Monday, February 28, 2011

Without Sheen

In what must have been a 10 minute interview shown on Today, Charlie Sheen appeared to be in the middle of a nervous breakdown on the air. His mannerisms and the content of his speech were filled with an unapologetic rage that seemed psychotic. It was the portrait of a man spinning totally out of control. But did it belong in the middle of the first hour of this program when there was so much more newsworthy material that should have been demanding our attention?

Let pieces like this be relegated to their proper time and space. Take your entertainment tonight programming and devote it entirely to this unraveling if you choose. On the day after the Oscars, if you choose to make this industry the focus for your audience, show us those that deserve our attention. Don't take the worst of what there is and parade it in front of us as news. The Today show is better than that. Or at least it should be.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Questions without Answers

"I don't want to be here. Why am I here?" It is a question, in a variety of forms, that I must seek to answer almost every day. And it is a question that has no answers.

Most of the time I merely try to change the subject. Sometimes, I am forced to face it head on. "Mom, you are 93. Most of your friends are not here now, and many are not here on a permanent basis. Those who can do so, are in Florida, and those who are here don't have the energy to keep up with you. They want to stay close to home. I wish I could tell you what you want to hear."

I say these things not to be cruel, and not even to try to explain the realities. I understand that conversations dissolve in her mind almost the moment they are completed. I think I say what I do because sometimes I just have to. I can't think of anything else .

It is the relentlessness that is often the hardest. If there were only some moments when frantic didn't appear. If she could just rest, so that those around her could. But that will never happen. This disease does not take days off.

Some days recently have been harder than others. There was a visit to the emergency room in the middle of the night, after receiving a somewhat desperate sounding call from one charged with her care on the weekends. After this episode passed, it was followed in rapid succession by one of my mom's calls to the police, seeking their help for the intruder in her bedroom. By the end of last week, a frazzled caretaker had decided she needed to look elsewhere for employment. For her, the relentlessness had proven overwhelming. How could one blame her.

The transition to someone new caused all of us great concern. But, mainly, this weekend has been free of the melodrama we feared. Yet, with each ring of the phone, I check to see from where the call emanates. My pulse quickens when I read those familiar numbers.

We have the wonderful good fortune that my mom's principal caretaker has been, and continues to be, someone who has an unending capacity to accept my mom with her shortcomings. One needs a degree in psychology, a mind that is willing to absorb slings and arrows, a heart that is full with compassion, and a bottomless well of patience to be a successful guardian for those like my mom.

So, when my mom says she doesn't want to be here, I silently say to myself how thankful I am that she can remain where she is. I know there is no better alternative, for her and for those who love her.

All the World's a Stage

The Mid East and parts of North Africa have become a sea of red. The scope and intensity of the uprisings has become so vast and so overwhelming that the New York Times now reports this in daily updates with lines, graphs and twitter length synopsis. Today, we are provided keys relating to "protests, protests with violence, and day when government tries to appease demonstrators". It is mind numbing.

It becomes increasingly difficult to figure out where we are, and almost impossible to determine where we are going. Are we watching Pandora's box open? This all takes on a surreal feeling, almost like a giant play, with many characters, that has been unfolding since the day that a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself ablaze and seemed to ignite a fire in an entire region.

People, no different from you or me except for the accident of where they happen to live, are dying each and every day in the name of self-worth and dignity. It cannot be an abstraction and yet it is. We sit by and discuss what kind of sanctions to impose upon the ruler of Libya while he systematically attempts to destroy his own.

Tonight we turn our attention to the Oscars. The entire world will tune in to watch who is the best at the craft of make believe. Meanwhile, the most compelling of human dramas rages on. On this stage, the question posed seems to be which ruler is the worst. "And the award for most virulent despot goes to".... There are far too many front-runners and far too few answers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Time with Yogi and My Dad

"It Happens Every Spring: Driving Mr. Yogi" - There is almost a palpable feeling of springtime and renewal in seeing Yogi once more. But more than anything else, for me, thoughts of Yogi inevitably are linked to an old baseball that has traveled with me since childhood.

Yogi was on the back end of his storied career, playing in his 2000th game as a Yankee. In the course of his at bat, he hit a foul ball into the stands down the first base line. The ball rattled off one of the steel girders that ringed the old Stadium. As it caromed, my dad reached up and gathered in an unforgettable souvenir.

My dad passed away in 1979. Yet now, over 31 years later, whenever I look at that ball hit by Yogi, I am transformed into that little boy who looked lovingly at his dad, as he held the ball aloft and smiled the broadest of smiles. So, I thank you Yogi, for coming back to yet another spring training and for letting me spend yet another moment in time with my dad.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dave Duerson

How does one react to Dave Duerson's suicide? Does this become a somehow more acceptable act because it spoke of looking to something greater than just the end of his life? Is it right to even contemplate finding anything positive in such unspeakable tragedy?

With his volunteer role on a panel considering disability claims of other former players, Dave Duerson listened and learned of the traumatic and debilitating spiral downward of dementia. Maybe the fear of joining those ranks literally drove him to choose death as a better alternative.

None of us can know whether it was divorce, foreclosure or the growing signs of dementia that caused Duerson to put that gun to his chest. All we do understand is that in the final desperate moments there was a text message and then a note, in neat print, asking that his brain be used as part of an ongoing study on the effects of repeated blows to the head.

There is something unnerving in such clarity of mind in taking an action that speaks to anything but. Death did not come as the ultimate sacrifice towards a greater good, but merely as the actions of a man who had lost his way.

Dave Duerson ran out of answers to life's questions. We can only hope that by taking his life in the manner he did, he can help us find one of the answers he was seeking.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Already Hurting

"Make Everybody Hurt"- I invite David Brooks to read Bob Herbert's op-ed this morning ("At Grave Risk"). The Republican led discussion has taken a very wrong turn. Almost everyone is already hurting Mr. Brooks. The question to be posed is how to make their hurting less, not more.

The focus on creating has been lost in this Republican frenzy to destroy. Take down the unions, take away benefits, take away, take away, take away. What will be left if the Republican vision comes to pass is nothing but a carcass, as the most wealthy pick on the remains of the rest of our society.

Mr. Herbert presents the sounds of the many wondering where and when the help will arrive. To Mr. Brooks, and the Republicans these words fall on deaf ears. Until we build this recovery on making people whole, not less than they already are, tomorrow will only be worse than today.

Monday, February 21, 2011

An Imperfect 10

I know that self-analysis on my writing is the most indulgent form of narcissism multiplied but something just happened that requires me to do this. I apologize in advance.

As my improbable courtship of the New York Times has continued for more than 2 years, I set the most unlikely of goals for myself: 10 published letters. With my contemplation on Lindsey Vonn's post- concussion world championship finding its way into print, my personal mountain had been climbed. So what.

I have led a very quiet professional career. Anonymous to all but a few. Just another regular guy doing what he does as well as he can do it, hoping that it is good enough.

But my writing is something else. Or so I would tell myself.

It is certainly not the size of my readership that leads me to this conclusion. Numbers don't lie (at least these numbers) and I only need my hands and toes to add up the figures on who wanders over to this site on a regular basis. And they arrive basically because I ask them to when I notify them that I have been at it again.

But not the New York Times. They can choose to treat me with silent contempt. But they haven't.

And what does that mean?

Well, to the rest of the universe, I believe the world today is indistinguishable from a time when only 9 of my letters had been published. There is still unrest in the Middle East, there is still rampant unemployment in our country, there is still a looming budget crisis, and the Yankees still don't have enough starting pitching to be a serious challenger this year. To me, and me alone, the planet is a little different.

My strength does not rest in dogged pursuit. I tend to give up way before the tough get going. But this was different. I had the good fortune to have early success with my submission to the newspaper. I stayed with it, and now, maybe 150 attempts later, I am into double figures. And now what?

I have done close to 500 blog posts at this point. I knew many, many words ago that the ego in this exercise drove more away than towards, but I am still here. This is not a criticism of you, but of me.

I want to continue to write but I am seriously contemplating continuing this as a solo trip. Maybe, the meaning of yesterday, was that I can stop trying so hard to impress. Maybe I have finally reached that point where I can say to myself that I have accomplished something, and move on.

I do want to reach 500, so I will probably enter into discussions with you a few more times in the coming weeks. But, after that, it is anyone's guess. If anyone is actually guessing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


"Computer Wins on 'Jeopardy!' Trivial, It's Not"- While Watson's victory showed the vast capabilities of computers, I could not help but notice what is stated as a mere footnote to your article: Watson won not so much by the strength of its mental acuity, but by the quickness of its "fingers".

It became very clear that human reaction was slower than Watson's. The computer demonstrated that it was master of the buzzer. When it was virtually certain of the correct response, Watson moved with cat-like quickness. When on unsure footing, the computer merely slowed to "sub-human" response time.

Watson, in the end, proved as much a wizard at playing the odds as in demonstrating the capacity of complex thought. Man, it turns out, is no match for a computer that knows how and when to gamble.

Egypt Lite

The pictures are of angry protesters, sick and tired of being abused by those in power. It is a stark message to those who rule. We are here, we are now in your house, and we are not leaving until we are treated with dignity and respect. The images are not from Tunisia, not from Egypt, not from Bahrain but from the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin.

In the fervor that has overcome Republican politicians to show that each can outdo the other at this game of slash and burn, both State and Federal representatives make declarations of war on the lower and middle classes. There is virtually nothing that some legislator somewhere won't say or do to demonstrate that he or she is willing to make the "difficult choices". What that inevitably means is a fixed determination, in the middle of the worst economic crisis that most of us have ever witnessed, to take benefits away from those most in need.

The fact remains that this is undoubtedly the absolute worst way to get our financial engine moving again. But the horror is not in the lack of comprehension of the financial consequences of these lawmakers fiats. It is their total lack of compassion for the plight of those they would attack that makes what they would do so depressingly wrong.

Let those who are aggrieved arise, as the many in various regions of the Middle East have now done. Let them fill the Capitol buildings in the many states where the new Republican order threatens to make bad into worse. Let them come to Washington to demonstrate that they are not willing to allow attacks on them to move forward. Let them advise those who would do harm to them that the "difficult choice" is not a direct path over the downtrodden. Let them say that with their new found power, the Republicans must now understand that there is a responsibility to protect and preserve the benefits of all the citizens of this country, not merely the few who line the Republican pockets.

Monday, February 14, 2011



What price glory? It is hard to imagine the pressures placed upon a world class athlete to continue to perform. When you are Lindsey Vonn and represent the best this country has to offer in women's downhill skiing, and you are on the biggest stage in your sport, the capacity to think clearly about risk versus reward, recedes. Throw in the effects of a lingering concussion and the limits placed on your mental capabilities, and presto, you have someone hurtling down a hill at breakneck speeds, risking permanent brain injury with every turn.

Vonn was very fortunate. Her athleticism and her muscle memory from years of being trained to perform under the most difficult of circumstances, won out over the brain fog that was overtaking her. She came within a quick breath of capturing the gold, but we all know she was but a slip away from the real possibility of long term neurological damage.

We all watch sporting events waiting , in the recesses of our brains, for that tragic consequence. I am reminded of that wonderful opening promotion for "Wide World of Sports" where we witnessed both the "thrill of victory" and the "agony of defeat". When those in power decided that it was right to permit Vonn to, quite literally, risk it all, they were not acting as stewards of the sport, but as hucksters for the spectacle.

Lindsey Vonn should never have been on that downhill course yesterday. As we learn more about the hidden nature of concussions, and the terrible consequences it can bring, we should understand that our athletes are not just disposable commodities, but human beings. They must not be allowed to make decisions, in the name of courage, that medical protocol dictates are wrong. I find it incomprehensible that the governing bodies, listening to this woman speak throughout the week of the lingering effects of the concussion, and speaking of her brain being behind her body as she hurtled down the mountain, would turn a blind eye and let her compete.

I applaud Ms. Vonn for all that she accomplished yesterday in her quest for gold and glory for herself and for her country. I wish I could say the same for those who job is not only to prepare their athletes but protect them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day

I am trying to think of the last Valentine's Day gift I gave to my bride (of 33 years). I give up. Actually, I don't give up. There never was one.

I have always believed in the philosophy that each day is important, none more so. I can screw up equally well on Valentine's Day, my birthday, your birthday or the day that Egypt declared it's independence from 30 years of oppressive rule. Life doesn't let you take days off from marriage, at least if you expect your marriage to survive.

The best Valentine's Day gift I could give my wife is a pledge to be more helpful to her. Most of the daily burdens have fallen directly in her path. If there were a day where I did all the cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing, fixing, watering, packing, carrying, making and unmaking, while she did what I do (virtually nothing, while suggesting that the little I accomplish is a great feat) then I truly believe that such a day would be one that my wife would treasure more than any other.

While material benefits handed from one to another with much pomp and circumstance may have meaning in the moment, the moment passes. Then you are again forced to face the reality of whatever your reality may be.

My mom has been on the decline for several years. Among the many changes has been her inability to filter many of her negative thoughts. My bride has fallen directly in the path of many, not so subtle, comments that make me cringe. Yet, Jo has been just as dedicated as ever to making sure that we spend time with my mom, go out to meals with her, invite her over to our house, and do what we can, as opposed to merely what I can, to help make my mom's days as pleasant as possible. That, for me, is a daily Valentine's Day present.

Life, as we all know, can be tough. Marriage, for all of us married more than 15 minutes, can be uneven. But the important thing is in the trying. If your spouse is pulling for you, trying to help you up the ladder, or at least helping you hold on, then you won't need Valentine's Day to make your marriage a success. If that is not the case, then no amount of flowers, candy, or baubles, will be able to hide the truth.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Caught in His Own Web

"Good vs Evil, Hanging by a Thread"- Has there ever been a worse review of a show of this magnitude? "Spider-Man" seems to have fallen to the ground once more, and this time it looks like the injury may be fatal. If Mr. Brantley is correct in his analysis, not only should this production not have an official opening, it should have a new title : "Spider-Man, Turn Off the Lights".