Sunday, December 27, 2015

Putting a Spotlight on Reporting

Gilda and I saw Spotlight Saturday night. It’s a great movie, perhaps the best of the year. Naturally, as a former newspaper reporter, I am biased. Almost any film about journalistic achievement or chicanery—fact-based or fiction, from All the President’s Men to The Paper to Libeled Lady and Deadline USA to The Front Page and its remake as His Girl Friday—would rate four stars from me.

For those not familiar with Spotlight, the film traces the effort of an investigative unit of the same name at The Boston Globe in 2001 to piece together the child molestation and cover-up scandal within the Roman Catholic church.

Nobody gets shot. There are no sex scenes. There are no chase scenes, though reporters are seen several times scurrying around tracking down leads.

I admired the attention to detail. The almost ragamuffin attire worn by reporters and editors. The total absorption, or rather immersion, or maybe obsession, reporters undergo when nailing down a story.

Reporting can be drudgery. Thankfully, everyday news is not a Watergate break-in or a mass shooting or a plane crash. It is the approval of zoning laws that might alter the character of a neighborhood. The adoption by the Board of Education of new curriculum. The placement of traffic lights that could make a busy thoroughfare pedestrian-safe. Sewer commission meetings are boring to anyone but the families that live along the street where pipes will be laid to replace their dependence on septic tanks.

Yet there may be hidden stories behind these everyday events. Payoffs for building approvals. Or for sewer lines that make it easier to build new subdivisions. Human interest profiles of accident victims on streets unsafe at any speed.

There’s an insightful scene in Spotlight when the new editor of The Globe, Marty Baron, meets Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, the first time. Law suggests the two institutions—the church and paper—would best serve Boston by working together. To which Baron replies he believes newspapers work best if they act independently.

It is a creed I followed. I never got too close to those I wrote about or to those who supported my publication with advertising. Who knows? Perhaps my magazine didn’t garner all the advertising it could because I was too distant from those who paid our bills. Or maybe we missed uncovering some inside dope on a retailer that would have justified banner headlines? 

As I watched the Spotlight story come together I became angry, introspective and more melancholy. Angered by the gall and audacity the church and its allies exhibited toward the victims and unsuspecting parishioners. They thought themselves above the law (pun intended). I was saddened by the realization that none of the stories I did as a newspaper reporter and trade magazine editor, good as they were, had the intensity and life-altering drama Spotlight exposed. I was envious.

Good trade magazines have to tiptoe along a line that separates boosterism from constructive review. One of the first meetings I had with a CEO of a retail chain centered on a complaint over an article that questioned the retail industry’s response to the vast numbers thrown out of work by the failure of W.T. Grant. The CEO of G.C. Murphy saw Chain Store Age as an advocate for the industry. How dare we expose any warts. 

I wondered how our chief editor, John Lightfoot, would respond. He said the magazine was an objective chronicler of the good and the bad.

I agreed with John. So did the president-owner of our company. We had no rug under which we swept inefficiency or bad leadership. It didn’t matter if it was Sears or Kmart, Wal-Mart or American Apparel, or Abercrombie & Fitch. When mistakes of strategy or judgment were made Chain Store Age would not be silent.

It might not have been on the same plane as that of Spotlight at The Globe, but our editorial staff did its best to watch over the best interests of our constituency. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Was an AR-15 Under Your Tree This Morning?

Did you wake up this morning to find a shiny, black AR-15 assault rifle under your Christmas tree? Or maybe you opened the wrapping paper on a cute, cuddly Glock pistol? 

I know many of you don’t celebrate Christmas, but that’s beside the point. Ever since the San Bernardino shooting, the country has reverted to (bad) form. The inevitable has happened. Again. As after each prior mass murder shooting, calls for more gun control have been followed by a surge in gun purchases, followed by the explanation that people just want to be able to protect themselves, as if  owning a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle guarantees one’s safety. Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun is the foundation of this argument.

I’m going to take a break from writing my opinion on this issue. Instead, I’ll give you some extracurricular reading and viewing. First, an opinion piece from The New York Times. It should take you about two minutes to read.

A longer time investment is required for a two-part video courtesy of correspondent Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah:

If you’re wondering why I’m highlighting segments of The Daily Show it’s because I believe Trevor Noah has hit his stride and is more than amply filling the departed seat of Jon Stewart. Yeah, he can appear fawning, even awestruck, when celebrities come to visit. And I don’t care for the music groups he puts on stage more frequently than Stewart did. 

But his satiric takes on news of the day have won me over. Of course, lots of credit must go to the writing staff that, for the most part, is the same that served Stewart. 

A more radical change happened after Stephen Colbert left the Comedy Central time slot after The Daily Show. After first not giving The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore a chance, I’ve recently found his commentary on national and world events to be spot-on. 

As for Colbert’s Late Show on CBS, I keep wanting it to be better. Colbert, as well, seems to be too taken by his guests. Most of the time I skip his interviews. I watch for the few minutes Colbert reverts to political and social pundit, reprising the acerbic wit that made him famous. And have you noticed that he only wears blue suits? 

How, you might ask, can I watch all those shows that air from 11 pm till 12:35 am? I DVR them and try to squeeze in viewing while eating breakfast or lunch. In a few weeks I might have to add another show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. And there’s another show I will begin taping—Late Night with Seth Meyers on NBC. Meyers has ramped up his former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update shtick to a nightly pace. 

For progressive political commentary must-see shows are Real Time with Bill Maher and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, both on HBO, the former on Friday nights, the latter on Sundays.

Random Thoughts: Now that you know some of my viewing habits, here’s a tidbit of strange shopping news. While stocking up Thursday, December 24, for the weekend and a quick visit by Dan, Allison, Finley and Dagny, I patronized the Stop & Shop in the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers where I bought two seeded Jewish rye breads. 

One of the bread labels said it was packed on 12/24/15 at 3:25 am. I could hardly ask for anything fresher, Until, that is, I checked the second bread’s label which stated the bread was packed on 12/27/15 at 2:06 pm! Only the looong line at the customer service desk kept me from complimenting the store on its efficiency.

Memory Failure: I can’t rightly remember what grade I was in when I first read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It was either eighth grade or maybe an early high school year. It doesn’t really matter for the point I want to make, which is, I grew up in a tolerant time.

I say that because I spent the first 12 years of my education attending yeshivas, Modern Orthodox Jewish day schools with rich secular education programs. I don’t know if such schools would include A Christmas Carol in their curriculum these days. For sure, the numerous Jewish academies, many from the Hassidic community, that have sprouted up in Brooklyn in the last several decades have placed limited emphasis on secular studies. 

Too bad. A Christmas Carol is a classic.

Dickens Almost Got Me Expelled: Spoiler Alert—In the movie Creed, as the boxer Adonis Johnson Creed awaits his first American bout, he anxiously demands his boxing gloves be removed so he can settle his nervous stomach and go to the bathroom.

My IBS moment came before an English test on Dickens’ David Copperfield early on in my freshman year at Yeshivah of Flatbush. Between periods, right before the test, I raced to the bathroom. When I re-entered the room, I was accused by the teacher, Dr. Harran, of consorting with students who had just taken the test in his prior class. Accused of cheating, I was sent to the headmaster's office where I was informed the penalty could be expulsion. My parents were called in, my IBS was verified and I was permitted to take a make-up exam. 

I still suffer from IBS, but at least I don’t have to take tests any more. I do, however, sympathize with anyone who suffers any form of bathroom urgency. So I was more than empathetic to Hillary Clinton when she came back late to the podium from a break during last Saturday’s Democratic Party presidential debate.

And I was appalled at the crude comments spouted by Donald Trump. Trump is a real-life Archie Bunker, spewing bias, insults and “ter-let” talk. It might be perverse fun to hear him, as Archie made us laugh in the 1970’s and beyond in reruns, but the thought of Trump leading and representing our nation is repulsive and repugnant. 

To their credit, Jeb Bush and John Kasich have identified Trump for the bully and blowhard that he is. Too bad others who would lead the Republican Party and our country have not denounced and repudiated Trump. Their failure conveys the message that leadership without principle is more important to them than honesty, dignity and human values.   

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Jerk May Have the Law on His Side

Jeb Bush is right. Hard to believe I find myself agreeing with the wannabe president, but there I was, reading a New York Times article under the headline, “Still Assailing Donald Trump, Jeb Bush Calls Him ‘a Jerk’.

“Donald Trump is a jerk,” Mr. Bush said to applause (The Times reported from a New Hampshire town-hall-style event).

“You cannot insult your way to the presidency,” he said. “You can’t disparage women, Hispanics, disabled people. Who is he kidding? This country is far better than that. The idea that he’s actually running for president and insulting people is deeply discouraging, to be honest with you, and I think we should reject that out of hand. I hope you’ll reject it by voting for me, but a guy like that should not be the front-running candidate of our great party.”

Jeb is right. But his problem is that the GOP has morphed into a party of “no,” of “you-can’t-have-any-or-come-here-if-you-are-different,” a party of distrust, of bait-and-switch that promises benefits to middle- and working-class people but delivers benefits just to the elite. It’s become a party of exclusion, not inclusion. A party of dogma one dares not dissent from, a party of religious extremism, a party whose foreign policy is founded on the principle of “my way or bombs away,” a party repulsed by scientific discovery, a party more comfortable with the values of the Dark Ages than of the Enlightenment.

For the moment let’s not talk about the Republican Party as a whole but rather the Trump phenomenon. His appeal has confounded “experts” within and without the GOP. It might be instructive to view this clip by Jordan Klepper from a recent Daily Show with Trevor Noah. It’s an enlightening, if not frightening, piece on why everyday, normal-looking people are supporting Trump:

Also consider the consternation arch conservatives are feeling about the current Republican front-runner. Here’s part of a commentary from Charles C. W. Cooke, a staff writer at National Review:

“… if the current Republican front-runner is any indication of things to come, large swathes of the party have already abandoned their talk of ‘constitutional conservatism’ and ‘limited government’ and embraced a flat-out authoritarianism, at least as preached by ‘The Donald.’ Whatever else he might be, the idea of Trump as a paladin of civil liberties should make one howl with terrible laughter. Since he announced his candidacy, Trump has threatened to ignore those who are carping about free speech and shut down parts of the Internet; he has promised to summarily deport those who are suspected of being illegal immigrants, without due process of law; he has endorsed extensive campaign-finance regulations that fly directly in the face of the First Amendment; he has vowed to restrict the Second Amendment rights of those on the terror watch list, again without due process; he has praised Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of American citizens, suggested that natural-born Americans can be deported against their will, and proposed that American Muslims be barred from reentering the country; he has described as ‘wonderful’ a Supreme Court ruling that obliterated the ‘public use’ limitations on the invocation of eminent domain; and he has refused to rule out registering Americans on the basis of their faith. Worse still, he has responded to the criticism that these positions have generated by channeling his inner Nancy Pelosi: ‘Are you serious?’

“And yet, despite all of these transgressions, 30 percent of GOP-primary voters still list him as their top pick. This is an unmitigated disgrace.” (

Okay, so the left and right are against Trump, particularly his anti-Mexican and anti-Islam “throw them out” or “bar them from entering” stances. But what if Trump is not constitutionally blind? What if his rants are within legal, if not ethical, bounds?

Consider, if you will, the following from the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1952 US Code 8, Section 1182, Sub-Section F:

(f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President
Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. 

I’m no constitutional scholar, but it appears The Donald’s plan to restrict immigration could be within the law as long as he doesn’t define class by religion. Country of origin might be a way to define the class of alien he wants to keep out. 

That being said, Jeb is still right. Trump’s a jerk.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Leaving Brooklyn Means Crossing Time Zones

My parents set up their homestead in Brooklyn in the 1940s. They raised three children of whom I am the youngest. Aside from sojourning eight weeks at summer camp, my brother, sister and I never ventured away from Brooklyn when we were young. After we graduated from high school my brother and I attended Brooklyn College. Our sister went to an out of town school—Queens College. She commuted. That is, until she finally got her wish to expand her horizons and truly go to an out of town school. For her sophomore and junior years Lee attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She came back to Queens College for her senior year.

Even after Bernie moved to Washington, DC, Lee’s Israel experience was the first and only time any of our family lived more than a five hour car ride from Brooklyn. The nuclear family had been stretched but the protective amniotic fluid had not been pierced. We could still assemble for holidays with relative ease, as long as traffic for Bernie on the New Jersey Turnpike and for me coming south from Syracuse and then New Haven cooperated. 

But in 1973 Lee moved to Los Angeles. The outward migration of offspring had begun for the Forseter family. Fast forward to present times. Lee has three children: After a stay in New Orleans, Ari lives in Washington; Lauren and Jonathan in San Francisco. Jonathan spent several years in Singapore.

Bernie’s son Eric lives near him in a Maryland suburb. His daughter Karen followed her future husband across the pond to London.

Gilda’s and my son stayed in the Boston metro after attending college there. Boston has been Dan’s home for half his life. His family is a “short” three hour drive away. Dan and wife Allison remain New York Yankees and New York Giants fans which so far they are transmitting down to their children.

Now we get to Ellie and Donny and their daughter, Cecilia, the reason for this posting. Today they moved out of Brooklyn to Omaha.

Why Omaha? Well, Donny’s parents and one of his sisters live there. But the bottom line has to do with lifestyle and affordability. It could be Omaha or Cincinnati or Asheville or any number of smaller cities. They all offer a more affordable, more spacious environment to raise a family than do Brooklyn and many New York suburbs. Sure, Omaha lacks as full a restaurant and cultural scene. But it is not the backwater it was 10-15 years ago. 

Gilda and I will miss watching Cecilia take her first steps, speak her first words, grasp a spoonful of food to feed herself. We are envious of friends who get to enjoy these milestones firsthand, not through Facetime or Facebook.

Our situation is not uncommon. Many children of our friends and family have moved a plane-ride away. The emotional hole is made larger when grandchildren are involved, especially if they were born when their parents lived nearby. We were an hour away from Cecilia. I could come by easily to take her and Ellie to the pediatrician. Or to Costco. Or pick them up for a weekend visit to our home.

Gilda and I loved taking trips to Brooklyn to explore different neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Museum or Prospect Park, Coney Island, or Brighton Beach and end the day with a visit and dinner with Cecilia and her parents. We will still go to Brooklyn but surely not as frequently.

I hope I haven’t given the impression Cecilia is more precious to us than our other grandchildren, Finley and Dagny, that proximity promoted preference. They are all equally loved and cherished, as are their respective parents. But there was never any chance of close, frequent, non-electronic observation of Finley and Dagny growing up. Dan and Allison opted to live in the Boston metro long before they had kids. Ellie and Donny lived in Brooklyn.

Not the Brooklyn of my youth. That was, and still is, very unhip. Ellie and Donny lived in trendy Park Slope, near vibrant restaurants and cultural venues, near equally hip Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Williamsburg and Red Hook. Sure, I knew of these neighborhoods before Donny and Ellie lived in Brooklyn, even drove through them, but I never “knew” them. Never tasted them. Never observed them from the sidewalk on foot. Who now will take us to the hot restaurant only Brooklyn insiders know before The New York Times or some other outlet reveals its existence to the world?  

The move to Omaha separates Brooklyn for me and Gilda (who grew up there, as well) across the time zones of our past and present.

The move to Omaha separates our family across standard time zones. It will be harder to visit, for us and for Cecilia’s cousins. We get to see Finley and Dagny every six to eight weeks. We will try for the same frequency with visits to Omaha and return trips for holidays by Ellie’s family. 

My brother manages such a schedule with trips to and from London. He and Annette combine stays in London with side trips to parts of Europe and even Israel and recently South Africa. I guess Gilda and I will get to know the middle of the country from Mount Rushmore to the Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art in Bentonville,  AR, built by Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton. I presume I will show her Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville.

I’m not embarrassed to say I cried when I dropped off Ellie, Donny and Cecilia at LaGuardia Airport Monday morning. The fog shrouding the city made driving home alone difficult, the difficulty enhanced by the blurry vision of my moistened eyes.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Finding the Truth Behind the Numbers

The news Friday that Dow Chemical and DuPont are seeking approval to merge brought back memories of my first meeting with Leo J. Shapiro, whose expertise in social science research was instrumental in enhancing my journalism career and in making Chain Store Age unique, informative, must reading for retailers in the last two decades of the 20th century and the first 10 years of the 21st. Leo passed away in Tucson last month. He was 94.

The first time I met Leo, in 1979, in his firm’s then offices on the 37th floor of Lake Point Tower on the edge of Lake Michigan in Chicago, he observed that companies often choose a branding message in conflict with their everyday functions. 

Dow Chemical’s slogan back then was “Common Sense - Uncommon Chemistry.” DuPont’s was “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.” Yet both companies produced napalm and Agent Orange, the notorious herbicide used by the American military to defoliate much of Vietnam and consequently, tragically, causing “serious health issues—including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer—among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.”

In 1979 I had recently taken over as editor of Chain Store Age, inheriting a tradition of publishing a full-issue study in December on what we called a Great Retail Institution. The retailer we profiled always cooperated. For 1979 it was the F.W. Woolworth Corporation. 

Cooperation would not be the case for our 1980 profile—Kmart, at the time the second largest general merchandise retailer in the world with $14.8 billion in sales, behind Sears’ $16.9 billion (by comparison, Wal-Mart was a minuscule though growing chain with sales of only $1.6 billion. For 2014, Wal-Mart’s sales exceeded $473 billion; for the now combined Sears/Kmart, sales reached just $31.2 billion, of which $12.1 billion came from Kmart). 

Without Kmart’s cooperation we had to devise an alternative plan to secure information about the strengths and weaknesses of the chain. Publication director Paul Reuter spotted Leo’s name in an article in Advertising Age. It said his research firm, Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, had been following Kmart for many years. 

During that first meeting Leo explained that retailers, as do many companies, persist in doing things the same old way instead of moving on to the next wave of innovation. Sears, he opined, should have started a discount chain à la Kmart. Kmart, in turn, should have evolved into the more upscale Target or the more rural Wal-Mart. 

With Leo’s help Chain Store Age produced a publishing home run—more advertising than ever before and an editorial product recognized for its clarity and insight not only within the retail industry but also by our publishing brethren. The Kmart full-issue study was one of five finalists for a National Magazine Award, a rare achievement for a trade publication. 

Success in 1980 meant 1981’s December issue would be more challenging. Rather than profile a retailer we opted to work with Leo to produce the retail industry’s “1st Consumer Buying Intentions Study: Who, What, Where & Why They’ll Buy.” The study did not, as we expected, sell as well as the Kmart issue. 

But I almost fell off my chair when Stewart Orton, then chairman and CEO of Foley’s Department Store in Houston, in his speech accepting the Gold Medal Award of the National Retail Federation at its January 1982 annual luncheon, exhorted the thousands in attendance to read Chain Store Age’s December buying intentions study issue. 

Over the 30 years I worked with Leo and his partner, George Rosenbaum, Chain Store Age expanded the role of trade publishing. We innovated and published monthly and annual buying intentions studies as well as surveys on technology, credit trends, payment systems, loss prevention, store atmospherics, logistics and other topics never before distributed by a publication for the retail industry. Moreover, by including topical questions in their omnibus monthly national polls, Leo and George provided Chain Store Age with up to the moment insights on consumers.

“Garbage in, garbage out” is a widely held adage for anyone doing research. I always thought I knew what I wanted to study, but it was only after talking with Leo or George that I discovered what was truly worth researching. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I'm No Foodie But I Enjoy a Well-Cooked Chinese Meal

While I enjoy a well-cooked meal (I’m fortunate that Gilda often prepares gourmet-level repasts for me), I’m no foodie, so I was not surprised or too disappointed that of the 10 New York City eateries chosen as locations by comedian Aziz Ansari for his Netflix series Master of None ( and, I recognized and have frequented only one, Shun Lee Palace on East 55th Street in Manhattan. And when I say “frequented,” I mean I’ve eaten there many, many times. It truly is a savory culinary experience.

Shun Lee Palace is around the corner from my former employer’s offices when it was on Park Avenue. So many of our executives, editors and salesmen ate lunch there that we used to call the restaurant Lebhar-Friedman East. Every day at least three or four tables would be occupied by L-F’ers.

My favorite dish was Lake Tung Ting Shrimp, a delightful combination of jumbo shrimp, bamboo, water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrots and snow peas in a white creamy sauce and egg whites. Only one other Chinese restaurant that I’ve patronized has served up a comparable dish, Ocean Flavored Jumbo Shrimp, which I get at China Star, of all places a takeout joint on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains.

About 30 years ago Gilda was reading a list of the best restaurants in New York City in New York magazine. We had not eaten in any of them. Except, when she said Shun Lee Palace I chimed in that I quite often ate there. Indeed, I had lunched there that very day. She was seriously peeved I had not yet taken her there, an omission I shortly thereafter remedied.

It was customary to take the editorial staff to lunch each December. Naturally, Shun Lee was chosen for our culinary treat one year. On the appointed day, however, a meeting kept me from walking over with my staff. When I arrived, the nine editors were seated around a table. I can’t remember who was to my left, but to my right was Jil, one of our senior editors. 

As I commented how pretty the charger plate at my place setting was, quick as a lick Jil whisked it into her oversized tote handbag so, she explained, I could take it home. Before I could protest a waiter appeared, not to investigate the pilferage but rather to take our order. Back in the office Jil handed me the plate which I dutifully took home and which Gilda summarily told me she did not like and was not going to display in our home.

Shun Lee not only was among the top Chinese restaurants in the city, it also was among the priciest. When Shanghai Manor opened a few doors down we gravitated toward it. It didn’t cook Lake Tung Ting Shrimp. I had to settle for shrimp in garlic sauce, but the overall quality of the food and the lower, slightly lower, price kept us L-F’ers coming back time and again until, some 15 or more years later, the owner retired and Shanghai Manor closed. It was replaced by another Chinese restaurant, but for the last five to 10 years of my employment I never truly enjoyed another lunch of Chinese food.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fear and Shame Expunged Amid the Candlelight

The Friday New York Times ran a picture and promotional message about the lighting of the “world’s largest menorah” on Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.  I thought about going with Gilda and eight-month-old granddaughter Cecilia to the Hanukkah celebration. Why not? We were scheduled to babysit and Cecilia lives close by, perhaps a half mile from the ceremony site. So why not go?

Then I thought about San Bernadino and I was ashamed. Ashamed to think I was ready to concede my freedom to terrorists. Ashamed that I was ready to alter my way of life because crazy people perpetrate obscene, crazy, lethal acts. Ashamed because I was ready to forget that life’s end can be random even without terrorists. Walking across West 43rd street in Manhattan Saturday night I was almost struck by a car. Should I not cross streets any more? Should I let my fears, my caution, overwhelm and negate my right to assemble peacefully to worship? Or attend a concert or sports event? Or just go out to eat or shop? How different was I from those who responded to a Times request for readers to convey how their lives have changed since terror entered our daily psyche:

Cecilia saved me from having to make a decision. Her bedtime presented a conflict neatly timed to keep me indoors in a neighborhood where unlike sections of Brooklyn just miles away stray bullets piercing windows and killing innocents are not the norm.

Still I was ashamed.

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the few over the many, the victory of a separate culture over the homogenization sought by a dominant power. If there were any time to show the invincibility of that ideal, a time to visibly show the terrorists that we cannot be cowed into retreat into our safe caves, Sunday night at Grand Army Plaza would have been it.

In the end, Cecilia expunged my shame. Her afternoon nap lasted longer than normal. When she awoke we bundled her into her stroller, met up with Ellie and Donny in Prospect Heights and walked back to their Park Slope home past Grand Army Plaza with the celebration in full swing, if you can call an address from the Brooklyn borough president part of a celebration. We didn’t linger, but we were part of the hundreds gathered to commemorate freedom. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Speaking Factually and with a Little Perspective

I am no less guilty than anyone else, but I detect our collective ability to speak or write correctly—and by that I mean factually even more so than grammatically—has eroded to the point where we make casual mistakes that can shift the public dialogue. Take, for example, a comment from Monday night’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

While discussing the assault on the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs last week, Noah said, “If I had to imagine the type of person who would shoot up an abortion clinic …” 

Noah fell into the all-too-common trap of calling Planned Parenthood “an abortion clinic” instead of recognizing it as a women’s health clinic that provides reproductive health services including abortions. 

Robert L. Dear Jr.’s murder of three last week was an example of domestic terrorism, yet too few in the media have recognized it as such. 

Speaking of terrorism, and the threat thereof, is it not disingenuous of Republicans to want to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country because they fear one or more of them may attack us while they stubbornly refuse to limit alleged security risks on the government’s No Fly List from legally obtaining firearms? They claim it would undermine Second Amendment rights even though it is far more likely those already deemed possible terrorists would kill Americans than the refugees seeking a peaceful life within our borders.

The debate on Syrian refugees has mostly focused on the quality and extensiveness of the vetting process. Here’s a link to an article written by Scott Hicks,  a longtime immigration lawyer, detailing the process:

Founding Fathers and Other Disreputables: How to explain the Donald Trump phenomena and how long it might last—The Washington Post tried in a Thursday article which contained the following illuminating paragraphs:

“Trump is a loud­-mouthed person, yes, and he does sometimes just say things to women to hurt their feelings,” an Indiana woman said during a late-October focus group of GOP primary voters conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

“But I’m going to stick with my belief saying that he’s going to try his best to get the country back the way our Founding Fathers had it at one time” ( 

The scary part of this seemingly blind support for a racist, a bigot, a dissembler, a sexist, a nativist, an ignoramus when it comes to history and other topics, is that too many Americans share those beliefs. It only validates my belief that we are a nation with too many idiots.

Let’s consider her desire to get back to the way our Founding Fathers had it at one time. Does that mean she condones slavery? That Afro-Americans are to be considered three-fifths of a person? Is she okay with the idea that women were not entitled to vote? For that matter, many white men were not eligible either—in most states you had to be a landowner to earn the right to cast a ballot. Does she favor state legislatures picking U.S. senators rather than direct elections by voters? And should we vote separately for the vice president? 

The Founding Fathers got lots of things right. But they also left out lots of stuff. Do we want to abandon our national parks, for example? Or social security? Or the protections afforded by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Drug Administration, the FBI and other agencies that protect us from enemies within and outside our borders?

Trump is not alone in his depiction of foreigners—Syrians and Mexicans, to name two groups—as being unfit for residence within the United States. Yet, the provenance of their remarks can be traced back to the 19th century. In her book Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) during one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas senatorial campaign debates of 1858: 

“The signers of the Declaration of Independence,” said Douglas, “had no reference to negroes at all when they declared that all men are created equal. They did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race. They were speaking of white men. … I hold that this government was established for white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men, and none others.” 

Apparently, even a president considered one of our greatest, Woodrow Wilson, shared some of Douglas’ beliefs and prejudices. In the words of a New York Times editorial, “He was an unapologetic racist whose administration rolled back the gains that African-Americans achieved just after the Civil War, purged black workers from influential jobs and transformed the government into an instrument of white supremacy” ( Our commander-in-chief turned out to be a discriminator-in-chief. It’s no wonder Princeton University students want Wilson’s name expunged from the school he was president of before being president of the United States. 

Discrimination against Native Americans, along with disregard for a Supreme Court ruling, stained Andrew Jackson’s presidency, though it is doubtful many of his contemporaries thought so. Jackson forced the Cherokee Nation off of its land in the Southeast and relocated it in the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma. In doing so Jackson refused to uphold a ruling by the Supreme Court that “made the Indian Removal Act invalid, illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties previously made by the United States.” 

Little wonder then that advocates of placing a woman’s face on one of our currency bills favor removing Andrew Jackson’s visage from the $20 bill and not Alexander Hamilton’s from the $10 bill. It also doesn’t hurt their argument that Hamilton was the architect of our national financial system while Jackson fought against the national bank.

Speaking of nefarious characters within and without, the U.S. and the world is obsessed with ISIS, and who can blame them given the Islamic terrorist organization’s beastly activities in the name of religion, at least as its adherents see it. The barbaric actions of ISIS and other jihadists come roughly 1,400 years after Muhammad founded Islam. 

For the sake of comparison, let’s see what was happening some 1,400 years after Jesus? Oh yes, the Spanish Inquisition, which followed on the heels of various Crusades which attacked Moslems, Cathars and Jews in the Holy Land and Europe. Looks like 1,400 years is not a happy time for those who don’t scrupulously adhere to organized religions. 

(By the way, if we assume the formal Jewish religion started around the time of Moses, estimated to be around 1200 BCE, 1,400 years later would be just after the Jews twice lost rebellions against Roman rule in Judea.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Colbert, Carson and I Share Some Scary Stuff

Talking with Sharon Stone last Wednesday Stephen Colbert revealed a physical characteristic we share. While teasing about her nude photo shoot in Playboy in 1992, he said he is so self-conscious about his body that he “won’t let anybody see me without socks on (because) I have that thing where you wear socks too long and there’s no hair … where the socks pulled all the hair out. I’ve got old men’s ankles.” 

That’s me, too. My ankles, aside from being way too thin, bony actually, are hairless. They’re so white they seem to glow in the dark. I think wearing white wool sweatsocks throughout high school inhibited any hairy growth from my shins down. I never went without socks until I retired and started writing this blog and that was only because my “public” demanded I live up to the self-selected title. 

Anyway, it’s nice to know of another anklo-phobic, especially one with such a high profile.

Getting back to Sharon Stone, she has a new show, Agent X on TNT. I haven’t seen it so I can’t recommend it, or not, but Colbert screened a clip which showed Stone as vice president of the United States. What drew my attention was her hair style. If I didn’t know it was Stone I would have thought it was Robin Wright as the president’s wife, Claire Underwood, in House of Cards. It seems short-haired, stylishly coiffed blondes are today’s power women of Washington, no doubt inspired by Hillary Clinton, though one would never confuse her body with that of either Stone or Wright.

Carson and Me: During my first trip to Israel in 1966 I learned how to identify where the border lay between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors. Look for the green, I was told. Where the greenery ends is where Israel ends. Across the border the color was brown, as in sand.

Now, fast forward to early 2015 and it appears Dr. Ben Carson shares with me the lesson in border topography. 

In case you missed it (as I did back in March when he was not considered by anyone serious a serious presidential candidate, and still shouldn’t be), this is what Dr. Carson suggested to Bloomberg Politics as a way to settle (pun intended) the Palestinian question of a homeland of their own: 

“We need to look at fresh ideas. I don’t have any problem with the Palestinians having a state, but does it need to be within the confines of Israeli territory? Is that necessary, or can you sort of slip that area down into Egypt? Right below Israel, they have some amount of territory, and it can be adjacent. They can benefit from the many agricultural advances that were made by Israel, because if you fly over that area, you can easily see the demarcation between Egypt and Israel, in terms of one being desert and one being verdant (italics added). Technology could transform that area. So why does it need to be in an area where there’s going to be temptation for Hamas to continue firing missiles at relatively close range to Israel?”

Wow! And there are people who think this man should be president? In charge of our foreign affairs? 

Perhaps the most contentious international policy debate is centered on Israel’s right to exist along with the viability and border adjustments of a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine. What makes those issues so difficult is that Israelis and Palestinians do not agree among themselves on either proposition. Which brings me to a sorry state of affairs when it comes to internal disputes.

It is commonly thought that any Palestinian who openly advocates peace with Israel including territorial concessions would wind up with a bulls-eye on his or her  back, and front, and head. Such is the state of public discourse among the Palestinians.

Sadly, the same may be said, if not literally then figuratively, about Israelis and many of their American sympathizers. We just recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister murdered by a right winger because Rabin sought to make peace accompanied with a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank territory captured during the Six Day War. 

Now a vocal fringe in the Israel-can-do-no-wrong camp, inside and outside Israel, has assumed only they know what’s best for Israel and that anyone who disagrees with their vision is a traitor and worthy of public disparagement that is, or borders on, slander. 

I don’t have a solution to the Palestinian question but I have yet to hear a cogent and sustainable answer to the question of what Israel should do about the 1.3 million Palestinians under its control. Should they be expelled? Exterminated? Left to live as a conquered people with no rights to or hope of self-determination? 

Of course, courageous Palestinian leadership needs to come forward before Israel can make equally courageous accommodations. Any peace-loving person has to hope it is not too late for such a reality to transpire. In the present climate of jihad on the one side and distemper on the other, it is difficult to visualize a breakthrough in the short term. But one can always hope.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: How bad was this back-to-back advertising placement?  

While watching the Sunday night football game an ad from Subway was immediately followed by a spot featuring a “Jared” from the Carolina Panthers, (Jared Allen) extolling the NFL with the line “football is family.” This Jared ad ran just two days after another guy named Jared, Jared Fogle, the long-time spokesperson of Subway, was sentenced to no less than 15 years in prison for child pornography and crossing state lines to pay for sex with minors.

If I worked for Subway or the NFL I’d demand a make-good. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Uncle Murray

It’s a week before Thanksgiving. I’m still waiting for my invitation to your turkey chomp. What? You can’t recall adding me to your guest list? Apparently you’re not on Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken’s email list (neither am I, but my sister is even though she lives in Los Angeles), for he wrote: 

“This time of year I always look forward to the usual Thanksgiving things: turkey, Franni’s famous pies, stuffing, friends, family, and football.

“And of course, Uncle Murray.”

Long-time readers of No Socks Needed Anymore may recall my being less than enamored with the pleasure comedians have in casting my given name for misanthropic characters or dogs in their films and TV shows (i.e., Murray the policeman in The Odd Couple, or Murray the dog in Mad About You, or the numerous stories about Murray told by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner in their 2,000-year-old man skits). 

So it wasn’t too surprising that Saturday Night Live alumnus-cum-politician Franken jumped on the make-fun-of-Murray bandwagon. He did, however, redeem my namesake in the rest of his email:   

“Uncle Murray isn’t a real person. Uncle Murray represents the family member at the dinner table who inevitably brings up politics, every single year.

“Now, some people get annoyed by Uncle Murray. But I think at least some of the things Uncle Murray talks about at the table are important. After all, Senators like me are supposed to know what concerns families share with each other at dinner. Those are actually the issues that matter -- they are experienced by real people -- and they are the ones we need to focus on.

“So I want you to tell me what your “Uncle Murray” (or you) will be talking about at the Thanksgiving table this year. It can be as simple as corporations aren’t people or that women deserve equal pay for equal work. It could be that LGBT friends and family deserve equal rights. It could be that climate change is real and happening and a serious risk to the future of the planet.

“What issues are you and your family most likely to discuss this year? What problems are affecting your family the most? (Franken asked that responses be sent to

“Can’t wait to read your responses.


As long as we’re on the subject of politics, let’s stick with an item culled from the newspaper:

I’ve fashioned myself into a slow, careful reader. You might say slow reading is an occupational hazard of being an editor—if you are going to review other people’s writing you best do it carefully. Without haste. 

My snail-like pace reading all things from books to newspapers might explain why I find so many anomalies, mistakes and interesting items in the stories I read. I’m often disappointed when I fail to uncover a miscue. On the other hand, I exult in discovering a mistake or contradiction. Take, for instance, the Talk interview of David Brat in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine.

A 51-year-old Tea Party Republican congressman from Glen Allen, Va., Brat is a former college professor who took over Eric Cantor’s seat. Asked what he has learned in Washington, Brat said, “It’s hard. I like Plato’s maxim to start politics at 50 because you’re near death and the appetites are —whatever. You’re past the wine, women and song.”

Oh, really? Perhaps a visit to Wikipedia’s page entitled “List of federal political sex scandals in the United States” is in order for the ol’ professor. From 2000 through 2015, there have been 22 sex scandals, of which 14 involved politicos 50 years or older!

Seems to me the evidence is overwhelming that age is no barrier to a male politician seeking sex with women or men, and, in some cases, even boys.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Catching Up on the Mets, Driving, Dressing for Work, Quick Pitching and Debate Winners/Losers

Time to catch up on some random thoughts that have been scurrying around my brain for the last few weeks or so …

I wonder if the owners of the Empire State Building were not all-in behind the New York Mets. While driving across the Kosciusko Bridge one night during the World Series (btw, a spectacular vantage point to observe the grandeur of Manhattan, second only to the drive north along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights), I noticed the top of the iconic building was lit up in green (GREEN!!!) and not Mets blue and orange. Did St. Patrick’s Day change its date this year? I seem to recall blue and white bathing the top of the structure when the Yankees played in the Series. I’m not a Mets fan, but I do believe the Empire State Building dissed the team …

Driving Gilda to and from Manhattan three times a week has given me an insider’s perspective on the quality of drivers in the New York metro region. The worst drivers are those behind the wheel of SUVs. They tailgate, speed and change lanes irresponsibly more frequently than any other drivers. 

I would love to be able to make citizen arrests. Won’t happen. But what I truly would like is a car that includes a retractable rear sign telling a tailgater to “Back Off!” We have horns to warn drivers on our side when they get too close; why not a sign that calls out tailgaters?

There are plenty of Uber drivers out there. Since they are in unmarked cars, mostly black, they are not as predictable as yellow or green taxi drivers who don’t really surprise you when they scurry across two lanes or stop abruptly. But Uber drivers can and do surprise you. 

Of course, trucks and buses pose larger threats. Wednesday I took action after a truck blocked my attempt to change lanes and avoid an exit ramp off the Major Deegen Expressway in The Bronx. I called the telephone number on the truck to report its driver. Last winter I reported the unsafe actions of a city bus driver who changed lanes without regard and almost hit another vehicle. Who knows if the drivers were disciplined but it made me feel good.  

One of Gilda’s favorite pictures of me hanging on a wall in our family room is from my time as a reporter/bureau chief for The New Haven Register some 40 years ago. It’s a black and white photo, taken by Larry French, the chief copy editor, with a telephoto lens during one of the slow periods in the newsroom.

 My desk is a mess of papers piled helter-skelter. A brown paper bag stands upright and open at the top on the side of the desk. My hair is long and bushy, what we used to call a “Jewfro.” My beard has not yet turned grey. I am wearing an open collar plaid shirt, two pens visible in my shirt pocket. My left leg is crossed, the knee perched above the papers. Most likely I am wearing jeans, though khakis are a possibility. 

I bring this to your attention because of an article in Monday’s New York Times on the wardrobe choices for the movie Spotlight, a film about The Boston Globe’s reporting of the child sex abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church. The headline for the question and answer piece was “‘Spotlight’ Costume Designer on What Makes Newsroom Chic” (

No one among the hundred or so reporters at The Register could have been considered a GQ devotee. The rare necktie and sports jacket, a corduroy or tweed, were occasionally worn by the New Haven city hall or the Yale University beat reporter. Female reporters were not fashionistas, either. 

But then, the gestalt of the newsroom was not about how spiffy we looked but rather about how well our stories illuminated and informed. Those concepts permeated my years at Chain Store Age/Lebhar-Friedman, as well, but my wardrobe underwent a seismic makeover. 

L-F had a suits-in-the-office policy. A sports jacket and slacks would draw a rebuke from the president of the company. While working at The Register I owned two suits; one of them was my wedding tuxedo. By the time I retired from Chain Store Age my closet boasted (?) some two dozen suits. 

Let me say this: the first thing I did upon entering my office every day was take off my suit jacket and roll up my shirt sleeves. It was the closest I could get to the comfort of my Register reporter’s days. 

It’s a widely held belief that the New York Mets lost the World Series in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of the five-game contest when Mets closer Jeurys Familia tried to trick Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, only to have his quick pitch smacked over the center field wall to tie the game at two. The Mets eventually lost the game in 14 innings and lost three out of the next four games to the Royals.

When I regularly pitched for our temple’s fast-pitch softball team, I sometimes interspersed a quick pitch as well. I don’t recall giving up any home runs with the pitch, but I also don’t recall striking anyone out, either. 

Now, during any of my infrequent appearances on the mound, I don’t employ a quick pitch. It has vanished from my repertoire, as has most of the heat on my fast ball.  

You’ve no doubt read reviews (including mine) of Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate. In case you missed it, here’s how The Drudge Report scored the candidates, based on 348,324 poll respondents:  

 34.92%  (121,608 votes)
 23.7%  (82,529 votes)
 15.78%  (54,941 votes)
 13.93%  (48,496 votes)
 4.82%  (16,780 votes)
 4.27%  (14,885 votes)
 1.56%  (5,424 votes)
 1.02%  (3,571 votes)

Go figure!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mythbusters Needed at GOP Debate

MythBusters, the Discovery Channel series that proves or debunks long-standing scientific theories, will end its14-year run at the conclusion of the current television season. One can only hope that among its planned segments is a feature inspired by Ben Carson’s hypothesis that the Egyptian pyramids were grain storage facilities, not burial tombs of the pharaohs. 

Okay, enough of the tongue in cheek. Wednesday was a day of myth-busting among Republicans, if any were in fact listening. 

Let’s start off as I did, fascinated by an NPR interview with Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and once an Environmental Protection Agency administrator in President George W. Bush’ administration. Interviewed on The Takeaway radio program, Whitman bemoaned the opportunities her party has failed to capitalize on in the areas of environment and climate change, women issues including the right to choose, and acceptance of minorities. 

Teased she might be a good presidential candidate, Whitman acknowledged, “My party wouldn’t have me in the door, I’m too far out there,” as the only ones voting hold extreme positions. For revealing insights into the state of Republican politics, listen to this near seven-and-a -half minute interview:

John Kasich and Jeb Bush, and even Rand Paul, tried to instill some reality into the mythology of GOP politics Wednesday night during the main presidential debate, but succeeded very little given the war-mongering, bloodthirsty, anti-government live audience that favored no increase to the minimum wage and massive deportation of 11 million illegal aliens.  

Kasich even raised the specter of the blessed Republican icon, Saint Ronald, granting amnesty to five million illegal immigrants, but the Reagan touch did not extend to him even after his impassioned argument to think about the families that would be disrupted and the impracticality of rounding up and shipping 11 million people across the border. Bush fared no better. Donald Trump’s get-them-out-of-here approach carried the day, as did Ted Cruz’s admonition, “If the Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose.”

Similarly, Paul didn’t win his argument with Marco Rubio about huge investments in the military. Paul said it would not be the conservative thing to do. To much applause Rubio countered, “I know that the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest military power in the world.” Regrettably, no one asked which country is the strongest these days if the U.S. isn’t. 

What is it with Texas politicians who can’t remember all the government agencies and departments they want to eliminate? Like Rick Perry who couldn’t recall the third department he wanted to axe four years ago, Cruz had a problem listing the five departments he would eliminate. He twice said the Department of Commerce along with the IRS, the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perhaps fittingly, he left out the Department of Education. 

Unfortunately, the moderators from Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal didn’t follow up by asking if he envisioned any oversight at all on such endeavors as nuclear power facilities or fair housing opportunities, or the collection and auditing of taxpayer money under his revised tax code. 

Try as he might, Bush failed to gain traction, though he was consistently the only one to tie in attacks on President Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner. He was playing the long game, but who knows how much longer he can linger at low single digit poll numbers. 

Carly Fiorina came on strongest as the non politician, far surpassing the belligerent Trump and the wishy-washy Carson. She had command of concepts and specific tactics. The scowl on her face transmitted a sign of resoluteness. She was ready to tangle with Russia’s Putin, a reality sure to come to pass if she were to implement all the military buildups in Central and Eastern Europe she advocated. 

I didn’t notice anyone sweating during the debate. Perhaps the Milwaukee Theatre was cooled to the 67 degrees Fahrenheit the candidates wanted. Or maybe the podiums had small fans in the alcove under the lectern? During their last debate I observed a fan in the podium at the far left of the television screen. It was “strategically” aimed at crotch level. I’ll resist making any editorial opinion on the significance of that positioning …

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Brooklyn on My Mind and Everyone Else's

Brooklyn is enjoying another moment in the sun, not that it was ever truly dark. Lately, however, the cognoscente have seemingly rediscovered my native borough, driving up real estate prices, populating the byways with flavorful, exotic fare, building skyscraper apartment houses, even turning the once tallest structure in the county—the Williamsburg Savings Bank on Flatbush Avenue—into a co-op with multi-million dollar penthouse units.   

The latest enchantment to illuminate Brooklyn is a film adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn. The movie opened Wednesday (; the book was published in 2009. I didn’t read the book, haven’t yet seen the film. But I did grow up in the time and place the heroine of Tóibín’s tale emigrated to from Ireland in the 1950s.

There’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding Brooklyn these days, an emotion that has engulfed me as well. Perhaps it is pushed forward by Bernie Sanders’ quixotic campaign for the presidency as evidenced by an article a few months ago chronicling his Kings County roots (

A few weeks earlier The New York Times ran a story about ex- Brooklynites returning to live in, or at least visit, the borough ( 

Truth be told, the parts of Brooklyn mostly and longingly portrayed in film and print—areas such as Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights—are far removed from the Brooklyn of my childhood, the northern part of Sheepshead Bay along Avenue W between East 18th and East 19th Streets, a block west of Ocean Avenue. It was on the southern side of this treelined street of attached single-family row houses with the occasional (to my knowledge, illegal) ground floor tenant where I enjoyed a pleasant, if not idyllic, upbringing.

Small things now evoke long-cached memories. 

The other day I spotted a tennis ball atop a grated storm sewer cover. I was transported back to the street stickball games I played. The leafy maple and sycamore trees along Avenue W posed one type of hazard to be overcome—if you caught a ball on its way down from a tree you recorded an out, but if it fell to the ground you would call “hindoo,” and a do-over was in order. 

The trees, however, were not the biggest obstacle. Balls, usually pink Spaldeens, falling into storm drains could wash out any game. Unless, unless you had a wire clothes hanger you could stretch out and, lowering the hook end into the sewer basin, fish the ball up from the murky bottom.  

Our grandson Finley loves playing with toy trucks, usually in his home’s carpeted basement or living room. I, on the other hand, played “dump truck” outside, on the dirt edge of the grass of our front lawn. 

As we got older, my friends and I shifted our play spot to the dirt under the trees between the street and the sidewalk. Our choice of “toy” also “matured” into pen knives. We’d play a game called “Territory.” You would start off with equal plots of land. By throwing your knife into your adversary’s dirt adjacent to your plot, you could claim more territory, but only if the blade stood the knife upright with at least two fingers’ worth of clearance from the ground. 

Oh, I neglected to mention an important part of the game. When your foe threw his knife you were required to stand astride your territory, an act of courage made all the more challenging as your territory diminished in size. I don’t recall any foot injuries, though I would not be surprised to know I am repressing memories of mishaps. 

One doesn’t see any yellow Checker cabs anymore, but they were the preferred and common conveyance when our mother took us to the beach back in the 1950s. Their back seats were deep enough to accommodate two round jump seats that folded into the floorboard when not used. We’d go to Brighton Beach, eat cold meatloaf or hamburger sandwiches our mother made and buy cool orange drinks in short, cardboard containers from vendors who pushed through the sand with hot ice boxes slung over their shoulders while wearing safari hats to shield the burning rays of the sun. 

Sometimes, Saturday nights during the summer, our whole family would go to Coney Island. My favorite ride was a train ride on a track that circumvented the entire kiddie park. When darkness veiled the night, we would sit on the sand and take in the weekly fireworks display. Afterward we’d bundle back into the car and as we approached home our father would sing one of the few American western songs he knew, “Home, home on the range/ where the deer and the antelope play/ where seldom is heard, a discouraging word/ and the sky is not cloudy all day.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Trivial Pursuits: Baseball, Playboy, Politics

I was scheduled to be spending Tuesday night contemplating a royal flush in diamonds, or maybe spades, as part of a monthly poker game. Instead, I will be looking at a diamond flush with Royals of the Kansas City variety. 

I’m a Yankees fan, so I really have no vested interest in the outcome of the World Series which began Tuesday night in Kansas City between the aforementioned Royals and the NY Mets, except that I harbor three eternal memories involving the Royals and Yankees—Chris Chambliss breaking the Royals’ hearts in 1976 by smacking a bottom-of-the-ninth-pennant-winning home run to launch the Yanks into their first World Series in 12 years. Chambliss’ attempt to run around the bases, barreling over jubilant fans, added humor to the excitement (; 

KC’s George Brett going ballistic after his home run in the old Yankee Stadium in 1983 was invalidated and he was declared out because there was too much pine tar on his bat, a ruling subsequently reversed (; 

and Willie Randolph being thrown out at home plate by Brett during the 1980 American League Championship Series. Randolph was waved home by third base coach Mike Ferraro. Owner George Steinbrenner wanted to fire Ferraro, but manager Dick Howser refused, leading to his own firing or retirement (depending on your point of view) and his subsequent hiring by the Royals, the team he led five years later to its only World Series title (

Well, enough of Yankee history. This is, after all, a time to celebrate that other New York baseball team, not the one that has won 27 championships to just two for the Mets. I haven’t followed who the oddsmakers have labeled the favorite, but it would be hard to bet against the Mets given their starting pitchers and closer. The four Mets starters are as dominant as the bunch the Atlanta Braves trotted out during the 1990s and early 2000s and the Baltimore Orioles fronted in 1971 when they had four starters win at least 20 games. But keep in mind, The O’s lost the Series that year, and Atlanta won just one championship despite making the playoffs 13 out of 14 years and being in the World Series five times. 

If you detect a slight edge to my analysis it’s because I’m bummed out that the Mets have pre-empted poker. I even volunteered to host as a TV is next to my game table. But nooooo, my Series-starved Mets-fans compatriots are too hepped up to play and watch at the same time. 

Okay, I get it. But I do hope they care more for the future of our country. I hope they place politics above baseball and tune into the Republican Party presidential debate Wednesday night. Is that asking too much?

Barber Shop Blue: When I turned 40 Gilda threw me a surprise birthday party. Among the presents I received that night were a few copies of Playboy. During the party I went upstairs and saw 10-year-old Dan’s bedroom door closed. Curious, I opened it to find him and two friends poring over the Playboys. I discreetly closed the door before rejoining the adults downstairs.

My first exposure to Playboy was at Paul’s Barber Shop on Avenue X between East 21st and 22nd Streets in Brooklyn, a short 5-7 minute walk from our home on Avenue W. Paul’s was an old-fashioned barber shop back in the 1950s and 1960s. During my single digit years I was content to read the comic books supplied (mostly Superman and Archie) and finish off my haircuts with a free wad of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum. 

But in my teenage years, with Frank joining the barbering staff and doing razor cuts to control my naturally curly hair, Playboys started showing up on the magazine tables. I don’t think I have to tell you, I did not read Playboy for the articles. 

Really? Here’s what ticks me off about Conservative Republicans—a friend of mine emailed photos of George W. Bush interacting with injured servicemen during his presidency with the following caption: “Have you seen any photos like these in the last 6 years? Me neither.” 

“Surely you jest,” I responded. “Please don’t tell me you are extolling the man who put our brave soldiers in harm’s way under false pretenses, the man who is responsible for more American military deaths than any president since Richard Nixon, the man who is responsible for two wars that have mired us in trillions of dollars of debt? 

“Please don’t tell me you applaud him. And please don’t believe that Obama has not interfaced with our troops. And let’s not forget that Obama has comforted too many of our fellow citizens bereft by mass killers that the NRA and its acolytes, including your friend George, refuse to stand up to.” 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hillary Time, A Correction and More Debate Thoughts

It’s almost time Tuesday night for the beginning of two weeks worth of Hillary Time. Here’s what I’d like to see from Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first Democratic Party presidential debate and as the key witness in the interminable Select House Benghazi Investigation committee hearing next week.

During the debate, Hillary—by the way, I am as guilty as other sexist commentators who refer to her by first name instead of her surname as opposed to using her family name as is usually done for male candidates, except, of course, when referring to The Donald—anyway, Hillary needs to be assertive and engaging. She needs to clarify her differences with Bernie Sanders without antagonizing his supporters. She must explain how she would accomplish more than Barack Obama did when working (or should I say trying to work) with a Republican controlled Senate and House. 

I have nothing against Sanders except the belief that he is unelectable (as are the three other announced candidates: Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb—you’ll notice I did not provide any description of their past titles. If you don’t know what offices they held you can understand why I am skeptical about their chances. I’m not going to spend the time mulling over Joe Biden’s entry/non entry into the race. Back to Bernie—can you imagine what the Republicans would do with his self-confessed claim of being a Democratic Socialist? No amount of explaining the concept would mitigate the extreme slurs that would be imprinted on the electorate’s psyche. Shades of Willie Horton, for those old enough to know the reference.). 

That said, here are some questions I hope to see asked and answered during the debate: 

*Given the very real prospect that both houses of Congress will be controlled by Republicans in 2017-18, what specifically do you feel you can accomplish legislatively?

*How would you balance income inequality given the GOP congress?

*Will you run on the Obama record?

*What changes, if any, would you like to see in the Affordable Care Act?

*What specific piece of enacted legislation are you most proud of having been the primary sponsor?

*Specifically asked of Hillary—Given polling data, how will you build trust with the American people?

*Many of the questions I posed after the second Republican debate would be applicable, so here’s a link to that post:

Time to Testify: Next week Hillary cannot allow the select committee to manhandle her. She must not equivocate and must not allow committee members to interrupt her testimony. 

Recent news events have made it obvious the committee is political hackery to the extreme. Hillary should take a page from history and vigorously defend herself the same way Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the U.S. Army, rebutted Senator Joseph McCarthy’s assault on the integrity of the Army and the suspicion it, and his law office, had been infiltrated by Communists.

“Have you no sense of decency,” Welch’s acerbic rebuke of McCarthy, entered the lexicon of American politics. 

If the committee hearing devolves into a one-sided inquisition, Hillary should sternly state her unwillingness to participate any further and walk out, even if the committee threatens to hold her in contempt.  

How ironic that the congressman who exposed the political intent of the select committee, to undermine Hillary’s candidacy, shares the Wisconsin senator’s last name—McCarthy!

Correction Time: I was tripped up in my religious reporting. Pope Francis gave Kim Davis a rosary, not simply a crucifix. A rosary encompasses a cross which dangles at the end of beads.

More Debate Thoughts: And now more words about The Great Debate—was Chase Utley guilty of an illegal slide that broke the leg of NY Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada? 

First, a confession: I’m a NY Yankees fan. I don’t like the Mets. My bias notwithstanding, I believe Utley played old fashioned hardball, the type played by Pete Rose, Frank Robinson, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson. 

They played to win, not injure. It’s unfortunate Tejada sustained a season-ending injury. Let’s keep the play in perspective. The most often printed baseball picture for many years was a shortstop or second baseman leaping to avoid a baserunner’s slide meant to plant him in the left field bleachers if a double play relay throw could be averted. 

Utley did his job. Major League Baseball should let the players police themselves. Utley plays second base. He will have to watch out every time he cover the base, especially when it’s a Met barreling down on him. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Tom Hanks Moment and Other Odds and Ends

Did you see the article or hear about Tom Hanks finding in Central Park the lost student ID card of a Fordham University undergraduate and then tweeting his discovery, “Lauren! I found your Student ID in the park. If you still need it my office will get to you. Hanx.”? 

Though we live during a social network age largely populated by the young, believe it or not Lauren did not have a Twitter account. She was thus oblivious to her star-savior until one of her professors sent her a link to Twitter. Now she’s into her 15-minutes of fame and has appeared on television.

I bring this to your attention because of my own quest to return a picture of a comely looking college student I found as I walked across the quadrangle of Brooklyn College one day in the fall of 1969. She appeared attractive enough to ask out (this transpired just weeks before my Gilda Days began, so please don’t think I was two-timing my future wife). 

Back then not everyone could marshall the resources required to find the pictured coed, whose name was either Judy or Linda—both monikers were written on the back of the photo. I, however, was editor-in-chief of Calling Card, the newspaper of the House Plan Association. I had the means and the moxie to print the head shot on the front page of our next issue under the headline “Lost & Found.” 

Sure enough, my scheme produced the intended result. Judy-Linda showed up a few days later at the Calling Card office. Alas, I didn’t ask her out. Her picture did her more than justice. 

No word on what she thought of how I looked.

Time to catch up on some recent newsworthy events:

Our long (two years, a looooong time for Yankee fans!) national nightmare is over. We are back in the baseball playoffs. Well, by the time I got around to actually posting this brief, our time in the playoffs was mercilessly brief. We succumbed 3-zip to the Houston Astros. 

Our beloved Bronx Bombers were flawed in more ways than I care to recount. But we still won more games than 11 other teams in the American League and 10 in the National League and that is good enough for me. Twenty of those other teams failed to make the playoffs.

Did anyone else see a similarity between the head of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, when she testified before Congress recently and Claire Underwood, the wife of the fictitious Frank Underwood of House of Cards? Tall, with short blonde hair and a self assurance that refuses to fade when confronted by men of intolerance and ignorance.

As the saying goes, it is hard to put the cat back into the bag once it is out.

It doesn’t matter who arranged the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis, the rogue Kentucky county clerk who has denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Plenty of ill-informed people will believe the pontiff endorsed Davis. Like corrections buried deep inside a newspaper, the story line too many people will remember is the pope greeting Davis and giving her a crucifix, not that he was duped into meeting her by his representative in Washington. 

The lesson we can all take away from this affair is that even the Vatican is not off limits to political machinations (of course we knew that already but this was a very public display of a subjective agenda meant to undermine and embarrass a popular pope while advancing rigid church dogma not sufficiently supported in public by the leader of the Catholic faith).  

Let ’em Go: Government officials have admitted it is hard to stop American zealots from traveling to ISIS-controlled regions to join the Islamic terrorists. I say, “Let ’em Go.”

But with a caveat—revoke their American citizenship so they can’t return easily to the United States, or, at the very least, incarcerate them if they show up on our shores. 

Let them go to get killed in the desert. If they find living in this country so terrible, let them discover what life in the caliphate will truly mean. Let them go inflict mayhem on other Muslims if they can, not as some sleeper terrorist on unsuspecting Americans inside the U.S. I am not anti-Muslim. It’s just that it is time for the vast majority of Muslims to stand up for their religion and exterminate the cancer from within. Outsiders cannot do it without fomenting anti-Western civilization hatred.