynia. He had come to New York in 1939. All were slaughtered in Ottynia except his brother Willy who fled into the countryside.

Now part of Ukraine, Ottynia remains a not very hospitable place for outsiders, though one should hardly classify Jews as outsiders to Ottynia considering they had lived there since at least 1635. 

A cousin in France visited Ottynia and nearby Dora in the summer of 2011, searching for family records. Laura reported in an email that in Kolomya she met with the “last living Jew of Ottynia,” a 90-year-old man called Greenberg. He remembered my grandfather, my father and uncle. Twenty-nine members of Greenberg’s family died in the mass killings. "He was there and saw it. He saw the mass graves and the ground still moving.” 

In Ottynia Laura met an old woman who remembered our family name, Fürsetzer. But she found nothing more.

“What I was personally looking for, I found it in Dora, where my grandmother was born,” Laura wrote. “There, we met people who remembered her parents Chaim and Rivka Fürsetzer. We found the place where their shop was. We found the mass graves where they are probably buried. And most important, in the archives building of Stanislawow, we found a complete file showing that my grandmother had tried to save them by taking them to France in 1934, one year after Hitler came to power. She did not succeed but the file is still in the building, with letters, visas, everything.”

Last summer another descendant of Ottynia, a man from New Jersey, ventured back to his family roots. I came across his video on YouTube. Ottynia was never a garden spot of the world. It surely did not improve in the years under Soviet domination and as part of an independent Ukraine. There was little to make one empathetic to the life of our ancestors there.

At the conclusion of Sukkot services at temple this morning, I stood to recite the kaddish memorial prayer for my relatives from Ottynia. In front of me, arrayed on the steps leading up to the bimah, about 30 children sat, giggling, fidgety, happy, expressive proof the Nazis were not successful. I thought back to a time when children in the sanctuary of our synagogue were not very welcome. Dan was three, Ellie roughly six months old when we began bringing them to services. 

We sat in a makeshift back row of portable chairs up against the rear wall with other young families, among them the Lauchheimers. Michael Lauchheimer and I had attended summer camp together, he as a camper, I as his counselor. Together with other families we forced a change in temple protocol. No longer were children persona non grata

Twenty-three years ago, on the first day of Sukkot, Michael passed away. His friends still miss him.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bizarre and Bazaar Turn of Events

I made Gilda promise me that when the time came, and I’ll explain shortly why that time seems to be rapidly approaching, she’ll place me in a nice, nearby facility for the memory challenged, one that she’ll visit at least weekly, a home with good looking attendants, for after all, I might become forgetful but I would hope I would retain my appreciation of the finer things of life. 

I told her Sunday morning I had found the missing white sheet. 
“Where was it?, she asked. 
“On the bed,” I sheepishly replied.
“You mean we were sleeping on it all this time?”
“Yes, and no.” Thinking the white sheet was a cover for the new Sleep Number mattress, I had somehow placed the next sheet set on top of it. It was only when I went to plug in our heated mattress pad that I discovered my mistake. 

Now, if I could only find that missing dryer ball ...

My initial optimism about a negotiated settlement for the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stash has dissipated. We've now entered what may be called the “Arab suk” phase, and the bizarre twists and turns Assad has begun to play would make any bazaar merchant proud. He's trying to impose conditions on President Obama, not the reverse, despite the deal the U.S. and Russia seemingly reached. 

So let’s just employ the age-old tactic of walking away. If Assad doesn't capitulate and live up to the schedule in the Russo-American deal, strike. Don't wait for Congress or the United Nations to act. The “consequences” Secretary of State John Kerry said would rain down on Syria will never force Assad’s hand. Only action will. 

I'm reminded of when I sold one of my cars, a Buick, to a young man in Yonkers back in 1982. Not in any way comparable in importance to negotiations on chemical weapons, but instructive, nevertheless, on the give and take (mostly take) tactics of the Middle Eastern mind. 

The young man in question was a Palestinian student. I met him in Yonkers. His uncle represented him. He told me how much he liked Buicks. Solid, reliable cars. Still, his nephew was not rich. He couldn’t afford the $2,000 price tag. We haggled. The give and take was fun, but we reached an impasse. I wanted $1,600. He was stuck at $1,550. We didn’t split the difference. I said I was going home. 

Would I mind driving his nephew home as it was on my way to the parkway? No problem. When we arrived in front of his building, he asked if I would like to come up for tea. Recognizing this as a further attempt to negotiate the price down, I declined. Twenty minutes later I walked into our home. Just as I finished telling Gilda I should have accepted the lower price as the $50 difference would be eaten up by another newspaper ad (yes, these were pre-Craig’s List days; newspapers actually carried classified ads), the phone rang. The uncle called to say they’d pay $1,600.  

I don’t normally advocate military action. But this is an exceptional situation, one that Assad will play out. In the end, I doubt he will comply with any of the deadlines set in the agreement. We must be prepared to act. And act quickly.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Missing, Without a Trace

File this entry under weird things happen to Murray. I've previously chronicled my belief that inanimate objects send me not so subtle messages, as when my car died the day I was to give it to my brother-in-law. Or when my company umbrella broke in my hand during a rainstorm as I walked up Park Avenue to the office on my last day of work.

Today's strange happenings report involves disappearing objects. I'm not talking about stuff I can't find because of a senior moment. I'm talking about stuff that literally disappears. Without a trace.

First, some background. I do most of our laundry, including the sheets and towels. A little more than a year ago we stopped using Bounce fabric softener sheets in the dryer. Instead, upon the advice of our nephew Eric, we started adding two reusable dryer balls with each load. They’re plastic, about the size of a tennis ball with short spikes all the way around. It’s like tossing two rolled up hedgehogs into your dryer.

Anyway, about a year ago when drying some bed linens, only one ball emerged from the dryer. That usually means a ball got tucked into a sheet or pillow case and all I needed to do was feel through the laundry basket for the ball. But none revealed itself. Hmmm. The mystery has yet to be solved. I bought replacement dryer balls.

Mystery Number Two: Two weeks ago I washed our white sheet set along with my dirty clothes. I folded the laundry after it was dry, carried it upstairs and put everything away. Linens go in a chest in our bedroom. Inside it went the fitted bed sheet. At least that's what I believe happened, for the bed sheet is nowhere to be found, not inside the chest, not on any other bed, not in any other piece of storage furniture or closet. Nowhere. Poof. Gone. I’ve searched high and low. I even asked our housekeeper today if she saw the sheet. No luck. Another object lost without a trace.

Perhaps I’m living through a real-life reverse version of Gaslight, the Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer film noir in which a husband tries to drive his wife insane by making objects mysteriously disappear. But that would mean Gilda is masterminding these incidents and she wasn’t home when the dryer ball disappeared and she claims she never knew where I stored our sheets. 

Uh-oh: I couldn’t find my second set of car keys today. As part of my obsessive-compulsive personality, I believe in contingencies and redundancies. That means carrying a second set of car keys just in case I lock my primary keys in the car (as I did last winter, only to discover I had failed to take my second set with me that day. Loyal readers will remember I had to wait an hour for AAA to arrive and jimmy the door open). 

I searched all the usual suspect places—pants pockets, jackets pockets, the floor beneath my night table. Nothing. Unlike the dryer ball or the bed sheet, this definitely was a case of senioritis. I racked my brain trying to think where I might have left them. And then it hit me. I had placed the keys in my softball gear bag which I had just relegated to the basement at the end of our season Sunday. I triumphantly retrieved them.

In baseball, batting one for three is considered a success. I don’t think it works that way with lost objects. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hoping to Avoid Another Gas Attack

Apropos Bashar al-Assad’s Oscar-worthy portrayal in the Charlie Rose interview of an aggrieved head of state wrongly accused of killing his subjects by using chemical gas attacks, I can only refer him to an old American saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Let’s not kid ourselves or anyone else. Assad gassed his people.

When I was a small child, my parents used to entertain some of my father’s relatives. One of them scared me. He looked like Lurch on The Addams Family. He was older than my father, probably around 60. He had wispy, blond hair. He had deep sunken eyes that had a faraway look to them. He was tall, even by a youngster’s perspective. His hands were large. His fingers never closed. Instead they were splayed out, lifeless.

I asked why he looked the way he did. He was gassed during World War I, my father explained. I was too young at the time to fully comprehend the meaning behind his affliction.

You might have noticed I have not mentioned him by name. I don't remember it. Like so many, I have put victims of gassing out of my mind. The world has a tendency to forget atrocities. It’s too convenient for our leaders and their citizenry to let incidents pass without repercussions, especially when they happen in distant lands and cultures.

Gilda sent me a commentary from Tom Friedman of The New York Times ( He's against any military action in Syria. Among other reasons, he cites the lack of results our might achieved in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Friedman believes lack of pluralistic-minded leadership dooms these sectarian conflicts to be catalysts of state destroyers. Just let the factions fight their own intolerant wars.

I agree bombing wouldn't resolve any part of the current crisis. But we wouldn't be bombing for regime change. We would be bombing to firmly define the limits of warfare, that gassing civilians cannot and will not be tolerated. That there be no next time.

Assad threatens retaliation. Are we seriously going to quiver? Does he seriously think his state can stand toe to toe with America, or has he determined that his best long term prospect is to lose a war with the United States a là The Mouse That Roared? (He does look like someone Peter Sellers could play, if he were alive today.)

President Obama’s firm resolve to punish Syria may have led to a diplomatic breakthrough, however inadvertently it appeared, courtesy of Secretary of State John Kerry's suggestion that Assad relinquish control of all chemical weapons ( I hope this proposal takes root. But let's not be fooled. If it does, it is only because Assad was convinced of, and afraid of, Obama’s commitment to action. Otherwise, Assad would be gassing up again and again.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Talking in Shul, Playing Ball, Dino Sex

Gilda forwarded an article to me from, appropriately enough, The Forward, a newspaper that during its heyday at the turn of the 20th century as a Yiddish newspaper serving the mostly Eastern European influx of Jewish immigrants, dealt not only with news of the day but also with setting social mores for the “greenhorn” population (The Forward now is available on-line, in English). The article that caught her attention chronicled the efforts of Orthodox rabbis to control incessant talking in the pews during services ( Though a minor nuisance in Conservative and Reform temples, kibitzing, gossiping, chit-chatting is a constant background drum in Orthodox synagogues. 

I grew up in an Orthodox shul, currently am a member of a Conservative temple and have attended services in Reform and Reconstructionist houses of worship. I, thus, have reason to believe my theory of congregant conversation has legitimacy. It’s simply a matter of whom you sit next to.

In Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist temples husbands and wives sit together. Unless they’re not on speaking terms, they’ve had ample opportunity to exchange thoughts in the privacy of their home, or in the car, or maybe over dinner in a restaurant. Sure there would be something fresh to talk about at temple, say, how the bar-mitzvah boy’s mother was dressed appropriately, or not, but by and large there’s not much new to say.

On the other hand, Orthodox synagogues segregate men from women. Husband and wife are seated next to people, usually friends, they might not see during the week. There’s lots to discuss: business, sports, politics, children, TV, movies, the list goes on and on. It’s simply a matter of being social trumping absolute devotion to prayer. Those Orthodox rabbis can pray for divine help all they want, but it will be to no avail. 

What do baseball fans want? Championships, of course. But realistically, they want to see their team play meaningful games in September. Against the odds, the injury plagued, elderly NY Yankees are  playing such games. Even the devastating losses to the Boston Red Sox this weekend could not alter the fact that the games were meaningful.

I can say the same thing about our temple softball team. Last Sunday, September 1, we had to win to make the playoffs. We did, 7-6, behind a rousing five-run ninth inning rally we almost squandered by giving up three runs in the bottom half of the ninth. Today we played another meaningful September game. We lost by a score too embarrassing to publish, but we had fun, and that’s what really counted.

Sexual Fantasies: I’ll end today with an off-beat item too amusing to pass up passing along. Ever wonder how dinosaurs procreated? Can’t say I ever did, but this link to a story from Radiolab from NPR will provide some fanciful notions on how they got it on, or  should that be “in”? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syria Is Serious Business

We didn’t know precisely what happened 49 years ago in the dark waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. We were told North Vietnamese gunships engaged in a battle with one of our destroyers. So Congress hastily and precipitously passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and though it did not authorize a war, that’s what we fought for the next nine years at a cost of 58,286 lives and 153,303 wounded and a fraying of the bonds of trust between the government and the people it is supposed to serve. Those were just the American casualties.

We were told weapons of mass destruction in Iraq threatened the stability and safety of the world. Our respected secretary of state, Colin Powell, the former chief of staff of the armed forces who led us to victory against Iraq in the Gulf War a little more than a decade earlier, reassured us intelligence confirmed the presence of WMDs stored all over Iraq. We believed him and his toy mockups, pictures and drawings and so we went to war. And we unleashed hell in Iraq at a cost of nearly 5,000 lives and more than 32,000 wounded and a near total meltdown of our domestic economy to fund the war. Those were just the American casualties.

When President Obama drew his chemical weapons red line in the Syrian sand a year, or was it two years, ago there were few who argued with his deliberation. Times, tempers and tenacity are different today. While still reserving the right to act unilaterally, Obama has downshifted our country's response mode to the apparent gassing by Bashar al-Assad of his people, albeit people who would like nothing better than to dance on his grave or see him rot in prison or be indulged in some Idi Amin-like asylum in another country.

Obama wants to hear from Congress what the U.S. should do. I am mostly a pacifist but on this question I come down on the side of military action. Even a war weary country must come to the conclusion that doing nothing will cast America as a paper tiger and encourage tyrants, terrorists and all sorts of enemies to be bolder while our friends and allies question our resolve to stand by our words and commitments. 

Unlike Vietnam and Iraq, Syria provides overwhelming evidence (circumstantial to some, but nevertheless overwhelming) that the Assad regime gassed its own people, killing more than 1,400 including 400 children. There is a moral imperative for America to act, not to topple Assad but rather to convey our resolve that there are lines in the sand that cannot be crossed. 

Can we be the world’s policeman? No. Not even an entire police force can monitor all the abuses under its domain. Not every humanitarian crisis will evoke a response. One could argue Obama spoke too hastily in setting a red line. But no rational person wants chemical weapons used. It is in our best national interests, not in Israel’s or in those who would oust Assad, to strategically punish the Syrian government, even at the risk of killing innocents, what the military euphemistically calls collateral damage. 

Many in Congress fear more U.S. boots on the ground despite administration assurances the military campaign will be limited to air attacks. Others, including many in the Tea Party, want America to hark back to its isolationist days, not understanding that by looking inward after World War I we enabled the rise of fascist, war-mongering governments across Europe. 

Cruise-bombing Syria will not bring peace to Arabia, will not settle the sectarian strife dividing Islam, will not help or hinder efforts to forge an Arab-Israeli peace, will not make Iran or North Korea more pacific. It will, however, reaffirm America’s commitment to combat and avenge any use of weapons of mass destruction. And that is a good thing.