Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Do you know one of the things I hate most about polls? They take away our leaders.

Among the dictionary definitions of lead are "to take somebody somewhere", "to show by going in advance", "to guide or direct, to act as commander, director".

David Brooks (Into the Mire) talks of diminished support for health care reform, stating "if you average the last 10 polls, 38 per cent of voters support the reform plans and 53 per cent oppose". Who cares? The truth is that virtually none of us understand the complexities involved and we have almost no ability to comprehend whether the overall proposal, or even one component, does more harm than good. Soundbites on the pros and cons of a particular component do not make us educated consumers. For politicians to 'rely' on these poll numbers when choosing a course of action, is ludicrous.

In matters as involved as health care reform, we need leaders to step forward. If you polled our elected officials, the one overriding truth virtually all would agree on, is that retaining the status quo of the health care system is not the solution. President Obama in announcing his version of a health care proposal, and in threatening to move forward without the Republicans if they fail to become partners, is exercising the role that is required and mandated of him.

Let this be the moment when the line is drawn in the sand, when politicians stop acting so much like politicians and start acting like leaders. Instead of being stuck in the 'mire', let this be the time when our elected officials get in the fray and come out with much needed health care reform. Put up or shut up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Revolutionary Thoughts

It is the newest version of the Cold War. The villain played by the resident of the former Iron Curtain country, railing against the red, white and blue hero with the unparalleled dedication and determination. It was high drama, epic and compelling. Spinning and then spin. The men's figure skating finals and its aftermath met the hype and then created some more.

From President Putin, to the man on the street, the result outraged the people of Russia. Their hero, Yevgeny Plushenko, could and did do what no others could or did. Certainly not Evan Lysacek, the gold medal winner, who was unwilling or unable to take that extra turn in the air. Three times around, says Plushenko, proves nothing. In his mind, to award this performance, no matter how artistic, with the highest honor the sport can offer, is a travesty. He clearly has expressed, in word and action, his disdain for what he perceives to be a blatant robbery.

Such is the intrigue of a sport that has changed it spots after scoring debacles in the recent past. Now we are told there is a laundry list of ways to gain points towards victory. The quad does not automatically a champion make. Plushenko was impressive, willing his way around the ice and seeming to dominate the air. Lysacek was majestic, graceful, and composed.

In the end, it was what the Olympics is supposed to be about. Greatness, in its different forms, in full display. 3 rotations or 4 mattered little. What mattered most, as Lycacek said while he awaited the results, was that the challenge of the moment had been met head on.

Let the Cold War rage in all its intensity and then burn out. Once the revolutionary war subsides, as it ultimately will, the soaring heights of both performances will be all that remains.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Government by Emergency

The problem with the analysis of Nicholas Kristof ( Do We Really want Status Quo on Health Care?) is that he fails to comprehend the central theme that seems to pervade our political landscape today : GOVERN BY EMERGENCY ONLY.

While Mr. Kristof speaks of the doom and gloom that lies ahead if our inertia continues, and compares the health care debacle to a runaway roller coaster, unless that roller coaster is in danger of crashing and burning TOMORROW, we seem unwilling or unable to stop it in its tracks.

The stimulus package was passed because, without it, we saw that we were headed over the cliff at any moment. Our life savings, and our entire economic underpinning, were seemingly hours from total collapse.

In contrast, one needs look only at the inconvenient truths of global warming. While the evidence of a mounting problem is overwhelming, there are no icebergs floating down the Hudson River. Thus, while Gore burns, we merely fiddle around.

We have reached a critical juncture in the governing of our country. If we have no vision, if we fail to see anything except what lays immediately in our path, we are in very deep trouble. While Mr. Kristof may notice the 800 pound sick elephant in the room, to many others it is just a figment of his imagination.

Thank you Lindsey Vonn

I owe Lindsey Vonn $300. More precisely, because of Lindsey Vonn I am $300 richer.

The call came from Richie in the middle of the afternoon yesterday."Let's go gambling at the casino in Yonkers", he said. It was not like Richie to make plans of this nature, and the timing and spontaneity of it caught me off guard.

"You want to go gambling now?"

" I can't turn on the tv or look at my computer. I don't want to find out the results for the women's downhill, or any of the other Olympic events that will not be televised until 8PM."

If one wants to get away from anything and everything in life, head for a casino. The moment you walk through the doors, the rest of the universe disappears. Day and night are someone else's problem. All that remains here is a mountain of noise, glaring lights and people with no thought of anything remotely resembling concerns for what is transpiring on the rest of the planet.

There are television screens dotted around the outside of some of the rooms. However, they are few and easily avoided.

Thus, Richie and I found ourselves, in the late afternoon, entering a self imposed cocoon. We did not listen to the radio on the 20 minute car ride to the casino. Once inside, if either of us, in our periphery, saw anything remotely resembling an image of an Olympic athlete on a distant screen, we quickly turned away.

My son and I are 2 of the most 'frugal' people on the planet. Thus, he headed to the 'penny slots' while I found myself at the $1 video poker machine.

I fumbled along for about an hour, never ahead or behind more than $20. Then, my fairy godmother appeared. Literally. I had just finished losing a hand, and a buck. However, before the images in front of me had time to disappear, a dancing fairy magically arrived. She went from card to card, and with her wand, changed the cards so that, in a matter of seconds, what now showed was a 10 through ace of hearts. I was given a royal straight flush by some power greater than all others. $1 now became $250.

For the remaining hour of my visit, I was able to turn $250 into $300. Luck, or my fairy godmother, remained on my side.

As night descended, Richie and I were free to leave the bells and whistles to others. We headed home, to the welcome sounds of silence. The radio, our enemy until 8PM, remained mute.

Once in the apartment, we called no one, and waited. Later in the evening, we were able to watch a stirring gold medal run in the downhill by Lindsey Vonn. As she wept, we cheered. Richie and I were both very happy to have captured the purity of the moment. Thank you Lindsey Vonn (and my fairy godmother) for making my day, and night. I owe you one.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Downhill Racer

Any resemblance between what they do and what the rest of the world attempts is in name only. While we 'ski', what these world class downhill racers do is move at speeds reaching up to 80 miles per hour (for the women, and even greater for the men), pushing the limits of their strength, their willpower and the mountain, in a 2 minute chase for glory. Sometimes they win, sometimes the mountain claims victory.

Lindsey Vonn, and her famous shin, will be tested over the coming days, by her competitors, and by her will to overcome the pain that will surely remind her, at each turn, of its presence. But pain is not a stranger to this downhill racer, nor to any who live on the edge. In 2003 she missed a month of competition after suffering a hip injury in a crash. During training for the 2006 Olympics in Turin, she had a frightening fall, injuring her hip and back and being airlifted to local hospital. 2 days later she raced, and raced well, finishing 8th in the downhill. For the rest of that season she wore a special splint and won 4 World Cup races. In 2007, a severely sprained knee sidelined her. In 2008, she learned that even victory can be painful, as she severed a tendon in her thumb on a broken champagne bottle while celebrating a World Cup victory. Lindsey raced thereafter with a special splint. After a World Cup crash in 2009, she was compelled to use a brace on her injured arm.

How do these racers deal with the knowledge of the inherent dangers in the sport? In an interview with Charles Robinson for Yahoo Sports, Picabo Street, one of America's all time great ski racers, remembers visiting with Vonn in the hospital in Turin. "You're going to crash", Street told Vonn. "It's part of it. In order to win at that level, you have to ski right on the edge of crashing. And in order to know that you are skiing on the edge out of control, you have to go past the line every now and again".

Some athletes even find the crash and burn to be a positive learning experience. In the same article in Yahoo sports, Andrew Weibrecht, a member of the men's downhill team for the 2010 Olympics, says "You can gain a lot of information from crashing....Some guys don't watch their crashes but I love watching mine. They're awesome. It's almost as important to watch your crashes to see what you did wrong, as it is to watch a good run and see what you did right...It helps to make equipment changes and things like that. I think I have actually had stronger results from things that I've figured out from the crashes."

It certainly takes a unique mindset to be able to find a positive in hurtling out of control at enormous speeds, down a slope meant to test the physical and mental limits of the best skiers in the world. But for those who come out of the experience and move on to greatness, there is almost a mythical quality to them. The "Herminator", Hermann Maier, in the downhill race in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, found himself airborne, and upside down. When he landed, he cart- wheeled 6 times, and crashed through 2 safety nets, before his body finally came to rest. Days later, Maier was competing again and won 2 gold metals in the Olympic games. Of this, are legends born.

Vonn's injury to her shin, while less spectacular in how it occurred, may be as compelling as Maier's in its psychological impact. If she were somehow able to battle through the pain to reach the medal stand once, and maybe even more, her place in the pantheon of American ski legends would be secured. Over the next several days, this will play itself out before an audience of 3 billion people worldwide. It should be fascinating, and riveting. It is what these games, and downhill racing, is all about.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Robert Epstein. Every time there is new snow, my thoughts turn to Robert Epstein.

I have always loved the sight of freshly fallen snow. At 7 years old, looking out the living room window from my house in Teaneck, I was mesmerized. I was having a play date with my friend Gerry, but all my attention was focused on what I saw outside. It was pristine. It was perfect.

I lived in a house on a corner lot, one block from the elementary school. Robert Epstein was slightly older than me. I knew him by name only.

I did not know where Robert lived, but I guess it was somewhere in the area of my residence. Suddenly, he appeared out of the corner of my eye. Where he came from, I was not sure. Where he was going, I did not know. How he was getting there was the problem.

He was ruining everything. Cutting across our front yard to save himself a few feet , he was destroying beauty. I bolted up and was outside in an instant. "Get off the lawn, get off the lawn", I shouted. I was running and screaming, lunging towards my enemy.

Suddenly, there was one punch, delivered directly to the stomach, and it was all over. Nothing could be heard but the gasping, reaching for breath that wouldn't come. I was bent over and Robert Epstein was gone.

Our paths crossed many years later. Robert Epstein was now a foot taller than me, and certainly almost twice my weight. We passed each other in silence, my revenge put on hold for the indefinite future.

It snowed hard yesterday. As I looked out the seventh floor window of my apartment, it was impossible to tell if there was an inch or a foot of snow on the ground. While I still find great joy in watching the flakes fall from the sky, it has different meaning in many ways these days. Difficulty traveling, shutting down of business, and other concerns of the world have interceded to somewhat temper my enthusiasm. But I still love the purity of the moment, and the image.

Wait, I think I see someone starting to walk in the back yard of our apartment complex. We have no grass back there, but there is plenty of concrete. I want to shout, "Get off the concrete, get off the concrete". Yet,it does not seem to resonate the way it did half a century before. I want to rush to put on my jacket, but now see the offender walking away. I think he reminds me of someone, but I just can't put my finger on it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Fair Lady

('Sarah Palin, Vocal and Ready... but for What?" _ NY Times, February 6, 2010)

She appeared on the stage raw, unpolished and virtually a parody of a politician. While many may have been laughing then, fewer are laughing now. We are witnessing the evolution of My Fair (and Balanced) Lady.

As the professors perform their magic, our former Mrs. Donelittle is being transformed. As her legion of assistants perform her due diligence, our heroine learns that "the pain in Spain is mainly failure to reign (in spending)".

No longer will she be intimidated or bullied by the intellectuals. When she emerges, much richer in dollars and in political knowledge, she may well be considered Mrs. Donealot even though the last important political step she took was walking away from her job in the middle of not doing very much.

Sarah Palin is a product of our imagination and the Republican machine. As the world of politics grow colder for one very smart President, who is to say what 2012 may bring? We love a story of reformation and triumph, of determination and drive. Rocky meets Eliza Doolittle. Much like Professor Higgins, we dismiss this creation at our own peril. Does anyone know the size of Cinderella's glass slipper?