Sunday, June 28, 2009


Sometimes we wanted to look away, but we couldn't. His failings competed with his genius and we were drawn to both. From the first moment, we knew we were witnessing something extraordinary. He was sometimes maddening and somewhat mad but we were always fascinated.

He was the Thriller and he was Off the Wall. He was Bad and he was Dangerous. He was telling us HiStory, word by word and day by day.

The images are etched in our minds. For almost half a century, he was anything but irrelevant. Like few others, he created. The energy was electric and compelling. As his life developed, good and bad, high and low became locked in eternal struggle.

This man who never seemed at rest, now is. For him, whose tale was still unfolding, it seems an end but not a finish. We want him back so he can walk away in triumph and light. We want happy endings. He is not going to be able to give us one. HiStory was cut short and we are now left disquieted. We want him onstage once more, with genius bursting forth and demons exorcised forever.

Life is often a cautionary tale. He asked us take notice and we did. He was human to the extremes. He was the best of times and the worst of times. Now,he is no more. Goodbye Michael. It was a wild ride.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Walking the Appalachian Trail

Governor Sanford has now provided us with a new definition of taking a hike. For 6 days, it appears he was clearing more than his head. How many more of these stories do we have to endure?

This is not a one party problem. From Kennedy, to Clinton, to Spitzer and Edwards, the Democrats have many who have also walked this trail. However, the Republicans have cornered the market on preaching morality and practicing anything but. Gingrich, Vitter, Foley, Craig and Ensign are among those who have fueled the fire. We have listened to their endless rants against homosexuality, the continual preaching of family values, the slings and arrows attacking those who have failed to take what these holier than thou perceive as the moral high ground. Time and again, we have seen those who so loudly attack others, humbled by revelations of their own homosexuality or infidelity.

The Republican party is in shambles on so many levels. For them to begin to resurrect themselves, they must recognize that they reside in glass houses. It is time for their destructive practices to end. In all likelihood, there will be another Republican in the near future who finds himself in a situation like that of Governor Sanford. For his sake, and that of his party, let's hope the vicious rhetoric has been quieted by then.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Great Expectations

Reading today's New York Times, I was struck by the number of columns critical of present status on matters of import. David Brooks ('Something for Nothing',on the ill health of health care reform'), Bob Herbert ('Who Are We', on the failure to fully address the abuses linked to the War on Terror) and the Editorial Staff ('Afghanistan's Failing Forces', on the present and future troubles in a troublesome region) forced me to take a hard look at where we are five months into the new administration.

Much of what I find fails to match the dreams I had on January 20. In no particular order of import, it appears to me that:

1. Health care reform - This seems to be one more massive episode of Congressional stumbling and bumbling. The anticipated deficits relating to any reform appear to be escalating, as the discussion gets bogged down in the nonsensical question of whether the government should even be permitted to present a public option for insurance.

2. Financial reform - It seems that the "too big to fail" have shrugged off the momentary loss of control and are now back to the same old, same old, with little "interference" by their Uncle Sam. The new "restraints" appear more pretense than reality.

3. Credit card reform - Another of the window dressing areas, where we work with the old system and make changes around the edges, rather than attack the problem at its core.

4. Gay Rights - While advocating equal rights, the administration has taken inconsistent and often puzzling positions on this issue.

5. Human Rights - There has been an almost non-existent examination of past violations by the Bush regime. So too, while decrying the atrocities relating to torture, we have stumbled relating to the release or prosecution of the detainees and have endorsed "extended detentions" without charges.

6. Stabilizing the economy - While we were told that the worse case scenario was unemployment at somewhere around 8% this year, it looks like the march to 10% and above is inevitable.

7. Supreme Court - Is Judge Sotomayor the best answer to the ultra conservative wing of the bench? It certainly doesn't appear to be the case.

8. Diplomacy - We all look for discussion leading to a relaxation of tensions but North Korea appears in no mood to talk, and we have yet to see a real breakthrough in any arena.

9. De-escalation - As we move away from involvement in Iraq, troop buildup and an increase of casualties looms in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indiscriminate bombing and civilian casualties, which we hoped was a thing of the past, are still with us.

This is not to lay the blame for these problems at the feet of the President. It just appears that reality has seemed to bump up against great expectations, and the hoped for results have not yet materialized.

I am not giving up, not by a long shot. I just have to be patient and hope that at the end of 2009, some of those dreams of January 20 have come true.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

$1.5 Billion Can't Buy Me Love

As promised, Richie is now posting here, too.

One-and-a-half billion dollars can buy a lot of stuff these days. For the Yankees, it can buy the fanciest stadium in the world, complete with padded, high-back seats with unbeatable views and all-you-can-eat food (for those who can afford them); the largest high-definition jumbotron screen in the known world; an impressive Great Hall (which would be even more impressive if it were called the "Grand Concourse" in homage to its neighborhood); 8 large elevators to whisk spectators to their seats with the minimum of physical exertion; not one, but two, stores packed with Yankee clothing and memorabilia, and several others devoted specifically to art, expensive collectibles, and hats; and dozens of folks carrying round signs announcing that they're here to help you make sense of it all.

But one and a half billion dollars can, apparently, also buy you a bad attitude problem. From the physical layout of the stadium, to the decisions the team has made about pricing and staffing, the Yankees are making a clear statement that money comes first and fans--with the exception of those willing to blow at least 4 figures on a ticket--come last.

Most obviously, there's the ticket prices. A lot has been made of the outrageous prices downstairs, which, as it turns out, were so outrageous that even ridiculously wealthy people balked at paying them. Less has been made of the fact that the new stadium has dramatically fewer "cheap seats" than the old one, that the "cheap seats" cost dramatically more than they used to, and that once you eliminate partial view seats from the equation (over 1,000 bleacher seats blocked by a large club to which they're not granted access), the available number is even fewer. The Yankees built this stadium for the rich, and even though, based on record-breaking ticket sales at the old stadium, the Yankees could have built an even bigger stadium, selling more seats to more fans at similar prices (fans who will, in turn, buy more food and souvenirs), the Yankees decided to build a smaller oner, excluding as many "low margin" fans as possible with the seating layout and pricing structure at the new stadium. Perhaps the only silver lining on the current recession is that it might force the Yankees to price some tickets more reasonably next year.

Second, guards. Yankee Stadium has become the new Alcatraz, only in this case, getting in is the impossible feat. So concerned are the Yankees that a member of the poor, huddled masses from the 400s level might attempt to set foot (nay, ass) at 300 or--daren't I say it--below, that they have devoted a tremendous amount of money and manpower to the explicit purpose of keeping the poor folks away. Whereas in the old Yankee stadium, only the finest, most expensive seats were closely guarded, in the new stadium--owing to the fact that 80% of the seats arguably qualify as outrageously expensive--nearly every section within the troposphere has one or more guards to keep the riff-raff out. Well before the first pitch has been thrown, tiptoeing up to get a closer look is strictly verboten. And once the game is well underway, and thousands of overpriced seats remain vacant, guards nonetheless are told to remain vigilant, lest an undesirable choose to evoke adverse possession upon some neglected property, or a few friends desire to relocate within shouting range. Though I can perhaps understand the argument that those who paid much will find it unfair to sit next to those who paid little (then again, ever been on an airplane?), there's quite a bit of wiggle room for a common sense compromise: Make more good seats more affordable for more people, and then there'll be almost no vacancies left to fill. (And, to be frank, it's the cheap seats which are subject to the most variable pricing. As I've learned, our $20 "discounted" 12-game package consists mostly of "$23" seats at non-premium games that are sold for $5 as single-game tickets to our neighbors.) I have never seen a fan so crass as to fail to cede a seat to its rightful owner, but the unwritten rules of stadium etiquette dictate that an empty seat is fair game.

Third, there's many reasons to celebrate at the new stadium when it comes to improved cuisine, but price is not one of them. From sushi to sandwiches to seriously massive buckets of popcorn, the food at the new stadium is both more varied and, from what I hear, more delicious. But it's also way more expensive. And I don't just mean more expensive than the old Yankee Stadium. I mean more expensive than food anywhere, at any time, ever. The Yankees have obviously decided that having the most expensive tickets in professional sports is not enough; they also want to make the most ancillary revenue of any team, ever. Unfortunately, I think the strategy works. Once in a stadium, as members of a captive audience, fans resign themselves to paying outrageous sums for food.

Fourth, there's the little touches that say, "Screw you, poor people" (Or, more acccurately, "Screw you, everyone but the filthy rich"). From the Great Hall, there's plenty of ways to get to your seats, including the aforementioned elevators, and stairs, and ramps. There's also a few escalators. Oddly, however, on my many stadium visits, I've yet to find an escalator that goes all the way up to the top concourse. I don't imagine it would have taken an extreme feat of modern engineering, or a great additional expense, to make escalators go to the cheap seats, but for some reason, the Yankees decided it wasn't worth the effort. Same goes for the bathrooms: Those downstairs have automatic sinks and dividers between the urinals; upstairs, they opted for old school sinks and skipped the dividers, saving crucial pennies in their quest to build a lean, mean, waste-free one and a half billion dollar palace of excess. Also, while building the most disability-friendly stadium in modern history, the Yanks decided to make the cheapest seats less accessible than ever, up dozens of steps from the top concourse, making each trip for food, facilities, or just a quick stretch of the legs (after all, unlike the more expensive seats, the cheap ones are hard, plastic, and entirely free of padding) a multi-story stair-climbing event. Can't climb stairs? No problem, sort of. There's only about 100 or so accessible seats offered for the same price; Once those sell-out, the Yankees are happy to charge you more. And the new stadium is full of (supposedly) wonderful, climate-controlled indoor lounging and eating spaces (Mohegan Sun Club, Audi Club, Jim Beam Club, Delta Club, Legends Club, H&R Block Club, and private suites) great places to escape to during a cold, wet rain delay or a scorching 100-degree midsummer game--unless, of course, you happen to be sitting in the bleachers or the upper deck, with a ticket that will not grant you access to a single one of those places. While I accept that going to a baseball game is an outdoor experience, complete with all sorts of weather surprises, if the Yankees think that a pleasant retreat is good enough for rich people, couldn't they have at least considered building a nice communal space inside for the less fortunate? Or maybe just throw a bunch of picnic tables in the Great Hall?

But mostly it's just the general feeling of disrespect that regular old fans receive from the team. Here are a few of my experiences this season:

First, as a multi-year partial-season ticket holder with only an 8-game package and the cheapest seats (though we always pick up a few premium games and, when applicable, postseason ones), I was kept in the dark about ticket availability until just weeks before the season began, relegated to "don't call us, we'll call you" status throughout the winter months, while the Yankees were busy courting "premium" people for "premium" seats (in the past, I've been sent an invoice in January with my seat assignment for the season, a price, and a payment deadline). When I finally got the call in late March, I was upsold to a 12-ticket package (our 8-game package had been discontinued, the 11-game one sold-out, this was a take-it-or-leave-it-on-the-spot deal), and the price of my tickets in effectively the same (well, slightly worse) seats nearly doubled from $12 to $20 per seat. Mostly for the ability to buy post-season tickets, I willingly acquiesced to paying much more (honestly, I was just pretty excited to get the call after months of anticipation). The next day, after having stated and re-confirmed the exact sum to be authorized, I was surprised to find an extra $25 charged to my credit card. In response to a polite email inquiry about the mysterious extra charge, the team first offered to refund this undisclosed 'shipping' fee, but then replied a few minutes later that they had changed their minds (The Yankees: Building a new stadium, one unauthorized credit card charge at a time).

A few weeks later, several friends and I attended a Red Sox-Yankees game in the pouring rain. Predicting a sell-out crowd and all the traffic associated with it, we showed up early--and then it started raining. Rain delays are as much a part of the sport as home runs are, so there's no point in complaining about the weather. But as we sat there cold and wet for several hours, it would have been nice if the team updated us on the projected status of the game. We contemplated leaving several times, assuming that the bad weather would continue and the game would be canceled, but nearly two-and-a-half hours after the game's scheduled start, our indecisiveness paid off: the game started. By that time, however, we were all so cold and wet and tired that we left after an inning anyway. Other fans in the cheap seats, tired of huddling in the concourses to stay dry, left the stadium in search of warm, dry bars nearby. Upon their return at the start of the game, the Yanks rewarded their dedication by refusing them readmittance to the stadium. In the past, the Yankees would have at least shown their gratitude by offering all the fans at that game seats to another one. This year, even with an unexpectedly large number of empty seats, no such offer was extended. Several years ago, after JetBlue stranded hundreds of passengers on planes for hours during bad weather, they issued a public apology and instituted a Passengers' Bill of Rights. Perhaps the Yankees, after keeping fans completely uninformed for several hours, and offering contradictory messages about their re-entry policy, should institute a similar Fans' Bill of Rights. In short: You pay for a ticket, the Yankees treat you with a little respect.

And lastly, though my outward appearance might belie it, I've got the knees of an old man. Climbing long flights of stairs is very painful and difficult for me. I'll admit, buying the seats I was offered might not have been the smartest decision I've made recently, but I didn't want to lose the chance to retain our partial season package, and I hoped at the time that it was just a few steps up, and that on days that my knees were particularly sensitive, I'd simply move to another nearby seat a little lower down. In the old stadium, the uppermost deck (Tier Reserved) had no steps leading up to it. In the new one, however, it's about 15 steps up just to get to the first row of the equivalent seats (Grandstand). I was unaware of this fact at the time I made my purchase. Upon discovering this problem at the first game I attended this season, I figured I'd work around it as best as I could, moving to lower seats whenever possible. Well, the guard situation effectively put the kibosh on that strategy. But given the extremely limited number of accessible seats in the same price category, and the fact that I share my tickets with family and don't necessarily attend every single game, I resisted requesting seats in a wheelchair accessible section. After several painful games, I decided I had to do something about it. Then, adding injury to injury, my father recently underwent back surgery, and was given doctor's orders to get up and walk around often, but not to overexert himself, a feat made challenging by the dozens of stairs up and down from our seats. So, I called the head of disability services at the stadium and left a message. A day later, I received a call back from a friendly employee who told me not to bother reticketing our whole package, but simply to show up at the same day ticketing window, where there would be plenty of tickets available for no additional charge in equivalent accessible sections. (This should have been a red-flag. I was probably being discouraged from bothering our ticket agent, who has more important people to deal with.) Dutifully, dad and I showed up at the same-day ticket window as instructed, and dutifully we stood in a long line. Upon presenting our current seats and asking for an accessible replacement, the agent punched a few keys on his keyboard and then told us there were none available, but that we could pay more money to get seats that did not require stair-climbing. This was in stark contrast to the information I was given over the phone, so we asked to speak to a manager. The ticket agent disappeared for a few minutes and, having spoken to a supervisor, was apparently ready to help us. Rather than offer us accessible seats for no extra charge, as promised, he began, essentially, to bargain with us, offering to upgrade us for only $9. Then $5. By this time, the game had started, and we'd lost the willpower to argue. We paid a $5 upgrade per seat for accessible seats, and hurried to them, missing most of the first inning. We were also told that we should have called our ticket agent, and we were given his direct extension in order to reticket for the rest of the season. The next day, I called our ticket agent. Though he agreed to reissue us accessible seats for the rest of the season at no additional charge, he told us that none were available in a similar section, and has proceeded to move us from the 3rd base line all the way out to the left field foul pole. He also made me mail back our existing tickets, even though the Yankees possess the technology to immediately invalidate the barcode on our existing tickets and issue new ones--a technology which they are happy to deploy for $2 per ticket if we'd like to send them to a friend, and for a 15% seller's fee and a $4.99 buyer's fee, if we'd like to pass them on to someone else on StubHub.

I hate to sound too needy, or to have unrealistic expectations of a sports team that is, at its core, a business like any other, with the mission of making a profit. But all of this taken together makes me feel like the Yankees have just stopped caring much about fans who don't have a lot--and I mean, A LOT--of money to offer them in return. Sure, $1.5 billion dollars has certainly bought them a beautiful new ballpark, but it hasn't bought them a lot of compassion for their fans. If they're not interested in me, I'd be happy to give my loyalty to a team that is. Hey, Oakland, you still have $2 Wednesdays?

Saturday, June 20, 2009


"Let Steroids Into the Hall of Fame". Zev Chafets' rationale is that others 'cheated' in the past and are now members of the Hall, so we should be accepting of present transgressions. Mr. Chafets, as we learned as little children, 2 wrongs don't make a right.

This is not an issue of setting a bad example for our children. It is a question of whether we bestow the highest honor that baseball can give on those who we know have played on a tilted playing field. But for the use of steroids, would Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have had their titanic home run battles? Would Barry Bonds have gotten over 230 walks in a year, and hit prodigious home runs at an age where he would normally be contemplating retirement? Would Roger Clemens have been a Cy Young winner so late in his career?

We are not judging good versus better. We are being asked to find the best the game can offer. We know now that we were looking not at statistical aberrations predicated on super human ability, but on superior 'accelerants'. We are not banning these players from the game but only from consideration as representing the pinnacle of their profession. This is a decision that these people do not deserve the time and effort needed to try to extrapolate their statistics downward by attempting to back out the anomalies.

These players have earned huge sums of money. Fame and fortune have followed their every step for many years. They have not been punished for their transgressions but they should not be praised. The next step should not be to admit them into the most exclusive club the game has to offer. Not when we know what we do.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Dear Dad:

Happy Father's Day. I know it has been 30 years since I was able to say that to you, but it doesn't mean that you haven't been along with me on my journey.

I wonder how I have done as a father. I think you would be proud of me, but I do have way too much mothering (smothering) instinct. Jo is able to separate fact from fiction much better than I. She does not project imaginary problems, but is grounded in reality. Sometimes, I have too much sympathy. I know that is not a bad thing, but I am not certain it is good.

I think I do have your good heart. Jo and I have seemed to instill a deep compassion in both Richie and Alex for the welfare of others. They do share your belief that everyone stands on equal footing and deserves an equal chance to have a joyful life. You would be proud of them in so many ways.

Jo is a very good life partner for me. We don't have the 'Leave it to Beaver' existence that you and Mom seemed to share, but we do get along well. Working together for 25 years, we joke about being married over 60 years now, based on the amount of time we spend with one another. I hope I am a good husband, at least I try to be. I do however lack the genetic code for doing most simple chores (lefty loosy, righty tighty with a lightbulb is a great accomplishment), and this is at times a source of both amusement and disappointment for those in the house who seek assistance.

I am not nearly as bright as you were as a lawyer. I am, however, much like you, as diligent as I can be in attending to the needs of my clients. It has been more of a job than a love affair, but I am not complaining.

Gail is great. She is the most caring daughter and sister imaginable. She has done well with her career. Her children are wonderful (we are soon to have another lawyer in the family, Lindsay). Brett is married, and he and Lindsi are proud parents of a dog that Gail not only tolerates but seems to like (unbelievable). Gail and Jimmy are married as long as you and Mom were before you passed away.

Mom has missed you each day for almost 30 years now. She never dated, as she found her true love once, and that was it. She is still beautiful and looks wonderful, but her memory is playing tricks on her. Like always, she thinks of all of us only. You would be going on 64 years of marriage now. I am so sorry that I couldn't be looking forward to celebrating that occasion.

I know you guide Gail and me everyday in so many ways. While the memories may fade, the love we all feel for you has never wavered. You are in my heart, in my mind, in my smile and in each step that I take. I miss you and so wish I could give you a big hug and a kiss on this Father's Day. I hope you are reading this over my shoulder and that you are smiling.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Birth and rebirth

There is some undeniable symbolism here. Yesterday, Chien-Ming Wang's wife gave birth to their first child. Today it is the daddy's turn.

For two and one half years, Wang was the stabilizing force in the Yankee rotation. With robotic precision, he seemed to be able to control his sinker and his opponents. Victories came easily and often. Then, with one ill fated run around the bases, his footing, literally and figuratively, gave out.

What we have seen so far this year is something beyond horrible. The statistic gurus speak in terms of 'worst ever' ERAs over the first 5 starts. The numbers suggest the 8 year old who is forced to pitch against the 12 year olds.

Today, the day after the birth of his child, he is being given one last chance to prove he can be reborn as the once and future of the Yankees. He certainly has not been the present.

Sports is at its most interesting when the human drama behind it becomes the driving force of your interest. I have been to hundreds and hundreds of baseball games and have witnessed moments that rank among the most memorable. But, for me, the most compelling was watching an almost over the hill Dwight Gooden throw one of the most unexpected no hitters imaginable. Plagued by years of abuse, Gooden was on that May day seemingly headed for baseball extinction, and was facing a lineup of a young Ken Griffey and other quality hitters. As the innings wore on, and the no hitter took shape, my inner tension rose. By the end of this totally unexpected experience, Gooden was once again back in the good graces of the Yankees and the baseball gods, and the roar at the Stadium literally made the house shake.

I don't know what tonight's game may bring. But, the rise, fall and rise again of the new daddy would certainly make for good feelings and good press. I am going to the Stadium tonight with a rooting interest that deals with one, not 25. I hope I find a new Dwight Gooden in a meaningless game in June against a terrible team from Washington. It is either the best or worst of times for Chien Ming. This is when it becomes fascinating.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Things you would rather not hear before and after back surgery:

1. From the pain management doctor as you lie on the floor in his waiting area- "You must be Robert. You are not a very good advertisement for my practice".
2. From the neurosurgeon on my visit to him- "I am so sorry I can't do the surgery today. Do you think you can make it until next Tuesday?"
3.From the administrators (to the best of a narcotic-clouded recollection) as they direct you to the other side of the hospital for your pre-op tests, at a moment when walking is not an option you want to contemplate, but sitting in a wheelchair is out of the question- "You go down the hall, make 2 lefts, a right and another right, take the elevator to the basement, and then make 2 lefts".
4.From your wife as you lay on the floor in various pre-op waiting areas at the hospital- " Let me put your raincoat on the floor and you can rest your head on it".
5.From your wife as you lay on the living room floor, unable to sit, stand or walk without uber pain- "It is about 2 hours until your next dose of percoset".
6.From your friend as you lay on the living room floor for almost 4 days- "Do you know how many pock marks there are on your ceiling"?
7.From the nurse in the recovery room- "I just can't be coming back to you so often to help you put down the side of your bed so you can go to the bathroom".
8 From the nurse in the recovery room- "You are not going home today"
9.From the nurse, when responding to my "buzzer"- "I am so sorry that they didn't follow up on your request an hour ago for anti-nausea medicine. I will get to it now."
10.From the doctor in the hospital at 2AM as you continue to feel an uncontrollable urge to urinate- "Let me tell you about the problems associated with a Foley catheter."

It is now almost a week after surgery. The procedure seems to have been a success. I have returned to work, and appear to have rid myself of the demon that resided within. Thankful does not even come remotely close to how grateful and fortunate I feel.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Compromising positions

"Foreclosures: No End in Sight" presents the reality of a system that has failed to connect borrower and lender to one another. The borrower, even with a reduced monthly payment, is no more than a renter when there is no equity pot at the end of the rainbow. The incentive to protect one's investment is severely diminished when all the borrower sees is the lender reaping the ultimate benefits of the property.

So too, the lender has to feel that a unilateral reduction of the mortgage principal is an unwanted and unjustified step without adequate consideration. Why not consider an alternative in which both sides gain from the transaction?

Reduce the borrower's monthly payment to one that comports with the reality of the property value and the borrower's financial abilities. However, do not automatically reduce the principal balance of the loan. Rather, provide that with each monthly payment made, a portion of it (eg 50%) is deemed to be a principal reduction of the loan amount, until the aggregate principal reduction by these monthly payments is equal to the reduced loan amount established by the understanding of the parties.

For example, a homeowner has a 30 year loan is at $300,000 with principal and interest payments of $2000 per month, but the present value of the home is only $275,000. If it is agreed that the ultimate loan amount is agreed to be $250,000 and that the borrower can now only afford to pay $1600 per month, then the following unfolds: the mortgage payment is made at $1600 per month, of which $800 per month goes towards an agreed upon reduction of the principal. Over approximately a 5 year period, the buyer keeps gaining equity on the home until the mortgage amount is reduced to the $250,000. There is thus an incentive for the borrower, who now is making affordable payments, to keep making the same and thus increase his likelihood of having equity in the property in the relatively near future. The lender is not ' giving away' equity in the property without there being continuous payments made over a significant period of time.

This would seem to create incentives for both parties, so that there is no clear 'winner and loser'. I am not an economist but I am a realist. We have to create a situation in which all parties see the benefit of participating to make the foreclosure problem one that can become less daunting. What have we got to lose?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Upside down

The symbol of all that was great and mighty in this country, GM, today filed for bankruptcy. It's place on the Dow, after over 70 years, is being terminated effective June 8. At least 72% of this former giant is now owned by the US and Canadian governments. In 1979, GM employed 600,000 people. In its reincarnation, it is anticipated that the number will have shrunk to 60,000.

Chrysler has, in a blink of an eye, filed for bankruptcy protection and pushed its plan forward with court approval. The auto industry is barely breathing.

Several months ago we were led to believe that bankruptcy was not a viable option for these giants. No longer do we find this to be the case. We have just altered our definition of failure, and find the casualties of this war to be acceptable.

On a related front, we have watched the price of a barrel of oil virtually double in the last several months, even as our economy continues to founder. We have seemingly chosen to ignore this problem amidst the sea of troubles that envelop us.

If one just happened upon today's events, having been in hibernation for the past 20 years, the response would have to be one of panic and fear. This would have to be viewed as the beginning of the end.

The Dow Jones average rose over 200 points today. I guess reality is what we decide it is.

Once more with a vengeance

BACK 1, ME 0 - My earlier reports about the discomfort in my back turned out to be a prelude to the main event. These past 3 days have shown me the benefits of drugs if nothing else. I am a walking medicine cabinet as I try to regain my bearing.

I have dropped out of blog sight recently as my energy and focus have been directed on dealing with an unwanted companion. I thought I had managed to avoid long term issues with the pain, and returned to my golfing, walking and ignoring ways of the past. Not so fast.

By last Monday, the first signs returned. 2 trips to the physical therapist and 2 more to the chiropractor last week provided small windows of relief, followed by longer and longer periods of increasing discomfort.

By Thursday night, the moans that were coming from the marital bedroom had nothing at all to do with pleasure. I couldn't sleep on either side. The pillow between the legs trick didn't work. Lying on my stomach only proved annoying. Hobbling downstairs, I tried to watch hours of Sportscenter, repeated and repeated. I felt like Goldilocks. The chair was too soft, the floor was too hard. Standing on 1 leg for long periods was impossible. Welcome to 36 hour nights.

Friday night was a virtual repeat. But on Saturday morning, I found some salvation. At the urging of my wife (who has the excruciating pain of living with a lightweight in heavyweight discomfort) I called the service for the orthopedist at 7 AM. The return call at 8AM and a recitation of my complaints, certainly led to the doctor wanting to avoid me in the future, but more importantly, to his calling in a laundry list of remedies to the pharmacy.

I waited impatiently while the pharmacist filled the orders. Hurry it up, I shouted internally, I need relief NOW.

I hobbled out with Lidoderm (lidocaine patches that I put all over my backside and hip), a 6 day course of a steroid anti-inflammatory, a painkiller (percoset) and a muscle relaxant (skelaxin). I think I am in love with the painkiller. I stare at the clock to see that 4 hours has passed since the last pill entered my system, and another one joins its brethren on its trip to tell my brain to cool it.

The nights are still bad but have turned bearable. I managed to spend until 4 AM in bed last night (which I am not sure my wife would view as a positive, given my state of being). Whereas even yesterday morning a one block walk would be considered a triumph, by 8 AM today I found my way to the car and my office. One small step for man.

I do not like the odds of this being my last bout with this foe. I fear there is trouble around the bend. With my trusty supply of weapons at the ready, I will wander through this week in a slight haze, but hopefully with receding pain. The only way to try to even this fight, at least for now, is with the magic of medication. Maybe next week I will be ready for more manipulations, and dare I say it, some exercises. Maybe.