Saturday, December 29, 2012

The No Mercy Rule

67 to 9. In 1964, I was point guard for the 7th grade basketball team that played against a squad of 8th graders from our school. I still recall the double teams and the traps, my inability to get the ball past mid-court. That loss may be the most vivid memory I have of any sporting event in which I participated growing up.

Last night I spoke of that game for the first time in years. Pine Plains is a small town in upstate New York. One of their basketball players, a senior back-up guard, is a friend of our family. Each of the past two years we have traveled to watch him play at a Pine Plains home game.

While the town is small, the players are not. There are three who are true Division I caliber. They will some day soon likely be playing for teams filled with athletes who dominated at their high school level. At  6'3, 6'8 and 6'9 these players are sometimes both literally and figuratively head and shoulders above their competition.

This team steamrolls almost every opponent that comes before it. Their favorite opening gambit is the alley oop. In that instant, in the first moments of the contest, dominance and intimidation are established. A high arcing pass is made to one of the twin towers waiting underneath the basket. As the ball reaches its apex, up rises the player to meet and redirect the ball into the net with a resounding dunk. It is a statement of purpose which has already been used on several occasions early in this season.

The two squads squaring off last night had played one common opponent this season. Pine Plains, in its usual show of force, had been victors by 26 points over Coleman Catholic. When Webutuck High School faced this same Coleman team, it lost by 64 points. Webutuck had not won a game to date.

I arrived at the gymnasium shortly after the contest began. I looked up at the scoreboard to see what I had missed in those few moments. Barely three minutes in, it was 16 for the home team. There was no score on the Visitor's side. As I took my seat, I heard of the massive dunk off the alley oop only seconds after the opening tip off.

It appeared that the tallest player out on the floor for Webutuck was shorter than the shortest player among the starting five for Pine Plains. Their point guard looked, size wise, like he belonged in an elementary school game. He appeared to be barely over five feet tall and seemed as young as his diminutive stature would suggest.

I watched the double teams and traps, the switching on defense, all the elements of a team well coached. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 28 to 9. In the second quarter, the team from Webutuck did not score a single point. The half-time tally was 50 to 9. There was an endless succession of steals and dunks. Pine Plains seemingly could do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted on the court. Still, the stars of the Pine Plains squad remained on the floor. The senior back up point guard whom we had come to watch played a total of one minute and seven seconds in the first half.

At half-time most of the conversation among the group of us that were together was not of the greatness of the home town heroes. Instead, we wondered why the first team was still out on the floor. Why, when the opponent was of such inferior quality, was the opportunity not taken to put your reserves in? Give your stars a token appearance, let them dazzle and build up a lead that could not be challenged, and then put them on the bench to be witness, not participant.

The people in the stands were no longer rooting loudly for the home team. Rather, most of the cheers were reserved for those very infrequent moments when the figure changed beside the "Visitor" sign on the scoreboard.

As the second half began, the Pine Plains starters returned to the floor. Within moments, it was now 60 to 10. There was talk of starting a chant to put in the reserves. One of those in our midst spoke of leaving and heading off to dinner.

Finally, the stars were removed. The player we had come to see, scored 6 points. In the end, the scoreboard read  89 to 29.

I remember looking up when the Pine Plains tally had reached 67. The number next to Webutuck read 13. My mind flashed back to that day in 1964 when the team I was on watched helplessly while our opponent ran up 67 points on us. I understood that half a century from now, many on the losing team would still carry the memory of this evening with them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

One Very Early Christmas Morning

No St. Nick's. No mouse. No presents under a tree. Not even a tree. This is what life is like at 3AM on Christmas morning for a Jewish insomniac.

But what if Santa did come down my chimney this year? What if he made a wrong turn and ended up in a living room where there were no stockings hanging or yule logs, only a fireplace that came alive with a flip of a switch?

I stare out the window searching in vain for the snow that refuses to fall. There is nothing quite as depressing as  the sight of brown grass in late December. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot something. It is indistinct and momentary, and by the time I turn my full gaze and attention in its direction,  it is gone. My focus is soon back on this screen.

It must be a difficult task trying to separate the naughty from the nice. Although I am way past the age to consider myself a child, my mom is still alive. So, at the least in the most technical of senses, I am still a child, somebody's child. In reviewing my past 364 days, I know I could be placed on either list. I pity Santa and his helpers their decisions.

It is a cloudy night and the sky does not offer any illumination. The street lights are partially obscured by the large trees that dominate the yard outside. Still no sign of snow, but my vision is limited and maybe I am missing something. I squint a little harder and stare a second longer. In the dimness, I spot it again. Something is definitely out of place in this picture. Whatever it is moves swiftly past.

Does the mind control the eyes? Can we imagine a reality that doesn't exist and never did? Or does our vision tell us things that years of living try to shut out?

It is now after 4AM and the light of day will be upon us soon. It remains quiet and I begin to think that I just need to get back into bed. If I can shut my eyes and wake to familiar sights, I will consider all of this but a very strange dream.

Then comes the bark. My daughter has arrived with her dog for the weekend. From the upstairs bedroom,  I hear it again. "Go back to sleep. It's nothing, go back to sleep. No one's there." My daughter implores her pet not to wake the others.

I have watched parts of two of my favorite movies this past evening: "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It's A Wonderful Life". I am now entering my seventh decade and yet I am still inexorably drawn to these films, year after year, tear after tear. In fact, as I age I think my admiration for Clarence only grows.

Are there such things as miracles? Is the fact that Mick Jagger is still alive and still peacocking around at his age a miracle? How about a black President in the United States? What if our minds were unlocked and could soar? Would we all see Santa in the night sky?

I have been distracted by the screen in front of me for far too long. I am much too tired for my own good. One of these days I will pay the price for all these way too frequent half sleeps. I have to put thoughts of reindeer and red suits away. As much as Santa needs his rest, so do I.

As I leave the study and head up the stairs, I spot something by the fireplace. It is a handwritten note on nothing more than a scrap of paper. I am obsessively, compulsively straightening up and this is definitely not in its proper place.  I look at the message. It reads as follows:

"Dear Robert:

Thanks so much for thinking of me. Yes, everyone is and will always be a child in my eyes. And yes, everyone who has been good deserves some special cheer this day. And you, my friend, have made the list this year.

It is a pretty wondrous occurrence about Mr. Obama. And, no, even I have no explanation for Mick Jagger. There must be a higher power at work. But that is another story, for another day and I am unfortunately a little too busy right now to sit down and chat. Give me a call next week when everything calms down, and we can discuss the questions that concern you.

Your friend now and forever, Santa"

The first light of day is now coming up. I look out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of an image streaking across the sky. I see nothing, yet a broad smile suddenly emerges. It is the present I wanted above all others today.  It is snowing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The False Equivalency of Mr. LaPierre and Mayor Bloomberg

("Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void")

Mr. Douthat complains of the disappearance of the centrist viewpoint, leaving extremes to proffer opinions that radicalize and divide. I fundamentally disagree with this notion. Our discourse has moved so far right on issues like health care and the environment that what passes for liberal would a generation ago have barely even been considered conservative. What remains is watered down legislation on health, where single payer proponents never even had a voice and a nation where drill baby drill is a virtual reality. In its wake, environmental alternatives like solar and wind power lay dormant and barely a whisper of protest is heard.

But nothing is more outrageous than the discussions on gun control.  Michael Bloomberg an irrelevant voice of hubris on the extreme left? Really. We have been so indoctrinated in an avalanche of NRA led discourse, that we as a nation have abandoned even the pretense of rational conversation on gun control. We have not been debating whether it is in the best interest of our country to protect ourselves without guns instead of with them, as the statistics would clearly demonstrate. Rather, the questions posed have focused on whether we are to be nothing other than a  21st century version of the Wild West, and ask only whether we have to check our guns before we enter the bar.

Mr. Douthat's premise is the anti- Manhattan picture, one in which this sliver of land does not dominate but disappears. It is the extinction of the left and would leave a view of the world tilted extreme right on its axis. I for one believe that Mr. Bloomberg has enunciated a position that is predicated on facts and logic, and does not even go far enough in establishing the dangers of guns in our homes. But facts and logic have never stopped the right before, and sadly have not been the focus of our debate on so many issues in recent years.  The void we have witnessed as the radical fringe has instead become the voice of the Republican party, is the death of logic and reason.To equate Mr. LaPierre and the damage he and others like him have caused, with Mayor Bloomberg and the damage he attempts to prevent, is to be dishonest with the American public, and does our nation a great disservice.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End of Hospice Care

There are a series of framed diplomas on one wall of my office. Tributes, mostly in Latin, punctuated only with the familiar names or universities. My father's graduation from college and law school at NYU and his admission to practice law in New York and New Jersey. Recognition from Columbia for my wife's successful completion of her studies. Undergraduate and law school degrees for me.

To the right of my desk there is a credenza. Framed and unframed photos litter the top. My daughter, no more than 7 or 8, in a multi colored race uniform, skis and body straining to make the perfect turn around the gate My son as a young boy, a head of blond hair cut with bangs that almost reach his eyes. Son and daughter's high school photos side by side. My wife with our son resting in her arms at the beach. A magazine cover with Mickey Mantle in full glory. Standing on the first tee with friends on several boys' golf trips. More Yankee memorabilia.

Near the window at the back of the office, there is a collage made by my wife, a drawing of my dad at work. Small newspaper clippings point to the unmistakeable conclusion that the subject of this piece practices real estate law.

There are no images, or references to my mom. I don't know why I never noticed that until today.

I escort the social worker into this room. We make the smallest of small talk while we wait for my sister to arrive. It is a slightly awkward conversation, in the way many are when you are discussing everything but what you intend to talk about.

There are 2 chairs across from my desk. My sister walks in and sits next to the social worker. We can begin our official conversation now. On the edge of my desk,  in front of the social worker, lies a single sheet of paper, a handwritten sentence punctuating an otherwise typed out form.

 My mom has been under hospice care for about 8 months now. One morning in April of this year she woke up and was unable to get out of bed. No matter the amount of effort of her caretaker, my mom's back pain prevented the movement needed to arise. That morning she traveled by ambulance to the emergency room.  The images taken revealed the extent of the problems. At 94, and suffering from severe dementia, my mom was not a candidate for any radical course of action. It was quickly decided that she would be medicated, as heavily as needed, to make her comfortable, for as long as she lasted.

Once back home, my mom's days were mostly spent in a stupor, a combination of drug and disease. It was at that time that hospice care commenced.

To receive this care it must first be determined by medical professionals that the patient is in a terminal state, meaning that the reasonable anticipation is that he or she has less than 6 months to live. And this seemed a logical conclusion as the effects of the drugs to dull my mom's senses and alleviate her discomfort would assuredly over a period of time lead to complications causing her demise.

Over the past 8 months, 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, an aide has arrived at my mom's apartment to assist her caretaker. No longer able to get to the bathroom, my mom's bathing and cleaning is done while she remains in bed. This task is not suited for one human being to undertake. Coupled with the dementia, my mom is now virtually, if not completely blind. Every touch comes as a surprise. When I am with her, I almost always stroke her head or have my hand on her arm or shoulder. But if the weather outside is in the least cold,  my first contact with her skin leads to her recoiling and letting out a small scream. This is multiplied many fold each time her personal hygiene is attended to. This past weekend one of her caretakers suffered bruising of her hand and arm as my mom fought against the unwanted intrusion.

Each transition from bed to wheelchair and back again is a signal for a problem. My mom's cries of " stop, you are killing me" seem to be a combination of reflexive action and actual discomfort. I am sure it is often difficult drawing the distinction . But, the unvarnished truth is that my mom is, in the context of her own universe, better than she was that day in April when she lay on the bed in the emergency room. The unrelenting anguish is no more. The worst of the medications are used only for the worst of moments.

These days, my visits with my mom are most often while she is in her wheelchair, set near the window in the living room, where the late afternoon sun provides soothing warmth. But even in the apartment, even with the rays of light bathing her, my mom is sometimes covered by a blanket and an overcoat.

When I appear at dinner time, the television in the kitchen is invariably on, often to the latest version of Family Feud. I am distracted by the show and try to see how well I can answer the questions. I am lousy at it.

My mom sits at the kitchen table, unaware of my presence when I arrive or that the family on the tv screen has just won, or lost, in their battle for the prize money. She does not know that there is food in front of her. When she eats she reminds me of a young bird or infant child. As the food comes close to her mouth, she opens up and swallows, having sensed that something was there for the taking

The social worker begins to explain to my sister and me why it was that my mom is being removed from hospice care. My sister and I understand that my mom may not be dying imminently but the decision seems so cruel. I tell of what a second pair of hands means to sustaining my mom. How impossible it is to expect one person to fully attend to her needs. How she was not only  blind but nearly deaf. It seemed wrong to take away not only the aide but the nurse who came once or twice a week to review and assess the state of my mom's well being. Or the music therapist, who on her weekly visit always seemed to find a part of my mom that was still alive. The video my son took of my mom's singing showing how she could finish the verses she was hearing and maybe sing the start of the next line or two, has moved many to tears.  I learn that the social worker was one of them.

We discuss options and possibilities. Jewish Family services, care for the blind. If my mom declines further, we can reapply and start with hospice anew. It all sounds very well meaning and sincere. But the piece of paper remains on my desk.

I stare at the form as it is handed to me. My signature is needed to confirm I am aware that the assistance my mom had been receiving is being taken away. I am now keenly aware that no images of my mom are in this room, no sign of her existence. I sign the form and hand it back to the social worker. She thanks me and tells my sister and me she will investigate all the options and get back to us as soon as she can. My mom's hospice care ends tomorrow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Abandoned by My Best Friend

I am very unhappy these days. My closest friend has abandoned me in the last month or two. He used to email me incessantly, often many times a day. Particularly this fall, I thought our friendship was reaching greater intensity and meaning. His wife would even check in often and ask for my advise on certain matters critical to their family. In their time of need, they requested my financial assistance and I gave it willingly. Now, much silence, and only an occasional brief hello. What did I do to Barack Obama to deserve this treatment?

It was grand while it lasted. However, in reflection, it was a pretty one sided relationship. He never seemed available to sit down and meet with me for lunch, or to watch a ballgame. But during most of 2012 I was sure we would be best friends forever. He was pretty formal, always referring to me as Robert when he wrote, never the more familiar Rob, Robby, Bob or even Nuss. But I didn't mind, it was just his way I thought.

People often questioned our relationship. Many attacked him but I defended against these assaults with a great ferocity. I stayed up nights worried about his welfare, concerned that he might soon be unemployed. I challenged those bent on his undoing. I wrote often of the slings and arrows that he was forced to endure. My allegiance to my friend was virtually boundless.

My son was always skeptical when I told him I had gotten yet another note from Barack (I didn't have any nicknames for him either). He suggested that I was but a part of a massive mailing campaign and that we had not really formed a lasting bond. But I just dismissed his remarks as being made out of jealousy.

Maybe Barack never was that interested in me. He didn't ask about my back, or the state of my golf swing, or how my mom was feeling. He didn't invite me to play in one of his basketball games. We never spoke of going on vacation together, maybe just the guys. There was, in retrospect, not a great deal of personal intimacy.

These days, I mostly read about what he is doing or watch him on TV. He is pretty famous after all.  And he does have a lot on his plate. In just the past few weeks, he has had to deal with devastating floods, horrific violence and John Boehner. I guess it is no wonder that we haven't been able to chat.

I have a feeling though that he will come crawling back soon, begging forgiveness for his sudden departure from my life. And I am hopeful that in future years, around early 2015 I will develop a new best friend. Maybe even Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Banning and Buying Back Assault Weapons

In 1995 there were approximately 200,000,000 guns in possession of private citizens in this country. Now the estimate is 300,000,000 or almost 1 gun for every man, woman and child in this country. It is suggested that about 48,000 people will die as a result of gun violence in the United States during the next 4 years if no action is now taken.

What is the true benefit of future gun control laws unless we somehow address the issue of the almost incomprehensible present proliferation of weapons?

On December 15, 2012, 2 Brooklyn Churches offered a $200 gift card in exchange for a buyback of weapons. 134 weapons were collected. Since the program began in July 2008, a joint effort of the New York City police department and Brooklyn churches, approximately 9000 weapons had been recovered.

On that same day, a gun buyback program was announced in Evanston, Illinois, Camden, New Jersey, San Francisco and Oakland, and Durham.

In 1996, in reaction to the death of 35 people in a shooting massacre in Tasmania, Australia passed legislation banning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and instituted a mandatory government buyback for these weapons. Nearly 700,000 guns were purchased from a population of approximately 12,000,000 people. In a study done a decade later, it was found that the firearm homicide rate declined by 59% and firearm suicides by 65%. There was no reported corresponding increase in homicides and suicides in non-fiream related incidents. Furthermore, mass shootings have declined to 0 since full implementation of the law.

In 2007 HR 3766 was introduced in the 112th Congress. By its provisions the Secretary of HUD would be permitted to make grants to local governments to conduct gun buyback programs. This proposed legislation was a renewal of the terms of HR 2493, which was before the 110th Congress in 2003. It followed earlier attempts. None got out of committee.

On September 13, 1994 Congress passed the Federal Assaults Weapon Ban, a ten year prohibition on the sale of 19 semi-automatic firearms and many high capacity magazines. In 2003, there was an attempt to renew the ban for an additional decade. Despite having 111 co-sponsors, the bill failed. Efforts to reintroduce the ban in later years met a similar fate.

If we are going to get serious about the issue of gun control, if we are going to enter into an actual debate, then we should consider a number of simultaneous measures. There has been recent talk, as there is each time a massacre occurs, of inadequate screening of those who purchase guns, especially those capable of mass (and massive) destruction. There is also the inevitable conversation relating to the mental health care challenges that are not met as one of the instrumental predicates for disaster. Yes, both of these are relevant and important.

But we fail to see the forest for the trees covered in guns. In addition to reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban, why can Congress not pass simultaneous legislation outlawing the possession of these weapons for the general public at present? And, in conjunction therewith, enact a law that would provide states with the resources to buy back these weapons, much as they did in Australia. The cost of doing this, given the enormous increase in gun ownership in our country, would be very significant. I suggest that the cost of not doing this is, and will continue to be even higher.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gun Control? I Doubt It

A guest post by Richie Jay

It's really depressing to write this, but the policy analyst in me thinks that even this incident won't inspire meaningful regulation of weapons of mass destruction (aka high-capacity, high-frequency guns). The NRA tomorrow will be the same strong lobby it was yesterday, just as it is after every mass murder. Our president, and Democratic legislators, will still be afraid or unwilling to take them on, even on obvious areas of broad national consensus that have no meaningful or detrimental effect on hunters and self-defense advocates. And you can forget about this swaying the Republicans in Congress: They are objectively the most radical major party in American politics in at least a century. They're not going to suddenly find moderation or become reasonable on this issue, much as they have refused to compromise, negotiate, or, frankly, even budge on just about anything else.

The Time for Action is Now

"School Gunman Kills 20 Children in Connecticut"

The massacres have come with such frequency that it has been almost impossible for the mind to absorb and retain. Through it all there has been a total abdication of responsibility by the government. Tragedy met with silence.

The events in an elementary school in Connecticut impact all of us in visceral ways. If there is a moment in time to address our moral failure to confront the epidemic of gun violence, now is that time. Now, when the wounds are deep and fresh. Now, when emotions, not the lobbyists at the NRA, speak loudest. Now, when the President says that we must "take meaningful action" Now, now, now before the passage of time and the political winds blow us in another direction.

Of Bar Mitzvahs and Batting Averages

 ("Fascination With a New Yorker's Jewish Roots" and "For New York Fans Accustomed to Letdown, A New Reason to Kvell")

While I applaud Mr. Youkilis on his ability to read Hebrew (with the vowels) and his stellar performance at his Bar Mitzvah, I will "kvell" only if he hits much better than last year's .235. Being Jewish only gets you so far, even in New York.

The Updated Declaration of Independence

This piece is a truncated version of the initial Declaration of Independence of 237 years ago. The names have been changed to indict the guilty

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, January 1, 2013
The unanimous Declaration of the Democratic Party

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it. All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government.

The history of the present Republican Party is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these United States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
They have refused to Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
They have refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
They have called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with their measures.
They have endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.
They have made Judges dependent on their Will alone.
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. 
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the Democratic Party, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, that these United States are, and of Right ought to be Free and are Absolved from all Allegiance to the Republican Party, and that all political connection between them and the United States, is and ought to be totally dissolved; And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Weighty Matters

Six pairs of old corduroy pants lay on the bed, ready to be tried on. Several minutes later, a self evident truth emerged. My closet was suddenly thinner but clearly I was not.

I do not own a scale. Thus in the past weeks, as I pulled up the underwear on both hips a little higher, I convinced myself that the protruding flesh was a mirage. When I looked into the full length mirror in the bedroom and was unhappy with the image staring back, I just raised the underpants and lowered the expectations.

After the latest Thanksgiving day massacre, I seemed to abandon all pretense of control. Moderation was a four letter word that I could not spell. It seemed that each day brought more than ample opportunity to become, well, more than ample. And what right did I have to squander an opportunity?

Have you ever eaten ziti pizza? What I find most appealing is not only the combination of 2 of my favorite foods, but the fact that the local establishment cuts their pies into enormous slices. Thus, when I decide to order only a single piece, I am being  prudent. I can understand why the mega soda has become an endangered species in New York City.

My wife has a pet peeve when I diet. Not because there is a change in my demeanor, or that the meals in our house become radically different. No, what ibbles her is how quickly the flab disappears. "It is just so much easier for you" she will tell me each time the bagels, ice cream, french fries, bread, cookies, and basically every single food I enjoy are placed on the "do not disturb" list.

But the truth is that I am fortunate. Once I decide to deprive myself of virtually everything I actually want to eat, I am not left to suffer for prolonged periods. I have a friend who was a poster child for improper eating habits for much of his adult life. When he decided several years ago that he had enough of too much, he went from sinner to saint. Since his revelation, he has reached almost a zen state. Of his last 1095 lunches, I would say that all but three were comprised of grilled chicken and salad. I greatly admire his fortitude and hope for his continued remarkable success, but following in his much smaller footsteps is not my goal.

And so, I have a reverse New Year's resolution. While virtually the entire planet sets aside January 1 as the day that the excess shall be no more, I am hoping that on that day I can abandon my ascetic ways. When that occurs there will be a piece of ziti pizza with my name on it, waiting for me to hold it gently in my hands. But only one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Me and the Dog of Ira Glass

Ira Glass was being interviewed on his show, This American Life. He was recounting an almost unfathomable tale of devotion to his dog, that by his own account, seemed wholly lacking in redeeming characteristics. Caring for this animal was essentially a full time job. When asked why he would subject himself to such hardship, Mr. Glass indicated that his dog was a helpless creature. After a while, endless attention to it became the natural order of his day and over time just this stress itself made the relationship more meaningful. Mr. Glass could have been discussing my wife's connection with me.

Over the course of the last 24 hours I placed an open seltzer bottle in the cabinet with the glasses, parked the car on the wrong level of our garage and spent at least 10 minutes in the bathroom trying to get the plastic cap off a razor blade. In that process, I managed to take the blade and plastic covering off simultaneously and then was unable to disengage the protecting piece from its companion. When I finally achieved success, I couldn't get the blade back onto the razor. I tried to shave with only the blade in my hand but almost slit my throat. After much effort, blade and razor were reunited and I emerged clean shaven, if shaken. No one in my family would be surprised by a single word in this paragraph.

There were signs of impending disaster from the earliest days of my marriage, over 35 years ago. On our honeymoon, one of the tires on our rental car went flat. I went to the trunk of the car and located what appeared to be instruments intended to address the issue. But even then, even when all the synapses were firing, even when hair grew on my head and not out of my nose and ears, even at the apex of my critical thinking, I had not a clue how to put A into B and end up with a new tire on a car. As my young bride watched, I flailed and failed.

I would assume that the dog of Mr. Glass has no real understanding of the strain he has placed upon his owner. He probably can't comprehend that his exotic food allergies, his seemingly incessant desire to nip at all humans, and his other deviations from the norm are considered drawbacks. He probably perceives that he and Mr. Glass are very ordinary and that their interaction is standard fare. I am not a dog and so I know that my inability to unscrew a light bulb is not cute. The broken shards that my wife takes out with parts of a potato does not qualify in her world as entertaining. The fact that I can't light the stove and that the tale I tell that one effort led to me burning off my eyebrows is  deemed possible, is not in any way endearing. Who among us is unable to pump gas? Who would admit that getting keys off a key chain is an incomprehensible maze? How is vacuuming an art? When is getting an Allen wrench a test rather than a request? When did fitting the bottom sheet on a bed become a tug of war?

Mr. Glass may not have gotten what he bargained for with his dog. He may find that his life has headed in directions unintended and unanticipated since his pet entered his domain. But like he said,  a dog doesn't speak the English language and can't fathom getting a paying job. There were well defined limits to his expectations. I was only 24 when my wife met me. I was in my last year of law school and had not yet developed any of physical shortcomings that would invade my body over the years.  Back surgery was over 3 decades away. Even the years of treatments to try to turn my toenails  into an approximation of  the color and shape of my youth, was still off in the distance. It would be some time before my incessant desire to sing badly and an inopportune moments became a staple of my day. What my wife saw, and what she clearly entered into a bargain for, was not the dog of Mr. Glass.

Is it typical that putting dishes correctly in the dishwasher is as hard as solving a Rubik's cube? Can failing to put the emergency brake on a stick shift or putting it in gear on a hill be deemed acceptable because no one was hurt and the car miraculously parked itself at the bottom of a hill? Is setting the thermostat deemed advance mathematics? How many times can my son give me the same instructions for the computer? Is infinite an appropriate response?

I can't imagine what the future holds for my bride. Combining incompetence with incoherence is not a real daily double. My mom has spent the last half decade in an ever declining state of dementia. Long before the first symptoms were evident to the outside world, she complained of forgetfulness. Failing to bring the laundry upstairs after reminding myself countless times of this task only makes the events of the last day seem a precursor to ever diminished returns.

Ira Glass and my wife have much in common. I only hope that like Mr. Glass, my wife finds something compelling in a relationship with a unique partner. I hope she believes, as he must, that there is a strange and exotic beauty in all of this. I only know that if Mr. Glass and my wife ever decide that weird is not wonderful, both the dog and I are in trouble.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Debt Reducing Fantasy

A guest post by Richie Jay
I understand that Mitt Romney ran a campaign built upon a foundation of willful lies and intentional vagueness (he lost, but he likely would've lost even worse if he hadn't tacked away from the far right during the debates, and if he had been clear and upfront about his regressive tax and spending priorities), and his debt reduction plan was basically to give additional massive tax cuts to the rich, close some unspecified loopholes, and then, like magic, there'd be rainbows, butterflies, full employment, and a balanced budget.

But now that we're actually approaching something with the terribly misleading name, "The Fiscal Cliff," and the presidential campaign is officially over, you'd think the Republicans could get serious about actual fiscal policy, especially because they claim to be very concerned about the national debt. So, after Obama puts out his actual plan to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans, and to reduce spending in specified areas, Boehner replies that this is not a serious plan (he called it a "La-la-land offer," in fact). So Obama challenges Boehner to put up an alternative.

And what does Boehner do? He basically reintroduces the Romney-Ryan plan: Deeper cuts to government programs, disproportionately hurting the poor and working class, and, you guessed it, unspecified changes in tax policy (closing loopholes, limiting deductions) that are supposed to raise a bunch of money, but since we aren't allowed to know which ones, we can't know if this is true, and we can't know who will face the burden of these changes.

The worst offenders, however, are the media, who will surely pretend that this is an actual plan, a true and reasonable counter-proposal to Barack Obama's budget. And there'll be pundit debates on the tee-vee over which plan is better, with equal time given to each one: Obama's with real numbers, or Boehner's less arithmetic-y version (math is hard!). And, of course, they'll bring up Simpson-Bowles, which never actually agreed on a plan (thanks, Paul Ryan!), and what ideas they did come up with are right out of the traditional pro-austerity Republican playbook. (Even Obama's plan is no liberal dream, but at least it's an actual plan).

So as long as we're living in a non-reality-based universe, I've got a fool-proof proposal to solve America's 'debt crisis': Unicorns that fart $100 bills. That's right. I'm talking a whole Texas-sized prairie filled with farting unicorns. Then we just collect all those $100 bills, give them a good sanitizing, and -- boom -- just like that, budget balanced, jobs created (unicorns are very high maintenance), precipice averted, and world's greatest petting zoo established (watch out for the horn, though).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day of Rest? When is it Not OK to Bench Your Best Players

David Stern's stern reprimands aside, the decision to field less than your best is a time honored tradition in sports.

In 1990 a $25,000 fine was levied by Commissioner Stern against the Lakers for Pat Riley putting out a Washington Generals type squad for the last game of the regular season. The succinct response of the coach was that "I decide who the heck I want to play."

In the middle of the third quarter of game 15 of the 2009 NFL season, Peyton Manning headed to the bench, notwithstanding his team holding a tenuous 15-10 lead against the Jets. Shortly thereafter, dreams of a perfect season vanished in a 29-15 defeat and the team was booed off the field by the hometown crowd. The Jets playoff hopes, dead on arrival, were revived while others like the Steelers and Texans, fighting for the post-season could only watch and wonder. Afterwards, came the explanation. "I can narrow my scope and once you make a decision you live with it." Coach speak at its finest

And in a shining example of oratorical beauty on this topic, Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson proclaimed this September: "I really don't give a rat's ass what somebody thinks about my club and who I put on the field to either help somebody else or I'm not supposed to rest my regulars after we clinch it."

It is not only those with little or nothing to lose who play this game (or more accurately, don't), In August of 2010, the Yankees were battling for first place with the Tampa Bay Rays. On a Sunday, manager Joe Girardi left A-Rod and several other regulars on the bench. When explaining the resulting 3-0 loss, which dropped their lead to a single game, Girardi said, "I'm just playing so I don't blow somebody out...People they're gonna question it, but I gotta think about the long haul."

The decision of the Spurs to send four regulars home before a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat this week was certainly not a determination one could anticipate. A marquis match-up and then it wasn't. Yet the fact that the game was in doubt until the last seconds should make for more than an interesting asterisk.

Is there something larger than a responsibility to your own team? In sports, particularly professional sports, is there an obligation to put on the best show every night? The answers of the coaches cited herein, when forced to address those questions, are clear and certain.

Did Coach Popovich step over some mythical line any more than the others? Did he damage the integrity of the game or did he merely make a tactical decision, and in the process send a message both to the soon to be departing Mr. Stern and the next NBA czar about protecting players against unreasonable scheduling demands of the league?

This was not equivalent to the actions of the Olympic badminton players from South Korea, China and Indonesia intentionally "not using one's efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport."

Commissioner Stern apologized to the fans and pounded the Spurs for their transgression. He should instead be apologizing to the coach for condemning his decision to consider the long term welfare of his team rather than the overnight TV numbers.

Even God rested on the seventh day.

Friday, November 30, 2012


My friend had her hair colored yesterday. I know what you are thinking but keep reading.

Earlier this week, her sister lost her battle with ALS. My friend's constant trips down to Washington to watch the unfolding tragedy, most often in the company of both her husband and her mother, are now over.

She is not a religious person, never has been. She does not believe in God nor in the possibility of an after life. But, like many of us, she can not be unequivocal in her position. There is always the remote chance that she is mistaken. Which brings me back to the issue of hair coloring.

My friend's sister, so I have learned from years of tales told, was a woman who put much importance on appearance. Even during the course of her illness, she wanted to make sure that her hair was combed just right, that she was properly made up. How you present yourself was more than a decision, it was a declaration.

There is a memorial service next Monday to honor my friend's sister. One more trip to Washington, this time to say a final goodbye. And just a chance that one of those in attendance might be paying close attention to detail. "You see", my friend said, "if my sister is looking down on me, she would not want to find any gray roots."

So an avowed skeptic is hedging her bet. And hoping her sister thinks her hair looks perfect.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Stone Throwers

("Make Up Turned Break Up")

They deny irrefutable proof of global warming at an ever increasing cost to our nation. They fabricate concerns of "death panels" to frighten the public and try to derail passage of health care legislation providing protection for millions. They seek to suppress the vote of those who oppose them and deprive them of their most essential freedom. They utilize every subterfuge to undermine the President and diminish the chances of our economic recovery.

These are the people who dare throw stones at Susan Rice. Her appearance on national television on a Sunday morning was not even a blip on the radar screen.  Her statements were couched with asterisks and allowed for the possibility that the information was incomplete and might not be proven accurate when the dust settled. The unfolding facts on the attack on the consulate in Benghazi were subsequently debated in prime time before the nation by the Presidential candidates.

There is no honor in the behavior of Mr. McCain, Mr. Graham or Ms. Ayotte. This is only more of the same from a Republican party where political gamesmanship knows no bounds.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Minus 12 and Holding

"Minus 12." It is not the correct answer but it brings a big smile to my face.

It takes 2 people to sponge bathe my mom in her bed. I enter the room hesitantly, notwithstanding Mary's indication that I am welcome. My mom is fully covered in towels and a robe, but she is not aware of her state of dress, and I worry what may transpire in my presence. Yet she seems quiet and restful, not at all combative like she has been in this circumstance in the past.

My Aunt Shirley was turning 90 that day, almost 5 years younger than my mom. "Do you know it is Aunt Shirley's birthday?"

"Shirley Solan"? It is a good sign that she remembers her sister's name.

My mom's feet and ankles are feeling the warm massage. Maybe the gentle touch on the skin helps focus her thoughts.

"Do you know how old you are?" For many years my mom decided that she was and would remain 39. In fact, she proudly wore a tee shirt on each January 8 through much of the past several decades which proclaimed she was "39 and holding". While I was growing up she advised that she was 4 years younger than my dad. It was only after he passed away and I thereafter dealt with various records of my mom that I discovered she was actually 2 months his senior. So, numbers, or at least the hiding of this particular number, always held a significance for her.

The question I posed was not intended to solicit a proper response. It has been a long time since she retained the grasp of these fundamental facts. Just having her search is now a victory in itself. Several seconds pass without reply. "Minus 12.''

Having been witness to and participant in the past half dozen years of her life has been a horrible and enlightening experience. I have learned much about myself and about what many of us must do to cope with life's fragile equilibrium. What brought me to tears in past years now is understood, if not accepted. And what was once considered tragic is now something different, not better, just different. So when my mom grasps for answers that escape her, but comes up with a unique and intriguing alternative, I no longer cringe. I find the possibility of humor, and make believe that my mom is telling the big fish story. She is her old incorrigible self, holding on now not to an age but to a concept that has a metaphysical meaning.

My mom always said that you are only as old as you tell yourself, and that age is just a number. And minus 12 sounds like a really good number to me. Maybe on her 95th birthday she will not be wearing that old shirt but rather a new one. Here's to my mom, "minus 12 and holding."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Challenging Kobayashi

I arrived at my cousin's early on Thanksgiving afternoon having eaten only a single chocolate chip cookie for breakfast. I was saving several hundred calories which I could then spread judiciously over the course of the afternoon.

I began a tour of his new residence, walking past the assorted offerings from appetizers to desserts spread about the kitchen. I wondered whether it would be impolitic for me to ingest a cookie on the run. I hesitated briefly then moved on, trying to appear oblivious to the many foods facing imminent demise.

There is a discussion between the weak me and the weaker me which occurs at moments like this. For as long as I have known me, and it feels like a relationship that has lasted my entire life, I have failed miserably in moderating my impulse to gorge.

The shrimp, resting pure and proud, was my first area of attack.  It was a withering assault, the cocktail sauce slathered on, piece after piece. I was like Kobayashi only faster. The plate recoiled in horror at the severity of it all. In the end, what remained were a few remnants, shreds of what had but moments before been such an impressive array of talent.

There was rumor of whitefish salad. I moved with singular focus from room to room until I located the dish. Hiding between the celery, crackers and potato chips, it seemed to recognize its fate. Within seconds the indiscriminate, maniacal siege had commenced. The weapons of choice were many. Try as the fish might to slither off the outside of a cracker, or the edge of the stick of celery, it may have received a momentary reprieve but the inevitable was, in a word, inevitable.

The next several hours are but a blur. I think there was a television, football games, relatives and some relative unknowns in the vicinity of me and my food. I remember a small mountain of little hot dogs being placed within reach and then being vacuumed in by me, one with mustard, the next with ketchup, in a serial procession.

I have vague images of a plate being filled with traditional Thanksgiving fare, and then another one of similar dimension. By dessert, I flailed about, making but lame attempt to meet my allotment. But none of this has the clarity of those first minutes when there was nothing between me and my insatiable needs.

On our trip home last night, my daughter remarked that it was one of the best Thanksgivings she could remember. I will have to take her word for it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Thanksgiving Feast

It was a cold rain, one that warns of winter's arrival. In the mountains, not too far from downtown Denver, there was a forecast of up to 2 feet of snow that would serve as catalyst for skiers' fantasies. It was early Sunday morning, a time when most would be staying in bed under warm blankets, girding themselves against the inclemency.

I shivered slightly on the walk with my wife. My hood was not quite tight enough and kept falling off my head in the breeze. We were on our way to the Denver Art Museum, hoping to see the Van Gogh exhibit. Later that day, weather permitting, we were on a flight back to New York. My most pressing concerns were the chill in the air and the scarcity of tickets to view the master.

As we turned a corner towards the museum only a few hundred yards away, there, stretching almost the entire length of the block, was one continuous table, set in festive colors. It had the look of  Thanksgiving  with an orange and brown paper table cloth serving as protective cover. It was actually many identical folding tables, lined up all astride one other, all connected by the massive orange and brown.

In the center of the street, situated so that those on both ends of the table would have equal access to sight and sound, was a small band shell. Several musicians had gathered. In the middle was a young girl, whom I imagined as the lead singer. The  performers and the equipment, while under a canopy, were still subjected to much of the harshness of the day.

Next to this site, the food was being readied. Hundreds of bottles of soda were packed tightly together. A group was working, pulling apart the meat on the turkey into individual portions. Nearby, the bread was stacked high.

A makeshift hair salon found a home on the grass. There, a lone hair cutter was busy at work, putting the finishing touches on an apparent makeover.

At the far end of the block, the crowd was gathering in a line, two or three across and many rows deep, waiting for their chance to partake in the offerings. It was only mid-morning, and all was not nearly ready. The rain continued to fall intermittently, stopping for a moment but then increasing in intensity.

Most in the group were silent. One was not, screaming loudly while those around tried to ignore him.

During our three days in the city,  the landscape in the business district where we were staying was dotted with clusters of people whom it appeared life was treating with no kindness. Our hotel looked down upon a pedestrian mall, made Disney like clean. A free bus ran its length, inviting those with the resources to take in its restaurants and shops. In the midst were those for whom this street provided only the promise of a bench.

My wife and I reached the end of the block. We walked past those waiting for the rain to diminish and their stomachs to be filled. We headed on to the museum.

About 90 minutes later, having taken in the wonders of the art and listening to an audio explanation to enhance our experience, we ventured outside. The weather had turned even a little colder, and the rain followed our every step.

By the entrance of a nearby building, sheltered under an overhang, were three or four men. Plates in hand, they were partaking of their meal. People were similarly huddled together in various other places, all strategically located for protection from the elements. On the stage, the young girl singer, slightly off key and a bit too loud, was serenading to the few who sat at the brown and orange covered table. One person stood nearby, gesticulating wildly to the music.

It began to hail. I worried whether our son, returning from a visit with friends, was dressed warmly enough. Soon we were back in the hotel. I pressed up against the fireplace. Although it did not generate as much warmth as I hoped, within a few minutes the chill exited my bones.

Later, as the hail turned to snow, the weather at the airport became a problem. We waited for our plane to be de-iced, but even as the snow intensified and conditions deteriorated, we were able to manage our escape and head into the dark night sky.

On the street near the museum, I was certain that the stage had been taken down and the block long table removed.  The brown and orange tablecloth was now but a memory, torn and discarded.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Romney's Parting Shot

 ("Romney Attributes Obama Win to "Gifts")

Who is the real Mitt Romney? Just over one week after the election, the former candidate for President doubled down on his theory regarding a portion of the population that was beyond the reach of the Republicans. It was the 47% speech with slight variations. The recent college student, people under 26, young women of child bearing age, Hispanics and blacks were all takers, people whose loyalty could be "bought". Government "gifts" of healthcare, possible forgiveness of crushing debt, prevention of unintended pregnancies, the ability to pursue the American dream, all of these were Democrat bribes that the Republicans could not offer.

It was Mr. Romney at his ugly worst. Throughout this campaign, we were told that the ever shifting positions of the Republican candidate reflected nothing more than a fixed intention to get elected. Don't believe the outrageous Tea Party rhetoric he parrots, but merely trust that he will do the right thing once he gets into office. It turns out that centrist Mitt was the mirage.

The Republicans paraded before this nation a group of wholly unqualified potential candidates. The primary season was full of highly forgettable figures who did disservice to their party and this nation. What was left at the end of the day was a standard bearer who believed there were many among us who could be discarded. It was a vision of an America where the 'haves' deserve more and the rest deserve only contempt.  Mr. Romney, in what will hopefully be the final words we hear from him, revealed how small he truly is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moral Failings

 ("Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers' Ethics")

I understand that General Petraeus, General Allen, or many of the others now or recently censured or investigated, stood in positions of enormous power and could use their station to exercise inappropriate control over those subservient and subordinate. And I appreciate that, at the highest levels, the concern with national security breach is real. But absent these findings, is discipline warranted for the moral failing of not being as true to one's spouse as one has promised to be to one's country? I wonder how many in the military would be left to serve were they required to advise as to their faithfulness not only to the United States but to their life partner. The answer, in this arena, like everywhere else on our planet, is self evident. The military is not, and should not be, in the business of determining moral codes in the bedroom.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Now Pronounce You

The wedding ceremony was called for 6:30. As the cab driver made a U-turn and headed back from where he started, I looked nervously at my cell phone. It told me that I should be unhappy, very unhappy. I was.

How, in this day and age, can a taxi not go directly to its proper destination? The era of guesswork in travel had seemingly gone the way of the dinosaur and the typewriter. Plug in your starting and ending points, and some omniscient being instructed as to each twist and turn from here to there.

We had been set to travel to Denver in the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday. United Airlines announced, nearly 24 hours prior to our departure, that virtually all of its flights were cancelled due to the nor'easter that was bearing down on the metropolitan area. After superstorm Sandy, it seemed like a very cruel joke. Somehow, our flight survived. My son's educated guess (and given his study of the airline industry, analysis was more accurate a description) was that we were spared as we were flying to a United hub. They wanted this plane, our plane to get out of where it was and to a place where it could be further dispatched. Money, as always, speaks.

Not that the journey was without its hiccups. As we pulled away from the gate at our allotted time, the snow pelted down. We would have to be de-iced before heading into the air. But, in a virtually deserted airport, with a runway seemingly begging us to get the hell out of there, it would be well over 2 hours before we left the firma of the terra. Mechanical issues, which would take but a few minutes to correct (is there ever one that is not announced as a minor problem?) quickly brought us back to point A and square one. But, finally, neither rain, nor sleet, snow nor broken part could keep us from our appointed rounds, and on to Denver we went.

The hotel was located in downtown Denver, chosen by the wedding planners for easy and quick access by the guests to the location where the wedding was transpiring. Less than a 10 minute ride, so the expert on this matter at the front desk advised. As the taxi pulled up, my cell phone told me we had time to spare.

The driver's response when informed of where we were headed should have tipped me off. It was framed more as a question than a declaratory statement. But, he was the one in charge, and this is what he did for a living. I ignored the hesitation in his reply when the site of the wedding was repeated. And he took off as though he was confident that he had a mental image of every left and right, every stoplight and pedestrian crossing. All was good.

The meter and the miles began to pile up. Uncertainty was evident in every twist and turn. When the car slowed, and made that very unceremonious u-turn, not the first of this meandering mess, the driver fessed up. Within seconds, my son took over. Talk about back seat driving. Left here, right there, another right, another left. It was 6:36 when the taxi went right past our destination. After one last error was corrected, we were where we were supposed to be. The meter read almost $19. I handed $10 to the cabbie, which he found to be fair wage, and off he went into the night.

While we were being driven to distraction, the words of beauty and wisdom had started. Fortunately we heard almost all of what was a very warm and genuine ceremony. The evening was a great success.

At the end of the night, one of our friends who had also made the trip to the mile high wedding, drove us back to the hotel. It took less than 5 minutes.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

One Vote

I would propose that one person's vote, and one alone, may well have changed the course of this election and the shape of our political future. If Chief Justice John Roberts had decided that the Affordable Care Act did not withstand Constitutional scrutiny, the next President of the United States would have been Willard Mitt Romney.

The central piece of legislation of the Obama administration was the health care reform that eventually bore his name. Much political capital was expended during the initial 2 years of the President's first term on this issue. While the country struggled to deal with the economic mess left behind by former President Bush, the Obamacare debate raged. If that fifth vote in the Supreme Court had been different, much of the conversation thereafter, during the debates and on the campaign trail would have focused on the time wasted and lost by the Democrats and their President on a matter that was ultimately of no consequence and no benefit to this nation.

Certainly, there are myriad reasons for the Republican defeat on November 4. The party will, as it did after the 2008 election, have to determine whether the path it had chosen was too extreme, too exclusive, to garner enough support in an ever shifting demographic. But despite all their shortcomings, despite having chosen a candidate who never gained his footing or found a true voice, despite all the errors along the way, we might well this morning be waking to a very much altered political landscape were it not for John Roberts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Special Message For The Ladies On Election Day

 A guest post by Richie Jay.
Hey, ladies. This one goes out to you.

More than 94-and-a-half years ago, my grandma, Dotsy, was born in New York City on a chilly January day in 1918. It would be another 2-and-a-half years, until August 1920, that women in the United States had universal suffrage, a.k.a. the right to vote from coast to coast.

In November 1981, my parents moved with an adorable black labrador named Coal and an even more adorable little infant named Richie to Tenafly, NJ, where we lived just a few doors down from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house, as in the house where Elizabeth Cady Stanton once lived. Yes, THAT Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, along with Susan B. Anthony, drafted the original text of what became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

In August 2003, I started a graduate program in public policy in California, where I learned a lot about civil rights in the United States, and where I also had an advisor, originally from New York, whose best childhood friend was the present-day resident of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house.

So, what I'm trying to say here is that women's suffrage is kind of a BFD to me. After all, I have a wonderful grandma whom I love and care about deeply, and who I think is equal to or greater than me in every way imaginable, and I cannot fathom a time -- shockingly during her lifetime -- when this was not a given. And I grew up, quite literally, in the bosom of women's empowerment, which then curiously seemed to follow me wherever I went.

Which all leads to today. And brings me back to talking to the ladies. (People without lady parts, please stop reading.)

Women. Ladies. Magnificent Goddesses of Suffrage: You fought hard for the right to vote. And you deserve to make your voices heard. Loudly. And today is your special day to enfranchise yourselves with abandon. Be indulgent. Treat Yourself to the fabulous pleasures of voting.

In fact, you owe it to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and my dearest Grandma Dotsy to show up at the polls -- even wait in a long line, if you must -- step into that booth, and pull that lever/touch that touchscreen/punch that punchcard/do your voting thing, and then shout out loud: "I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME VOTE!" Or don't shout. Vote. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

And, though I am loath to give any advice to women, since it is truly us men that should be taking advice from you, I'd like to, humbly, offer a voting suggestion:

If you'd like a president and a supreme court that respect your right to make choices about your own body, about whom you can love, about how, when, and even if you'd like to have children, about important and deeply personal healthcare decisions, then I shall most gently and humbly suggest that you vote for BARACK OBAMA. (Also, if applicable in your district, perhaps you'd like to refrain from voting for Congressmen or Senators who think that rape is a gift from god and that women have ways to 'shut that whole thing down.')

If you'd like a president who believes in improving the quality of public education, and in improving access to and affordability of higher education, and in expanding job opportunities and pay equality for women, then I shall kindly recommend that you vote for BARACK OBAMA.

If you'd like to breathe cleaner air, drink purer water, eat safer food, and, yes, live near slightly lower oceans, please consider voting for BARACK OBAMA.

If you'd like to live in a country that cares for its poorest and most vulnerable, its hungry and disabled, its grizzled war veterans and frail but still remarkably adorable little old Jewish grandmas -- even at the expense of higher estate and capital gains taxes for millionaires and billionaires -- then you should probably, maybe, but this is totally up to you, since it is, of course, your vote, not mine, vote for BARACK OBAMA.

Ladies. In closing, I am ever grateful that you had the intelligence, strong will, and perseverance to fight for the right to vote nearly a century ago. And I sincerely hope that you will keep up that fight today. Every time each one of you votes, you are, in your own small way, becoming Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And, for that, you should be tremendously proud. I know I am.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Acceptance Speech

Tonight is not about who I am but who we are. There is an unbreakable American spirit, a sheer determination to overcome adversity, a courage and a strength that is and will continue to be the centerpiece of this nation. At our core is a common desire to demonstrate to the rest of the world all that is remarkable and all that is possible.

I have gone from one end of this country to the other and seen the struggles that we face. I know that sometimes it feels like brighter days will never arrive. But we are emerging  from the darkness. I will not rest, I cannot rest knowing the difficult times that still lay ahead. In recent days we have witnessed the unspeakable tragedies of a storm that has cost us in so many ways. But we will overcome, and in the weeks that follow, we will begin to rebuild, brick by brick and block by block. It is who we are.

The past months have been marked by the harsh reality of politics. But while Mitt Romney's vision of the road to recovery and mine may diverge, we share an unshakeable belief in your greatness. Democrat and Republican, old and young, man, woman and child, no matter the color of your skin or the part of this vast land you call home, we will all as one find the answers. It is who we are.

 I will ask for sacrifices from you, but you have never shied away from responsibility. I will expect commitments from you but you have never been unwilling to act. I will look to you for my strength, I will lean on you for my support. I will count on you because I can. It is who we are.

And we will emerge better in so many ways. Our  renewed focus on education will lead to more productive students and more secure futures. Our investments in energy will find us more diverse and more independent. Our rebuilding of our infrastructure will bring jobs to many and revitalize areas long neglected. Our recognition of our firefighters, our policemen and women, all those dedicated to preserving and protecting will help us as much as it will help them. It is what will happen because it is who we are.

We will speak to each other and not over each other as we reach for solutions. We will treat with respect those who act in pursuit of our common interest. We will not always see eye to eye but we will not turn our backs on those who have different answers. We will find a way to find common ground. We will do this because it is who we are.

The world is much changed from what it was that day in November of 2008 when I stood before you in Chicago. One could not have ever imagined that in foreign lands, far and wide, there would be such a demand for a new path. It is a path that is strewn with obstacles, and uneven landscape. And it is one for which the final resting place is near impossible to locate. We have been confronted with enormous challenges in trying to help those who look for a better, more respectful, more inclusive community in which to live. But help them we will, and we will be a consistent and moral friend to those who deserve our friendship, because that is who we are.

We have fought the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have brought home those who served us so nobly in one war and we will soon welcome back those who remain abroad in Afghanistan. And we will take as good care of these returning heroes when they are on our shores, as they have us. We will not forget them, we will not let them go hungry or without shelter. We will keep them safe from the storm because that is who we are.
We will  continue to be diligent and make it abundantly clear to those who would do us harm that we will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit. They will not rest easy one day, one hour, one second. We are as relentless as we are strong. We will do what we can, what we must, because that is who we are.
We will be steadfast in our care of  the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the neglected so they will never feel lost or alone. We will make certain that our first order of business is to mandate that the least among us is treated with the respect and dignity that all of us deserve. We will act responsibly towards them because that it is who we are.

Too many awake every day just waiting for the opportunity to do all of which they are capable. I will move heaven and earth to assure that their capacity is not wasted. We will pursue policies that give them a chance, because a chance is all they ask for. There is no stronger or better worker in the world and they will always make us proud because that is who we are.

I thank Mr. Romney and the Republican party for caring about our future. I thank all who have shown faith in me and cast their ballot in my favor. We are the greatest nation in the world and in the coming days the world will look at us and marvel . Tomorrow will be a good day in America, and the one after even better.. I know it because I know who we are.

God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Marathon

Whether you agreed with it or not, the New York City Marathon was going to happen this Sunday. That is, until the middle of the day on Friday when it was not. Was the Mayor's ultimate decision the right one?

When is the moment after a tragedy when it is appropriate to move forward with a major sporting event? When does this cross over from being an insensitive intrusion and instead become an emotional regeneration? I look to devastating events and their aftermath for guidance and insight.

On October 17, 1989 the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics were warming up for Game 3 of the World Series. Suddenly, the upper level of the stands in Candlestick Park began to tremble. The Loma Prieta earthquake registered 6.9 on the Richter scale. The final toll was 63 dead, over 3,500 injured and thousands homeless. All the airports in the Bay Area were closed. Transportation was halted as major roadways sustained massive damage. The estimate of repair costs was near $2 billion. Ten days after the stands shook, game 3 was played.

The events of 9/11 brought this country to a horrified standstill. The New York Stock Exchange did not open on September 11, and would not renew operations until September 17. Broadway theaters remained dark for but 2 days and reopened (with dimmed lights) on September 13. New York City's mayoral primary had begun on September 11, but was suspended during that day and did not continue until September 25. And on the day that the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, Bud Selig announced that Major League baseball would not be played on that day, and no strike or ball was called until 6 days later. In the 24 hours after the attack, 11 people were pulled alive from the rubble.

Sandy arrived on the New Jersey shore with a brutal intensity and its ferocity reached into millions of homes. Few parts of New York City were spared. Physical destruction was massive and power outages continue to create enormous hardship in the days after the storm's arrival. The estimate on the financial costs now run as high as $50 billion.The emotional devastation appears without end. In the midst of this, almost 50,000 runners were to line up this Sunday morning, November 4, to run slightly over 26 miles through the 5 boroughs of the city, past those whose lives have so recently been disrupted.

On November 23, 1963, on the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the National  Football League decided that the games would go on that day. It was, he later decided, the worst decision of his career.

When the earthquake of 1989 hit in San Francisco and Candlestick was damaged, that earlier determination of Mr. Rozelle was remembered by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent in comments he made shortly after the 9/11 attack: ''How could we think about playing in a stadium that wasn't available?''  ''We talked about going to Anaheim. We could have gone to Oakland....My decision was influenced by Rozelle's. He said it was a terrible mistake. You can't play a game against such events.''

On September 15, 2001, 4 days after the Twin Towers came down, the New York Times published an article entitled "After the Attack, Where to Get Information, A List of Emergency Numbers and Websites". The piece began as follows: "Searching for Missing Loved Ones. Finding a place to stay. Trying to get to work. Looking for a way to help." 

The New York Times on November 3, 2012 reported as follows ("Hardship Strains Emotions in New York") : In the New York area there were "powerfully long lines for free meals, lines for buses to take people where crippled subways could not, lines for gasoline that stretched 30 blocks in Brooklyn."  The article stated that "critics said it would be in poor taste to hold a footrace through 5 boroughs while so many people in the area were still dealing with damage from the hurricane."

"Wisely Stepping Aside in Bombarded City" (New York Times, November 3, 2012) reacted to the Mayor's change of heart on allowing the race to proceed: "It was already a bad idea when the winds stopped howling and the tides stopped surging and the real public servants, out there in the neighborhoods, began to report just how bad this was, how bad this still is."

What lessons do we learn from all of these events? The answer may depend on different criteria, but I believe there is one overriding concern: are we in the search and rescue period or have we moved into  recovery mode? In the first phase, there is a sense that the tragedy is still unfolding, the wounds still wide open and  there is something we can and should be doing to put an end to the underlying event. In tragedies like the one in 1989 in San Francisco, or 2001 underneath the rubble in New York City, or 2012 throughout the tri-state area, the immediacy of the pain does not begin to recede until the lights are back on, the heat in the apartment warms the cold that has attached,  the roadways welcome traffic or the hope of finding live bodies underneath the rubble no longer exists. It is only then that it is appropriate to bring sport back into our lives.

On September 21, 2001, 10 days after the Twin Towers fell, a major league baseball game was played in New York  Years later, Chipper Jones, a participant in that event, recalled the night: "Everyone went home feeling great, feeling wonderful. We had done our jobs as baseball players to entertain people," Jones said, "but we had gone I feel, above and beyond just the normal's day work in that we owed it to the City of New York and the Northeast United States to help heal a little bit, help take people's minds off a terrible tragedy for a couple of hours."

New York City is still underneath water, still in the midst of trying to dig out from under the rubble. The process is not yet complete. While there were many reasons for the runners to line up on Sunday, none of them were good enough. The healing will begin, but only when the raw nerve is not quite as prominently exposed.

Freedom Will Light & Heat Your Home, Repair Your Roads and Educate Your Kids

Another guest post by Richie Jay

First a little primer: When you view an ad on the internet, it is being served to you by one of the major ad networks. Those ad networks collect all sorts of information, using things like your IP address and tracking cookies. From the data they collect, they can determine, at the very least, where you are, and often quite a bit more than that.

So, on the Drudge Report (I know, awful, but bear with me) this morning, 2 big Romney ads were being served to me: (1) "Our economy runs on freedom, not government"; and (2) "We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in."

Setting aside for the moment that I'm not a Romney voter, let's focus on the big picture: (1) I live in New Jersey, and they know this; (2) New Jersey just suffered the worst natural disaster in its history, and they know this. (3) They have the power to choose when, where, and which ads they serve, and they know this.

Even our Republican governor knows that the economy doesn't run on "freedom" (whatever that means) when people's homes are under water (and not in the mortgage sense, in the literal, wet sense), roads are impassable, the power is out all over the place, public transit isn't running, schools are closed, and people can't buy gasoline. So that platitude sounds even stupider than it normally would, even to a dyed-in-the-wool Romney supporter.

And that "moral responsibility" business is about the most immoral thing you could possibly say at a time like this. If we were able to fight two wars, because they were deemed necessary, without paying for them, it takes a whole lot of gall to slam the purse shut at a time when we desperately need government spending to run search and rescue operations, rebuild infrastructure, and simply get lives back to normal. This is the absolute worst time to suddenly find fiscal responsibility, coming from a party that had exactly none of it for the past few decades, in spite of their soundbites about it.

My advice to Romney's web team: Serve up some different ads. Maybe even nice ones about helping people in need (heaven forbid!). At least to people in New Jersey. There's literally only a few days left until the election, and you can't find a message that isn't "Screw You, People of New Jersey. Your government shouldn't help you. Because that's not FREEDOM! And LIBERTY! And STUFF!"?

Well, screw you too, Mitt Romney.

P.S. Close the carried interest, capital gains, and Cayman Island tax dodges that you use, amongst others, Mr. Romney, and we could find some cash to spend on these relief efforts, so it wouldn't be, you know, "immoral" for the government to help people.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Dotsy

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, my mother is unaware of what has just transpired.

There was no disaster in her universe, no howling winds, no loss of heat or light, no paper that did not come to the door or phone that suddenly served no purpose. The only things that she knows, the only things that she comprehends are the comfort of the bed and the taste of the food. Unable to see or to take in a change in any other circumstance, she perceives that all is in order.

My wife has made the trip up the seven flights in the stairwell before me. Like a coal miner, she wears a small headlight to guide her path. There are no emergency lights here. As I hold onto the railing as a guide, there is suddenly illumination coming towards me. A family of four heads down to the lobby, two young children clearly enjoying the novelty. They move away from me, and darkness again becomes my companion. I become slightly dizzy, making what seem like constant sudden turns to the left.

I try to count the floors, and when seven is reached, I move towards what should be a door. I push it open and find myself in a hallway. Hearing the sounds emanating from but a few feet away, I know I have calculated correctly.

On the kitchen table are close to a dozen hard boiled eggs. What appears to be recently cooked meat sits nearby. The gas stove is still working and so, at least for the moment, is the running water. Well, only the cold water.

My mother lays asleep in her room. During the worst of it, her hospital bed was wheeled down the hall into an alcove, across from her bathroom. Here she would be safe, even if the window in her room shattered. Now, it was back in its place. The problem, and it was one, was that the electrical controls were, like almost everything else in this altered world, not working. And so, it was an immovable object, at least in the sense that it would lower its inhabitant into position to be lifted up and out. My mom was a prisoner.

Today I made two trips up and down the stairwell. The first brought news to my mom's caretaker of the outside world. There was no certainty when power would be restored. The apartment was getting colder, and only a few lanterns kept this space from total darkness as soon as night fell. The second was to return dirty laundry now clean and a cell phone now charged.

My sister and I, and our respective families, must decide with my mom's caretaker if it is time to leave. But how and where? The first hurdle is to get my mom down seven flights to begin her journey. It seems to me that everything that holds her together is so fragile that I dread the thought of what that trip will do. And even if that happens, even if the fire department, or the ambulance corps, or whoever rescues people rescue her, then what?

We have all been on the phone trying to locate a local facility that is willing and able to take on the responsibility, short term, for my mom. Some have too much red tape, some have no openings, some are struggling with the impacts of the storm themselves, and are unreachable as a result. We struggle to match need and availability.

And my mom's caretaker insists that she and mom are fine. There is plenty of food and water, and no good reason to put my mom through the stress of displacement. What if the power comes back soon? What is the right thing to do and when?

In the morning a call should come from one of the nursing homes. Two of their residents went to the hospital today, and if they are not returning to the home, then there will be openings and a decision to be made.

POSTSCRIPT (NOV 1, RJ): Good news! Hard-working PSE&G crews have been restoring power all over the state of NJ, and Dotsy's building got it back late last night. She lost power for just over 48 hours. There are still hundreds of thousands of homes in the state without power, but we are grateful that our situation has improved markedly, and so has that of many of our neighbors.

Opening Bell

A guest post by Richie Jay. 
Look, I've got no problem with Mayor Bloomberg ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and I realize how integral Wall Street is to the identity of New York City (as well as to Bloomberg's own success). But I think that Bloomberg doing it today -- to the ecstatic cheers of traders on the floor -- shows a kind of tone-deafness to the immediate needs of everyone in the NY area. It feels like one of those "Go Shopping" moments to me.

While countless New Yorkers lack power, heat, and water, and thousands across at least 4 of the 5 NYC boroughs lack homes right now, it seems to me that the mayor of the largest city in the country, by far the highest-profile politician in the storm's destructive path, should be, both in deed and in message, laser-focused on the highest-priority and most immediate needs of his residents.

In other words, the emphasis should be on humans, not markets. The big Wall Street banks will return to business-as-usual without any help from Mayor Bloomberg. But recovery from Hurricane Sandy will not be measured by the operations of the NYSE or the level of the Dow, but rather by the rebuilding of lives and communities that have been affected. Despite Mitt Romney's recent proclamation that "Corporations are people too, my friend," they are, in fact, not. And while reopening Wall Street may have large symbolic and practical value for the city, its immediate, short-term impact on getting lives, roads, power, water, heat, transit, schools, waste collection, and essential social services back to normal is virtually nil.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Big Lie

("The Upside of Opportunism")

It is the Big Lie. It is the tale that the Republican party likes to tell so it can be trusted. It is the fable that this is a party that is, at its core, flexible and reasonable and will, once in control, shed all the right wing babble and settle into policies that make the centrist comfortable. It is simply a lie.

Congress is the tail that wags this dog . Mitt Romney is not  now nor never will be the center of this universe. The Tea  Party is where the power and the platform resides.  Exhibit A was the emasculation of John Boehner, the putative leader of the House Republicans as he was forced by his own to backtrack from statements made in attempting to negotiate the Grand Bargain.

Yes, it is true that if President Obama is back for a second term, he will face more of the same and his accomplishments may be muted. But what he will not do , and will never permit, is the destruction that will inevitably follow a Republican ascension. There will be no overturning of health care reform on day one, no decimation of  the poor, no trickle down economic debacle and no safe haven for the most well to do to get even better to do.
Mr. Brooks is too clever by half in suggesting that the Republican party be rewarded for 4 years of despicable behavior with the keys to the kingdom, so that they will stop being who they are. It is tortured logic both harmful and full of deceit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Inconvenient Truth, a Perfect Storm and the Cat in the Hat

8 days until election and a disaster of possible unparalleled magnitude is coming. While there is overriding concern for the safety and well being of those in its path, each candidate must be assessing the damage not only to person and property but to campaign. Virginia and New Hampshire, swing states, are in flux and in harms way. The storm's impact on early voting, and even access to the polls on election day is uncertain. And traditional stump speeches are blown away by the strong winds. Everything that was so regimented and orchestrated is no longer, as the President and Mr. Romney alter plans to deal with the unexpected realities of the moment. With due reverence and concern for those whose lives may be affected in the coming days, and with my apologies to Dr. Seuss, this might today be what one would hear behind closed doors at election headquarters in each camp:

The sun did not shine on our hero today
It was too wet and cold to put him on display
So we sat here and fretted and worried a lot
And contemplated bad weather and our tough spot

I sat there with many with no place to go
We sat there morose, with nothing to show
And I said how I wish we had something to do
But worry and wonder and suffer and stew

Too risky to go out and seem so uncaring
Too harsh we'd appear with our stump speech blaring

So with 8 days to go we sat in our house
And fretted and fumbled, grumbled and groused                               

So all we could do was to groan, groan, groan,groan
Of New Hampshire and Virginia we endlessly droned
And we did not like to consider it fit

That all we could do was sit, sit, sit, sit