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Friday, October 31, 2014

Governor Christie, Sit Down and Shut Up

AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS POST IS SCHEDULED TO APPEAR IN THE RECORD (THE BERGEN COUNTY NEWSPAPER)

Governor Christie, sit down and shut up. The man who loves to castigate, denigrate and humiliate has reached new lows. With his bombast on full display, he insulted the Federal government, Kaci Hickox and Jim Keady in rapid succession this week. If you thought that Bridgegate would have any lasting impact on his oversized ego, you would have been mistaken.

He is a lousy governor. He has responded to fear rather than fact on the Ebola crisis, has refused much needed federal monies to help build the tunnel to somewhere, has overseen the mismanagement of Sandy relief funds, has watched as his state's unemployment numbers increased to among the worst in the nation, has witnessed the state's credit rating cut more times than a porterhouse steak, and has led New Jersey on a journey to a place where its poverty rate is at record highs and foreclosures still move forward in abundance.

Along the way he has embraced an even worse persona. He has attacked, often without cause or on the mere hint of provocation, teachers, legislators, reporters and even the President. He confuses haranguing and insulting with civil discourse. His belittling those who refuse to fall in line, who challenge his mandates and proclamations, is a despicable and oft-repeated demonstration of hubris.

It is a troubling time when someone of this caliber, who has shown himself politically and personally to be so lacking, can entertain serious thoughts of a run for the presidency in 2016.

I would suggest that Governor Christie, for once, listen to the advise he so eagerly handed out to Mr. Keady. Governor, there is a chair in the corner of the room that is waiting for you and a saying that I think you should now fully embrace: silence is golden.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quarantine, Part Two

 A TRUNCATED VERSION OF THIS POST APPEARS IN THE LETTERS SECTION OF THE NY TIMES ON OCTOBER 27, 2014


If the policy of quarantine were followed to its illogical conclusion, then why should not all those  who come into contact with Dr. Spencer be subject to the same restrictions as those placed upon Kaci Hickox? Is there no chance that one of them could become the next victim of Ebola in the United States?

Should any of these medical professionals be treating other patients in Bellevue? Do they? Do they walk the halls of this hospital where there are many who may be more susceptible to infection than the general public?

Or how about the soldiers who are setting up the medical installations in West Africa? Will they be quarantined upon return to the United States?

And if paranoia and conspiracy theory (the government is not telling us what it knows- President Obama in speaking out against a quarantine is willing to put lives at risk rather than be forthright about the lack of understanding of how and when this disease is spread) rule the day, then why don't we examine a much more real health risk in this country. The flu.

As the CDC reports:
  " it is important to convey the full burden of seasonal flu to the public. Seasonal flu is a serious disease that causes illness, hospitalizations, and deaths every year in the United States. CDC estimates of annual influenza-associated deaths in the United States are made using well-established scientific methods that have been reviewed by scientists outside of CDC."

The CDC reports that there are between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths caused every year in this country by the flu, depending on the strain and other circumstances. This is a much more easily transmitted disease than Ebola and the consequences can be just as deadly. But do we isolate and quarantine every doctor who treats these patients? Or do we take rational and appropriate precautions predicated on the information we have gathered?

When we take actions that are not guided by scientific knowledge and undisputed fact, we follow a treacherous path to unknown destinations. The governors who demand a protocol predicated on hysteria are not to be applauded. The plain and simple truth is that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that anyone can be infected with the virus unless and until certain markers have appeared, including a spiked temperature and excretion of bodily fluids by way of vomiting or diarrhea. Until that point in time, what is the basis for demanding detention?

To imprison people, make them pariah and treat them like criminals, does harm to our constitution, our citizenry and to those true heroes who are on the front-line trying to end this outbreak.

When we condemn first and ask questions later it reminds us of the most significant quarantine that this country has ever endured. In February of 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order compelling the forced internment of  American citizens of Japanese ancestry. Their crime was nothing more than the accident of the birthplace of those who came before them. 127,000 people were displaced from their homes, and detained in camps, suspected without basis of harboring secret loyalties to Japan. It was not until 1998 that the Congress of the United States attempted to make amends by awarding each survivor of the camps $20,000.

We are, or should be, a country better than that. We are, or should be, a country that does not criticize Dr. Spencer without cause, or hold Ms.Hickox against her will. We are, or should be a country that ennobles dedicated professionals who perform the hardest of tasks at the most perilous of moments. Stop the panic, take a deep breath, and move forward in a sane and reasoned manner.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quarantine

("Quarantine Seen As Barrier to Volunteers")

As the governors of New York and New Jersey announce a mandatory quarantine, unsupported by the CDC, by the facts as they have unfolded, or by medical science, we do a disservice not only to those we isolate and stigmatize, but to the public at large.

Our fight is not here but in West Africa. The restrictions we now put in place regarding those who seek to fight the disease at its epicenter, makes it  not only more dangerous for those living in the midst of the chaos but, perversely, also for those among us whom these mandates are aimed at protecting

Governor Cuomo, in first responding to Dr. Spencer's hospitalization, spoke with eloquence and seeming certainty of the limits of the risk involved in the spread of Ebola predicated on the timing of symptoms exhibited by the doctor. His apparent change of heart seems to be a pandering to the worst of fears.

Should there be an abundance of caution? Absolutely. Are there more stringent protocols that should be enacted, beyond the recommendations of the CDC? Possibly. But the actions of Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo are not reflective, but merely reactive, and create unnecessary and counterproductive trauma.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Skin Deep

("Keeping Up Appearances")

Undo that nose job, take out those contact lenses, remove the hair plugs, yank those braces off your teeth. Ridiculous, you say, for each person has the inalienable right to recreate him or herself in one's own best self-image.

Are we a nation obsessed with looks? You know the answer. But unless we go through a national awakening, being comfortable in one's skin will continue to mean just that.

So lay off the judging, the tongue wagging and finger pointing. Don't tell older people it is unseemly to have plastic surgery if it supports not only drooping eyelids but sagging egos.

If Renee Zellweger wants to remake herself as a younger starlet, maybe even as Brigitte Bardot, let her be. And, by the way, your neck is looking a little bit wrinkly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Barry Bonds, Victim

("For Barry Bonds, a Decade of Inflated Blame for the Steroid Era")

Barry Bonds as sympathetic figure, as victim. I think not.

Is this the theory that time heals all wounds? That the arrogance and hubris of Mr. Bonds, his repeated denials of wrongdoing, are to be forgotten and forgiven?

Mr. Bonds did not act alone. He was joined by an indulgent ownership, more than willing to turn a blind eye as long as the bottom line kept improving, and by more players than we may ever know who were seeking glory, riches and  the advantages of a tilted playing field.

But Mr. Bonds, and Roger Clemens, both with outsized careers before the steroid era commenced, and outsized egos to match their skills, were the most visible and egregious of offenders. The Hall of Fame does not await either of them, and perhaps, ultimately that is the most damning condemnation of their actions.

Yet to deal in historical revision, trying to make Mr. Bonds something far less outrageous a character than the reality of that moment demonstrated, is to do a disservice to the fans. We should not carry hate in our heart, but showering Mr. Bonds with love and affection, almost asking his forgiveness for our trespasses, is not that to which he is entitled nor that which is our burden or obligation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fear Itself

Where do we draw the line between justified concern and all out panic attack? We see disaster at every turn in these tumultuous times. Do we have nothing to fear but fear itself?


The stock market is teetering on the edge of free fall, yesterday morning's tumble of over 450 points serving as vivid testament. If the worry over the spread of Ebola continues to escalate, we may soon lock our collective doors and shut the windows. And maybe the initial catalyst for the heightened level of our unrest, ISIS, seems able to reside with impunity in its own universe, free of any moral constraints, ready to strike whomever it wants, wherever and whenever it can. 

But, if we are unsettled and seemingly surprised by growing woes in foreign economies can we not recall the events of 2011 when doom was omnipresent and collapse of the European Union appeared certain? Can we not comprehend that the Ebola threat, while very scary, has caused illness in our country to two people out of over 300,000,000, and that those two directly handled the types of fluids that transmit the disease? Or that ISIS, no matter how they flaunt their depravity, is not at our doorstep?

Yes, it is a difficult, troubling moment. But remember the stock market in late 2008 when it dipped below 7000 and looked to be heading into oblivion? Or when it seemed that a SARS epidemic was almost inevitable? Or that Osama Bin Laden was beyond our grasp and Al Qaeda posed an ever more powerful and maybe unstoppable threat?

I am not a financial analyst, not an epidemiologist, not a soldier. I possess no special acumen, no special ability to predict the future. But I do know that we tend to respond to each moment as though it was the absolute precursor, good or bad, for the next. And I think that history, if we stop and pay attention, warns us that these conclusions may well be far overblown and far from certain. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Battles Not Waged

("Republican- Majority Senate Is Starting to Look Likelier")

President Obama is toxic, or so goes the conventional wisdom as we come ever closer to R-day, that seemingly inevitable moment when control of both Houses passes to the Republican party.

Given, it is that most awful of times in a presidency, the six year mid-term election. But the perception of a failed administration, which fuels the potential Republican takeover, is met with less resistance than ISIS encountered when attacking Iraq and Syria or Putin faced when crossing into Crimea.

And for that, the Democrats deserve what is coming to them.

It was for one of your own, Paul Krugman, to take up the defense of a beleaguered Mr. Obama in a recent Rolling Stone article. Is he the only one who sees the successes that have occurred despite the tactics of an intransigent opposition?  For the longest time, it was thought that Obamacare would be the Waterloo of the Democrats in this election, but it is not so. And with one hand tied behind his back, as every attempt to infuse the economy with needed capital was met with howling opposition, the President has managed to steer the economy away from the cliff the Republicans would have pushed us over, and to a prolonged course of steady, if not spectacular, successes.

But there is little of this, or anything else concrete, that passes for a staunch defense of ground taken. Rather, the Democrats are running away from their triumphs quicker than the local armed forces in Iraq and Syria from their opposition. The Democrats have laid down their arms and are at the mercy of the Republican message.

Is it too late for those running to reverse course, show the courage and the conviction to support the President and the policies that have worked, to try to stem the tide of Republican electoral successes? The unfortunate sad truth, to borrow a phrase from that great seer, Sarah Palin, is "you betcha."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Smelling Salts

("What I Saw as an N.F.L. Ball Boy")

The smelling salts serves as perfect metaphor, intended or not. While the author advises that his tale is not justification for wrongdoings perpetrated, his assertion that on-field brutality inevitably led to off-field "aftershocks" draws us directly to that very conclusion.

Violent collisions in athletic endeavor cannot serve as excuse or predicate for violent actions on those not part of this undertaking.

There is certainly room for compassion and understanding in our heart. Football players, gods at play, are human after all. We get it, and we understand that there are tensions and struggles that they too must face and demons they must conquer each and every day.

But this piece reads too much like marketing ploy, a misdirection to take us away from the scene of the crime and into a locker-room full of blood and agonized screams, smelling salts needed to revive our damaged warriors with their damaged brains. It creates the impression, or at least gives implication to the notion, of criminal wrongdoer as victim.

From that moment  in 1979 when a limping and exhausted Mean Joe Greene tossed his  jersey to an awestruck young boy, we have been informed that behind the face of the fearsome lion was the heart of a  gentle lamb. But reality does not reside in slick television commercials. And it is now time we stopped being awestruck ball boys and faced some very ugly truths.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Government We Deserve

("Rules to Vote By" and "Why Do We Re-Elect Them?")



It is the dimwit theory, the "Don't Insult Me With Intelligent Thought". Don't try to persuade with logic, with facts. Don't point to the voting record, the party platform, the statements that are two steps beyond ludicrous. Don't focus on issues like immigration reform, gun control, minimum wage, government shut-down, health care, unemployment, isolationism or intervention, the environment, infrastructure, obstructionism, racial tensions, protecting the downtrodden, reigning in the excesses of the 1% and the too big to fail or even closing Guantanamo. Just doesn't matter.

What matters, for the vast majority of those that decide to take part in the election process, is virtually nothing. Most who bother to pull a lever, punch a hanging chad, fill in a circle, place an "X", or do whatever they do in the polling booth, have not studied, analyzed, questioned or even listened. We are an apathetic and uninformed electorate.

How can anyone in the country be paying attention and still consider a Republican candidate, virtually any Republican candidate, worthy of their trust and their vote? Those running this party rely on voters not connecting the dots from their policy and practices to the effect on these constituent's lives. And the impending Republican control of both the House and Senate is testament to nothing more than our meeting, and possibly exceeding, 
those expectations.

The result of our own shortcomings is that we get the government we deserve, but neither need nor want. And until we stop being dimwits we are destined to more of the same for the increasingly uncomfortable future.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Family of Mann

 In response to People Magazine's article - "Out of the Shadows"

We were once like most families, proud of the accomplishments of some, snickering a little at the foibles of others, but glad to be counted among its members. It was the home we went to when we needed shelter, and it served as a blanket to keep us warm when the cold of winter descended. The cold is now upon us, having  permeated to the core of our being.

The family of Mann is fractured. Much like the ground along the fault line of an earthquake, below a calm exterior was a festering disease. We were transfixed by our academic excellence and fooled into believing that intellectual strength required coupling with moral integrity. Those who would do us wrong, rob us of our good name, worked in the shadows, hidden from our sight. They preyed upon the unsuspecting, the vulnerable. They ate the meat from their bones, and left behind  pain and suffering of unimaginable proportion.

Horace Mann was not the beneficent god we thought it was. It was not even the uncle who was a bit off but harmless. At its very core there has been revealed a heart of darkness

So much good has been laid to waste by the revelations that continue to surface, continue to remind us never to really place our trust in anyone or anything. All the memories we carried with us over the last half century are now tinged with doubt. Question permeates every past certainty, confusion existing where there once unfettered clarity.

A band of thieves have stolen our pride and left our blanket in tatters. When we speak of Horace Mann these days, we do so in far more subdued tone, often with apology. We distance ourselves from its tragedies rather than revel in its triumphs.

It would be easy to treat this as a problem whose time has passed, the perpetrators having long left the scene, many having long left this earth. But our family would still be riddled with an illness left untreated. We owe it to those who have been most battered and beaten not to forget. If we are ever to put our family back together again, to be made whole, or at least as close to whole as we can, we must confront the sins of the past and do what we can to make things right. Until that day comes to pass, we can never again call ourselves the family of Mann.