Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More from Saratoga, Basal Cells and the Baby Carriage

My brother called when we were in Saratoga Springs last week. He had a bone to pick about one of my blogs. I thought he would be upset upon reading I might not return his old baseball glove after I cleaned it up (or even before). Nah. He was more concerned about his reputation, piqued about my implication that he did not have an outdoorsman’s gene.

He wanted to set the record straight—back in his college days he drove cross-country with his friend Marty for six weeks, staying in hotels for no more than a combined week’s worth of days. The rest of the time they slept in tents or under the skies. They trekked down and up the Grand Canyon. 

And, after he married Annette, he took her on camping trips, as well. I seem to recall this, but I’m waiting for confirmation from Annette.

Bernie reached me while I was in the parking lot of a Price Chopper supermarket in Lake George, about to go in to purchase a turkey sandwich. The town was virtually closed down for the fall and winter seasons. Even the McDonald’s had a chain across its driveway with a “see you next year” sign.

Along the Northway they’ve updated the rest stop road signs. Now the signs read “Text Stop. Rest Stop.”

It’s easy to tell the locals from the tourists up north. With temperatures hovering in the 40s, tourists like me bundled up in down jackets, sometimes over fleece vests. Locals, meanwhile, scampered about in sweatshirts and even just the occasional T-shirt. 

The local newspaper, The Saratogian, has transitioned to a mostly on-line news source. Its old building on Lake Street has been sold. The Saratogian’s staff awaits a new home. 

One thing I learned is The Saratogian is now owned by Journal Register Company, part of Digital First Media, the same outfit that owns The New Haven Register where I started my journalism career in 1972.

Mohs Update: It’s confirmed, I have another basal cell carcinoma on my nose. Seeing a surgeon on Friday to schedule removal. 

Third Life: The baby carriage Gilda’s sister gave us that I used to transport wood, that I put out to pasture (bulk garbage pickup) last week, apparently has a new life. Someone came to our cul-de-sac and liberated the conveyance before the sanitation engineers showed up. I haven’t seen it around our neighborhood carrying any babies, or wood.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Remembering the Amazin' Mazer and a Return to Saratoga

Bill Mazer died last week. His funeral was Sunday. He was 92. A New York, mostly radio, personality, Mazer was part of Gilda's and my large sphere of associations. Mazer and his wife Dutch, really Dora but everyone called her Dutch, were members of our temple. Before Gilda returned to full time work she often would attend functions hosted by Dutch at the Mazer home in Scarsdale.

My link to Mazer goes back to the beginning of his tenure as the dean, perhaps the originator, of sports-talk radio. A Brooklyn native, Mazer returned to New York City in 1964 to host an afternoon sports show on WNBC-AM. My friends Jerry and Stanley were smitten with his broadcast. They became obsessed with getting on the air with him to ask a question that could stump his vast knowledge of sports, which hardly ever happened and for which he would become known as the Amazin’. I suggested we ask if he knew of Eddie Giacomin, at the time a minor league goaltender but soon to become a Hall of Fame netminder for the NY Rangers. We got through the screening. I asked my question which Mazer quickly devoured. That was 50 years ago. Wow.

We could not attend Mazer’s funeral. We were in Saratoga Springs, NY, for a nurse practitioners conference for Gilda. More than 50 years ago, 56 to be exact, Gilda moved from Saratoga to Brooklyn.

We spent four days in Saratoga where Gilda was born and lived her first eight years. Back then, her family owned a three-story home (with a basement that was a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves in the mid-19th century) and two hotels at the north end of Broadway, the Empire and the Brooklyn. In the early 1970s the city obtained the home and hotels through eminent domain. It built the City Center convention and conference hall and an adjoining hotel, now a Hilton, on the property. 

The conference was at the City Center and the Hilton, so we stayed at the hotel. Inside the City Center, Gilda noticed the original Hotel Brooklyn sign hanging on a wall. Saturday night we tried to eat at the Olde Bryan Inn on Maple Street at the rear of her family's former property, but a 90 minute wait—no reservations taken—defused that idea. A well known restaurant these days, the inn served as the hotels’ laundry during Gilda's years in Saratoga.

We've been to Saratoga many times, partly because Ellie attended Skidmore College there and for several years we attended an annual conference in the town produced by one of my magazine’s business partners, David Deutsch. 

This wasn't the first time we stayed at this hotel. About 10 years ago we spent a weekend there with our friends Linda and Jacob who had never been to Saratoga. We arrived around 7 pm. The hotel was sold out, but we had guaranteed reservations. As Linda registered for her room, however, the desk clerk apologized that the only accommodation available was a smoking room. She shrugged and accepted the room.

I overheard this exchange from my spot on the adjacent line. I expected similar treatment, only to be told the last available room they could give me was the 2,000-square foot presidential suite. Would that be okay? 

You could have driven a truck through Linda’s dropped jaw when she heard that. I felt a momentary tinge of guilt, but it quickly passed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Making the Right Call

While Gilda tried to fall asleep beside me Saturday night, I watched the end of the third game of the World Series with the sound off. As the last play of the tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning unfolded, I said to myself, “Runner interference should be called.” I was wrong. It wasn't interference. Rather, it was obstruction. The umpires ruled the Boston Red Sox third baseman impeded the St. Louis Cardinal runner from advancing unobstructed toward home. It didn't matter if he did it inadvertently or with intent. The rule book makes no distinction.

The result—the Cardinals edged the Boston Red Sox 5-4, taking a 2-1 lead in games in the best of seven series. It was unfortunate timing for Boston, but a clear case of obstruction. Despite what Bosox diehards believe, the umps had to make the call. (For those not familiar with the disputed play, read about it or watch any newscast today. It no doubt will be shown.)

I can sympathize and empathize with the umpires’ plight of having to decide the outcome of a game rather than letting the players determine it outright. I, too, made a critical call during a game I was refereeing that cost Dan’s basketball team a victory.

Dan was 12, playing on a school squad of fifth and sixth graders. As fate would have it, the paid referee failed to show up for a game. Having reffed some while a counselor in summer camp two decades earlier, I volunteered my services. As both coaches knew me, my integrity and ability to be impartial as a ref were not questioned.

The game was a nail biter. With just seconds to go Dan’s team led by one point. The other team’s best player had the ball near the foul line. He faked a shot and started to drive toward the basket. He shot, and missed, but I had blown my whistle. He had been fouled in the act of shooting. Parents of Dan’s team, my wife included, went ballistic. How could I call such a foul with only a few seconds left on the clock?

The ride home after the shooter made both free throws to propel his team to a one point victory was not a pleasant one. No amount of explaining could console Dan or reassure him and Gilda that a foul is a foul no matter when it occurs and it is the obligation of the ref to call it. 

Later that season the same two teams played for the league championship. I didn't ref that game. Dan’s team won.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mohs the Merrier. Not Really, But Better than the Alternative

The dermatologist shaved off another portion of my nose Tuesday, the first step in confirming my fourth basal cell carcinoma, the third on my proboscis (the fourth was on my forehead). At this rate no one will be able to tease me about having a big nose.

This time I suspected the worst. I had a slight bump at the flare of my left nostril. When I touched it my nose would sting. Initially, the doctor thought it was just a pimple, but upon deeper examination he agreed with my suspicion. So off to the lab went a piece of my schnozzola. Assuming it is a basal cell I'll undergo a Mohs procedure.

Some 20 years ago I was surprised when my first basal cell revealed itself. I had noticed some blood along the ridge of my nose after I showered and toweled dry. When it happened a second time I visited the dermatologist. A biopsy confirmed the carcinoma.

For those not familiar with basal cells they are the mildest form of skin cancer, usually contracted through exposure to the sun, often during one’s youth. Though I am careful when I go out these days, usually wearing a hat, during my childhood and throughout my teenage years I spent many hours each summer playing outdoors, often without wearing a shirt or hat or any sunscreen. Untreated, or if all the cells are not entirely removed, they can bore deeply into your body. When finally treated a face can be left with a disfigured nose, cheek or ear. A visit to a dermatological surgeon’s office can be like a walk past a circus freak show aisle.

Until the Mohs procedure was developed surgeons could not be certain how deep to make their incisions to extract all the basal cells. Using Mohs, doctors take off thin slivers of skin, each layer studied to determine if more carving is required. It takes about 15 seconds, if that long, to slice. You wait about 45 minutes for the evaluation. My first nose job I was lucky. One cut. Next time, not so lucky. Three cuts. A plastic surgeon had to sow up the area of that second excavation, shifting skin around from one part of my nose to the affected area. 

You might be wondering why I'm relating these private details. First, it's to imprint on you the need for annual check ups with a dermatologist. Basal cells generally won't kill you but other types of skin cancer, like melanoma, can if not discovered and treated in a timely manner.

Second, it's to educate you to the process which really begins with self examinations. This is one medical condition you can proactively monitor and combat. 

Third, as whimpy as it may appear, wear hats when the sun’s out, even during winter or when it’s cloudy. The sun’s rays penetrate the clouds. And don’t forget to slather your children and grandchildren with sunscreen. They might not appreciate it when they’re young but trust me, they’ll thank you by the time they get to be my age. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hard to Believe My Son's 35 Today

Hard to believe, our son Daniel turned 35 today. Gilda and I can’t believe we’re that old, er, I mean, he’s that old. Seems like just yesterday Gilda told me not to go to work one Friday morning as contractions had started and it was time to go to the hospital. Some 16 hours later Dan finally decided to slide down the chute and change our lives forever.

I did some fall cleanup today, clearing out the shed in our yard. Out went an old perambulator, one of those big baby carriages common before the umbrella stroller and other modern conveyances turned baby portage into a fast-paced affair. We hardly ever transported Dan in this baby carriage which Gilda’s sister Barbara had used for her children. Shortly after Dan was born we installed a woodburning stove in the fireplace in the living room of our first home. We heated most of our house with wood I would gather as I drove around in my Chevy Vega, a chain saw in the back ready to cut up any fallen branches I came across. I used the baby carriage to move firewood from the driveway to the yard to a temporary pile on the porch. With its big wheels the baby carriage plowed through winter snow, even when weighted down by seven or eight logs. 

We don’t use the woodburning stove in the den of our current home very much; it was time to sever ties with the baby carriage. I’m nostalgic about it, not because Dan rode in it, but rather because it evoked memories of when we were younger, a time when I played lumberjack and the cozy warmth of a fire made our home toasty.

Eddie Mathews: Do you know who he is? He is a Hall of Fame third basemen who played most of his 17-year career with the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves in the 1950s-1960s. I wasn’t a Braves fan. Neither was my brother Bernie, but one of the earliest of his baseball gloves was an Eddie Mathews model. I found his old, four-fingered glove at the bottom of a pile of sporting goods I was cleaning out today in the garage. Old doesn’t begin to describe its condition. It needs new stringing to keep the fingers together. The leather is dirty and maybe even moldy, but surprisingly, not cracked. I’ll give it some tender loving care and oil it up, though I’m not promising to give it back to him, despite his B. Forseter still legible across the band at the top of the glove. 

Pressure Picks: Who do you like in Monday night’s football game, the NY Giants or the Minnesota Vikings? The Giants are 0-6, the Vikings 1-4, so it’s not as if this game is between two powerhouse teams. I ask the question because for the second year I have joined a football pool and before Sunday’s games I was tied for third place among the 26 players. I might have had more points had I not remained loyal to the Giants, and been disappointed, for most of their games (I actually picked against them one game). 

I don’t have any scientific method for choosing winners. I don’t study results or injury reports as other pickers do. Success, so far, does mean there’s more pressure to pick winners. This week I’m on track for my lowest weekly total of the season.

2013 has not been a good year for my sporting life. The Yankees succumbed. The Rangers floundered on ice. The Giants are on life support (a charitable assessment). The teams I don’t want to win are winning—I root against the Jets, yet they beat the New England Patriots in overtime today. I also don’t want the Washington Redskins to win, but they edged the Chicago Bears in the last minute today, an achievement the Giants failed to do last week. Aargh! I hate the Red Sox, but they triumphed over the Detroit Tigers to make it to the World Series. At least the Mets didn’t disappoint. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Game Theory for Congress, Work and the Devil

Now that the government is back in working order, if we can generously call it that, and we’ve dodged the debt ceiling limit bullet for several more months, I thought I might comment on a Tuesday NY Times Op-Ed piece by David McAdams, a professor of economics at Duke University and an apparent expert and author on game theory (for those who might not have read his essay, here’s a link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/changing-the-debt-ceiling-game.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1382049282-ZI8/HsNh+AWsWrOtB2vVLw).

Essentially, McAdams opined that the political parties could avoid another stalemate on the budget and debt ceiling by “limiting (their) own options.” Such a strategy “can be essential to getting others to do what you want.” It’s an interesting theory, but one I believe fails to appreciate the extreme thinking of Tea Party members. McAdams put forward a solution for practical politicians. Zealots are rarely practical. 

In the course of the reporting on the brinksmanship of the last two weeks, and the months before, it was consistently reported that “Congress,” meaning the House of Representatives, could not agree on a bi-partisan plan. It was an ingenuous characterization of reality. Reporters and TV anchors did back flips in their attempt to stay neutral, when all the world knew the hang-up came from three dozen or so Tea Party congressmen, a House leadership that did not have the backbone to keep them in check and dozens of GOP representatives who feared primaries from the Tea Party if they voted for the good of the country and not for the hysterical positions of the Yahoos of their party. 

Let’s be clear—the Tea Party minority wanted to overturn a duly enacted law. What they couldn’t win at the ballot box—not in the general election, the presidential election, or votes in Congress—they sought to negate by placing the economic vitality of the country and the world at risk. Moreover, they are not ashamed of their actions, so the threat of future disruptions is a clear and present danger which cannot be obviated by David McAdams’ game theory stratagem. 

I’m reminded of an exercise in behavior modification my former employer tried to infuse in its top editors. We gathered for an off-site workshop to learn how we could manage our time better, particularly when we had more pressing deadlines than to respond to a call from our respective publishers. It sounded good in theory, but each editor agreed that when the boss called it would be imprudent (read that, job-threatening) to resist his demand for immediate satisfaction. Real world vs. theory: real world won. Similarly, the Tea Party is not playing by the old rules. The Tea Party wants to play by its rules alone.

Old School vs. New:  It’s not just in politics that the old ways are giving way to the new. The other day sports radio discussions centered on the behavior of athletes who celebrate in-game success, be it for hitting a home run, striking out a batter, viciously dunking a ball, sacking the quarterback or scoring a goal. The Old School idea, as epitomized by Mariano Rivera, was to act as if you’ve been there before. Don’t show up your opponent. Act with decorum and respect. New School has no such restraints. If you’re excited, show it, to the fans, to your teammates, to your competition. 

As you might have surmised, I favor Old School. Could be a generational thing. I never once saw Rivera, a deeply religious man, point to the sky as if thanking God for helping him record a save. God has more important things to ponder than the outcome of a sporting event, especially when you consider each side has players invoking his assistance. So, enough with the godly appeals and heavenly thank-yous.

A Devilish Justice: As long as we’re on the subject of religion, did you hear or read about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s belief in the Devil? In a recent New York magazine interview Scalia said he believes the Devil exists, a belief shared by many religious folks. 

Other than as a punch line (“The Devil made me do it,” as Flip Wilson used to say), I prefer the Jewish expression of Satan. The Devil is “a metaphor for the evil inclination – the yetzer hara – that exists in every person and tempts us to do wrong.” The Devil is not a real being.  

Scalia might very well be in concert with a majority of Americans, but as one of nine supreme deciders of the law of the land, he should, I would hope, be more rational than the rest of us. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stepping Back from the Precipice, A Recipe for the Tea Party

Anyone who was surprised by the shakiness of the deal to end the government shutdown/slimdown as well as an extension of the debt ceiling is the sort of person who would be a good mark to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. As we stood on the edge of a precipice of unknown depth and impact on the national and global economies, more rational heads seem poised to prevail over the petulant, petty, mean-spirited Tea Party members and a House leadership that is a leadership in name only by refusing to stand up to the obstructionist, ill-conceived ideology of the Tea Party.

As I write this, the Senate and House are yet to vote on a proposal worked out earlier today by the Senate majority and minority leaders. There’s still an opportunity for mischief and mayhem to re-enter the arena.  Let’s assume the best, however.

Let’s also assume, and this assumption might be too hard for some to swallow, that Tea Partyers truly believe they were acting in the best interest of the country. It’s hard to argue with the concept that government has grown too large, that cuts should be made. The real argument is over which appropriations are cut-worthy.

Here’s an idea I’d like to float—Tea Party members, in Congress and those who elected them to office, should be required to live without many of the discretionary services the federal government provides. For example, since they claim Obamacare will destroy our country, they should not be eligible for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And while I don’t question their patriotism, I’d cut off their access to Veterans Affairs hospitals and other VA programs.

They’re also interested in cutting back on Medicare and Medicaid. I say they shouldn’t be permitted to enroll in either program. Don’t provide them Social Security, either. Nor unemployment or disability insurance payments. Those entitlement programs are just part of the “taker” society Mitt Romney and the Tea Party bemoan. 

I wouldn’t let them drive on federal interstate highways, unless they paid a use tax. We could issue them special license plates so we could monitor their time on the road.

Based on the intelligence they’ve shown so far, I guess there’s no interest by them in Pell Grants for their children’s education. They shouldn’t be able to enroll their pre-schoolers in Head Start programs, nor should their children be eligible for any federally funded school meals (it pains me to hurt children, but it might be the only way their parents have any empathy for the less fortunate in our society). They also should have to pay special use fees to enter national parks and the Smithsonian. 

They don’t think their stunt to shutter the government and stymie extension of the debt ceiling had any negative effect on the economy, so I’d take away FDIC insurance coverage on their bank accounts. And since they seem to be a self-reliant bunch, I’d deny them any FEMA relief from natural disasters. 

I’m sure there are other discretionary parts of the federal budget I could suggest withholding from them. But you get the idea. Let’s impose these restrictions immediately and see how they work through the time of the compromise worked out by the Senate, that is, either the January 15 funding of the government or the February 7 deadline for the  next vote on raising the debt ceiling limit. Maybe by then the Tea Party will realize there are lots of good programs worth funding.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Camping Out

Ellie and Donny went camping upstate this weekend. Ellie’s also has climbed mountains and done some rappelling. I don’t know from where she got this outdoors gene. Neither Gilda nor I could be considered the camping-out, outdoorsy type.

During her high school years Ellie and her friend Danielle decided they’d go camping at Bear Mountain. I wasn’t too keen on two teenage girls going alone but I really wasn’t in a position to ground them. Nor was I in a position to offer advice. Not that I didn’t try, but you know how teenagers, particularly teenage girls, are. They didn’t want to hear any of my suggestions.

I did, however, offer a cautionary note when I overheard Danielle say she would use a bag of marshmallows as a pillow. Whoa, I said. That would not be a good idea. Were you not aware that bears are attracted to food? The last place you want to have your head resting is on a bag of bear-enticing marshmallows. 

A few years later Dan and Ellie decided to travel cross-country. Dan’s school ended earlier than Ellie’s so he drove her Jeep out West where she would join him. In Sequioa National Park in California, Dan attended a park ranger’s talk when he suddenly bolted from the campfire and headed straight to the Jeep. The park ranger had just finished admonishing campers to leave no food in their cars as bears commonly ripped off doors to get to the the goodies inside. Dan knew he didn’t leave any of his food inside the Jeep but he alertly remembered Ellie had a cornucopia of sweets stashed around the interior. 

Back to Ellie and Danielle. They didn’t encounter any bears but around 9 pm they heard noises in the woods. The noises became voices, no less a reason to be wary. That is, until the voices turned out to be a boy scout troop. It wasn’t quite like Snow White encountering the Seven Dwarfs, but they definitely were calmer knowing the scouts were around.

Getting back to the opening of this blog, I might have left the impression that at least my genes could not possibly have influenced Ellie’s outdoorsmanship. Actually, we have pictures of my mother horseback riding, while my father grew up in a small town in Poland where he was part of a Jewish scouting organization. Maybe the gene skipped a generation (I’m fairly certain my brother and sister also lack the outdoorsman gene which resurfaced in Lee’s daughter Lauren. As part of a corporate exercise—she works for North Face—Lauren climbed Half Dome in Yosemite via the cable route, amazing herself as well as her parents with her fortitude). The extent of Gilda’s and my mountain climbing activity has been confined mostly to scaling Masada in Israel four or five times, as well as making our way to the top of some man-made structures such as The Vatican, the Il Duomo in Florence and the Eiffel Tower.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Be Ethical and Advocate for Social Justice

I found this quote in a BBC News article on the partial shutdown of the U.S. government rather amusing and disturbing:

“Paul Broun of Georgia, who is currently running for a Senate seat, said he would not vote for legislation that ‘does not fit the Judeo-Christian biblical principles that our country was founded on’.”

Among the 84 votes that the Republican congressman has cast against the wishes of his party’s leadership was a vote last January to deny disaster aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. 

Christian charity!?! Harrumph!!!

I wonder, just which biblical principles do Broun and his fellow travelers agree with? Do they include polygamy? Or slavery? Or perhaps he’s in favor of, according to Jewish law, land redistribution to original owners every 50 years when the jubilee comes around? There are lots more inconsistencies between Broun’s and the Bible’s views on the way one’s life should be conducted, but perhaps the deepest chasm is between the latter’s exhortation to care for the needy and the former’s indifference to the plight of his fellow man, woman and child.

As the fight over Obamacare has shown, the world is living in increasingly doctrinaire times. Dogma for dogma’s sake. Fie on good will and fellowship. Principles and partisanship over peace and probity. 

Even Pope Francis is feeling the heat from those within the Catholic Church who wonder what happened to their ecclesiastical leader. Why is he emphasizing serving the people and not the papacy with its crimson-robed functionaries? 

No religion is immune to internecine bickering, though Islam seems to be more bent on warfare from within than dialogue. How disrespectful of another point of view are the repeated bombings of mosques and funerals by those not sharing the attacker’s version of Islam. Hundreds of years ago Christianity—Catholics, Protestants, Russian Orthodox—fought its share of wars of intolerance. Two thousand years ago Jewish factions killed those who didn’t agree with their visions of Mosaic law. 

With few exceptions, today’s Jews don’t kill one another, even when the debate is over their existence in Israel and the lands conquered in the Six Day War in 1967. There are, however, ongoing battles for the soul of the Jewish state in Israel and for the soul of Jews in the Diaspora. In Israel, the debate has many levels. One is over territory and security. Neither side wants to undermine the security of Israelis, but those who would relinquish total control of the West Bank see nothing secure about continued control of more than a million Palestinians. It would be state suicide to confer citizenship on the Palestinians; it would destroy the Jewish soul to retain the Palestinians in their current stateless condition. 

On another level, the secular foundations of Israel are under assault. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are pressuring for a more rigidly religious state, one that increasingly separates women from men. They haven’t blown anybody up, but they have exhibited behaviors abhorrent to Western sensibilities. 

The soul of the Jewish Diaspora, particularly in America, is in play, as well, as highlighted by this week’s release of a survey of U.S. Jews by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. In a nutshell, the study found fewer American Jews identify with their religion’s rules or religious institutions, though they continue “to feel pride in being Jewish and have a strong sense of belong to the greater Jewish community.” As the Associated Press reported, their connection is based mostly on culture and ancestry. “A large majority said remembering the Holocaust, being ethical and advocating for social justice formed the core of their Jewish identity.”

Being ethical and advocating for social justice. Nothing restrictive about those values. Be ethical to all. Advocate for social justice for all. Yes, remember the Holocaust, but also remember that other religions and people have their tragedies to commemorate. That’s also a part of being ethical and advocating for social justice.