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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hillary and Out of Town Tryouts


Every candidate goes through periods of uncertainty and self-reflection on the campaign trail. Positions shift, subtly if done well, as the winds of fortune change. What works is embraced and the rest discarded like old uncomfortable shoes.

This is politics and these are political animals willing and anxious to sway as many uncertain voters as possible with whatever pablum it takes. Hillary's grandmother image will disappear quicker than John McCain's love for Sarah Palin if her numbers decline. Image, not substance, is the movie playing on the campaign trail over the next 18 months.

Cut Hillary a break. She is in out of town tryouts for her tour, testing out punchlines before she reaches the bright lights of Broadway. This show is merely in previews, and we should not give it a review just yet. There will be plenty of time for our condescension and criticisms. For now, we should just sit back and chill out.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jeb Bush - Hispanic Male


I understand this gaffe may not cost Jeb Bush his chance to become the third member of his family to serve as President. But are we really supposed to accept the notion that his designation of himself as Hispanic was a matter of momentary distraction coupled with a blending of identities with his wife?

This was not a matter of perception, eg am I funny or clever or even am I conservative. In those areas, maybe the concept of husband and wife becoming a mixed enterprise could have meaning. But undisputed fact is not a question open to interpretation. Mr. Bush cannot possibly have confused his race with that of his spouse, even in the most generous attempts to explain his actions

Maybe Donald Trump should demand that Mr. Bush provide his birth certificate. Or even better, that Poppy Bush be compelled to take a paternity test, so that we can be certain of the true lineage of this person whom we all may have been fooled into believing was the son and brother of "family" members who occupied the Oval Office.

 Let us not create unnecessary fictions to protect candidates from their moments of stupidity.  It is unseemly and unwarranted

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Baseball and WAR

AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS PIECE IS SCHEDULED TO APPEAR IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

 ("Don't Let Statistics Ruin Baseball")

The issue is not whether an overabundance of numbers or calculations is causing a degradation of the national pastime, but rather whether the game itself is suited for our 21st century mindset.

We are a universe of distractions, of tweets and cellphones. We are overwhelmed with information, and most of us spend far too much of our focus and energy devoted to anything but what is directly in front of us. Baseball, with its own unique rhythm, allows us the luxury of time to contemplate and consider matters distinct from the action on the field.

The average major league baseball game is now more than 3 hours long. In a world where we expect everything immediately, where we are used to noise and hype, there are instead long moments of silence. Football and basketball are in your face, with high energy both on the field and off, as the scoreboard and sound system overwhelm our senses in a wall of sounds and images.

While the writer worries that too much attention is directed at everything but the play that is transpiring, I think, to paraphrase the great bard, the fault lies not in baseball, but in ourselves. If we can't slow down and enjoy the serenity and peace of a sport without a clock or constant demand we should look at our own possible shortcomings.


I don't believe most of those in attendance at these games are consumed by WAR. Yes, baseball could use some tweaking after all these years. And maybe it is a bit anachronistic. But while we no longer consider whether Mickey, Duke or Willie is the best center fielder in New York, or even whether Derek, Nomar or A-Rod is the premier shortstop, there will be another generation that will take the time to contemplate matters not overburdened with figures. These fans will be enveloped in the feel and texture of a sport that offers something far beyond numbers on a page.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Opening Day


AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS PIECE IS SCHEDULED TO APPEAR IN THE BERGEN RECORD

Today is Opening Day for the 2015 Yankee season. The temperature will be in the mid 60's, the sun shining. So why am I melancholy?

For what seemed destined to last forever, the first ball and strike meant an afternoon at the park with my children. At 11 AM on each Opening Day, I would wait in my car outside my children's school. While the rest of the universe was tethered to their desks and to their everyday routines, for my son and daughter there was freedom from their bonds and joy on their faces. As they raced across the lawn, away from the mundane, running where they should have walked, my heart silently melted.

As they grew older, clarity of purpose and unfettered emotion gave way to the realities of everyday existence. But the tradition remained, an annual pilgrimage that continued for well over 20 years. As certain as the flowers blooming in spring, as welcome as the first hint of daylight at night's end.

This year is different. The days of wine and roses are gone, the romance of Jeter, Rivera, Posada, Pettite and Williams replaced with the pedestrian and the unfamiliar. But, worse than that loss of connection, is the realization that children do not stay young forever and the unbridled love that once accompanied this day is impossible to replicate in a world replete with responsibilities and schedules, deadlines and concerns, health issues and uncertainties.


And so, even as I sit in my office on this first day of the 2015 season, I know there are no smiling faces waiting outside my door eager to head off to the next installment of a never ending dream. And that loss, unlike any the team may suffer in the coming months, is something that indeed makes the beginning of this season one that is bittersweet..

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Religious Cover

("Interview with a Christian")

Religion is not the predicate but the justification for the behavior. In its worse form it allows hatred and bigotry a rationale, and serves as a distraction meant to turn one's eyes from earthly misdeeds.

Instead of looking inward to question why, those who perpetrate these wrongs do not involve themselves in self examination but merely invoke a higher being to serve as ready cover.

It is the same fiction, in different clothing, that excuses the actions of those who keep the poor and the minority from exercising their right to cast a ballot. Instead of calling upon some text to inform them not recognize the rights of the LGBT community, there is in its place the tall tale that our laws must be geared to stop the perpetration of non-existent voter fraud upon the public.

Or, in another context, there should be only grave disappointment for those who rail against undocumented immigrants as a plague upon our society, ones who steal our jobs and endanger our welfare. It serves as an answer to every question asked, and it requires nothing but blind allegiance to morally corrupt reasoning.

Whether it be religious text bent to fit a narrative, or the sleight of hand that makes fiction appear as fact on the political landscape, it is all but variations on the same theme. Mr. Douthat, by suggesting there is a true dilemma which could permit and excuse discrimination, does a grave disservice in the name of religion.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Obama and Iran

It has far too often seemed a presidency marked by a failure of hope. Newtown left its scars but little change. The fight for a sensible immigration policy has led only to executive actions that are challenged and castigated. We did not become a post racial nation after the election of Mr. Obama, but one in which fissures of hate in Ferguson and beyond reminded us how far is left to travel.

In foreign lands we have been unable to remove ourselves from conflicts of which we have grown weary and seemingly have no answers. Instead of watching democracy flourish, we have been witness to new and often unspeakable horrors.

So why is it that I believe President Obama may leave a legacy of greatness at the end of his tenure? Despite relentless opposition, he has moved this country forward from the darkness to provide health care to millions who have previously been brutally left behind to suffer and die while under an uncaring eye. Yes, Obamacare is far from perfect, a Rube Goldberg compilation that has many holes. Far too many are still left uncovered, but, as Joe Biden would say, it is a BFD. So many before him tried and failed. President Obama did not.

And being able to change the narrative with Iran is something that has seemed impossible for so many decades. Now, we are on the verge, of bringing the open hostility down to a simmer and giving us all the possibility of reducing the rhetoric and the hatred. Amidst the rubble we have found something good, something of which we can be proud. It is a tribute to a president who has not listened to the voices calling  for a conflagration. It is a statement of a president who has far better vision than his critics would allege.

Yes, we are not where we would envision ourselves, both domestically and abroad. But we must recognize that we are on the precipice of something very important. And if Mr. Biden could weigh in with his thoughts, I am sure they would echo what he has said at least once before.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Every Day Fools

In a shockingly blunt written statement, unlike anything else in recent memory, the governors of Indiana and Arkansas today jointly declared as follows:
 
APRIL 1, 2015

"After days of rampant speculation and wild conjecture as to the meaning and intent of the laws in question, let us, for once, be perfectly forthright. Ours is a society of politeness and political correctness where we must say little and do our work by way of subterfuge and misdirection. One need look no further than our actions regarding voting rights as prime example of creating fictions and roadblocks to prevent those who would oppose us from doing so.

 Now we are faced with yet another situation in which we are asked point blank if a law is intended to discriminate against a class of people with whom we share nothing in common. And our answer is Yes.
 
We are tired of having to apologize for our beliefs and those of the vast majority of people we represent each and every day. We don't understand gay people, we don't share their positions and we don't want to pretend that we are happy to be of service to them. So, we are doing whatever we can to distance ourselves from any connection to those for whom we have no respect..

Tomorrow we will return to being  pompous, self righteous bigots hiding behind nuance and ambiguity to do our dirty deeds. But this one day, April Fool's day, we come out from under the rock to bring forth our true intentions. For what better moment than now to reveal ourselves to the world.

We are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Chief among them is the right to say what we think no matter how distasteful or disturbing. In making this joint declaration we are calling upon the wisdom and greatness of our founding fathers in allowing us the freedom to make fools of ourselves in a most public and profound manner.

Thank you, God bless you and God bless the United States of America."

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Scorecard with Iran

In Iraq we are battling together, if not side by side. In Yemen, we fight against one another. And then there is Syria where we seem to be both allies and enemies. And all of this is just sidebar to tense discussions on its nuclear present and future. Let's just say we have a complicated relationship with Iran.

How are we to come out unscathed from this mess? How is this region going to coalesce when one needs a scorecard just to determine who is sitting in the home team dugout? It has the feeling of an endless maze where every path leads only to the next dead end.

For the President trying to thread the needle it appears an impossibly complex conundrum. And with each action taken, he seems only to escalate the enmity both here and abroad. There are no easy answers, only ever more complicated questions.

TNP


It was a staple of my life for over two decades. Thursday night poker. Like in a million other homes around the country. Young fathers, and in later years, not so young fathers, with a night off from the realities of the universe. Like clockwork,year in and year out. As certain as death and taxes.

We each had our role. Mine was that of organizer and happy guy. There was sloppy, goofy, sleepy, dummy and a host of other parts performed by the members of our cast. Bad jokes, bad cards, bad food and extraordinarily good times. It was a kind of Norman Rockwell image of my hometown. 


Faces came and went. But the core group remained intact. That is until the next stage of life intervened. Kids moved out, houses got sold, routines of existence changed. Early retirement beckoned for one of two. And then, one day the game disappeared. Like so many other parts of our journey, what once was forever more, vanished. It became nothing but a stored memory.

A decade passed with little thought or desire of resurrection. Those poker evenings lasted until the early morning hours. Now, at the time of night I would have been returning home, I am typically heading to the bathroom for at least the second attempt at emptying my bladder. My bedtime is edging ever closer to the dinner bell. 

A few months ago, talk of a reunion began. It was almost like one of those old rock groups who gave lip service to bringing the band back together for one final tour. But polite conversation mushroomed into something much more real and yesterday I found myself rummaging through the closet looking for the TNP chips. 

And there I was crossing the George Washington Bridge heading to an apartment in New York City to renew long lost friendships. At 8 PM I was sitting at a table with 6 other guys who looked far too much like my images of my grandfather. I was the only one without gray hair, but that was because mine had left the building decades before. 

It was funny how easily we settled into our old rhythms and banter. Of course there was the obligatory conversation of our memory lapses, as each of us studied the cards in our hand, and then studied them again seconds later, having forgotten what we were holding. And any issue that required mental gymnastics ( "you can use 2 cards in your hand if you choose this row of common cards, and 3 in your hand if you choose that row") proved almost maddeningly incomprehensible, no matter how often or how clearly the explanation was given. 


But it brought us back to the best of times in our lives, when we were young with visions of what lay ahead, with families that gave importance to every moment. These were friends who were there with us at each and every important turn. It was this feeling captured in the context of a poker game, something more, much more than the passing of a few dollars from one pocket to the next. 


And in my mind, and my heart, I still imagine myself as that younger me. With a endless universe of people and possibilities. 

As the evening wore on, it was as if the decade of time apart never happened, as if we had played last Thursday. The same bad decisions were made by the same players, the smart guy won money just as he won nearly every other time we played in the past, sleepy called it a night shortly after 10 PM and the diet cokes that sat next to many of the players when Clinton and Bush were in office, were still there. And guys still put the wrong number of chips in their hand to declare whether they were going "high or low".


At the end of the evening, we promised this would once more become a regular part of our routines. Of course, once a week will now become once a month. And the nights will end much closer to the beginning of the late night shows then their conclusion. 


But time, at least for this group, on this night seemed to reverse itself. We were no longer the social security crowd, but our younger selves, full of laughter and life, eager to hold onto all those in this room as friends, and to be forever young.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Horace Mann Shuffle

My son says that I have no rhythm. If I try to follow the beat of a song while I am driving a car, my finger tapping more resembles Morse code than something with any connection to the music. But once I get on a dance floor,  a magical transition takes place. Or so I thought.

It is known as the Horace Mann shuffle in my family. It is my signature move, the one that separates me from the rest of the sixty plus crowd. It is kind of like the hokey-pokey, where I stick one foot out, really to the side, and then return it to home base with perfect timing.  I know the crowd is watching and quietly applauding. I get it. I am used to the silent accolades,  understanding the audience is too shy to come to me with their kudos.

Last night we were at the wedding of my niece. She married a young man who happened to go to the same high school as I, the same college, is also an attorney, wears his heart on his sleeve like his new uncle in law, and does a very good imitation of the Horace Mann shuffle. You can draw your own conclusion.

During the course of the evening, I showed off my powers whenever and wherever I could. My cousins, my wife, even a chair served as appropriate props, mere background for the wonder of me.

Towards the end of the night, I spotted my daughter and soon began yet another version of the shuffle. This time my son and his phone were within close range.  A minute of two later I was staring at a screen with what appeared to be some maniac in the midst of a seizure. I was moving around without any seeming purpose or precision. A jump here, a lunge there. Fingers, arms, legs, torso, all doing their own thing, none in any seeming relation to one another, and certainly not having even a remote attachment to the music playing in the background. While my daughter was dancing in this very cool, very controlled manner, I was performing  something that appeared to be a violation of almost every law of nature.

How could I have been so wrong all these years? Why had no one stopped me before? I now understood that I was that person at all those occasions who people talked about afterwards. The one who you and I referred to with snickers, "did you see what that guy was doing?" Why hadn't I taken the persistent comments of my family as gospel, rather than mere signs of envy?

Hey, I blog. I blog alot. About everything. I love to make fun of myself and my myriad shortcomings. But even I have to draw the line somewhere. This was beyond embarrassing. This approached the level of a word that has not yet been created.

This is not to say that you have seen the last of the shuffle. It is an almost involuntary movement on my part. Once the music begins, as surely as the out of time finger tapping will occur, so will the foot begin its mysterious journey out to the side and then back. The fingers will point, the shoulders will shake, just a little. My wife will smile in the manufactured way in which all of us are compelled to at one point or another in our lives. And I will once more look around the room, just briefly, to see who is watching me perform my signature move. Long live the Horace Mann shuffle.