Thursday, December 25, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Is No Bible Movie

Went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings Tuesday. This much I can tell you. Ridley Scott is no Bible thumper. He has created an aspiritual movie. The Ten Commandments is in no danger of being supplanted as the ritual annual viewing. 

Now, I’m not against taking liberties with back stories missing in the Bible. It’s what Jews call midrash. A modern example would be The Red Tent. The story of the rape of Dinah by Shechem was sparse, just a few sentences in Genesis, but Anita Diamant wove a fascinating book, recently made into a Lifetime channel movie, around it.

Scott, however, seems to have chosen to ignore Bible specifics included in the Exodus story and replace them with his own narrative. Perhaps that’s why, unlike Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, which sought to authenticate its treatment by citing sources for its interpretation, Exodus: Gods and Kings provides no source base.

Thus Scott presents no public confrontation between Moses and pharaoh, no “let my people go” moment, no exhortation from God. Whereas the Moses of the Bible wielded a staff as an instrument of god, Scott presents a more militant Moses armed with a sword worthy of Excalibur for its ability to imply military leadership.

Moses used that sword to wage (unsuccessful) guerrilla warfare against the food supply of the Egyptian people, hoping to have them pressure pharaoh into letting the Hebrews go.

Did you know that unlike the Bible’s account of Moses instructing his brother Aaron to strike the Nile with his shepherd’s staff to turn its water into blood, Scott resorted to crazed crocodiles attacking fishermen to bloody the waters?

To Scott, God is more of a dialogist inside Moses’ head than a spiritual figure. His appearance as a young boy is an interesting rendition but there is no depth of anger or empathy for what His people, the Hebrews, have endured for 400 years. He makes no effort to convey to pharaoh and the Egyptians that it is by His power and will the plagues are wrought. Rather, God’s plagues seem to be His weapons in a competition with Moses to win the release of the Hebrews through economic calamities.

Bible movies based on stories of the Old Testament have not been religious treatises. The Old Testament can be rather racy at times, an aspect Hollywood has chosen to exploit in movies such as Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba. DeMille’s Ten Commandments fabricated sexual tension—Nephretiri sparring with Moses and Ramses, and to a lesser extent the four-way of Lilia, Joshua, Baka and Dathan—to move the story line along. There’s no such tension in Scott’s Exodus. It’s more of an Arnold Schwarzenegger epic complete with iconoclastic sword. 

The Bible has the commandments written by God. Scott has Moses chiseling them while the youthful manifestation of God brings him liquid refreshment in a cup.

As for the parting of the sea, let’s just say Scott did not employ 21st century computer graphics to improve upon DeMille’s fantastical scene.

One thing I will compliment Scott on is his dating of the events. He uses Jewish, not Christian, terminology. The action is said to occur in 1300 BCE—Before the Common Era. Not BC, Before Christ.

Ridley Scott’s movie is no bible story. Perhaps that was evident in the timing of its release. After all, why would a movie about the exodus from Egypt and the institution of the Passover holiday (oops, there’s another thing Scott chose to ignore) be released at Christmas time rather than in the spring, when Passover is celebrated?

Bottom line: For all its flaws, I’m glad I saw the movie. Gilda’s glad she didn’t.

P.S.: One more thing—I get upset when proper grammar is not used. Scott has Ramses saying to Moses, “This has nothing to do with you and I.” 

The object of the preposition “with” should be “you and me,” not “ you and I.” 

P.P.S.: Just back from a Christmas night screening of The Imitation Game, the biopic of Alan Turing’s unlocking the mystery of the Nazi Enigma code machine. Wow, what a picture!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Commuter Edition

I’ve been getting lots of compliments lately, mostly from women, about what a great and considerate husband I am. It’s all because Gilda broke her wrist last summer.

Her injury has long been healed but the practice of my driving her to and from work Monday through Wednesday during her healing and rehabilitation has continued well beyond her return to physical fitness. Our female, married, friends can’t believe I put myself out in my retirement by waking up at 6 am to drive her into Manhattan and return in the afternoon after her work day concludes. They wonder if their husbands would be so accommodating.

Truth be told, while I don’t relish the loss of sleep and the disruption of my afternoon, I have an ulterior motive for being her chauffeur—I like to eat well. Gilda is a fabulous cook who often was too tired to whip up a dinner for two after she drove herself home. But as a passenger, she pays me back by cooking up nightly feasts (as I write this blog at 5:30 pm she is in the kitchen preparing tonight’s repast). 

Two months ago I wrote about our listening to the BBC World or the Pulse music station, both on Sirius Radio. Often on my way home after dropping Gilda off in the morning or when driving to pick her up in the evening I listen to Pandora, mostly folk and folk rock, music I sing along with that brings back memories of the decades when I was a teenager through my thirties. 

I was never into heavy metal, punk rock or anything that I considered “noise.” When I went off to Syracuse University for my master’s degree, my sister gave me the following LP albums:
Stonehenge by Richie Havens;
Tapestry by Carole King;
Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues;
Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens;
Ladies of the Canyon by Joni Mitchell;
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits by Bob Dylan.

That last album contained a Milton Glaser psychedelic poster portrait of Dylan. Gilda had the album, as well. We hung one of the posters in Dan’s room when he was young, its whereabouts now unknown to us. Also unknown to us, Ellie loved that portrait. Last year Donny wanted to give her a framed copy of the poster. He was ready to spend several hundred dollars when I told him we had another copy in the attic. The framed poster has become a cherished addition to their bedroom. (And no, I didn’t charge him for the poster.)

Back to the commute: Each way the trip generally takes 45 to 60 minutes. We avoid most of the morning traffic by leaving White Plains around 6:45. The first bottleneck usually presents itself at the Bronx border, around Van Cortlandt Park, near an area under construction. It’s always amusing, and somewhat dispiriting, to read an electronic sign alongside the roadway telling motorists “Your speed is 4 mph.”  

Crossing the Fordham Road Bridge can be a pain, but the most exasperating part of the journey centers on the double-parked trucks along Fifth Avenue above 125th Street that shunt two lanes of traffic into one.

Below Marcus Garvey Park, it’s an open road until we get to Mount Sinai Hospital. I’m amazed the hospital doesn’t flex its muscle and demand better traffic control at its doorstep. From 102nd Street to 98th, even ambulances with blaring sirens have a hard time penetrating trucks and taxis that are double-parked. It’s the same obstacle course later in the day when I return. 

Here are a couple of things I wonder about:

Having spent the last two days driving in fog and rain, barely seeing the white lane markers, I wonder if there is an inexpensive way to paint fluorescent lane markers on our streets and highways;

I wonder if there is some secret international diplomacy afoot behind the drop in gasoline prices. I wonder if the United States has not struck a deal with Saudi Arabia to let the barrel price of oil float to its market level. Many analysts opined the Saudis did not back an OPEC cutoff of supply as a means of hurting Iran and Venezuela that don’t have the financial resources to withstand lower oil prices the way the Saudis do. 

My guess is the real target is Russia, part of the Obama administration’s overall plan to fiscally squeeze Moscow because of its actions in Ukraine and Crimea. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hooray for ISIS! It's Not What You Think

Lets go ISIS! Before you get all worked up and think I’ve gone over to the dark side, let me assure you I am not advocating for Islamic terrorists. Rather, I am rooting for my latest stock acquisition, Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS).

I was dumbstruck when my broker called four weeks ago suggesting Isis for my portfolio. Who knew there was a drugmaker unfortunate enough to share a name with a most vile organization whose idea of pain relief is to lop off one’s head? Anyway, I trust Annette to do the right thing so I approved the purchase at $49.74 a share. When she called Friday to secure approval for an additional purchase, Isis shares had already jumped to $65.09. 

You can talk to your own financial advisor about Isis, but make sure you note you’re inquiring about the pharmaceutical company, not the Islamic State. 

Gilda and I saw the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything last week. Extraordinary performance as Hawking by Eddie Redmayne, but more to the point, how can one not feel inconsequential after seeing Hawking overcome adversity that easily would defeat even the most resilient and strong? Hard to say, “I can’t” after observing his travails and his success.

Speaking of movies, and overcoming troubles, Exodus; Gods and Kings is on my must see list, not because it received great reviews (it didn’t) but rather to see how Hollywood messed with a good (not great) picture, 1956’s The Ten Commandments. As filmdom again has discovered with the less than fanciful new Annie, remakes most often are not worth the updated time and effort (though, to be truthful, the Cecil B. DeMille-Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner Ten Commandments was a talkie version of the director’s 1923 silent screen epic). 

I’ve previously acknowledged my devotion to Davy Crockett so I was thrilled to see Turner Classic Movies, in a deal with Disney, will be airing tonight the Fess Parker Disneyfication of his life. But it will be important to remember some Davy Crockett truths, as reported here some three and a half years ago:

According to a biography by Chris Wallis, Crockett was an illegal immigrant to Texas who wound up at the Alamo not by choice but through assignment by those fomenting rebellion against Mexico, the rightful owner of Texas. 

Though Parker’s portrayed Crockett as humble, Wallis noted he was not above self-promotion, even attending a play about his exploits. 

Crockett was sympathetic to Native Americans, but apparently not to the plight of Afro-Americans. He served two terms in the U.S. Congress, only to be swept out of office after he broke with President Andrew Jackson for the latter’s treatment of the Cherokee Nation and their forced removal from Tennessee land granted them by treaty. 

Crockett went to Mexico-owned Texas to help American settlers who wanted to build plantations worked by slaves. Only trouble is, Mexico did not permit slavery. At age 49, Crockett died at the Alamo in San Antonio. He did not choose to go to the Alamo. He had joined the local militia and had been assigned to defend the mission. 

Sticking to the entertainment theme, the literary world and by extension the film and TV industries are lucky the Internet wasn’t around 150 or 100 or even 50 years ago. Otherwise, we might not have the spy novels of John LeCarre who demonized the Russian KGB. Or we wouldn’t have Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 spoof of Hitler, The Great Dictator. Or the 1939 Warner Bros. flick, Confessions of a Nazi Spy

Those books and movies, and many, many more would not have been produced and distributed if executives followed Sony’s example of acquiescence to North Korea’s demand to shelve The Interview, a farce about an assassination plot against the country’s leader. 

Yes, Sony has been damaged by North Korea’s violation of Sony’s Internet integrity. But giving in to North Korea damages our collective freedom. What is to stop Pakistan, upset by its Homeland portrayal as being complicit with Taliban attacks, from issuing a similar demand to Showtime and its cable partners? 

And where do the threats end? Can North Korea effectively blacklist The Interview stars Seth Rogen and James Franco from any other movie project, for any other studio? With so many action films and video games depicting Muslims as the enemy, could Arab states threaten retaliation, economic if not physical?

North Korea threatened a violent response to any airing of The Interview. But if we have learned anything from 9-11 and its aftermath, it is that our best response to such threats is to go about our normal business and way of life. Be cautious, but do not cower. Stay away from the movie theater, if you so choose, but that choice should be made by everyone individually, not collectively on our behalf by a corporation. 

American policy has been not to negotiate with terrorists, with hostage takers. North Korea took all of our minds and freedom hostage, and for now, has won.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tales Worth Retelling

In an interview with People magazine, the nation’s First Couple related their personal experiences with racism. 

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” President Barack Obama told People. The magazine reported he said “it had happened to him.”

A car key handoff of a different kind happened to one of my magazine’s salesmen, Mike B., in Detroit more than 30 years ago. Arriving late for an appointment in downtown Detroit, Mike hastily handed his rental car keys to a garage attendant. Only the person wasn’t a garage attendant, a fact Mike discovered when he returned to the garage. 

It took the police less than an hour to locate the now stripped-to-the-bones stolen rental car. Aside from his dignity, that’s not all Mike lost that day. Seems Mike had a quirky habit of stashing his wallet under his car seat, no doubt a bonanza the car thief and his cohorts had not anticipated finding. 

The People article also included Michelle Obama’s story of shopping in Target while first lady. “The only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her.”

Mrs. Obama sees that as an example of racism, an illustration of a (presumably white) woman assuming a black woman is an employee and asking her for help. Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to believe the customer looked to her as a taller,  bigger woman who could more easily reach the product she wanted to buy. While shopping in a supermarket or discount store I am often asked by women to reach merchandise on higher shelves. And since I’m generally dressed neatly, they many times presume I’m a store manager. I’m also wondering if Michelle was wearing a red polo short that day, the standard apparel worn by Target associates. 

On the other hand, I agree with Mrs. Obama’s other examples of racism encountered by her husband. “He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee,” she recounted, while noting that before becoming president “Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.” 

The status of race relations in America is at its lowest level in 17 years, according to a study released last week by CBS News and The New York Times. In 2009, 66% of those polled thought race relations were “good.” This year that percentage has dropped to 45%, a 31.8% decline. As could be expected in light of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown killings, as well as other incidents around the country where whites—police officers and civilians—shot unarmed Afro-Americans, the black community is more inclined to believe its members have been targeted for less than equal treatment.

Hard to blame them, but I wonder if the Barack Obama factor isn’t at play here. Instead of signaling a new era of racial acceptance, his election and re-election as president have fostered latent bias and overt racism. There just are too many people—white people—who cannot accept that the leader of the Free World is black. 

They see members of Congress publicly dis the president. They watch Fox News commentators throughout the day disrespect him. Both groups are not attacking his policies, for in truth he has done what his Republican predecessors have (including a surprise opening of a new era of relations with a devoutly Communist country). They are attacking his person. It’s thus a small leap of conscience for the individual bigot to gratify and carry out his or her own prejudices, even if it results in bodily harm to an Afro-American. 

Mind you, I am not exonerating blacks from contributing to the lower level of good race relations. I’d like to see more bootstrapping in their community. I want them to project more family values, better maintain neighborhoods, embrace education not as a stepping stone to a professional athletic career but for its ability to contribute to a more meaningful and rewarding life. They have allowed a culture of drugs and violence to dominate too many of their surroundings. 

Yes, Afro-Americans have historical, and let’s not forget physical, hurdles not experienced by other minorities. But the success of Obama and corporate leaders such as Richard Parsons and Kenneth Chenault should provide inspiration beyond recording studios, ball fields and arenas. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Babysitter Memories and a Walk Down Memory Lane

Funny how two seemingly disparate events come together to evoke a memory.  Last Saturday afternoon Turner Classic Movies aired The Long Long Trailer,  the madcap adventure of newlyweds, played by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, riding around in an oversized house trailer pulled by their convertible. The 1954 comedy was among the first films I saw in a movie theater. 

My brother, sister and I were probably taken there by our babysitter Maddie who lived next door to our family on Avenue W in Brooklyn. Maddie would often take us to the movies. I seem to recall her also taking us to see The Trouble with Harry, a 1955 Alfred Hitchcock humorous mystery starring Shirley MacLaine and John Forsythe. 

A few weeks ago one of Gilda’s patients said he knew her in-laws, my parents. With a family name like Forseter he easily figured out who her in-laws were. He wasn’t from Brooklyn but he was Maddie’s cousin and used to visit her all the time, and, by extension, our family as well. I don’t recall him at all. 

His reminiscences about those 1950s years ended with some sad news. Maddie passed away a few years ago. I remember how sad I was, how sad my sister and brother were, when Maddie went away to college and was no longer available to babysit. I can’t remember having any other sitter. 

When our kids were little, a babysitter of theirs was Leah. The daughter of one of our friends, Leah highlighted her long brown hair with blue dye. Ellie couldn’t resist asking her why. Because, she explained, she wanted to be different. Good babysitters leave indelible impressions on their charges. Leah didn’t need blue dye to be a good babysitter, but, like Maddie, she will always be remembered.

Memory Lane: I walked up Park Avenue two Fridays ago, starting at East 45th Street, through Helmsley Walk East to my old office at 425 Park between 55th and 56th Streets. I retraced the path I took nearly 7,000 times during my 32-year career at Lebhar-Friedman, almost all on Chain Store Age. 

This walk was different. It probably would be the last of its kind as L-F must vacate its home of 38 years. All tenants must be out by May 1, 2015. The building is coming down, to be replaced by a 60-story or so office tower, nearly double the size of the current structure, but still dwarfed by the 90-story, pencil thin, residential skyscraper going up diagonally across East 56th Street.

Park Avenue has not changed much since I began my daily treks to and from Grand Central Terminal in March 1977. For sure, there are more banks along the divided esplanade. But it’s still an oasis of refined elegance compared to the hurly-burly of most major avenues in Manhattan. 

I stopped off at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. For old time’s sake I used the bathroom. The attendant who proffers a towel to dry your hands has changed. Younger. Hispanic, not Armenian (at least I think he was Armenian). I tipped him a dollar. 

I made another stop at the main Citibank branch at 53rd Street. The lobby has been mostly transformed into self-service ATMs. I had a teller cash a check, the same way I did 37 years ago when I opened a checking account at that branch the day I started working at Lebhar-Friedman.

I couldn’t believe the Walter Steiger shoe store at East 55th Street had installed two outdoor red neon signs proclaiming its name. I always thought it was one of the classier shoe stores. No more.

After a warm visit with my friends still at L-F, I walked back down Park Avenue to a luncheon of some 25 L-F alumni. We get together every December, to update our status and reminisce about our days (make that years, often decades) at not the biggest family-owned publisher but surely one of the most impressionable companies any of us ever worked for. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture as a Tool of the Trade

Spoiler alert—for those who might not have watched the latest episode of Homeland, there’s a scene wherein CIA black-ops agent Peter Quinn takes a Pakistani operative into a safe location to unofficially “interrogate” him as to the whereabouts of a top terrorist who has just masterminded an invasion of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad that killed nearly 40 Americans. We’re given a quick view of a table laid out with tools of the counterintelligence trade, sharp reminders that gathering secret information is not always a clean, antiseptic affair. Next Sunday we will find out if and how Quinn extracted the info he is seeking, and how he will leave the operative, dead or alive.

It’s a TV show, but I seriously doubt more than a handful of viewers want Quinn to show restraint. A bullet to the head at the end of the “enhanced interrogation” is what they, really we, want. Revenge, plus the elimination of threats to our people, our way of life. 

The real-life debate on how to deal with terrorism suspects is on with the Tuesday release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA methods and effectiveness in post-September 11 America. By nature, I’m against torture. Wouldn’t want it done to me, or for me. But there’s always that nagging suspicion inside me that if time were a factor, if the “ticking bomb” scenario surfaced, I’d be okay with being less than above board (can you say, “waterboard”) with anyone who might have information to help us thwart an attack that would take lives.  

Let’s put legality aside. CIA apologists say the Justice Department green-lighted their activities. Of course, that’s like Nazi thugs hiding behind the Nuremberg Laws to justify their slaughter of innocents. I’ll leave it to the lawyers to parse the validity of the legal standing CIA agents and their contract players had in handling prisoners suspected of having information vital to our national safety.

It’s the moral compass of our country (and other democracies) that is at stake, a heading that cannot help but be directed by popular culture that shows Jack Bauer saving the U.S. in 24 hours, or 007 having an open license to kill on our behalf. 

Torture or not to torture. Common decency and humanity says not to. But our enemies are not decent. They are inhumane. So I’m stuck in a limbo of practicality vs. idealism. Obama campaigned on a platform of government transparency, an end to torture, the closing of Guantanamo. Geopolitical realities intercepted his follow-through. He’s become the drone president. 

I can’t condone torture, but I know it has been done and most probably will continue to be done on behalf of my safety and that of my fellow citizens. I reject the notion that we are more vulnerable because the Senate committee released its report. Fanatics will target us regardless. 

We are safer for the use of torture, but less the shining beacon of freedom we project as our image. Hypocritical, I know. But to many it’s a comfort to know our vigilance knows no bounds in a world where increasingly there are no boundaries on misbehavior. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Buckle Up! Peter Pan Is Taking Off, Again

Will you be watching Peter Pan tonight? I probably won’t, though Gilda has influenced me into taping the three hour live production (taping allows me to zoom through the plethora of commercials that would make this new version of the classic show almost intolerable to view live). Which raises the question, which moron at NBC thought it brilliant to air a children’s show that would end at 11 pm on a school night?

I’m not inclined to see this version of Peter Pan because I adored the mid-1950s production starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. Each year I eagerly absorbed the black and white telecast, excitedly clapping to keep Tinker Bell alive, crowing along with Peter, singing “I’m an Indian, too” with Tiger Lily, and crossing swords with Captain Hook and Smee. I had a green felt hat with feather, just like Peter wore, at least in the Walt Disney cartoons of Peter’s adventures that aired in the same decade, and plastic swords to duel pirates. I had a Peter Pan board game. 

In short, if I wasn’t imagining myself as Davy Crockett in my coonskin hat, I was visualizing myself flying through the air as Peter Pan. Perhaps that’s why I liked the Robin Williams film Hook and the Johnny Depp flick Finding Neverland that extended my youthful fascination with the J.M. Barrie boy who never wanted to grow up. I never wanted to, either (Gilda would say there are many a day when I display child-like behavior, but that’s a subject of another blog that probably will never see the light of a computer screen). And for the record, I also really enjoyed watching the Disneyfication of Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen.

Gilda does not share my enthusiasm for Peter Pan. I don’t believe Ellie does, either, but her musical theater career includes two portrayals of Wendy, once in the traditional role as part of a Play Group Theatre production while in high school and then at Skidmore College in a dark, avant-garde reorientation of the classic story. All I recall from that play is Ellie singing, a major coup for a freshman to be chosen ahead of theater majors.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Government Oversight, A Defense of Government and No End to Religious Strife

Does anyone seriously believe Takata Corp. executives were ignorant of the truth that far from saving lives their airbags posed a mortal risk to drivers and passengers? When was the last time a company voluntarily admitted its output could injure or kill people? Or steal their money? That’s why we need the alphabet soup of government organizations: OSHA, FTC, FDA, EPA, NLRB, ATF, EEOC and so on.

Takata, as with General Motors and its malfunctioning ignition key switch, is the poster-company reason we need government oversight of business. Otherwise, companies would merely follow actuarial tables and determine it is cheaper to pay a few death or injury claims than fix a dangerous flaw in their product. Just look at Honda, long considered one of the gold-standard companies in the auto industry. As revealed Monday, for more than a decade Honda underreported deaths linked to possible defects in its vehicles (

To those who opine that President Obama’s unilateral action on immigration has poisoned his relationship with Congress, I ask, “Were you awake or comatose during the last six years? Did you not observe how obstructionist Republicans have been to all of his initiatives? Did you not witness their unrestrained enthusiasm to repeal Obamacare? When they talk of a mandate from the 2014 elections don’t you stop to wonder why they did not accept the mandates of 2008 and 2012?”

No, Obama was not acting as an emperor. He was merely, after six years, acting as a realist. 

The real tragedy in this political pas de deux is that it has painfully revealed how pitiful Democrats are compared to Republicans in framing national debates. Instead of hammering away at positive results in such areas as health care, minimum wage, income inequality, immigration, alternative energy, gun control, unemployment, economic recovery, inflation control and lowering of the national debt, Dems have had to defend (poorly, I might add) GOP lies and distortions that have poisoned political dialogue.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi might be good politicos and legislators but they lack dynamic speaking personas. Democrats need more combative, yes combative, spokespeople to carry the good fight to the public. Democrats must learn to control the debate, not react to it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they need more outspoken leaders like Sen. Charles Schumer. In a speech to the National Press Club Tuesday, New York’s senior senator argued Democrats need to more vigorously defend the role of government ( 

The horrific murders inside a synagogue in Jerusalem last week are all the more repugnant because they reinforced stereotypical behavior that Muslims do not respect other religions, not even that practiced by different Islamic sects. It is no more or less abhorrent that repeated attacks on mosques and funerals by competing Islamic sects.

Truth is, Western religions (Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy) went through their own sectarian purges as they evolved into their present formats. So it’s not unique to the Muslim world that Shia kill Sunni, and Sunni kill Shia. Nor is it unique that they kill them during times of congregation inside religious buildings. 

Twenty-first century sensibilities are affronted by the Dark Ages values of Islamic militants, be they ISIS, Boko Haram or any other group that claims it is acting in the name of Allah or his prophet. I hate to be a Debbie-Downer, but we are destined to live with these extreme militants for the foreseeable future, and beyond, as it is impossible to totally eradicate individual or collective irrational behavior. Fanatics do not listen to reason. They are crazy with their own perceptions and ideas. We can only hope that saner minds within the Muslim community help us limit the evil the extremists hope to wreak on the rest of humanity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Need Not Be a Celebration of Consumerism

Just two more days until we “celebrate” the most repressive, exploitive, selfish holiday of the year. Yes, I’m talking about Thanksgiving. What was intended to be a commemoration of our national heritage and good fortune to reside in the country most people in the world aspire to live in has turned into a day of consumerism, a day when the retail industry chooses sales over family, when shoppers display crass, even criminal, behavior to snag trinkets and big ticket items before other desperate souls can get their grubby hands on the goods.

My antipathy toward the commercialization of Thanksgiving is long-standing. I railed against holiday store hours while publishing a retail industry magazine. I reasoned it was an anti-family imposition on retail workers and infused meanness and frenzy to shopping that consumers really need not endure. 

Perhaps you saw the article in The New York Times 10 days ago, “Spending Thanksgiving, Retail Stores Are Facing Off Over Closing or Opening On the Holiday” ({%221%22%3A%22RI%3A10%22}&_r=0). Apparently, more retailers are coming around to my way of thinking. But the curve is a long one.

Consider the comments from Dan Evans, a spokesman for Nordstrom, a company that stays closed on Thanksgiving. He told The Times, “If our customers really wanted us to open on Thanksgiving, that’s what we’ll do. We used to be closed on the Fourth of July. We used to be closed on New Year’s Day, but customers wanted us to be open on those days, so now we’re open on those days. Our customers guide us. We don’t guide them.”

That last sentence says a lot about leadership in this country and our collective mores. Instead of setting a values standard, corporate America is willing to cede responsibility to a vocal group that, like the Queen song, screams, “I want it now, I want it all.” And I don’t give a damn how it inconveniences your workers. 

At the end of the day, is it really worth fighting over a few doorbusters at the expense of your dignity and the ability of mostly underpaid retail workers to spend quality time with their families? 

Enjoy your turkey. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Inner Lumberjack, SleepIQ and Does Hollywood Think the Bible Is a True Story?

You probably wouldn’t assume it by looking at me but I have a streak of lumberjack in me. It’s not just the flannel and chamois shirts I favor once the air becomes nippy.

My constant gardener, aka Gilda, loves her compost and mulch, resulting in many an afternoon spent by yours truly collecting fallen leaves to be pulverized in my Sears Craftsman Leafwacker Plus. One day last week after chopping up 15 bags of leaves I filled another 18 black, 40-gallon Hefty bags with the discards from maple and oak trees. I shredded those leaves this afternoon. 

A few years ago I bought the Leafwacker from a Craig’s List poster in New Jersey for $25 and have enjoyed the annual autumn ritual of mulching leaves. It’s a lot less laborious than my two decades-ago lumberjack toil of collecting, chainsawing, chopping and stacking tree limbs culled from the roadside for our wood-burning stove.

Anyway, there’s a back-to-nature type of pleasure I get from this exercise, which almost got stopped in its tracks this year. Shortly after starting last week, the Leafwacker ground to a halt. I thought it might have shorted out on the foil wrapper of a Twix bar that had infiltrated the leaves. I took the machine to the Sears repair shop. They said it would cost some $125 with no guarantee they could fix it. 

I passed on that “reassuring” estimate and turned to Google. Sure enough, there were several posts about sudden stoppages of a Leafwacker, including one suggestion to hit the reset button on the bottom of the inverted machine. Who knew there was a reset button? Again sure enough, the Leafwacker sprung back to life. A short while later the mulcher stopped again in mid-stream but this time I knew what to do. Hooray for technology. 

Sleep Tight: The good people who sold us our Sleep Number bed called over the weekend to ask how we’ve been slumbering and to suggest a technology add-on. With SleepIQ, we’d be able to monitor things like how many times we got up in the middle of the night, how often we tossed and turned, our heart rate and breathing rate, and how our diet affected our sleep. All this for $499.

I respectfully declined, though I would have liked to find out how SleepIQ distinguishes normal tossing and turning from the bodily movements of two people making love. 

Here’s another question I’d like the answer to—when Gilda and I recently went to the movies, we saw a preview for "50 to 1," what was said to be “based on the true story of horse racing legend Mine That Bird.”

Okay, lots of pictures these days originate from “true” stories. The next preview was for “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” It did not say the movie was based on a true story. I’m guessing the producers did not want to take sides on whether the Bible was fact- or myth-based, but I’d like to know their reasoning. 

Spoiler Alert: The movie we saw was “Gone Girl,” which contained one of the best puns I’ve heard recently. It concerned Amy Dunne who masquerades her own disappearance and possible murder. In describing missing person Amy, a TV personality said she “forged a successful career in journalism.” As the British say, brilliant.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day Commemorations, Good and Bad

They picked up our garbage today as they normally do on Tuesdays. Last Tuesday they didn’t. It was Election Day. An homage to the right we enjoy in a democratic country to choose our leaders. 

But I am more than a little befuddled by the choice of our local government and union officials (I’m assuming the sanitation crew and the rest of the public works team are unionized) to consider November 11 as just another ordinary garbage collection day. The day we have designated to honor those who fought on our behalf to preserve the right to vote freely and live in freedom should not be a throwaway day. Veterans fought to preserve the rights of workers to unionize. How could any union, or for that matter non-union, worker not honor their sacrifice? 

Garbage collection is suspended 10 days of the year. Memorial Day, when we remember those who died in defense of our country, is one of them. So is Columbus Day. Given all we now know about the impact discovery of the New World by Europeans had on indigenous populations, perhaps we might want to rethink our commitment to the Great Admiral and instead rededicate our devotion to those who served and protected our freedom and way of life by giving Veterans Day its proper respect. 

Despite being of the optimal age for service during the Vietnam War, I am not a veteran. I earned a deferment for being underweight for my height (for details. Follow this link:

I thought I’d share with you a recent post on the Web site about who served in the Vietnam War:

The first American casualty of the Vietnam War was killed during a training mission on October 21 in 1957. Of the 58,193 Americans in the military who died in that war, only 269 were Jewish. Jews were protesting instead of fighting: In 1964, they were twice as likely as Protestants and Catholics to favor a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam; by 1970, when a majority of Protestants and Catholics still favored fighting or even escalating the war, half of American Jews favored an immediate pullout. A 1966-67 survey by the American Council of Education revealed that the best single predictor of anti-war campus protests was a high proportion of Jewish students.

Have you seen the new Air Force TV commercial? It’s a slap in the face of Barack Obama. The ad features inspirational quotes from four presidents: Reagan, Kennedy, Bush II and Clinton. Not a word from, or even an image of, Obama. Shameful! I’ll resist detailing why each of those presidents had tarnished times as commander-in-chief. Like it or not, Obama has been a wartime president. He should have been included in that ad. 

Speaking of shameful, what’s with all the recent Nazi memorabilia stories? In the last six weeks three tasteless Nazi-related stories surfaced:

First, a supplier to Sears and Amazon placed on their Web sites rings bearing the Nazi swastika. Though quickly removed, it was a stunning example of poor taste topped by the second example, that of a Swiss company that somehow felt it appropriate to put pictures of Hitler and Mussolini on packages of its coffee creamer. 

The third incident is more sinister. Unknown parties earlier this month stole a sign above the gate to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. The sign bore the infamous slogan, “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free), that the Nazis placed in their forced labor and death camps. 

It’s a chilling reminder that reactionary forces are on the rise in Europe, again.

One year before the guns of the Great War went silent at 11 am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 my mother was born in Lodg, Poland. With two sisters (a third would be born in America) and a brother, she traveled to New York in 1921 with their mother to join their father who had emigrated earlier. She would be 97 if alive today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Recalling History at the Berlin Wall

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the breach in the Berlin Wall, when East Germans streamed across the unnatural divide that kept them apart from West Berliners. It would be another three months before the Wall was torn down with a little, read that miniscule, assist by yours truly. I’ve reprinted my chiseling exploits from a blog posting five years ago. 


Chipping Away at History 

Today marks the official twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the climactic events of the last century.

I wasn’t present when East Germany relaxed the rules on border crossings on Nov. 9, 1989. East and West Berliners rushed to the Wall, climbing atop the 12-foot high barrier to celebrate. But I did make a side trip to Berlin on February 16, 1990, just three days before the section of the Wall near the Brandenburg Gate was to be torn down.

I had been attending a conference in Dusseldorf, inside Germany’s western border. It was a no-brainer to make a quick, one-day jaunt to Berlin and back, to be able to walk through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin, to say, “I was there.”

I knew in advance people were chipping away at the Wall, so I stopped at a Woolworth store in Berlin to buy a small chisel and standard-sized hammer. When I arrived at the Wall that rainy and snowy day, I discovered how pitiful my purchases were to the task at hand. The reinforced concrete gave no quarter. You couldn’t even classify as pebbles the pieces I managed to dislodge.

Standing next to me was a man with a huge sledgehammer and 30-inch chisel. He was breaking off softball-size or larger chunks. He took pity on me and offered me his tools. As I remember it today, my new efforts were hardly more rewarding. He took pity on me once more, and gave the Wall a few choice whacks for me. I left Berlin with a bagful of souvenirs, most of which I gave away to family, friends and colleagues at work. I kept the two largest pieces, one to display in our living room, the other to be mounted on a plaque and hung in my office.

For the April 1990 issue of Chain Store Age, I wrote a column about my exploits, aptly titled, “Chipping Away at History.” Berlin today is a vibrant city, unified and culturally important. It’s hard to reconcile the Berlin of today with what I saw 20 years ago. But all I have to do is pick up the piece of the Wall in my living room to recall the divisions of an earlier era. And recall that I was there when at least part of it ended.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Supreme Court May Well Decide Next President. Again

History may be poised to repeat itself. For the second time in the last five presidential elections, the U.S. Supreme Court may well decide who will sit in the Oval Office.

The Court has accepted for review another challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The question before it—does the law permit federal government subsidies to the needy in states that do not have their own health exchange programs. In those states the federal government has stepped in to provide subsidies (

If the Supremes declare the subsidies to be illegal, Obamacare may tumble down from lack of sufficient funding. It also would mean millions would lose health care coverage. It’s pretty certain the four justices who voted against Obamacare two years ago would do so again, meaning Chief Justice John Roberts would be the deciding judge. Again.

If Roberts blocks the subsidies and the ACA ultimately succumbs to a Republican-led attack, universal health care once more would become a key campaign issue in 2016. As they have championed it for decades, Democrats, most prominently their presidential candidate, would benefit from such an outcome. 

Given a June 2015 court decision, Republicans would have just over a year to forge an acceptable alternative to a law that has extended health coverage to more Americans than at any other time in our history. That’s unlikely to transpire given the venomous reaction many conservatives have to such a program.

A negative decision and Republican antipathy toward a replacement ACA might also provide incentive to voters to elect more Democrats to the Senate and even possibly return the Dems to the majority in the House. 

It’s an intriguing state of affairs. Having injected itself into state election law in Florida and chosen George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000, the Supreme Court may wind up influencing who gets elected to the White House in 2016. 

Ah, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Democratic leadership meetings as they discuss what would be better for the party, and the country, come next June.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Election Blues with a Silver Lining

Tip O’Neill, the oversized Democratic Speaker of the House during the Reagan years, used to say, “All politics is local.” And that is as good an explanation as any as to why my blog has been mostly silent leading up to the mid-term elections. While I voted Tuesday, I can readily understand and empathize with voter apathy, disillusionment, even revulsion, to the state of politics and government in America. Even when it resulted in electing candidates who clearly identify with and promote the causes of the rich, the general population made their voices heard, that they were dissatisfied with Democrats being ensconced in governors’ chairs and the majority of the U.S. Senate. 

The politics of fear—Ebola and ISIS—trumped any benefits they saw from Obamacare, revitalized car and housing industries, lower unemployment, higher job creation. Democrats and Independents chose to sit this election out, as they often do in non-presidential years. They were aided by Republican efforts to keep voters out through restrictive election laws that required IDs and limited voting times. 

But GOP tactics might not have mattered if Democrats ran smarter campaigns. One of the first laws of politics is that a candidate must define him- or herself, otherwise the opposition would do it for you. Sadly, too many Democrats chose to distance themselves from the achievements of the Obama administration, and let’s not have any snarky comments about “what achievements.” In a nutshell, Democrats lacked a distinctive message of positive accomplishments.

Despite early sound bites that they want to lead America toward future exceptionalism, Republicans will be hard pressed to act on that lofty ideal. House Speaker John Boehner and presumptive Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell will have to wield sharp party discipline swords to contain slash and burn members of their own caucuses. It is not beyond reason to postulate that on critical bills, such as raising the national debt ceiling, rogue Republicans will add unacceptable-to-the-president amendments aimed at killing ObamaCare, thus forcing repeated vetoes. Heck, in their Op-Ed piece in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal Boehner and McConnell pledged to renew efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

What will Republicans do on such controversial issues as global warming, reproductive rights, income inequality, immigration reform, financial markets oversight, environmental protections, court appointments? How will McConnell react to filibuster threats? 

All this will lead to two repetitively revolting years of Washington insider news but very little advancement of the country’s good and welfare. There is, however, at least one silver lining from Tuesday’s election: Have you noticed your telephone is not ringing as often with those disruptive and annoying robo calls? Except, that is, from telemarketers who continue to call during dinner time despite your number being on the federal NO Call list. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ebola Tackles Football

The quarterback of our daughter and son-in-law’s coed Brooklyn bar league football team went bowling last week and now the team’s season is all but over.

No, he didn’t wrench his arm out trying to make a 7-10 split spare. Rather, he’s a victim of the ongoing, somewhat overarching and sometimes shameful Ebola scare. You see, on the evening Dr. Craig Spencer went bowling at Gutter in Williamsburg, the quarterback patronized the same bowling alley. Dr. Spencer, you will recall, is the good doctor who volunteered to save lives in Guinea to treat Ebola patients and stem the plague, who unfortunately contracted the disease himself with symptoms displayed last Thursday. 

It is only natural to be cautious, concerned and sensitive. But people, including governors in our area, who are calling for and mandating quarantines for Ebola care workers, are feeding public panic by ignoring established medical science that Ebola is transmitted only through direct contact with infected body fluids.

At no time did any of Dr. Spencer’s fluids touch the quarterback. Still, he felt obligated to email his teammates and ask if they had a problem with his playing Sunday. All but one couple had no problem. If he played they wouldn’t, the couple wrote in an email to all team members save the quarterback. Without them the team had too few players to field a squad. They forfeited. Unless there’s a change of heart they’ll forfeit the last two games of the season, as well.

For sure, touch football is not on the same par of significance as the spread of Ebola. As I said earlier, caution, concern and sensitivity are required. Even if they were wrong, at least according to medical experts, the couple was entitled to express their feelings and act on them, regardless of how they affected the rest of the team.

But panic in the streets, at the airports, and on the ball fields must be balanced by attention to medical experts. Because of our federal/state system of government we lack a proper, uniform, central response to the challenge of Ebola containment, made all the more alarming because of the 24/7 media cycle in which we live. 

I don’t have an answer as to how we should react. But I worry about elected officials making decisions about science that are politically motivated. We’ve already seen some of their questionable (preposterous, actually) beliefs. Some continue to deny global warming. Or evolution. Or believe that a woman cannot become pregnant if raped. 

We live in the 21st century. Let’s start acting like we do. We are not living through a Stephen King novel. This is not the Middle Ages wracked by plague of unknown origin and remediation. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ben Bradlee Inspired Many a Journalist

Don’t count me among the legions inspired to become journalists by Ben Bradlee and his then-young reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It’s not that I didn’t admire this trio of Washington Post muckrakers. It’s just that I had decided to become a reporter three years before Watergate entered the public consciousness.

My muse was another editor at a different Post, along with the writing behind the exposure in Chicago of official corruption, albeit the fictional kind. 

I was motivated by James Wechsler, the bow-tied editor of The New York Post. Now, don’t be put off by your thoughts about today’s New York Post. Back in 1969, The Post was still a bastion of liberal, progressive thought wrapped inside standard police-fire-and-general-mayhem tabloid fare upfront and a superlative sports section in the back.

The death earlier this week of Bradlee, retired executive editor of The Washington Post, has brought forth the expected tributes about his defining role in the paper’s dogged investigation of the Watergate break-in (initially criticized by Republicans, a big shrug-of-the-shoulders by almost everyone else) and his eventual triumph and vindication with the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. It is not too far a reach to state, as others have, that Bradlee-Woodward-Bernstein begat a new generation of journalists, each seeking to leave his or her mark by exposing and toppling members of the power elite. 

I started my pursuit of a career in journalism a full three years before Watergate after being brought up reading The New York Post every day. As a youngster I would read the comics—Nancy, Mutt & Jeff, Dennis the Menace. As I grew older, the sports columnists Maury Allen, Vic Ziegel, Milton Gross, Paul Zimmerman and Leonard Schechter romanced my interests in baseball and football. Next I delved into the social columnists, the Entertainment Tonight-Perez Hilton-TMZ of their day: Leonard Lyons, Earl Wilson, Sidney Skolsky, whose signature line in every weekend celebrity profile was whether she or he slept in the raw, an impressionable image for a hormonally stimulated early teenager. 

Finally, with more maturity, I absorbed the political mavens: Wechsler, Max Lerner, Mary McGrory, Art Buchwald, William Buckley, Drew Pearson, Jack Anderson, Murray Kempton, and a newcomer, Pete Hamill, a counter to Jimmy Breslin’s man-of-the-street prose in The Daily News

It was a column by Wechsler, a review of a 1969 revival of the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play The Front Page that ignited my interest in being a reporter, an upgrade from my position as editor of Calling Card, a Brooklyn College newspaper. 

On one of our early dates I took Gilda to see The Front Page revival starring Bert Convy and Robert Ryan. To this day I revel in watching two movie adaptations of the play—the 1931 film starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien, and the 1940 adaptation, His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell—about star reporter Hildy Johnson’s desire to leave the Chicago Examiner to get married, all the while trying to overcome the machinations of managing editor Walter Burns to keep Johnson on the payroll. Along the way they expose the corruption of the mayor and sheriff who want to execute an innocent man. 

I don’t mean to suggest my life as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor and publisher matched the frenzied excitement of The Front Page. But I had my share of stimulation and sensationalism. During my time as a reporter for The New Haven Register, I covered the largest industrial arson in the nation’s history, interviewed U.S. senator Lowell Weicker during a break from his duties on the Watergate Committee, profiled a survivor of an Eastern Airlines crash in the Everglades and a pilot who vied with Charles Lindbergh to be the first to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic, to name a few memorable stories.

When I interviewed to be a field editor on Nation’s Restaurant News in Manhattan in 1977, the group vice president coyly asked me if I preferred a job at The New York Post, by then a Rupert Murdoch property. Just say the word and he’d call a friend there. I resisted the bait, telling him only after experiencing the job as a business-to-business writer would I be able to determine if I found the task rewarding. I must have, as I stayed with the company for 32 years, all but that first year on Chain Store Age.

It was rewarding, both financially and emotionally. To be sure, I rarely covered politicians, except when they got involved in minimum wage or other issues affecting the retail and restaurant industries. So when candidates for my Chain Store Age staff would inevitably ask for my comparison between the gratification of working for the consumer press and a trade journal, I would respond that my ego was stroked by getting to know many of the men and women who, every day through their stores, catalogs and Internet sites, touched the lives of most Americans. My magazine also provided insight into many merchandise and systems suppliers that have transformed the way we shop. I was fortunate, I would tell them, to work in a publishing house that allowed, encouraged actually, probing editorial that dissected retail strategies and exposed them when they didn’t work.

We didn’t topple any retail empires. No president, even of a retail company, resigned because of our reporting. That was not our mission. But I take pride and comfort in what Fred Barbash, now the Morning Mix editor of The Washington Post, wrote back in January 2000. Under the headline, “Investing tip: Read the trade publications,” Barbash repeatedly referenced an issue of Chain Store Age to detail how article after article informed his knowledge of the stock market. “When it comes to getting ideas for buying stocks before the whole wide world knows about them, when it comes to resources that cost little or nothing compared with some of the pricey newsletters, I think you can’t beat …”  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Some Things I Wonder About

Here are a few things I wonder about:

I wonder when restaurant and retail operators will determine the time is right for an increase in the minimum wage. Just as restaurateurs fought smoking bans inside their establishments on the pretext it would drive down sales, only to be proven wrong, they continue to argue that an increase in the minimum wage would hurt business. I cannot remember a time during the last 35 years when merchants and restaurateurs did not lobby against pay hikes, when they did not counsel the time was not propitious.

Yes, some stores and food establishments might suffer, but not because salaries were higher. They’d possibly go out of business because they were inefficient operators, or their locations were marginal, or their service and product were sub-par. 

I wonder when politicians will come to their senses and realize giving a few more cents to workers would benefit the whole economy.

Driving Gilda to and from work since she broke her wrist in mid-August has vastly increased my exposure to Sirius radio. Aside from the near 45 mpg fuel economy we have been enjoying in her Ford C-Max, we get to listen to Sirius. Often, it’s the BBC World News, but when we want music Gilda usually chooses the Pulse station. I sometimes opt for Bridge but she switches the station to one of her favorites. Until she explained the songs on Bridge, such as “Please Come to Boston” and “Dream Weaver,” were too melancholy, I never realized so many indeed were downers, which got me to wondering if the Bridge station wasn’t sending out a subliminal message to would be suicides that jumping off a bridge usually does the trick.

News reports continue to emphasize U.S. and allied aircraft are having limited results blunting the ISIS offensive in Syria and Iraq. Often, it is reported, ISIS has tanks and other heavy artillery while its foes have simpler, less impactful weapons. Which got me to wondering, how is it that with smart bombs and laser-guided drone attacks the allied coalition hasn’t been able to knock out the ISIS ordnance. It’s not as if these big guns are hiding. Newscasts clearly show them. Even if they were inside cities the U.S. (and Israel) previously demonstrated the pinpoint precision of aerial forces. So why the negligible results?

Regardless of political party it seems off-year congressional and senate candidates rarely want to be seen with the president, even if they share the same party affiliation. It’s happening with Obama and previously with George W. Bush. 

But I wonder why almost all political ads on TV, radio, billboards and printed flyers fail to identify party affiliation of the candidate. It’s particularly vexing when the roadway landscape is bedecked with all manner of political signs that leave one scratching one’s head about a candidate’s red or blue color. You’d think all Republicans would want to make sure they are not mistaken for an Obama supporter.

The failure to identify party affiliation can affect even the most tenured of elected pols. My U.S. representative, Nita Lowey, has served in Congress since 1989. She is the ranking minority member on the Committee on Appropriations. She is no slouch. Yet the flyer that arrived at our home over the weekend included absolutely no mention of her Democratic Party affiliation. I couldn’t tell you who is running against her, but, then again, anyone not familiar with Lowey couldn’t tell you her party alignment by looking at her literature. 

I ran this by my good friend Marty who’s okay with my posting this—I wonder why movies and TV shows invariably portray accountants as short guys and architects as tall, mostly sophisticated gentlemen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

From Wal-Mart CEO to Owner of the KC Royals

David Glass stood before exultant fans in Kauffman Stadium Wednesday evening. As television cameras recorded the scene, the 79-year-old owner and chief executive of the Kansas City Royals thanked the faithful for their support of his team that, by virtue of their four game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, is headed to the World Series for the first time since 1985. Indeed, this is the first time in 28 years that the Royals had qualified for any post-season activity.

Glass has owned the Royals since he shelled out $96 million in 2000. For the seven years prior to his ownership he was the CEO of the baseball franchise founded by Ewing Kauffman, who died in 1993. During Glass’ tenure as head Royal, Kansas City was a model of ineptitude, setting records for annual futility. Fans were infuriated, believing the team was more concerned with fielding the lowest paid roster in the sport than with being competitive. This year’s payroll started at $92 million, 19th out of the 30 major league teams.

Paying low wages was something Glass was all too familiar with. You see, from 1988 to 2000, Glass was president and CEO of Wal-Mart. And that’s where my connection to David Glass lies. As head of Wal-Mart, succeeding founder Sam Walton, Glass oversaw its growth from $20.6 billion to $191.3 billion, from 1,381 domestic stores to 4,190 stores in countries as diverse as Great Britain, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, China and Germany. 

He has a wry sense of humor. He could be self-effacing. He would tell the story of the time Walton tried to recruit him in 1962 when he was invited to attend the opening of the second Wal-Mart, in Harrison, Ark. At the time Glass was a financial officer with a small drug store chain in Springfield, MO. As related by Vance H. Trimble in his biography of Walton, Glass said, 

“It was the worst retail store I had ever seen. Sam had brought a couple of trucks or watermelons in and stacked them on the sidewalk. He had a donkey ride out in the parking lot. It was 115 degrees, and the watermelons began to pop, and the donkey began to do what donkeys do, and it all mixed together and ran all over the parking lot. And when you went inside the store, the mess just continued, having been tracked in all over the floor. 

“He was a nice fellow, but I wrote him off. It was just terrible.”

Fourteen years later Glass joined Wal-Mart.

I met Glass about three years later. He was not the most approachable of Wal-Mart executives. Behind his resonant baritone voice I always suspected he did not like sharing anything with the press. And this was before his signature moment with the media. That occurred in December 1992 on NBC Dateline. Glass was confronted with allegations Wal-Mart suppliers in Bangladesh employed underage child laborers, that the company’s vaunted Made in America program was a sham.

Glass, at the time, had bushy, dark eyebrows that slanted up his forehead. With the Dateline camera angled from below his seat, he was the picture of Mephistopheles. He was the picture of evil incarnate.

Glass stormed out of the interview. Though he returned to face the Dateline cameras weeks later, the damage to his and Wal-Mart’s reputation was done.

Over the last five years the Royals have been more competitive. Their general manager, Dayton Moore, has made many shrewd roster moves. As he stood on the infield stage under a black League Champions hat, David Glass could only hope fans would be more appreciative of his management of their beloved, long-suffering Royals. It would help if they won the World Series. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Have You Noticed ...

Have you noticed … a certain sameness to the rhetoric coming from the political left and right? Both want to take the country back.

Here’s what U.S. senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told Bill Maher last Friday: 

“We now have a government that works for millionaires and billionaires and Fortune 500 companies, but it’s leaving real families, real people behind. And so, what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to get over there and we’ve got to be willing to fight back, to take this country back.”

A conservative, retired friend of mine sent along a right wing screed that contained the following:

“We didn’t fight for the Socialist States of America; we fought for the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” … Yes, we are old and slow these days but rest assured, we have at least one good fight left in us. We have loved this country, fought for it, and died for it, and now we are going to save it. It is our country and nobody is going to take it away from us. We took oaths to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that is an oath we plan to keep. There are those who want to destroy this land we love but, like our founders, there is no way we are going to remain silent.”

It’s an “us vs. them” attitude that has overtaken much of our political dialogue. Solutions are rarely advanced beyond “throw-the-bums-out.”

I pointed out to my conservative friend that the fighters of WWII, Korea and Vietnam “fought to defend social security, the GI Bill, Medicare and Medicaid, the FDA, national parks, Civil Rights, and other progressive programs, all of which were passed and in place by 1965 at the latest and many pre-WWII. 

“If we want to blame Obama for anything, let’s blame him for reducing unemployment to its lowest levels in about a decade; for saving the domestic car industry; for extending health care to millions of uninsured; for having the longest run of positive job growth; for following through on Bush’s contract with Iraq to remove US troops (he’s now being blamed for doing what Bush signed on to do, another mess W. left).”

Have you noticed … that despite daily reassurances by broadcasters, doctors and government officials that it is hard to contract Ebola even from an infected carrier, many Americans are panicking, believing the deadly disease will invade our shores and kill thousands, even millions, of us? Why? Because there are too many dumb people living among us. 

First, let’s note the obvious—more people than you care to believe don’t wash their hands before leaving the bathroom. Second, and perhaps more important, Americans are mostly ignorant about stuff that really matters. We choose political leaders based on emotions not reasoned thinking; we prefer mindless TV shows and movies over thought-provoking performances; we celebrate and emulate celebrities with no talent. I could go on but the point is, we are a shallow people, easily led by media that has an agenda that is anti-Progressive.

Did you notice … the article in Thursday’s New York Times about expensive watch collectors and their weekly Red Bar meetings to ogle and fondle time pieces worth the down payment on a Manhattan co-op?

I couldn’t believe one attendee admitted to regularly bringing half a million dollars worth of watches to the gatherings. That sort of ostrich-head-in-the-sand attitude toward crime just invites foul deeds. I’m reminded of a post I did back in 2010 about a metal detector enthusiast whose house was burglarized after I profiled him in The New Haven Register and, by newspaper policy, had to include his address story ( As with my story, sometimes too much information is too much.

Have you seen … the new Republican Party TV ad that tries to soften the image of the GOP by portraying “Republicans are people, too”? With a # IAMaRepublican in the lower left hand corner, the ad shows various shades of “Republicans”—a black woman, a woman with a tattoo, a man with a tattoo and beard, a young professional-looking white man reading The New York Times in public, and other activities not generally associated with conservative types, such as recycling, shopping at Trader Joe’s, using a Mac, driving a Prius, listening to Spotify and putting together Ikea furniture.

A warm and fuzzy ad, only all the pictures are stock photo images. There’s no assurance all or any of them are Republicans or even U.S. citizens. Heck, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, the man standing next to a Prius is a Swede. Given that country’s social welfare system it’s highly doubtful he has much in common with Republican, especially conservative Republican, values.

Let’s end on an amusing note about the differences in our national society, sent to me by my aforementioned conservative friend:  

You may have heard on the news about a Southern California man who was put under 72-hour psychiatric observation when it was found he owned 100 guns and allegedly had 100,000 rounds of ammunition stored in his home. The house also featured a secret escape tunnel.

By Southern California standards, someone owning 100,000 rounds is considered “mentally unstable.”

In Michigan, he’d be called “The last white guy still living in Detroit.”

In Arizona, he’d be called “an avid gun collector.”

In Arkansas, he’d be called “a novice gun collector.”

In Utah, he’d be called “moderately well prepared,” but they’d probably reserve judgment until they made sure that he had a corresponding quantity of stored food.

In Kansas, he’d be “A guy down the road you would want to have for a friend.”

In Montana, he’d be called “The neighborhood ‘Go-To’ guy.”

In Idaho, he’d be called “a likely gubernatorial candidate.”

In Georgia, he’d be called “an eligible bachelor.”

In North Carolina, Virginia, W.Va., Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina he would be called “a deer hunting buddy.”

And in Texas: he’d just be “Bubba, who’s a little short on ammo.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Long Time No Write. Time to Catch Up

Long time no write. Two weeks is an eternity for a blogger. But I have an excuse. Having Gilda at home because of her broken wrist disrupted my normal routine. However, too much of a good thing, like too much candy or cake, can be detrimental to one’s senses, though I have learned some new skills, such as how to affix earrings to her ears, how to hook up a bra (so counterintuitive to most men’s experiences). 

Gilda went back to work Monday. We resumed our chauffeur-client status, meaning I get up at 6 am to drive her to work, return home and then go back to pick her up at the end of her shift at Mount Sinai Hospital. Today we’re hoping it’s “coming off day,” as in, the cast finally will be removed from her left, dominant hand, wrist. I will still have to drive her around until she regains full use of her extremity, but we hope to see light at the end of the tunnel later this afternoon. 

Meanwhile, some updates on previous blogs and some new tidbits to chew over:

Inspired Celebration: Though she admitted she prefers harder than her mother’s matzo balls, Ellie’s Rosh Hashana batch mostly melted in one’s mouth. Even more savory were the two types of ruggelach she baked. The hit of the evening, even topping my brisket (prepared under Gilda’s watchful eye).  Ellie also reminded me she made kreplach, one of my favorite foods, for my birthday.

Rosh Hashana is the earth’s birthday, number 5775, according to the Jewish religion. For only the second time in 19 years Ellie did not sing with our cantor during our congregation’s New Year’s services. For many worshippers it seemed the holiday was a little less whole. She had good reason to demur. She didn’t want to feel queasy in front of them. For those who didn’t get my drift, Ellie and husband Donny are expecting their first child, our third grandchild, in late March-early April.

While the congregation didn’t get to enjoy Ellie’s singing, our family did during a back-to-nature communion on the second day of Rosh Hashana. Instead of going to temple, we celebrated Rosh Hashana at Croton Gorge Park and Croton Point Park. We recited prayers, read children’s books to Finley, Dagny and their cousin Elliot, took a hike to the top of the dam, Ellie sang and we blew the shofar. Gilda had bought toy rams’ horns for the kids. I trumpeted our elongated shofar. It was one of the more inspirational Rosh Hashana commemorations I have experienced.

Giant Turnaround? Perhaps I was too hasty in my criticism of the NY Giants. They’ve played much better in winning their last two games. I even picked them in one of my football pools. A good test will come Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Farewell to the Captain: I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Derek Jeter, the now retired captain of the New York Yankees. His grace under pressure and ability to conquer the moment separated him from other players, many who were more talented and skilled than he. But as I wrote back on September 12, 2009,  

“Watching Jeter year-in, year-out brings joy to any true baseball fan. Sure he’s had a full reel of highlights. But it’s the everyday work ethic and performance that impresses me.

“During the early Joe Torre years it seemed whenever we needed a late score, if Jeter led off an inning he ignited a rally. Because he was not a home run hitter, or exceptionally fast, or had the best arm or range at shortstop, Jeter made you feel comfortable, made you feel that you too could do his job if only you had dedicated your life to his career choice, to baseball. But then he’d corral a pop up into short left field with an over the shoulder, back to the infield catch and you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ or he’d glide into the hole and do one of his now patented jump throws to first, and you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ or he’d hit a home run when you least expected it, as he did to become Mr. November in the Series against Arizona in 2001, and you’d say, ‘I couldn’t do that, not under the pressure, the constant pressure, he’s under.’”

I won’t recount his exploits during his last game at Yankee Stadium or the last game of his career at Fenway Park in Boston. Suffice to say, I doubt there will be another player who will make as many favorable memories as Derek Jeter did during his 19-year career.

Shoah. Showa: Reading an Op-Ed piece in Tuesday’s New York Times (“Hirohito: String Puller, Not Puppet”), I was struck by the similar sounding names Shoah and Showa. Showa, the author wrote, is how Emperor Hirohito is known in Japan. During his reign from 1926 to 1989, Japan modernized and militarized. During the Showa period, wrote Herbert P. Bix, Japanese aggression “took the lives of at least 20 million Asians (including more than three million Japanese) and more than 100,000 citizens of Western Allied nations, primarily the United States and Britain.”

Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust when six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Ready When You Are, C.B., (as in DeMille): My acting career has hit a scheduling bump. Show Me a Hero, an HBO mini-series filming in Yonkers, alerted me my services as an extra were wanted. But the date they offered conflicted with another appointment, so I must now wait for them to find a mutually convenient time slot. At least I’m not waiting tables until my big break comes, unless, of course, you consider all the cooking and cleaning I’m doing during Gilda’s convalescence from her broken wrist. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

From Nail-biting Addict to Football Enabler

Last week I confessed I was an addict, someone who bit his fingernails. Well, I think I’m over that nasty habit, at least for now. Thanks to some paper medical tape I found in our first aid kit I managed to cover my left pinkie long enough for the nail to grow back without awakening my desire to chew it off.

Today I’m admitting to an even more serious shortcoming—I’m an enabler. Like hundreds of millions of other Americans, and an increasing number of foreigners, I enjoy watching football. In other words, I condone and enable violence that I know will destroy an athlete’s health and the lives of his family because of repetitive brain trauma.

I’m like so many of the wives and girlfriends of football players keeping my mouth shut so I can enjoy Sunday afternoons, and now Sunday nights, and Monday nights, and Thursday nights. It’s a good thing I’m not into high school or college football or else I’d have no respite from sanctioned violence and have almost unlimited tutelage in how to behave badly toward women.

Did anyone else notice that during the halftime report of the New York Giants-Arizona Cardinals game on the Fox Network, the segue from each segment was a simulated stiff arm blasted into one’s face? How inappropriate given Ray Rice’s left hook to his then fiancĂ©e’s, now wife’s, face in that New Jersey casino elevator.

It’s our real-life version of The Hunger Games, or maybe a recreation of Roman gladiators, though the deaths of the participants are not as immediate.

Perhaps you’re thinking I’m being a bit too melodramatic, that football players voluntarily assume the risk. Of course, it wasn’t until last week, according to The New York Times, “that the National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at ‘notably younger ages’ than in the general population.”

In The Daily News, Steve Almond, the author of “Against Football,” wrote, “Yes, of course these players are grown men (in most cases). And of course they choose to incur the risk of playing a violent game; the pros get paid a lot of money to do so. They also wear helmets and uniforms that help insulate them from damage, and that insulate us, the viewers, from the bone-rattling reality of collisions.

“That’s why we don’t view these acts as crimes. They are what sociologists call “sanctioned violence.” Fans consume these collisions without feeling that they are watching something barbaric. Indeed, they are regarded as necessary and even heroic in the context of the game, which is why television networks place parabolic microphones on the sidelines, and why they replay the most violent hits over and over again.

“But to the human brain—which is what’s at issue for football players—the context is irrelevant. At the neurological level, violence is violence. Trauma is trauma.

“Whether or not Roger Goodell can weather the storm and cling to his tenure as commissioner—and he has at least 44 million reasons to try (a reference to his $44 million paycheck last year)—the larger moral question that looms over him and the NFL and us fans is whether we should be consuming as a form of entertainment a sport whose end result is, in too many cases, permanent brain damage.”

Sadly, even though I question the morality of parents who invest their children in football programs given our current knowledge of the consequences, I still devote time to watching football, mostly my favorite team, the Giants, but other games as well when I have nothing better to watch. So, the bottom line is, I’m an enabler. 

Giant Bust: Am I a disloyal fan or just a realistic one? At this point in the season, two games in, it is obvious the Giants are not a good football team. The offensive line can’t open holes for the running backs. They don’t pass protect well, either. The quarterback is too prone to forcing his throws and incurring interceptions. The receivers are mediocre. The defense is okay on the run and pass but gives up too many big plays, especially on third down. Special teams are a liability. In short, rooting for the Giants is an exercise in hope and futility.

Last year I stayed loyal to the Giants and it cost me in my football pools. This year I am listening to my head, not my heart. Last week, for example, I picked Arizona to beat the Giants even with a backup quarterback starting for the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t disappoint: They fumbled twice in critical situations, once on a kick return near their goal line and another time near the Cardinal goal on what could have been a game-tying scoring drive; The defense gave up at least five first downs on penalties, resulting in at least seven points for Arizona. The special teams allowed a touchdown on a punt return. Receivers, including the normally sure-handed Victor Cruz, dropped numerous passes.

The only joy I had from watching the game was knowing I didn’t lose any money on the Giants. Though as a fan I would have preferred that outcome to seeing them go bust again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Matzo Ball Wars and a Thrill Ride from Summer Camp

Time will tell, but I suspect we might have a Benedict Arnold in our family. The proof will be in the pudding, er, matzo balls, we eat on the eve of Rosh Hashana.

Let me explain. Gilda makes soft, fluffy matzo balls. Dear friends who celebrate with us on the first night of the holiday, with whom we visit on the second night, like hard matzo balls, the type you need to knife through because if you use your spoon to carve out a chunk you’re just as likely to douse your seat-mate with chicken soup as you are to catapult the “cannon” ball across the table. Over the years it has been a source of amusement between our respective families as to which type of matzo ball is tastier. 

With Gilda’s broken wrist this year (she had corrective surgery early Wednesday morning and is recuperating at home), Ellie jumped into the breach last weekend to make matzo balls under Gilda’s tutelage. Gilda advised the secret to fluffy matzo balls was to not squish too many into the soup pot as they cook, thus giving them room to expand. Despite Gilda’s protestations, Ellie kept adding one, two or three more matzo balls to the soup. She even hinted she prefers hard matzo balls. 

Proof of her potentially sacrilegious treason, or filial devotion, will have to await our communal dinner for 38 in two weeks. The suspense is gnawing at me.

By the way, as much as I enjoy Gilda’s matzo balls, which are the equal of my mother’s, I really miss my mother’s kreplach (Jewish wontons). Gilda has made kreplach in the past as a treat for me but it is truly intensive work. 

Red Sports Car: Last week I wrote about my disagreement on Arab-Israeli matters with Rabbi Barry Konovitch. Today’s blog will harken back to a special day I shared with two of my bunkmates at Camp Columbia courtesy of Barry who, at the time, was head of the waterfront (and, who I mentioned, lifted me out of the deep water when I went under a year earlier).

Larry Jacobs, Stu Garay and I were waiters enjoying a day off from serving our fellow campers. As 15-year-olds, however, we were not permitted to leave camp grounds. Our day off coincided with one of Barry’s who chose to hang around camp that day. In the late afternoon we implored him to take us off campus in his car. 

Though at first reluctant, Barry agreed if we could secure the permission of the head counselor, Hal Gastwirt. Hal wasn’t available, so we asked his second in command, Tully Dershowitz. He consented.

We were all set. But what I haven’t told you yet is that Barry’s car was a TR4, a red convertible Triumph sports car with a back seat not intended to support two near-six foot tall teenagers (Larry and me; Stu had not yet hit his growth spurt, which he never really did as I discovered some 30 years later when I became a short-term patient of his medical practice). The back seat was no more than 12 inches deep. Leg room? There wasn’t any.

Stu won the rights to ride shotgun on our way out of camp. Barry did not hold back on the throttle. He whizzed down the two-lane country roads of Elizaville, NY. Wind whipped through our hair. Larry and I felt as if we were riding in an old-fashioned rumble seat. We felt every bump, fearful we would be tossed out. 

We drove to an ice cream stand on the outskirts of Red Hook, some 10 miles away. Barry parked the car, he and Stu got out and waited, and waited, and waited for Larry and me to unfurl our cramped legs. It seemed like a full five minutes before we could support ourselves on our legs. 

Larry and I were relegated to the back seat again on our return ride. When we untangled ourselves back in camp we asked Barry why the TR4 even had a back seat. He explained it was for insurance purposes. Without a back seat the TR4 would be classified as a sports car with high insurance rates. But with a back seat, even one clearly not intended for use by anyone older than six, lower family car rates prevailed.

I suspect Barry does not recall the thrilling ride he provided three impressionable teenagers that summer afternoon (heck, he doesn’t remember saving me in the pool). But he still drives a red sports car, albeit not the TR4. For the last 46 years he has been motoring around in a 1968 C3 Corvette! (