Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011

Is it possible that this could be remembered as the year that wasn't?

After all the upheaval throughout the world caused what seemed like daily tidal waves in our markets, the S&P 500 closed almost exactly where it began 2011.

After all the attempts by the Republican party to undermine the presidency, Obama's approval rating hovers around 50% and those looking to destroy him seem to have done as much damage to themselves.

After all the protests against the 1% and the calls for their undoing, the well-to-do are still doing very well.

After all the turmoil in our economy, the unemployment rate remained relentlessly static.

Yet, while this year concludes, at least statistically unchanged, it was as far from quiet and even as one could imagine. With the Euro-zone in upheaval, with government overthrows demonstrating time and again how elusive fundamental change can be, with the recent death of the North Korean leader and the uncertainty in an uncertain region, with China trying to define itself and its place in a new world order, with our departure from Iraq and a diminishing presence in Afghanistan and with a new disaster, man made or not, always seeming just around the corner, we watched and participated in the unfolding of events that changed the course of our destiny.

Domestically, the President has vowed in 2012 to do what he can to assist the ever shrinking middle class. After a year in which he seemed to be continually on the defensive, struggling at every turn to stop draconian cuts from being enacted, he has abandoned even the pretense of a group dynamic. He has announced that he will act alone in his quest, as he finally responds emphatically to the reality of an immutable and unrelenting opponent. It may not be the most efficient way to govern, but time has demonstrated it is the only viable option.

This is the year we will be subjected to endless rhetoric in the ever expanding election cycle. Accusations and character assassinations will be a constant. And then we will finally make a decision that could lead us into uncharted waters.

Perhaps 2012 will be different. Maybe this will be the time that all the noise, all the confusion, finally starts to dissipate. Maybe this will be the year we will see our world and ourselves with more clarity and comprehension. And maybe we can find a little peace in such unsettled and troubled times.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Other Dowd

There is something extraordinary about the Dowd family tradition ("Kevin Warns Republicans")

First, from my vantage point as a liberal Democrat, Kevin's annual observations are filled with wit, and a rational measure of distance (particularly this year) from the party that he supports. While I find fault with many of his contentions, such as his slap at Eric Holder for dealing with the very real problem of voter suppression, facts do seem to have a place in his universe.

Secondly, it makes reading the NY Times a more intimate experience. When Kevin's name appears on your pages, I feel like I have been invited to sit at the dinner table for the Christmas celebration in the Dowd household.

I thank the doctors who treated Kevin for allowing a Christmas miracle to occur. I wish Kevin continued health and many more years of telling us Democrats what we are doing wrong.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Playing in Endless Loop

 I awoke in the pitch dark, startled and wide awake. In my mind was a single continuous repetitive refrain. It was 1:45 AM.

Earlier in the day I had watched a video from a Columbia University graduate school musical follies production. In it was a brilliant MBA parody of "I Believe" from the "Book of Mormon".  The original  tune was a statement of unquestioned devotion to the Mormon faith. It was evident to me the song about fervor-like belief had limitless alternative possibilities.

Like a record with a broken needle, one stanza kept playing in endless loop. I made my way down the stairs to the computer.

I wrote random words on a piece of paper. The theme, fanatical trust of some Republicans in often ludicrous positions espoused by their chosen, quickly became my focus.

The chorus continued its relentless assault. Several times I tip-toed ever so quietly up the steps, trying to distance myself from the sounds in my head, to no avail.

Night eventually gave way to day and those in the house awakened to the various drafts of my work that I had left for them throughout the very early morning hours.Their criticism was precise and clear. First, I was absolutely insane for losing most of a night's sleep in this undertaking. Further, this was not  remotely near the masterpiece that I had seen through the fog in my head. They were correct on both counts. And that should have been the end of this tale. But it wasn't.

Activity only diluted the ever present noise. At each opportunity  throughout the day I raced to write my edits and additions. And so it continued until bedtime last night. I worried that silence would never again find me.

When I tried to read the paper this morning, the tune still lingered.  I sit here now, having just completed my changes, with a pleading  note to myself, stating this was "Hopefully the final version". I must move on. Work, my family and the mountain beckon. Life is, after all, more than just a song parody. At least that is what "I Believe".

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Fiction of Insurance

She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. My neighbor, who I knew only in passing, had stopped in the lobby of our building to chat with my wife. She was talking of a recent medical treatment as I happened by. She discussed, very matter of factly, that the cost of this care had not been covered by her insurance. That was all the opening I needed to launch into an extended, impassioned dissertation on the fallacy of "protection".

While up to 50 million of our citizens live in the unspeakably inappropriate universe where medical care must be paid for on your own dime, if you have one, the rest of us scramble to find the morsels of protection we have paid enormous sums to obtain.

With the coming of yet another dreaded insurance anniversary, my latest bill recently arrived, containing another double digit increase in my premium. How is it that in my legal practice I find myself almost begging to receive payment of fees that look like I am stuck in the 1970's, but in this alternate reality enormous annual cost escalation is a given? And how  would my clients react if I informed them that with their money they had obtained less than all of my services?

And yet, here, half a loaf is deemed better than none. We speak of deductibles, and co-pays, out of network and uncovered. We don't go to this doctor because he doesn't accept our plan, or worse, doesn't accept any insurance payments.

I read this morning of a nurse who was forced to use whatever power of persuasion she possessed so that a dying woman could receive insurance coverage and appropriate care in the last days of her existence("Looking for a Place to Die"). She wrote in detail of the challenges she faced in making this happen, and the possible truths she was required to invent to make an otherwise square peg fit into a round hole. Which brings me back to my neighbor.

I challenged her, in a rhetorical manner, to advise as to what our dollars really did buy. It was I  emphatically suggested,  merely a security blanket against catastrophe. While many of the everyday costs would fall on our shoulders, and while we would have to fight through mountains of paperwork and rhetoric to try to obtain coverage for this treatment or that, at least in our darkest days, we could be certain that our carrier would be there to comfort and protect.  And then we read stories like the one that this nurse relates, where even then, even when the worst is upon us, even then nothing is clear.

The next time my neighbor sees me coming, she will surely avert her eyes, find something that is of import on the other side of my universe, and head there. For she knows not what might trigger my next discourse on what ails us all. Or what should make us sick, like the fiction of insurance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yogi Berra and a Game of Chicken

("Republicans in House Reject Deal Extending Payroll Tax Cut")

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it is deja vu all over again. Once more we stand on the precipice, as we watch a Republican created disaster unfold. Soon al-Qaeda will have a higher approval rating than Congress.

Is this another debt ceiling debacle in which we will be compelled to listen to an endless supply of right wing fiction before a last minute 'solution' is imposed? The Republican party can't even agree on its own supposedly immutable belief in no tax increases, including no termination of tax cuts. Who knew the Grover Norquist pledge came with caveats?

And the victims, as always, are those who are most vulnerable among us. In a time of such constant crisis, when there are so many in such desperate need, how can the Republicans even contemplate placing them in greater jeopardy? There is no morality in this game they play. It diminishes them, and our country.

Monday, December 19, 2011


"Private Torment Tops Terrorism"-

 I compliment Ms. Stanley for her excellent analysis."Homeland" was thoroughly compelling for its complex conflicted characters. Whereas "24" was driven by contemplated acts of terrorism, here it seemed to be merely background noise. This show felt Shakespearean in its desperation and deceit. And its principals were terrifyingly convincing in struggling with personal and professional demons.  The only bad part about this program is that it is over until next season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

At the Far End of Life

("Life Goes on and On")

What would Mr. Atlas say to the enormous population who have aging parents in the throes of dementia or Alzheimer's?  Where does one find the joy or benefit in watching the deterioration?

I am troubled as I watch a generation outliving their funds and their fun. For too many, they hang on physically and financially in a world they only see from the periphery. Mr. Atlas is very fortunate that he has a mom who still has the capacity to understand and enjoy what life has to offer.

I hope in the future that we treat the issue of the extension and the concurrent diminution of existence, with the seriousness and respect it deserves. I lost my Dad 32 years ago and I have been forever grateful to have had the love and support of my mom for all this time. Yet for more than half a decade, she has struggled to maintain her ever more tenuous hold on the world. Even now, when I take her to lunch or dinner several times a week, she insists on paying though she can't find her wallet, or read the check, or even cut her food. There is beauty and  tragedy in this ritual, and it is this dichotomy that so many of us fight to understand.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dark Clouds and Silver Linings

This was definitely not a good week for the President. With the expansion of military trials of suspected terrorists, the expedited process for  pipeline approval, the further erosion of health care reform by permitting states more control over the particulars of coverage, and the overruling of the FDA position on access to the morning after pill,  it was but one discouraging event after another. Add in the temporary and tenuous continuation of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, and I find little holiday cheer.  I am a staunch advocate of the President and his policy positions, but I wish I didn't have to keep looking for silver linings in so many dark clouds.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift


He had been beaten blind as a puppy. When Mickey entered our lives, his eyes had already been surgically sewn shut.

When we first met, I was struck by how happy and unafraid he seemed. Mickey was then in the foster care of another family. Less than a year old, and only recently removed from his physical and emotional trauma, he showed none of the symptoms one would naturally expect. However, before our family would agree to expand to include Mickey, we had a "test" weekend with him..

He moved about our home, bumping into a chair or a couch, then bumping into it again. But never it seemed quite head on. Always, he exhibited a sense that something was in his way and so he would, even from the first, adjust.

Within what seemed like minutes, he would avoid the chair altogether, and then the couch. You could watch as he memorized his world. And when he moved up or down a flight of stairs, he would go through the same mental exercise. First there were mishaps, but none too great. And then there fewer. And then there were none. And then we adopted him at the end of the weekend. And he adopted us.

Over the next dozen years Mickey became an integral part of who we were. And where ever we were, there was Mickey. His gift produced some amazing results. Once we were visiting friends who had just moved into a new house with a pool. As we gathered for a swim, Mickey was the first in. Not intentionally of course. But, after a few short dips, the dimensions were understood, and for the rest of the day Mickey ran happily in circles around the pool's perimeter.

Through the years our other dog, Shadow, became best of friends with Mickey. A seeing eye dog of sorts. But the truth is, on many of our walks, both of them were off leash and there was really no way to tell which of the dogs was without vision.

Late in Mickey's life, our family circumstances changed and we were forced to find other housing for both dogs. After much searching we located an astounding woman, Shirley, who agreed to take Shadow, at that point old and in the early stages of decline. We were going to have to separate the comrades. A very dear friend had agreed to take on the responsibility of bringing Mickey into his home.

On the day that Shadow was leaving, we brought Mickey along to say his last goodbyes. When we reached Shadow's new residence, we lingered for some time. Mickey roamed through the house and soon was making his way around without any hint of difficulty. Shirley was clearly astounded,  never having met Mickey and being unaware of his amazing capacity. As we were about to go, Shirley asked if we would consider leaving both dogs with her. I went out into her driveway and cried.

 Until Shadow's passing, she and Mickey remained inseparable. After Shadow's death, Shirley continued to give Mickey a wonderful home for the remainder of his life. For, while Mickey had no vision, he had the ability to see the world as few others could. Loving, playful and forever happy, Mickey's early problems left physical scars but what remained was a dog that saw life's path clearly and followed it no matter the obstacles in his way.

Beware the Newt

From the Words of  Wikipedia- Characteristics of the Newt

Many newts produce toxins in their skin secretions as a defense mechanism against predators...newts of ... North America are particularly toxic... The Rough -skinned Newt...produces more than enough tetrodotoxin to kill an adult human  and some Native Americans...used the toxin to poison their enemies... However, the toxins are only dangerous if ingested... and the newts can be safely kept as pets... Most newts can be safely handled , provided that the toxins they produce are not ingested or allowed to come in contact with mucous membranes.. After handling, proper hand-washing techniques should be followed... It is illegal however to handle or disturb Great Crested Newts...

Newts are also very good environmental indicators because of their thin sensitive skin

The main breeding season for newts is between the months of June and July (after courtships of varying complexity) 

Editor's note- The Republican National convention is being held August 27 to August 30 in Tampa, Florida-  after the breeding season has typically ended.

Editor's note- as reported in Medscape Reference, the mortality rate from tetrodotoxin poisoning is approximately 50%... the patients who live through the acute intoxication usually recover without residual deficit

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Car Ride

The car groaned under the weight of its obligations. My wife, not known for her skills of complex math, somehow morphed into a genius when it came to precise spatial calculations. Dogs, cats, clothing and all the ski paraphernalia that was critical to our survival  was expertly arranged in the trunk in an area that to my eye was totally unsuited for the task. Our children were on occasion almost invisible in the back seat,  surrounded by  'stuff'. And for almost a quarter of a century, with animals,equipment, and children in tow,  we have taken our weekly journey in the winter to the Berkshires. 

At a wedding I recently attended, the bride, whose family has taken a similar life's path, spoke with reverence of the family travels. The best recollections for her were of the bonds formed in these hours on the road. 

I thought about why 2 hours in a car, week in and week out, back and forth and then again, would hold any allure. I know that not all trips of this length stir such wonderful emotions. Just ask my daughter about the ride last year from Fort Lee to her apartment in lower Manhattan, as I fussed and cussed, whined and bellowed.

So, what made all those miles over all those years so different? 

It was here that we found comfort in the repetition of the sounds and sights, in the familiarity and in the understanding of  the joys that awaited at the end of this road. 

It was here that over time musical tastes grew and changed.What began with the sounds of Tom Chapin, meandered through the years to Ben Folds,  bluegrass and  finally landed with the cowboy hats of country music. The downside of this eclectic mix and the passage of  miles was that  I learned  many of the tunes and sang them to the eternal consternation of my captive audience.

It was here, at least recently, that my son acted as news commentator, bringing all of us up to date on whats and the whys of the world. It was here that we spoke of the villains and searched for the heroes on our political landscape.  And it was here that NPR eventually found a home.

It was here that we were able to relax, to shed the distractions, to leave the problems of  the moment to another moment. Here issues with school or work, with boyfriends or girlfriends, with aging parents and  with choices that demanded an answer, had a smaller place.

And it was here that we relied only on each other. For in this world, there was just the 4 of us.

Over the years, pets have passed away and others have taken their place.Today there are sadly no more replacements. Now my children are fully grown. But still, on occasion, both of them take their seats and settle in, surrounded by memories of journeys past. And if you ask them, I would guess that they would say that this  sometimes cramped, long trip, taken over and over to the same destination has been, and continues to be, some of the best times of their lives.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Memories of Skiing With My Dad

My memory is not very good. I have a friend who seems to have a photographic recall of every event in her life. Not me. I have fuzzy images, just ideas of what I think everything looked like and how it felt. My childhood is now mostly a shadow. Moments that mattered and lessons that I learned are part of a history I can't retrieve.

It was 32 years ago today that my dad passed away. I was not even 30 at the time. I feel his loss acutely and it frustrates me that everything we shared seems to be disappearing from sight. I fear that one day soon all I recall about him will be manufactured, a reconstruction to match sentiment to fact.

I only went skiing once with my Dad. We were on a family vacation to the Pocono mountains. In the universe I imagine, there was but one rope tow for the use of the guests of the hotel. It was a cold day and my mother and sister watched the unfolding events from the warmth of the lodge. I had no idea of what I was supposed to be doing, and my Dad could be of little assistance. He walked with me as I tried to make my way down the slope, offering gentle encouragement. He picked me up and brushed me off as I fell repeatedly. And when I reached the bottom of the hill, we walked back up to the top and began our adventure again.

Is love as real if it is unattached to a touch, or a sound, or a smell? Will I soon lose everything but the memory of my love for my Dad? Will my love for him eventually be, like my adventure on that hill, just a story?

I hope not. I hope that what I feel does not need to be grounded in time and place, but that love lives in a world unto itself, as its own reality. I hope that if everything else should abandon me, that what my heart holds will remain immutably intact.  But most of all,  I hope that my Dad really did walk back up the hill with me that day in the Pocono Mountains, brushing the snow off my sleeves and telling me everything would be just fine. And that I believed him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crepe Suzette

We grew up 2 houses apart. The residence between us was just an annoyance and I used its backyard as a cut-through when I wanted to get to my friend's back door just a little faster. I developed a ritual of letting myself in unannounced, and would sometimes arrive, and stay, even though he was not home. That habit of assuming everyone was half expecting me has now continued for almost 6 decades.

My first unsuccessful attempt at a sleepover took place at his house. My succeeding efforts, equally bad, were never met with disdain, but rather with gentle humor. My stomach or head always ached just as we were readying ourselves for bed. But it seemed to matter not to my friend and my shortcomings were  merely treated as me being me.

When my friend turned 5, he and I sat at the dinner table with his parents and older sisters. He was able to request any food he desired. When the crepe suzette appeared in front of me, I looked at it, and then at him, and wondered whether I could ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Our bond was forged over our mutual passion, and natural aptitude, for sports. I was good, really very good. He was better. I could punt a football a long way, but in the endless hours we spent in the streets, kicking back and forth, I was always chasing the balls that soared over my head. I was a good pitcher, an All-Star, but despite playing hundreds of games of stick-ball, I don't know that I ever won. And then, there was golf. My dad introduced me to this game at a young age. I became, at the very outside circles, one of the best in the area. My friend followed my exploits and spoke of my successes  with a joy as if they happened to him. All these years later, he still tells tales of my early brush with greatness. Yet, almost from the first that my dad put some old clubs in my friend's hands, he was my equal, and soon even more. I admired everything about my friend, and jealousy at all the talent he possessed never entered my mind.

Over the past 40 years, life has taken us on different paths, with different friends and different levels of success. His drive and focus are legendary and have brought him to the pinnacle of every universe he entered. Our contacts have become infrequent, not because of any lack of effort on his part, but just because. Yet the feelings that came into being during those non-sleepovers, at the dinner table, on the streets and at the schoolyard, have endured.

In recent times, my friend's father passed away. I was asked to be one of the pallbearers at the funeral. At my friend's 60th birthday party, he invited many of those who had entered his life through the years to a golf extravaganza. My place was next to him in his golf cart. Last night my friend's daughter was married. People arrived from 4 continents to take part in an extraordinary event. There were many, I am sure, who had enjoyed long and important relationships with my friend. As Joanne and I took our place-card and headed to our table, there were assigned seats for each guest. Two seats to my left was my friend. Two seats to Joanne's right was my friend's wife. There is great significance in little acts.

So it was not all that surprising to me that I found myself tearing up throughout the wedding ceremony, and my friend's speech later in the night. When the desserts appeared at the end of the evening, there was the crepe suzette. Last night,  like that moment over 50 years past, I just kind of stared at the food before me. And I thought about peanut butter and jelly. And the meaning of friendship.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Speak Truthiness to Perry

"Perry's Anti-Gay Rights Focus is Divisive Even to Staff"

In paraphrasing Rick Perry's new anti-gay rights ad, the article states that Perry complained about the lack of "organized prayer" in public schools. That is not what Perry said at all. Rather, Mr. Perry clearly stated that "Our kids can't openly...pray in school." There is a big difference between the two statements.

While the Times is essentially correct in reporting that there is no state-sanctioned organized prayer in public schools, Rick Perry is, not to put too fine a point on it, lying about a ban on any student prayer. Whereas fact-checking is a vital tool to improve the accuracy of your articles, it should not be used to distort the actual words of a person to make them less false. Fundamentally altering the meaning of Perry's ad does a disservice to your readers -- and to the truth.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Penalty Box

Intimidation is an unmistakable part of almost every sport. It is how it is legislated, and what is condoned as an integral element of the experience that separates hockey from its other professional counterparts.

In baseball, the pitcher acts as enforcer, responding to some perceived slight of his teammates with a well placed fastball often at upwards of 90 miles per hour that impacts with a sometimes  fearsome noise into the body of its victim. But, while recognized as a part of the game,  escalating bean-ball wars are not accepted. There is a warning, and thereafter an ejection, and often a lengthy suspension. As such, it appears more as an asterisk than an exclamation point.

In basketball, unlike baseball, contact is a constant element of the game. Pushing, shoving, flying elbows and shows of bravado, occur throughout the course of almost every contest. There could be a natural tendency, in these circumstances, to stake out your claim to territory with your fists. Yet, there is little tolerance in the NBA for settling scores in ways other than by twos and threes. Brawls are treated harshly, with large fines (by the economic standards of our world, if not theirs) and suspensions. And those who are on the bench when an altercation begins must stay rooted to their seats. One foot on the court, and a playoff series can be deeply impacted. Just ask the Knicks.

Football moves at dizzying speeds, with huge men intent on imposing their will on other huge men. Bodies fly through the air, helmets are no longer protective devices but potential weapons, and mayhem seems a given. But even in this arena, which sometimes seems only vaguely removed from a 3 hour brawl, there are limits. The league has legislated to protect those who are most vulnerable, whether it be a quarterback looking downfield, or a receiver in the middle of a crossing pattern. While there are hard to define lines between what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated, there are lines. And once crossed, the penalties are severe. Fighting, while it would seem a natural outgrowth of what is transpiring on the field,  is definitely on the wrong side of that line.

Hockey, as the heart wrenching tale of Derek Boogaard so painfully demonstrates, lives in a different universe. Violence is a necessity to be celebrated, not regulated. The game itself, and all the beauty that flows from it, stops the moment the gloves are taken off and the combatants circle one another. The speed, the grace, the athleticism is gone. What remains is most often not even a response to an event that has just taken place. Rather, it is a statement unto itself,  sometimes almost a comical dance, and at others something far worse and very ugly.

It diminishes the integrity of all those who play and all those oversee this sport.  And for those like Derek Boogaard, while it elevates them in the moment,  it commits them to a career that has little to do with goals and assists.

It is not noble and heroic, but sad and destructive. It speaks to our worst instincts and it makes hockey a game of lesser value. "Punched Out" is a compelling and horrifying look at the human results of the choices that hockey has made. And it is an indictment. With an exclamation point, not an asterisk.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Sing Off

I once was a lead singer in a band. We played to a packed house. Our rendition of "Under the Boardwalk" was inspirational. Of course, attendance was mandatory at my grade school assembly, I was 11 years old, and my career ended as soon as I left that stage. But the point is that as far as I was concerned, and my mother fully concurred, I had a voice worth hearing.

I am now almost 60. Over the last half century, virtually anyone within earshot has been subjected, at random moments, to listening to a few seconds of my version of some tune. Those most vulnerable, of course, are my family. And they can't fathom, for one moment, what I am doing. My son, and one of his best friends, has compared the noise that comes from within me to that of Kermit the Frog. And my habit of either humming or singing in places from the streets to supermarkets, and everywhere in between, is deemed more of a condition than a performance.

However, some of my critics, who encompass everyone except my mother, who is now almost 94 and can't hear a thing, find that there are brief moments when I am not horrible. And so, as the songs in my head keep playing, I continue to bring them to the public, hoping to recapture the magic I exhibited on that stage at the Whittier School.

Yesterday, my wife and I took a 3 hour hike with some very close friends. On a mountain where we should have been skiing at this time of the year, we climbed instead. Up, not down, and then out beyond the boundaries of the slope and deep into the woods.

As we walked, we saw and heard no one else. At one point, one of my friends advised that up a certain hill was a retreat. There, he said, no one spoke. In the middle of nowhere, I guess to find one's center, there has to be silence. Not for me, I thought.

As we continued on, in the midst of all this isolation, it happened. And then it happened again, almost immediately thereafter. Something someone said triggered it, and I was once again doing my best impression of that 11 year old. Finally, my friend, said to me, in words that I have heard, in one form or another hundreds of times, "I love you, but not your singing". Even in remote woods, where the beauty of nature should have calmed the beast, it had emerged.

Like I have ever since I walked off that stage, I interpreted the critical review as but a bad joke. For I wanted to believe that deep inside, each person could hear the strains of "Under the Boardwalk" and was silently cheering for me. It is hard being able to accept the criticism and continue to move forward, but, like the millions who have stood in line waiting for their chance at stardom as the "American Idol" or the "Voice", I have always had faith in my talents.

But the sad truth is, I do sound like Kermit the Frog most of the time. And it is strange, bordering on bizarre, for me to break into song whenever and where ever I wish. It is not cute, or endearing, as much as I would like to suggest. It is, dare I say this to myself, annoying. And maybe, after 50 years of trying to impress those in my presence of the possibility of my greatness, it is time to stop.

I did not sing after my friend's gentle admonition. I will try, I think, to tone down, literally.  And see if there is an open spot for me at the next retreat deep in the woods.But I still wonder if they have a mandatory assembly every day there. And if, just one stanza of "Under the Boardwalk" might not help shake things up.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The "R" Word

I found it striking that the word rape found its way into today's article on Mr. Sandusky ("Indicted Paterno Aide Speaks of Only Helping Children"). Much discussion has recently taken place in your paper on how properly to characterize the allegations ("Confusing Sex and Rape", the Public Editor on November 20, 2011 and  the response of readers " The Language of Sexual Assault" on November 27,2011). Was it a deliberate reaction that we now are advised that "the assistant football coach told investigators he saw Sandusky raping a young boy"? Should we expect the "R" word to appear in the ongoing conversation regarding Mr. Sandusky?

I believe the description of the allegations to be wholly appropriate. I look forward to your explanation. There are many like me who are interested not only in what you say but how and why you say it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Only One Way on Taxes

 ("Invitation to a Dialogue: Which Way on Taxes?")

The fear of tax avoidance or the concern that the rich will stop working if the top tax rate increases to 39% are ludicrous rationale for suggesting that a desperately needed revenue stream be denied. Bill O'Reilly briefly attempted to convince us that he might have to walk away from his multi-million dollar job if this transpired, but even he couldn't sustain this pretense.Where is the data, the historical precedence, that supports either of these contentions? Some studies suggest that the maximum tax rate would have to be closer to 70% before enough people would retire to bring in less overall tax dollars for the government. As with so many Republican talking points, fear, not fact, is the predicate.

As to Mr. Roth's second contention,  while I do agree that the tax code needs an overhaul,  a revenue neutral proposal (assuming this is an accurate assessment) is not the answer. What this economic quagmire demands is a significant immediate stimulus. I know that the Svengali like hold of Grover Norquist on the Republican party compels them reflexively to require no imposition of additional tax burdens. However, Mr. Roth, and those like him, must stop pretending that refusing to require more of those who have the capability to contribute at this critical moment will magically make us healthy. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lying, As An Art Form

("Presidential Politics as Craven Crudites")

It is not Mr. Bruni's picture of dirty politics that is so distressing, but his suggestion that the Democrats share the Republicans love for distortion that is not fair or accurate.

Yes, neither party is perfect, but for the Republican party a disregard for the truth serves as their centerpiece. From the moment President Obama took office Republican fiction has been shamelessly and relentlessly substituted for fact on discussions relating to health care, the environment, evolution  the debt ceiling and beyond. They have talked of death panels, the fiction of global warming,  the reality of creationism, and manufactured an economic crisis that led to the edge of a global disaster.

A lack of integrity permeates and infects their positions. It is not surprising that Romney and Perry have so brutally and brazenly "rearranged" facts in their recent attacks.  Both sides are not equally culpable, or equally lacking in scruples. It is an ugly image that Mr. Bruni paints and it should  be a portrait shown with greater precision.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It is a year that has been decidedly more famine than feast. In our country there are new reports of 100 million of our citizens living as poor or nearly poor. Those just finishing school are often saddled with debt and a vision of a job market that is more foe than friend. The not so super-committee has just handed America an empty plate for Thanksgiving. The housing market remains a shocking mess. The definition of retirement is that no one is interested in obtaining the services that you wish to perform. And the Republican party's platform for America is an unmitigated disaster.  We resent those who are rich, and question how anyone can still party like its 1999. We are exhausted from all the hard work that it takes just to stay in place. What then, makes this a time for us to give thanks?

This question doesn't have an easy answer. Troubles are global in scope and staggering  in magnitude.  The Arab spring gave us an image of a people mad as hell and unwilling to allow the status quo to remain unchallenged. Many have taken to the streets throughout the European Union and now in our own country. All are trying to work through the pain and the disappointment and force their way to a more humane world. But the recent events in Egypt tell us that it is an best a work in progress. The uprisings in Greece and Italy that speak to the lunacy of austerity programs that merely force poverty into more homes, have not produced sanity. Occupy Wall Street, for all its promise and all its force, remains an enigma to many.

So, maybe this is a Thanksgiving unlike others, in which we have less to appreciate, and less to be thankful for. Maybe what this Thanksgiving is all about is teaching us the difficult lessons. Maybe this is the year that we suffer so we can come out of this stronger and more resolute. Maybe next year we will have more control over our destiny. Maybe next year those who care so little about the suffering of others will not be in position to inflict such pain. Maybe next year will show us more compassion and understanding.

And thus, when we gather together to feast, we may want to give thanks for this our year of common famine. Let it be the catalyst for a time in the not so distant future when we all have good reason to consider this a day of thanks-giving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


("Can Conservative Media Stop Mitt Romney?")  The real question should be can the Liberal Media Help.

Those in the Republican party who are the most offended by the policies of the great flip-flopper are more offended by everything  ever proposed by the brain that sits in the Oval office. For the many millions that listen to the gospel according to Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. O'Reilly, they would vote for ABO (anybody but Obama). It is not these votes that the Republicans must garner next November. Nor their enthusiasm, for they will bark all night if told to do so.

But for the many who may find Obama an enigma but do not drink the Tea Party's Kool Aid, would a candidacy by ABM (anybody but Mitt) capture their interest and their vote? Could Citizen Cain, the I'm not a politician (and lobbying doesn't count), I'm not a harasser (and those 2 settlements don't matter), I'm not interested in foreign affairs (and Libya and Ubeki-beki-stan don't register) succeed with these people? Could the ever disdainful, arrogant and often deeply offensive Newt the historian be able to walk away from his past infidelities, his hand deep in the pocket of those Federal agencies he rails against, and a candidacy that has been an excuse for a book tour?  Who else is left on the far right,  Perry, Bachmann, Santorum? Each is dying a slow death.  And Huntsman. Even though he could be the most attractive option to the fence sitters, he hasn't learned how to play the primary game, and so he stands helpless in the wings.

For those of us who find the Republican field an appalling mess,  the ABM crowd  may be our best hope for 2012. If the "hold your nosers" finds Romney the most offensive choice, then ipso facto, the rest of the voting world might find him less intolerable.  And that, next year, may unfortunately be good enough. So I ask the liberal media to find that Cain is able or that Newt is nice. Let the far right have its candidate and let the left have the election.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No One Knows What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Your editorial "Exceptional Court Coverage" speaks to the necessity to hear in real time the Supreme court discussion on the health care challenge, as its determination will "affect every American". It is critical, so your words would suggest, that the process, not only the result, be known to the American public.

Yet it strikes me as odd that  we seemingly accept without comment that the super-committee has gone about reaching its answers outside of our watchful eye. How are we a government of the people when a decision of such potentially monumental economic importance is made in  silence?

I understand that, in the highly unlikely event an agreement is reached, it will be subject to congressional scrutiny and review, and we will be permitted in on that subsequent conversation.  But why only then? I don't agree with the implicit premise that those charged with governing  can only do so effectively when we are not interfering with our presence. Our ability to "participate" in the critical arguments that impact our lives, whether before the Supreme Court, or behind the closed doors of the super-committee are at the essence of what "we the people" should mean.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Occupation

 ("Jolted, Wall St. Protesters Face Challenge for Future")

Secret meetings, failed negotiations, early morning raids and an end to the occupation. It makes for a fascinating read.

It is clear however that the idea born here reaches well beyond the grasp of any court order. It may well be, as was suggested in your companion story ("Beyond Seizing Parks, New Paths to Influence") that too much energy has been devoted to maintaining a presence at Zuccotti.

This movement is not tied to time and place, but to the goal of evicting the 1% from their seat of unbridled power. It is a daunting task that may be filled in the coming months with secret meetings and failed negotiations. Until the occupation by the 1% ends.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Descent

There is almost a palpable sadness when people ask about my mom these days. "How is she doing" becomes phrased more as a statement than a question.

Trouble seems always a moment away. Sleep now is filled with hallucinations, paranoia and  an engulfing restlessness. Day and night have lost their meaning. Her grasp is so fragile, so tenuous.

It is a world where villains and demons, shadows and conspiracies, isolation and resentment live. It is a place that is exhausting to watch and clearly almost impossible to endure. And it is here that my mom finds herself more and more.

It is as an endless cycle downward. It has been a long and terrible descent and it appears to have no bottom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Fiddler

("For European Union and the Euro, Time Runs Short")

Angela Merkel is playing the part of Nero in the conflagration of the European Union. Rome burned yesterday as its former leader was given an unceremonious Italian boot. This follows in the wake of the disaster that is playing out in Greece and it seems but precursor for what will next transpire in France. And yet, while the citizens in all of these countries cry out for an end to their economic decimation, while the circumstances demand that the crushing weight of  fiscal austerity be loosened and while pleas escalate for financial assistance, Merkel fiddles. Her dictates for restraint, restraint, restraint have left societies throughout this Union on the verge of collapse. It is time to take the fiddle away from Merkel, or at least demand that she play a very different tune if the fire is to be extinguished and the Union saved.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pity for Perry?

Who knew we had the capacity to feel sorry for Governor Perry? As he stood there, helpless and exposed to the world as an actor in need of a line, the final nail was hammered in the coffin housing his 2012 Presidential bid.

After his manic performance as the happy and peppy Perry went viral last week, it seemed an impossibility that his fall from grace could find even lower depths. But it did.

And so we bid Mr. Perry well as we send him back to Texas where his shortcomings can be hidden beneath his cowboy hat and underneath an oil well or 2.

Now we are left with the likes of Mr. 9-9-9, his closet suddenly bulging with those conspiring against him, whether they be from Mr. Perry's camp, or Mr. Romney's, or a vehicle of the "Democrat machine". And we are sure to endure more audiences like last night, who wildly cheered for Mr. Cain when he seemed deeply offended by the audacity of a question relating to his character.

It almost makes me wish for the good old days of Sarah Palin. Almost.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Frazierandali,  Aliandfrazier, effect and cause, cause and effect.

It was the pinnacle of heavyweight boxing and at the apex they stood as one. In an era of unparalleled American excellence there was Norton, Ellis, Quarry, Foreman, Holmes but there was never another Frazierandali, Aliandfrazier.

With all that defined America in the late 1960's and early 1970's,  in a time of tumult and changing mores, while the world watched as Vietnam divided our country and a President resigned in disgrace, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali captured our attention and kept it.

From the first of the epic trilogy on that night in Madison Square Garden, where the force that was Frazier broke the jaw and closed the mouth of Ali, to that moment in Manila where the saga came to a close, it was a compelling drama. As Frazier sat on his stool, almost blind and unable to come out for the last of 15 brutal rounds, Ali collapsed in his corner. Each had traveled to the limit of his physical and emotional capacity.

And so death has finally separated Frazier from Ali. But from the moment 40 years ago that these 2 first exchanged blows they became forever intertwined and inextricably connected by their greatness and the force of their wills.

Frazierandali, Aliandfrazier. Now and forever.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Above the Cacophony


Did you ever notice how many commentators there are informing us about life's shortcomings without any hint of humor, introspection or irony?

Did you ever notice a unique voice among all the cacophony?

Andy Rooney's often cranky observations of what irked him, and should have irritated us, gave a comfortable landing to the often distressing truths of 60 Minutes, and to the relentlessly harsh world we face each day.

Did you ever notice how much we need that?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bright Lights

 ("Putting Millionaires Before Jobs")

Where is the outrage? Another jobs bill is filibustered into submission by those who have the audacity to pretend that they represent the best interests of this country. Our infrastructure, like our nation, is crumbling in front of our eyes, and yet the $60 billion package  vanished in the blink of an obstructionist's eye.

We see the President and Vice President trying desperately to call us into action. We hear the moral indignity in the words of the pundits on the left. And we read the words of the editorial of the New York Times and other similarly thinking publications.Yet, if we are to believe that the 99% can do good, we have to do better. We have to mobilize today as an army against the endless onslaught of smug Republican moves intended to destroy a President and bring this country to its knees. We have to rise up as one not next November at the polls but today and tomorrow and as many tomorrows as it takes to regain control of our lives. What is happening in the halls of Congress is sickening and it is our duty and our obligation to make certain that there is hell to pay each and every day for those who continue to treat us with such disrespect. Let the bright lights of public scrutiny and scorn look down on those who protect the few at the expense of so many.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Armadillos and Peccadilloes

("Day of the Armadillo")

We are in desperate need of armadillos and peccadilloes, large and small, to distract from the ugly realities of life. The glorious end of the baseball season is but a memory and the basketball season is in a millionaire's lock-down. We need to be able to turn to the nonsense of Congressional time spent on reminding us that we still officially trust God. We want a cat fight to develop among the Republicans over the Cain affair (it sounds like a movie title), with all its leaks and lies. The last thing we want to do is focus on the dismal economy here and abroad, the misguided fiscal austerity, the fear that we are but one wrong move away from a man made global tsunami.

We have a long wait until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. It may be weeks or months until agreement is reached on how the billions are equitably divided between the haves and the haves in the NBA. So, I ask Ms. Collins to keep us entertained in the meantime with meaningless tales. And I hope that Mr. Cain stays around long enough to provide a few more edible armadillos.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Taxing Thoughts

Given the elevation of Mr.Cain's candidacy based in large part on his 9-9-9 plan, here are other proposals that the remaining Republicans are considering:

1. The ABC tax - tax on where your last name falls in the alphabet - A gets taxed at 1% and Z at 26%. The slogan: "I have an A for sale"

2. The Democrat Tax - tax only those states that vote Democratic in the 2012 Presidential election. The slogan: "You have to pay for your mistakes"

3. The Jobs Tax - tax only those who are unemployed - The slogan: "Now that is what we call a true stimulus."

4. The Seven Eight Nine Tax - tax at 7%: The slogan. "This one will make you laugh".

5. The Fat Cat Tax Credit, a/k/a the Meal Creator Plan - 1% deduction for each percentage of body fat over 20%. The slogan: "You can have your cake and eat it too."

So what if Mr. Cain's tax proposal doesn't add up, or Mr. Perry's flat tax falls flat. While these ideas may tax our patience, get ready for more, or less, in the coming weeks.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Skis on the Wall

They sit high on the wall of the living room like treasures from a great archeological dig. Over 7 feet in length, they are remnants from the beginning of time. At least as time is marked in this world. History compressed into 75 years. As the leaves fall from the trees and the cold begins to descend, I wake this morning to thoughts of those old wooden skis.

Every few years, increasing or decreasing in direct correlation to the constraints of the economy, I tell myself that my skis have outlived their usefulness. Too many turns have dulled their effectiveness.Too much effort for declining results. And, as far as I can tell from both the manufacturer's words, and the murmur on the slopes, the next generation that awaits me will change my ski life forever..

I have seen skis grow longer and then shorter underfoot. I have looked on in amusement as the first of my friends was fitted with 'parabolics' and I wondered what prompted such insanity. I have been instructed to keep my legs as close together as possible, and later to take an athletic stance with feet shoulder width apart to best allow my skis to do what they are meant to do.

I have slipped into my boots from the rear and fought to slide into them from the front. I have been comfortable or in excruciating pain depending on the footwear de jour. I have sweated and cursed and been exhausted without ever having gone on the slopes.

I have spent over 3 decades searching for the magic elixir that would transform me from what I am to what I think I am. My old Henke boots, which ended slightly above my ankles, sit in an equally old pair of skis bound together in perpetual readiness. And many other answers that turned into a graveyard of expectations greet me at our apartment's front entrance. Velcroed together to form a bench, they serve now as reminders of my enduring mediocrity.

This morning I perused an article on the history of the last 75 years of skiing and a projection of what the next 75 years will bring. There was talk of future synergy with the aerospace industry. Sensors to give real time feedback, smart clothes to make adjustments to changing conditions, expansion of the ski underfoot to adapt to variations on the trail, boots that will be substantially lighter, and boots and bindings that will be an integrated system and not individual pieces. (SKI magazine, October 2011)

And then I think back to those skis from the 1930's. Somehow there was someone who flew down the trail effortlessly even though logic would dictate that this was not really possible. But that would not have been me. And somehow, no matter how many advances the industry may make in the coming years, and no matter how long I may continue to try, I don't think there will ever be a synergy between me and my equipment.

For no matter how long or short the ski, how it curves and bends or how it reacts to every thought, no matter how flexible or rigid the boot, how it pushes here or pulls there, the one constant that will never change is me. And as the last 3 decades have taught me, until they can figure out a method by which I can replace myself, no equipment can turn this ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.

Monday, October 24, 2011

$ and the 99%

("Hollywood on Wall Street")

Is there no difference between Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch? The Michael Moores, Susan Sarandons and Alec Baldwins, by virtue of their wealth, should not be disqualified from being vocal advocates for Occupy Wall Street. Mr. Bruni's conclusion that "protesters would be wise to keep all that glitters...at arm's length" is fundamentally wrong.

The protests are a call to expose greed and corruption, to make it politically uncomfortable for people to run roughshod over the disadvantaged , to make it harder for those who would choose to ignore the human consequences of their selfish actions. When those in the 1% like Mr. Buffett or Mr. Baldwin champion the cause of the 99%, both with their money and with their words, it is not hypocrisy but passion that motivates them. The 1% are not all blind, or deaf or evil.

It is not inherently wrong to be wealthy. It is only inherently wrong to have no compassion for the plight of your fellow human beings. That, Mr. Bruni, is the difference between Mr. Buffett and Mr. Murdoch, between right and wrong and between those that stand with the 99% and those who don't. And money has nothing to do with it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Washington

("Obama's Job Plan, Now Piecemeal, Is Blocked Again by Senate Republicans")

There is plenty of unhappiness to go around these days, as the Occupy Wall Street movement voices its frustration. I understand and appreciate that it is for the public to express grievances and the politicians to address them. But in the actions of the Republicans in the Senate, there is a villain that should be the specific and relentless focus of attention.

Occupy Washington. Don't let the jobs plan suggested by Obama fall to the wayside because the Republicans can and will prevent even a substantive vote on its passage The overall $447 billion plan never had a chance because of lock-step Republican opposition. Now, even piecemeal suggestions are rejected out of hand. This should create an unrelenting moral outrage. How can there not be hell to pay when a .5% tax starting in 2013 on income over $1,000,000, which would pay for thousands of jobs for teachers, firefighters and policemen, is so easily and cavalierly procedurally cast aside?

Occupy Washington until the voices of the people are heard. Let all the millions who believe that government should be held accountable to the people, hold them accountable. Let the failings be subject to the bright lights and the people's mic. Let's not allow the Republicans in Washington to do business as usual any more. Not at the expense of the 99%.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

I never thought I would say this, but I can't wait for the next Republican debate. Almost devoid of policy positions (try to find an answer among the responses on how to remedy the foreclosure problem) and long on quirky personalities, it makes for perfect prime time entertainment.

In fact, the Obama machine challenged its constituency to tune in last night. As a marketing tool, it asked for pledges based on how many times a catch phrase, like "9-9-9", or "repeal", would be repeated throughout the evening.

We all understand that 60 seconds is not enough time to give a serious answer to serious problems. But the Republicans long ago discarded any pretense of trying to supply serious answers, relying rather on slogans and fabrications. Watching Romney and the gang that couldn't answer straight go through 2 hours of finger pointing and hair pulling, was a welcome relief to the agony of having to listen to McConnell, Cantor and Boehner on a daily basis.

One particularly animated exchange, involving Romney and Perry, led to physical contact (a definite no-no in this arena). I could only marvel at how perfect a choice Las Vegas was to host this spectacle. The one thing missing was that most famous of introductions, "Let's get ready to rumble". Maybe next time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Continuing Conversation with David Brooks

("The Great Restoration")

Mr. Brooks couches his disdain for the Occupy Wall Street movement in flippant denunciations. He likens it to the days of Woodstock and sit-ins which he suggests were mere distractions that led to nothing except an almost uninterrupted era of Republican Presidents. He dismisses the protesters as having less impact on the minds of Americans than any other major story. He chastises the movement for its pessimism and anger. And then, in the intended cruelest slight, he says that its loud and boorish message contrasts to how "quietly and untelegenically Americans (are) trying to repair their economic values".

I suggest to Mr. Brooks that he has not been paying attention. This movement is all about repairing economic and moral values in our country. This movement is all about the recognition and resentment that the American dream has been nearly destroyed by years of abuse and neglect. This movement is all about making people less hesitant and fearful of what tomorrow may bring. This movement does not seek to denigrate or damage the fabric of our society but to elevate it. This movement is all about America's resurrection and restoration not its demolition.

And if Mr. Brooks can't see that this movement is growing in numbers and intensity every day, or hear that its voice is growing more important, not less, then the fault lies with him, and others like him who refuse to listen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Science Experiments

("In the Collapse of the Red Sox, a Chemistry Lesson")

Chemistry and personality imbalances. It reads like a failed science experiment. It all makes for such an interesting discussion, but in reality not an apt axiom at all. 2 pitches, each with 2 out and 2 strikes in the 9th inning of the last game of the regular season for the Rays and the Red Sox was all it took. Suddenly, a late season slide was no longer a footnote for a team that stumbled into the playoffs, and maybe to a world championship. Now it was a collapse with Shakespearean overtones. I don't buy it.

I remember the Yankee teams of the late 70's. It seemed like everyone hated everyone else. Steinbrenner hated Martin. Martin hated Jackson. Jackson hated Munson. The Bronx Zoo.

When a team is winning, it is an interesting cast of characters. It is a group that may not get along well off the field, but has a beautiful symmetry on it.

When the losses mount, the manager has lost control of his players, the players have lost the motivation, their contracts are too big or too long, their bellies are too full, and their egos are too large.

If those 2 pitches had been different, we would not be talking about the dissolution of a franchise gone wrong. If Beckett were about to start the first World Series game, if Lester were to record the last out in another title run, we would not find the clubhouse beer, chicken and video games to be a recipe for disaster. Rather, in the coming weeks we might have seen a lite beer commercial with Francona, Lackey Lester and Ellsbury discussing whether there is in fact more room for the chicken because the beer is less filling.

Like George, Billy, Reggie and Thurman, this Red Sox crew was only as good or as bad, cohesive or cataclysmic as the last pitch. Or 2 pitches to be more exact.


She is an explosion of energy. She is out of bed in the shower getting dressed brushing her hair and out of the door allatonce. With me as her useless companion, she has too much on her plate each and every day. And so she must be in ready-to-go mode from the moment her eyes open. This morning, dressed in enough layers to ward off the coming of the Ice Age, she flew down the steps and headed to the mountain, about to embrace the brisk fall weather while sitting suspended in air for an extended period of time. It is only then, perched high above the ground on a ski lift, and waiting for the "faux" rescue that occurs annually as part of her ski patrol refresher, that Joanne will be compelled to stop moving.

Of course, there is the other side of that equation. The yin to this yang  occurs, as regularly as day meets the night.. The train loses its steam, the fastball becomes an "Eephus" pitch, the balloon deflates. And bedtime arrives, early and all at once.

But it is the continuous force of her being that is so compelling. This is not a pitcher who takes a day off, who coasts during the middle of the season and gets ready to turn it on in the playoffs. Over the course of almost 35 years, I have not witnessed a single slow down, or work stoppage. Neither rain, sleet, snow, nor the unrelenting aggravation of having an unequal partner, neither mental fatigue or troubles that are part of the human experience, have caused a change in the game plan. Every day, she is who she is as she knows no other way.

I have not always understood or appreciated this. Sometimes, I have bridled at the intensity. My laziness stands in stark contrast. As I brush around the edges of my tasks, I often wonder why I do not receive constant kudos for a job badly done. At least, I say to myself, I did something. And so, this is the life my wife has signed up for, willingly or not. And the one she accepts, each and every day.

And tomorrow will be no different.  She will do a thousand little things and then a thousand more. She will put her foot to the accelerator and push through everything that confronts her. And she will go and go. Until she can go no more.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Center of the Center of the Universe

So, I don't understand why I am the only one who has not been interviewed yet. I mean, I am the reason that all of this is happening. I am the one who has had my life forever changed. I let everyone in. I told them it was ok to come. This is my story. I am Zuccotti Park, although some people call me Liberty.

Let me start at the beginning. Well, really at the beginning as far as the world is concerned. I live in the center of the universe. Sure, times have not always been so good here. There was that day about ten years ago when my neighbors near the water were attacked, and literally destroyed. Everyone, including me, was covered in a blanket of death and destruction. I was scared and depressed and all who came to visit me for the longest period could only talk about those terrible moments. But, as the years passed, life returned to normal.

On most days the people who would come to visit me spoke mainly in terms of what they had and what they had accomplished. I heard of homes in the Hamptons, of promotions and of money, lots of money. There had been that time when I learned of things like derivatives, default swaps and for a moment there was fear of a total collapse. Those who visited seemed frozen, unable to figure out what had gone wrong or how to stop it. But suddenly, that fear went away. The talk soon returned to the home at the shore and to even more money than before.

I can't say I have had a lot of good friends over the years. Some came to see me regularly. Most of the time though, I have been visited by those who are just passing through on their way to something more important. I have always been kind of an afterthought. But no more.

It all started off innocently. A few people, really just a few, had been turned away from one of my neighbors, and had no place to go. They came to me, asking if it was ok if they hung out with me for a little. I had never turned anyone away before, and I was certainly not going to start then.

They were different from almost anyone else I had ever met, certainly from anyone who had spent much time with me. They were unhappy, very unhappy with almost everyone I knew. They told me tales of deception and greed. They talked of being forgotten and abused. And they didn't want to leave.

I was shocked. My whole life, when it got dark, everybody always cleared out. I was alone each and every evening to contemplate the events of the day. All the conversation and noise would end. But, not that first night, and not every night since. I had guests who had decided they were not going anywhere. Kind of like the last line in "The Big Chill" only this was reality.

And I didn't know how to react. In many ways, this was much more interesting than anything that had ever happened to me. Now there was constant activity here, and there was much animated talk.

In looking back, those first few days were relatively peaceful. Every once in a while, someone from the press might stop by to interview one of my guests and to find out what all the noise was about. I can't say that I fully understood the "big picture" or that this would not be over one day soon. Then came the march.

Suddenly, that evening in middle of last week, I was swarming with people. Crowds were lining up for blocks to get in. Thousands upon thousands were chanting slogans and demanding attention. There were union representatives and celebrities in my midst. And there were cameras everywhere.

Now, others like me are springing up all over the country. They are taking in strangers every day, and more and more are coming. It turns out that I had become home to a movement.

I have come to like my new friends. Sure it can be overwhelming. Who wouldn't long, at least a little, for the peace and quiet of the old days? But there is an energy and a vitality here that I have never felt before. And my eyes have been opened for the first time. For so long, I had heard only one side of the conversation. No more, and never again will that be true.

Yesterday was a little scary. You see, many are more than a little annoyed with my new friends. They want them gone from here and gone from the conversation. They said my guests had made me too dirty and had to leave, at least for a little while. And when they came back, they were to be only passing through really. But the truth is that my friends had never treated me badly. They had been respectful and had always cleaned up after themselves. Now, challenged, they went to the task of making me cleaner than when they first arrived. By yesterday morning, you could have eaten off my floor. I was as fresh and pure as new driven snow. And for now anyway, my guests are allowed to stay.

And so, I remain home to a strange and wonderful crowd. Someday soon it may all change. Certainly when the cold and the rain sets in, some will leave. And by the winter, I expect that life will be what it was before. And that I will be visited by only a few each day. And that the talk will turn, eventually, back to second homes and bonuses. But life will never be the same for me again. For now I can always and forever say, I was once the center of the center of the universe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The darkness of night still controls, but her day has already begun. She readies herself for the tasks that lay in front of her. It is life in a new universe, and she is grateful for the opportunities that have been presented.

She has always been grateful, fully aware of all that has been given to her, and all that she has earned. She understands this is a world where circumstances have not always been kind to others. She has been drawn, from the first, towards those in need. For her, ingrained in her substance, is a desire to assist.

And so, before the first hint of daylight has emerged, she is already moving about. She will get across town, and then onto a train that will take her most of the way on her journey. She is now about 6 months on the job and she should have a quiet confidence in her abilities. But that is not her nature and so there is always a nagging concern that she is not doing enough. She is a worrier. She inherited that quality from me, and for that I apologize.

I recently met her at her place of employment for the first time. I was surprised that the children, her patients, seemed so high functioning. But my daughter does not see people in terms of their disabilities, only by their abilities. She has the capacity to find what lays beneath the surface, that struggles to emerge. That is why, when she is able to bring forth the small miracles she witnesses every day, she is not surprised at all.

On this her 26th birthday, she will do the best she possibly can at her tasks. She knows no other way. She has been a committed sibling, a committed daughter, a committed student, a committed friend, a committed athlete and a committed worker throughout each and every day of her first 25 years. She strives, each and every moment, to make herself, and the world in which she lives, better. She knows no other way.

And so, on her birthday, I write this to her to tell her of the love and admiration I feel. I have been most fortunate to have a front row seat to everything that is my daughter. And I am thankful each and every day for the privilege that I have been given. I love you very much, and wish for you only that you maintain all the qualities that make you exactly the person you are today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


("Democrats Try Wary Embrace of the Protests")

They are, at the moment, a very uncomfortable fit. The Occupy Wall Street ever growing contingent, and the Democratic party are not in a warm embrace, but should they be? Certainly there is a genuine distrust of everything government, and its failures to address the overwhelming needs of the 99%. But if the Occupy Wall Streeters have any friends in Washington, they can only be from one side of the aisle. While the Democrats have done a very poor job of effectuating their intended goals, at least there is a common theme in some of their messages. Raise taxes on the rich, regulate the big banks, provide stimulus so that we can end this frightening period of contraction and of separation between the few at the top and everyone else. Yet there are too many in the Democratic party who, like the Republicans, are too tightly aligned with big oil, big business and big banks and who have not strongly advocated for policies that benefit the 99%.

However, the Republicans have only the words of the Tea Partiers. They warn of attempted "class warfare" and of the need to protect the "job creators". For those like Cantor and Cain, their fondest wish must be for a cold and wet fall in the Northeast so that the heart of this movement is driven by Mother Nature into silence.

The Democrats are hurting. They have seen the promise of 2008 disappear and now face the real and growing possibility of a calamity in 2012. They need the energy and commitment of those who find fault with the system to be directed at attacking those whose message is antithetical to their cause. They need those whose voice is heard on the streets to be translated into Democratic votes at the ballot box come election time. They need the 99% if they are to stand the best chance to avoid humiliation.

The Occupy Wall Street group has seen the decimation created by the Bush era mistakes of deregulation, unfunded wars, tax cuts for the wealthy and pharmaceutical company handouts. They have watched in the era of Obama as the Republican party has watered down health care reform, threatened to throw this country into default, and taken steps each and every day to dismantle as much of the social safety net as possible. The aims of the Republican party are not those embraced by those in Zuccotti park in New York and in all the other Zuccotti parks that are multiplying around the country.

For now,it is nothing more than the possibility of a tentative and tenuous alliance between the protestors and the politicians on the left. Like all new romances, it has an uncertain future. But just because there is potential peril ahead, does not mean that a happy and productive marriage will not result.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dispatch from an Occupied City

From Zuccotti/Liberty Park, 9 October 2011
by Richie Jay

What struck me this evening--more so than at Wednesday's march when tens of thousands of people took part, including more well-established and traditionally-structured organizations like labor unions and nonprofits--was that a big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement (or event or gathering or moment or protest...), in New York City at least, is not politics, or policy (although these are important), or even the grievances of its participants (which have actually been laid out quite clearly by the participants in their Declaration of the Occupation).

Rather, it is the act of democracy itself, the structures of self-governance--some rather elaborate, like the hand signals, vocabulary, and procedures used to conduct daily General Assemblies--and the unwritten codes of conduct, morality, and altruism that 'govern' Liberty Park. As much as it is a movement to change the system, it is also an experiment in creating a new and better system just beyond the reach of the old one, a one-square-block city-within-a-city that plays by its own rules, while still adhering to the 'non-negotiable' rules of its surrounding society to ensure a peaceful co-existence across its porous borders. It is also a space for conversation, where dialogue is encouraged, harsh judgment is generally frowned upon, and random strangers literally approach you to ask you why you're there and what you'd like to see change in our country.

These photos and videos do a poor job of capturing what I observed, but what you'll see is a miniature city, complete with basic services and sanitation, clothing distribution, food preparation (accommodating dietary restrictions), health care, a library and educational lectures, entertainment and performance, meditation and spirituality, media and communications, foreign and domestic ambassadors (to provide assistance to 'residents' as well as 'visitors,' though I'm pretty sure they would not make that same distinction), and meetings and governance...all with a purposeful geography, with different activities occurring in different places at different times (i.e. no food prep in the library, no loud concert during General Assembly).

So while I think questions about what Occupy Wall Street stands for and what it hopes to accomplish are valid, it's important also to ask what they have already created and why they have captured so much attention and support.

It's an awfully unique place with a distinct culture. If you're in NYC, you should take a moment to check it out. There are occupations in several cities around the country, but I don't know if they've placed nearly as much focus on building an intentional community, in addition to simply building a social/political movement.

(Apologies if I sound like a student of geography when writing this. I was, in fact, a student of geography.)

Link to the whole album of photos and videos here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

("Wall Street Weeks")

It is the end of apathy, of helplessness, of hopelessness.

It is a statement mourning the death of compassion, the loss of dignity and of fundamental rights.

It is a call for sanity, for justice, for a right to believe again.

Its leaders are all who feel the pain.

Its list of grievances are on the faces of those forgotten and cast aside.

Its demands are for those in power to stop looking away.

Its purpose is real.

Its cause is right.

Its moment is now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

One Voice

I could hear the words tumbling out of my mouth faster than my brain could process. I was not making sense to myself, and so I could not be making sense to the listener. When the last of the questions was answered, I was thanked politely and not even asked my name. I am most certain that my interview for the German television station did not make their evening news.

The truth is I wasn't sure what world I had just entered. Was this, as the Donald would mockingly and dismissively suggest, nothing more than a very large gathering of the "Dating Game"? Or was it, as the banner proclaimed, our American Fall, an extension of the Arab Spring and European Summer?

Hours later, I stood within a few feet of Michael Moore, and became part of his human microphone as he, and then we, spoke of an American greed that had gone too far. We were one voice, the sounds of frustration echoing through Wall Street.

The reports were that this was a rally of 30,000. And that there were others like us in at least 27 cities who, in their own words and with their own thoughts, were part of the United Voice of America.

I don't know whether the sounds and the sights on the streets of Manhattan reached the chambers of Congress today, or whether they ever will. The great fear is that the very large voice of corporate America will continue to drown out the shouts of disenchantment and disillusion. All I know for certain is that, by the end of the day, this felt like something much greater than a march to nowhere.

This was, as I discovered and the rhythmic chants proclaimed, "what Democracy looks like". And to that German television crew, these are the feelings I was trying to convey but couldn't.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mr. Vice President

"I now introduce to you the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, the governor of the State of New Jersey, Chris Christie".

When those words are uttered in the summer of 2012, don't act surprised.

Christie has advised that he is not chasing a Presidential bid because he has an unfinished job in his home state and he does not want to spend so much time away from his family. By next summer he will announce that he has made sufficient progress in New Jersey that he can move on. Further, the campaign from summer to fall on the lower part of the Republican ticket will require much less absence from home than the 13 month slog he would now face if he threw his hat into the ring.

The Republicans will not commit another Palin-esque disaster next year.. Christie has positioned himself as a kind of super-hero by staying out of the fray for now. There will be a renewed frenzy to enlist him for service in 2012.

Further, if Christie were, at 50 years of age, to become Vice President, he would set himself up for a Presidential run in 2020 while still under 60. Even were the Republicans to lose in 2012, he would undoubtedly become the standard bearer for the party with a significant likelihood of ascending to the role of Republican candidate for President in 2016.

Despite present protests by Christie to the contrary, despite his assertions that his personality and the number 2 spot on the ticket are an ill fit, the governor of New Jersey has short term aspirations far beyond the Garden State. And so, when a smiling and waving Christie walks on to that stage, with his family in tow and his ego as his constant companion, don't act surprised.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Suppression not Fraud

("New State Rules Raising Hurdles at Voting Booths")

It is but another example of turning fiction into fact. As the Republicans created the death panels so have they now imagined a non-existent voter fraud problem. All those proven to have committed this offense could be stuffed in a rather large phone booth. Yet the result, in state after state controlled by a Republican legislature is the potential disenfranchisement of those they fear the most: the poor, the elderly and the minorities.

The mid-term elections have unleashed the power of the Republicans to control the debate, and worse to manipulate the system to their own purposes. Their concern is not that people without the right to vote will cast ballots against them, but rather that those with the right to vote will do so.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weighting for Christie

("The Round and the Oval")

It is the substance of a candidate's issues not issues with that candidate's substance that will ultimately control. If Chris Christie is chosen as the Republican candidate, President Obama will not attack him for the largeness of his girth but for the narrowness of his vision.

There is a love affair by the Republicans with the next flavor of the month, and Christie is the next in line. After having tried and discarded Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Pawlenty and Perry as alternatives to the sour tasting Romney, the bombast of the governor of New Jersey, combined with his evident mental acuity leaves the party in almost a frantic panic to woo and win him over.

But behind the bravado, there is anger and an oversized ego. Here is a governor who allowed $400 million in a federal educational grant to be lost over what he improperly categorized as a "clerical error", who turned back $6 billion of federal and Port Authority financing for the Hudson Tunnel project that would have provided an estimated 6000 jobs to a state desperately in need of both the tunnel and the work, and whose actions in regard to medicaid waivers resulted in a failure to receive a 9 to 1 federal match that will lead to greatly diminishing the ability of many women to obtain quality health care. Our teachers are being mistreated and our educational system is in regression. The governor has alienated the unions and almost every person, politician or not, who has the audacity to disagree with him. Here is a man who has created nothing but enemies.

In the end it is not the weight gain that should worry us, but rather the weight of the losses from the misguided policies and out of control personality of Mr. Christie.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

End the Season Now

Cancel the post- season. Put away the balls, bats and gloves. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can come close to duplicating the events that unfolded last night.

The situation was almost mythical. Boston was in the throes of a massive September heart attack and a nine game lead over Tampa had turned to none. All that stood between the Sox and sudden death was last evening. And while the rain fell in Baltimore, and the tarp covered the field, extending the suspense, the Yankees, in Tampa Bay, were doing their best to increase the agony. 7 to nothing became 7 to 6 in the time it took for everyone in Boston to take a very deep breath.

And then, it appeared for just the briefest of moments, that the world was going to find its axis. 2 strikes, 2 outs and a hitter with 1 home run over a 162 game season was all that stood between Tampa and the very probable end of their resurrection. The unlikely, the improbable, the can't be, and one swing later it was tied. On into extra, unrelenting intense innings.

In Baltimore, the rain stopped and the Red Sox closer, the great and revived Papelbon, was one strike away from completing the win and assuring, at worst, one more day and one more game. As the clock struck midnight, it all unraveled. 2 hits, and the game was tied. Then a line drive to left, and the man who had disappointed most of the year, Carl Crawford, found himself inches too far away. As the ball fell from his glove to the ground, at 12:02 AM, all the Sox fans could do was believe in the Yankees.

But their hated rivals had found a way to snatch defeat from certain victory. With a man on third and no one out in the top of the 12th, a minor league team masquerading as the Bronx bombers, botched a play and failed to score. Then, 2 minutes after the Red Sox game ended, and probably 2 pitches after the score was posted in Tampa, the Red Sox died a September 29th death as Evan Longoria's very low line drive barely cleared an improbably small portion of fence just at the shortest part of left field.

What could possibly occur in the coming days to exceed the drama of what happened shortly after the clock struck for the last time on the Red Sox season? How could the baseball planets align to surpass the absolutely absurd ending to one of the most epic September collapses in the long history of this sport? The answer is a simple and unequivocal statement that they can't. Let the spectacle of this moment in time live forever as the lasting, and last memory of this season. Let the unforgettable stand alone, and not be relegated to a footnote by the events of tomorrow.

Let the season end now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just Compensation

I have decided that my demand will be non-negotiable. I will take a page from the Republican playbook. This will be my version of no new taxes. I want, no I require, a free subscription to the New York Times.

Earlier this week, another of my apparently pithy comments found its way into print in this most highly thought of publications. I clearly must be considered indispensable, a poor man's version of Krugman, or at least an everyman's foil to Brooksian rantings. I can only imagine that the letters editor waits each day for yet another of my invaluable suggestions on what is wrong with the world and how best we can fix it.

And how has the paper repaid (more accurately, paid) me for all my effort? How has the 5AM wake-up, the energy expended in combing the pages for just the right article, the writing and re-writing been rewarded? Where is the thank you? The only constant in our relationship is the invoice that I must satisfy for continued access to their thoughts. Where is the equity? Am I forever to be the unpaid intern? No more, I say.

I can only imagine the reaction when my mandate is received. Have we pushed Nussbaum too far? Can we afford to lose such an indispensable resource over such a small sum? Is he not worth so much more than he is requiring?

As I contemplate this scenario, I become increasingly infuriated with those who have ignored me, and taken me for granted. Do they really consider me something less than I imagine myself to be? Can it be that those in power don't even know what I have done to keep circulation on this paper alive? Can they even fathom a New York Times in which my voice is silent?

They don't want this to escalate. They don't want to see me become a free agent and auction myself off to the highest bidder. They don't want one day to open the Washington Post and be forced to revisit their mistake. They want me, I know it.

But what if they don't see the necessity to capitulate? Defeat would be humbling and humiliating for me. I am, after all, a Democrat and I do weigh the possibilities and the potential pitfalls.

On second thought, maybe I should just ask for a weekday subscription. I have learned valuable lessons from the President. Compromise is not a bad thing, and if you are compelled to lower your expectations and your requirements maybe you can get at least something out of the negotiations. So, maybe we didn't get the single payer health care reform (or even ask for it) but at least we got a watered down version of Romneycare. So maybe we had to agree to massive cutting of government spending during the worst recession in memory, but at least we didn't default on our debt obligations.

So maybe I shouldn't use the Democrats and their powers of bargaining as my role model. Or maybe I shouldn't be asking for something I am not sure of receiving. I think, after further reflection, I will retract my demand and instead, concentrate on something much more realistic and attainable.

Maybe I can ask for a paper route to earn enough to pay for my subscription. Please.

Saturday, September 24, 2011



The simple answer to Dr. Willenbring’s question is that President Obama’s wising up is too late. While it is comforting to hear the passion and focus in the words of the president, the unalterable reality is that the next 14 months will be filled with more of the Republican obstructionism and willful distortions we have already endured.

The Republican mantra of making Mr. Obama a one-term president precludes the possibility of any meaningful progress. The sad truth is that no compelling and reasoned speeches can move an opponent who sees political gain in our country’s continuing weakness.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Prize

In 1995, the Yankees three decade slide came to an end. As Jeter, Posada, Williams, Pettite and Rivera ascended, the post season returned as a right not a privilege. 16 years out of 17. And so, what was once an extraordinary event now has lost at least a little of its magical quality. But in the beginning...

I stood in the rain, outside a Ticketmaster outlet in Bergenfield, hoping to be awarded a wristband that would give me the right to return at a later time to get my reward. Some strategized and traveled long distances to find just the right outlet, where the fewest fans were likely to congregate. In other years, I waited for hours in a line that snaked seemingly forever around the old Stadium. People camped out for days. It was a love-in, a baseball fans version of Woodstock.

Earlier this week, I received an email from my son. He had gone on-line at exactly 3PM, and had garnered tickets for a game in each of the first 2 rounds of the playoffs. On- line had replaced in-line, and the gathering of the multitudes was now just one person and his computer.

Time and technology have combined to take most of the romance away. No longer are we chasing after a new love, hoping to be the chosen one. Now, we are in a long term relationship and do only the little we are required to keep it going.

Don't get me wrong. These past 17 years have been wondrous. I don't long for the days of Horace Clarke. I realize that while standing in the rain can give added gravitas to the effort in retrospect, it is not really all that much fun. I get that Bergenfield is not actually another Woodstock. But in my reverie, alone at my computer, I remember with great fondness the dawning of time and the almost mystical chase for the prized ticket. When it was in my grasp, I would hold it aloft, like I had just won the lottery.