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 http://minnesota.alfranken.com/e51118m

“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” (http://nyti.ms/1XValKs).

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:  https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/takeaway/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F546951%2F

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 (http://nyti.ms/1iBkP1T); 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 (http://nyti.ms/1VFhZZi).

A few weeks earlier The New York Times ran a story about ex- Brooklynites returning to live in, or at least visit, the borough (http://nyti.ms/1JXIeno). 

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.”