Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Politician's Life

("The Vain and the Desperate")

Who indeed would subject him or herself to this process, to the interminable race, to the accusations and innuendos, to the prying eyes, to the ever more intense hunt for the next dollar, to the pettiness and the petulance, to the pretending and the prevaricating, to all that is entailed?

For what earthly reason, to be ultimately thrust into a quagmire, into a world in which reason and logic seem to have little space, where loyalty runs not to ideals but to donors, where the room is full of Hatfields and McCoys and where positive outcome, along with Elvis, seems to have left the building?

For the Republican party, void of any meaningful ideas, existing in a vacuum of deceit and denial, clinging to hatred as the central platform, whose purpose seems to be to do as much harm to as many as possible, it would be nigh impossible to locate a viable candidate for President whose shortcomings were not omnipresent.

And for Hillary, and others on the Democratic side who will soon embark on this all consuming mission to hell, what is the great allure? Two years of words, endless and repetitive, to convince the few who are listening, who care and who have not already aligned with one camp or the other, of the sanctity of their cause?

And at the end of the road, after the dust settles and the single moment of glory has passed, to be embroiled in a task in which there is seemingly no opportunity at home to do anything promised and on foreign soil to be relegated to the role of fireman, trying to extinguish blazes but handed only a small bucket of water, desperately hunting for other fire departments willing to attempt to prevent a conflagration?

Always on a high-wire without a safety net.

Who indeed but the foolish or the foolhardy would wish this life?

Saturday, September 20, 2014


It has all been a prelude, a buildup to this moment. As each actor has left the stage, the crescendo has increased. Now, with the spotlight cast fully upon the last man standing, the roar is deafening.

And the team has done its part, moving out of the way, long since having given up any chance of carrying on to further glories. There is no suspense or meaning to these games other than to be witness to the end of an era. It is as if no one else exists on the diamond. As we cast our eyes upon the field, we feel we are in a final embrace, one last dance with our partner, the power and beauty of two decades of memories cascading before us.

They were considered the four cornerstones of a generation of greatness. But there were truly five. When the center fielder left in 2006, his passing from the scene was duly noted but hardly felt. The team was at the height of its power, the stars were in abundance and his contributions were never as deeply acknowledged as they might have been, due in large measure to his quiet demeanor and the understated elegance with which he went about his craft.

The next two to depart, part of that class of four who emerged as if born of one moment in the mid-1990's, left arm in arm (or more correctly, pitching arm to catcher's glove) in 2011. The southpaw twirler, who seemed to live in perpetual agony while on the mound, always dissatisfied with his performance, always reaching for a higher level of perfection. His battery mate, tough and gritty emblematic of the space he occupied, scrapping and clawing for every inch of turf. And when they walked off the field that last time their glory was large, but the shadow they cast was still dwarfed by a squad good enough to reach the post-season and by their two brothers who still toiled with such unerring success.

Then there was 2013. The unending circus surrounding their third baseman sucked some of the air out of the building. But the greatest of all time at the position he held supreme from first pitch to last was a study in absolute contrast, humble and seemingly devoid of ego. He was the consummate worker, punching the time clock day after day, year after year, focused only at being the best he could be. And in his rare moments of failure, accepting the consequences with a grace and dignity rarely seen. As the team struggled and ultimately did not advance, there was an ability to stand back and appreciate the masterpiece that stood strong and erect, on that raised platform. The league paid tribute and the noise swelled. But in the background there was still one more, whose time was nearly over and who we glanced at even while we stared as the reliever threw his last pitch.

In 2014 there have been no distractions, nothing to take our focus, our energy, our heart in various directions. All the heroes have disappeared, the next generation of star having departed for the west coast. The cast of characters that was paraded before us were almost interchangeable, virtually unknown, and if they were once or possibly future stars, they were not in this year.

There he stood, forever resolute, dedicated to the task at hand, always ready, always eager, always wanting nothing more than to put on the glove, pick up the bat, play the game.

His struggles in this final go round were irrelevant. We were here to pay tribute to a body of work, to an era that had disappeared, to a player who seemed to rise above the rest, to the captain of the ship. We were here to thank him for all that he had accomplished and for everything in which he believed.

In a time when disturbances seemed to overtake the sport, when accusations of wrongdoing  badly damaged its image, when we longed for nothing other than the purity of pursuit, when many beside him were concerned with self promotion and the joy in watching them perform was muted, out of all this mess and above the fray he stood. Implacable and undeterred, the next moment being the only one that mattered, his greatness nothing if there was no glory for his teammates. He was the embodiment of everything we held dear, with steadfast and unwavering dedication, with wonderful talent and wondrous maturity from the first day he put on the pinstripes. He understood that this was about something much more important than himself.

Numbers don't tell his story. They are but figures upon a page but cannot begin to reveal the mark which this man made on those who, for nearly two decades, had the privilege of seeing the sport played the way it was intended.

And as we rise and give our prolonged applause and wait for the last light on the stage to be extinguished, we must consider ourselves most fortunate. Thank you a thousand times over to Bernie, to Andy, to Jorge, to Mariano and finally to truly one of a kind. Derek you allowed us to love baseball and to remember the reason we are so drawn to it. You will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taking the Bait

("Take a Deep Breath")

Why did ISIS poke us with a stick? Why would this group provoke us with videos intended to mandate a visceral reply?  Why are they taking the fight to us? Are we being played?

Clearly, the beheadings were a marketing tool, a recruiting poster on steroids. For those disaffected, disillusioned, disenchanted, discouraged and dismayed by the events that have swirled around them creating such havoc, the United States has been cast in the role of malevolence personified. Like a deus ex machina having gone horribly wrong, bringing with it only death and destruction. The videos were the equivalent of spitting in the face of a vengeful, evil god and announcing that,as of that moment, it was no longer in control.

But, are we compelled to take this bait, or do we merely descend to the level of our provocateurs if we throw first our toe, then our foot, and before we realize it,  possibly our entire being back into the morass?

If we have learned lessons over the past 13 years, and it is most difficult in a time of crisis, real or imagined, to step back and do as Mr. Friedman suggests, then it is that embarking on a course in the absence of contemplation and consideration of consequences is not a proper method for governing.

Maybe ISIS is counting on cooler heads prevailing, that the heat of the moment will soon pass, that the humiliation will run its course and all that will remain is the hard reality of the disaster of re-engaging in this region.

There are only tough questions and elusive answers here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Obama's Choice

It was never that President Obama didn't have a strategy. It was merely that finding the right answer appears more difficult than threading the eye of a needle while falling through space.

The salient points are that we are a nation emotionally and financially drained by fighting battles that have meandered for well more than a decade and left more questions than answers. We are the hated foreign invaders, intruders into a world we don't understand and can't control. We have seemingly merely created vacuums, allowing ample space for ongoing tragedy and trauma.

As we find ourselves reluctantly returning with increased force to a region we don't want to be in, with people who don't want us there, dropping our bombs and praying that all the cards somehow miraculously fall into place, there is ample reason for us to wonder and worry where this will lead.

When we can't tell our enemies from our friends without a scorecard, when we may be aiding President Assad whom we have denounced and demonized for decimating his own population, when we speak of arming rebel forces that we ourselves have labeled as unable to change the course of destiny, when all these matters coalesce, we are left with a seemingly unsolvable riddle.

And when most in Congress are reluctant to take a position, but demand that the President stop dithering, we all understand that for him, and for us, there is no good strategy only the one that appears least bad.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

No Age Limits

Sight of the day

I was bike riding past a senior citizen residence when I noticed two very elderly men. They were seated in their sleek red motorized wheelchairs, the fronts facing one another. The top of the two white heads could be seen, the face of each man slumped down towards his chest. Sleeping, of course. But upon a second look, there was an unmistakeable 21st century image, fingers of both men moving furiously on cellphones. It seems the art of ignoring the person sitting directly next to you has no age limits.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Death of the Death Penalty

("The Innocent on Death Row")

This case involves a confluence of virtually every critical problem relating to death penalty matters: intellectual impairment, long ignored DNA evidence, prosecutorial misconduct and a juvenile defendant. For those who find the implementation of the death penalty fraught with potential disaster, this case serves as the poster child.

The system of justice in this country has not been even remotely equally or fairly implemented. Many young impoverished blacks are subjected to the worst of abuses, their trials (and tribulations)  exposing the pitfalls and reflecting our prejudices.

The fear is that Justice Scalia,and those like him, who found this matter to be a primer for why the imposition of the death sentence is proper and compelling, will be much less likely to admit that it now stands for the proposition that there are a host of salient factors crying out for the death of the death penalty.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Note from a Friend

I know it is your holiday. I hope all finds you well.

Can you tell me what it feels like to close your eyes without fear, to listen to nothing but the sound of the wind in the air, to look up into a sky not exploding with blood?

I can't remember the smells from the garden anymore. I know it used to be filled with sweetness and  joy. Now there is nothing but the stench of death in this neighborhood.

You have a saying, "there but for the grace of God go I."  What God did this to me, to my people?

But a moment ago I was as you, now I am a rat scurrying, hiding, in the shadows, in the corners. I scavenge for food, for light, for shelter from the bombs that suck all the oxygen from my lungs.

I am being a bad friend. I want to learn what your day was like. Did you go to the beach, ride the waves in the ocean? Is the end of summer particularly hot? Do you have any plans for the evening?

My next door neighbor died two days ago. There was a deafening noise no more than 100 meters from where I was sitting at my desk. In that instant the world turned black and in the next, there was chaos. He was two years younger than me, a good man, always with a ready smile.

I am trapped. The only escape is for you to tell me of a universe where there is love, laughter, beauty, quiet, comfort. Tell me of that place. Paint pictures for me so that I will no longer have to look upon the horrors I stare at, unblinking, unable to shut them out of my mind.

What did you consume for this holiday meal? Was it too many hamburgers and hot dogs? I  know your appetite is large for such a small person. Are you complaining, as you always do, about being too full and needing to lose some weight? I trust you were not in charge of the barbecue, for I recall what a poor cook you are.

I know this will end badly for me. I can feel death moving ever closer, tapping me on the shoulder, warning me to be ready, that it will soon be my turn. I am sorry that so many things I wanted to do, so many things I dreamed of, will not be written in my history. There will be no grandchild to hold, no more celebrations to attend, no feeling of contentment that many days well spent can bring. I am saddened for the future that never was.

Some days I feel numb, I feel nothing. It is at those moments that I would welcome the end, for when there is but emptiness, what reason is there for going on.

Tell me what lies ahead for you. Are there any vacations planned to see your friends on the other coast? Is your son feeling better, your daughter enjoying work? Is your office busy? I know you feared that as you got older you might struggle to find clients.

I close this letter apologizing for burdening you with my problems. I know that many have it worse than I do. At least for me, my wife and my children are all still alive, still able to be touched, still able to remind me that there is something worth living for, worth opening my eyes for.  I do worry that my son's wounded leg may not be healing, as it continues to look ghastly.

Enjoy your holiday.

Your friend


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Deep Sleep

("When Whites Just Don't Get It" and "Are Police Bigoted?")

There is an all too familiar narrative, an arc of Rip Van Winkle slumber followed by a moment of frenzied activity and then the inevitable slide back into oblivion for those issues that we are unwilling to address except for the briefest periods at the most cataclysmic of times.

We have witnessed it in the arena of gun control, only voicing our outrage in  immediate, visceral reply to the most overwhelming of horrors and tragedies . We have been advocates for immigration reform, in one instant believing there was a national referendum for change and in the next putting any chance of meaningful movement back into hibernation.

And now, we awaken to the notion that race relations really have not vastly improved, and that change is not an option but a mandate. But, as soon as the initial wave has receded,  the conversation turns once more to predictable notions that there is more fallacy than fact in these pronouncements and that the world is doing just fine the way it is.

In today's New York Times  we read of a study which found that some whites considered themselves, not blacks, the true victims of racism, and another where police officers in one city, wary of repercussions for shooting blacks are actually less likely to fire their weapons at a person of color. No matter how ridiculous the concept, fallacious positions such as these always surface in response to the harsh light of exposure of the depth of our worst failings.

It is all part of the inexorable march of our nation back into deep sleep, where the most profound dilemmas of today remain an equally entrenched part of our fabric tomorrow.  Fox News is now tired of hearing about the problems of blacks. I guess if they tell us it is time to move on, then on we go.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer's Flight Path

It seems an annual ritual, much like the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training, or the sight of birds in a "v" formation heading south for the winter. I have now, on more than one occasion, heard myself mouth that entirely forgettable and utterly nonsensical phrase: "I can't believe how summer flew by this year.."

Most often my analysis is met with a knowing nod, a confirmation that somehow time has moved in a wholly unexpected manner, and the laws of nature are not as immutable as scholars have suggested. On occasion, I am given verbal assurances that this summer roared past with the speed of a seventeen year old driver.

Now I could understand this if I had recently moved to a locale where summer was actually nothing more than an abstract concept, where the only noticeable change in the seasons was that the thermal underwear went into hiding for a few weeks. But I have lived in the northeast of the US, in the same state, in the same county, and within the same 10 mile radius, for virtually my entire existence, now in its seventh decade. There are four distinct seasons here, and as far as I can tell, August still remains the month after July. How surprised could I actually be?

I have tried to reconstruct the events of the past several months in my mind. The real dilemma is that I seem to be staring at an almost blank canvas. Maybe the hands of the clock are moving so quickly because the space between the melting of the last snow and the impending fall foliage appears to have shrunken to the size of the head of a pin, unencumbered by memories of distinct events. I remember waking up one morning and looking out at the frozen ice on the Hudson River, and I know I am sitting here at this computer, but what happened to virtually everything in between?

I think, for us on the wrong side of the memory spectrum, time really does have a different feeling. I don't mean this in the sense that we recognize our mortality and that every tick of the clock (if any clocks still tick) brings us one instant closer to a very cold and dark winter, but rather in recognition of the fact that our minds have gotten too cluttered and we are now starting to discard rather than accumulate. And so, we have difficulty cramming in anything more into our overwhelmed craniums.

As I concentrate intently, images are starting to flash by.. I now recall a wedding I attended in late May,  the sounds of James Taylor on July 4th, a bluegrass festival where a woman hula hooped for hours on end, and that trip to Alaska featuring the truly unforgettable sight of my friend standing over a mountain of bear poop on the sixth fairway.

I will try my best to temper my reflective instinct to mouth the lament that summer has passed by in less time than it took for you to wander down to this sentence. I know that the laws of physics are not subject to random fluctuations. I know that 24 hours still contains 1440 minutes and that each day has been filled with endless opportunities to be amazed, distressed, overjoyed or saddened. I know that September's looming presence only means that all of these events have touched down upon me over the course of the past months..

No, summer has not flown by this year, or in any other. Maybe for the young, those who now find themselves moving inexorably closer to the first day of returning to another school year, this season always ends prematurely. However, that is a lament related  solely to impending realities.

But until the day when the earth stops revolving around the sun, until the moment when democrats and republicans form one unified party, until the polar ice caps begin to melt (oh wait, I better not use that as an example), until nature and everything we know to be true is no longer, until that instant I must come to the irrefutable conclusion that summer did not move with any more rapidity this season than in the ones before.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reply to "The Golf Address"

("The Golf Address")

Four score and seven years hence, your descendants will hopefully not bring forth on the pages of your most esteemed newspaper a new document, conceived by a writer, and dedicated to the proposition that all presidents, man or woman, are created equally constrained from making double bogeys.

Now we are engaged in a not so great civil debate, questioning whether this President, or any other, so dedicated to playing a round of golf, can long endure. We are met on the battlefield of this make believe war. We have come to bear witness to the actions of this paper, wishing it the final resting place for those who devote a column that this question may live. It is neither altogether fitting nor proper that they should do this.

We cannot condone, we cannot allow, we cannot sully this paper with such argument. The presidents, living and dead, who struggled to deal with the daily trauma and tragedy associated with the office of POTUS have a deep understanding of the weight of this duty far above our poor power to add or subtract. The world should little note, nor long remember, what was said here or in the oped to which this replies. But it should never forget what the dictates of the hardest job on the planet require. It is for us, the readers, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which this president has fought to advance. It is for us here to be dedicated to dealing with the greater tasks that remain before us- that from this president we take increased devotion to that cause for which he offers our full measure of devotion, that we highly resolve that those like Mr. Foley shall not have died in vain, and that this country shall have a rebirth of energy- and that our government shall once again be of the people, by the people and for the people.