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.