Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Terrorism or Not Terrorism That is the Question

 ("Boston Suspects Are Seen as Self-Taught and Fueled by Web")

While the events that took place in downtown Boston were horrific, were they in fact acts of terrorism? If, as it now appears, the Tsarnaev brothers were not affiliated with, financed or armed by what we would classify a terrorist organization, then what makes this, while clearly intended to terrorize, terrorism?

Are we to deem anyone influenced to undertake large scale attacks by general fundamentalism rhetoric a terrorist?

If so, do not the shootings by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in 2009, in which 12 were killed and 31 injured, more clearly meet that definition? We know that he was in email contact with Anwar al-Awlaki and we have all come to understand how the administration perceived al-Awlaki. Hasan's  contact with radical fundamentalists would seem, at least for the moment, far less remote than that of the Tsarnaevs.

Is terrorism to be defined merely by the choice of target or weapons used? Shouldn't it require a real and intimate connection to a known enemy?

Terminology does matter here, both for the present psyche of the public and for historical clarity.

The brutal killings that took place near the finish line on that clear Monday afternoon deserve to be looked upon as acts of almost unfathomable depravity. But maybe, in the final analysis, we will have to re-examine the words used to describe them.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tallying Up the Votes

 ("No Bully in the Pulpit")

David Brooks ("The Second Wave") was correct. Single issue voters, at least on the question of gun control, reside on the far right.  While 90% may have agreed with the concept of increased background checks on gun sales, it was the 10% whom the politicians most feared at the ballot box.

President Obama had neither the force of history nor threat of retribution on his side. He did what he could, but in the final analysis the most he could accomplish was to speak loudly but carry a small stick.

Immigration Reform and of Lessons Learned on Gun Control and Gay Rights

("Immigration and Fear")

The gun control debate over the past years has been born not out of momentum for change but by spasmodic episodes of violence. The challenges to the status quo have largely been reactive, not proactive, and the depth and breadth of the arguments in support of second Amendment rights have not dissipated or waned.

The question is whether immigration reform more closely resembles gun control or is rather akin to the long battle for gay rights. That issue has been decades in the making and the change in public perception has come inch by inch. As the positions in opposition have peeled away over time, much of the anti-gay fervor has been diminished and neutralized.

It was not too far in our past that the Republican presidential candidate spoke about making life so distasteful for over 11 million people in our midst that they would voluntarily choose self deportation. Has the psyche of those on the right been so damaged by the 2012 electoral defeat that there has been a fundamental shift in their opposition to creating a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants? Or is this an illusion, a fleeting reaction, much like the initial response to Newtown, which will lead not to important legislation, but with head shaking heart wrenching defeat?

My hope is that immigration reform is a matter whose time has come, and that the unified voices in support are not momentary but sustained and real.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Let It Be

"Who is your favorite musician?" The question startled me. I was not in the office to discuss whether Justin Bieber was about to become yesterday's news or "Accidental Racist" was a good idea gone bad, but for a rather unpleasant medical procedure.

In a moment of panic, I blurted out "Ben Folds." Was I doing this to impress the attractive young medical assistant? Did she even know who Ben Folds was?

Growing up, there would have been no uncertainty in my response. In those days I had a full head of hair and a round, almost cherubic face. Thus, I fancied myself a look alike for Paul McCartney. On a vacation to Florida I once tried to pass myself off as his American cousin. Now, the only way the two of us would be confused for one another was if Sir Paul shaved the top of his head, removed his eyebrows, lost most of his upper lip and grew a mysterious seeming lump on the side of his neck. Looking cherubic at this point in life only makes me appear one step removed from being confused with a bowling ball.

In the battle of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, there was only one winner. And the rest of the pretenders over the years, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Taylor, well, they were just that.

In recent years I have co-opted the choices of my children and made them appear my own. I have found an ongoing fascination with both bluegrass and country music. Chris Thile and I have developed a strong bond, and I even gave my son a mandolin as a present several years ago, hoping that he would be able to channel the Thilean energy into his fingers. And Brad Paisley and I, notwithstanding his recent flirtation with musical mutilation, are still on very good terms.

But the truth is that my musical world is mostly silent these days. The radio is tuned to the local NPR station and I find "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" a suitable companion on my trips in the car. And when I hum a tune, or to the total dismay of my family, break out into song, it is much more likely to be Hey Jude then anything else that has been written in almost a half century.

I think it is hard, in musical terms at least, to evolve with age. How could my mother and father find Frank Sinatra compelling? Why do we find such comfort in the tunes that we grew up with, but such reluctance to see the merit, and not the cacophony, in anything that was written after we "grow up" ? It must be the inverse to that mantra of the young never to trust anyone over 30.

During the morning that the doctor (along with his assistant) and I became such good friends,"Pandora" was streaming musical selections not only of Mr. Folds (and his "Five" who never existed in that number) but of other artists who Pandora told me I would enjoy. The doctor said he liked a tune of the "Strokes" and advised that he couldn't believe he had been listening to them for 15 years. I thought to myself that I am not comfortable with the terms Pandora and streaming, but I am really unhappy with a doctor who is working over me and talking about strokes.

I once wrote a song that I thought had a chance of being something special. Or at least I put a number of words on a page and imagined it catapulting me to stardom. It was a story of a woman wronged, who in the first part of this saga, was downtrodden, but rose triumphantly to advise her former lover, that he was the one who sucked. The word suck actually appeared a number of times and was, I guess, the central theme. After parading my masterpiece before a friend in the music business, I tried to pawn it off on anyone who was breathing and played an instrument. After a few weeks, my fervor and my words died a painful death.

And yes, the real answer to the question posed, if I had a moment to collect myself before answering, is the Beatles. With each album that emerged, the needle on the record player took a beating, the words were memorized and the legend was forever cemented. When I asked the young assistant how she would have answered the question, she said, "I like most everything." While I thought to myself that this couldn't possibly stand unchallenged, that someone must have captured her heart or her attention, I decided just to "Let it Be."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Full Body Check

Written 3 days ago.

"If you had to choose your cancer, this is the best one to have."

I had developed a red blotch on my chest several months ago. But I had
spent a lifetime as unhappy partners with skin rashes of one sort or
another. This one seemed a little different in that surprisingly it
did not disappear even after I applied long expired medications
prescribed for a totally unrelated issue. Yet, apart from the often
irritating itchiness, I gave it little thought. As my mother would
tell me about any negative that I would encounter," this too shall

My father had died of cancer at 61. I will find myself at that same age in
3 days. My dad's ending was much too ugly and much too early. And it
left me with images of him at the end of life that I have been unable
to erase over the past 35 years.

It was actually the brown spot on my face, which seemed to appear
overnight, that caught my attention. Too pronounced and too unexpected
to ignore, a search of the internet was undertaken to locate a local
dermatologist covered by my insurance carrier. My important medical
decisions, after all, are as much about network participation as they
are about degrees on a wall or accolades received.

Thus, proximity and economics brought me to the doctor's office
directly across the street from my place of work. After completing the
obligatory several pages of unnecessary history on the ailments I did
not have, I heard my name called. It always seems there is a small
amount of pride and satisfaction when this occurs, like having
accomplished something of note.

I was embarrassed to advise the doctor how long it had been since my
last "full body" check. "Yes," I told her, "I did want one now." I
surveyed the built in shelves on the wall filled with small stacks of
those little pamphlets describing different types of skin cancer.

"I am going to freeze off this one on your face," she told me. She was
basically going to spray frostbite on the offending spot which would
then peel off in a matter of days. She explained that this was not
cancerous, so the term she gave it immediately became of no
consequence. "But this one," she said, pointing to the blotch, "looks
a little too red. I am going to biopsy it to be safe." Okay, I
thought, but I could have told her from years of experience that it
was nothing to worry about.

It was about a week later that I received the news in a follow up
phone call. I had a basal cell carcinoma and should return to the
doctor so she could measure the size of the piece of discolored flesh.
Two centimeters or more and I would be sent to a Mohs surgeon. Yet
another unwanted term was thus added to my lexicon. Apparently, as I
have been told all my life but refused to accept, size does matter.

Tomorrow I am going to a Mohs doctor in New York who is to slice me up a
little and immediately have the surrounding tissue tested to determine
if it is free of cancer. The waiting room, so I am informed, will be
with be filled with similarly situated bandaged up patients, all
wondering if enough is actually enough. The snips keep coming until
the pathology report advises that no more punishment is required. It
should be an interesting group dynamic.

Yet, I understand that this is indeed a good cancer. No follow up
treatment, no radiation, no chemotherapy, none of those ugly things
that remain vivid recollections regarding my dad. A few stitches, a
few weeks off the golf course, which may actually be a good thing in
my case, and then on to the rest of my life.

I don't know whether to be cavalier or not about this whole
experience. I have spoken to several friends  who, when advised of my
diagnosis, make it seem totally benign (cancer and benign do not
easily share space in the same thought). "I look like Frankenstein, I
am cut up all over," one tells me. Another lets me know that all those
tiny scars on his face are reminders of  the handiwork of his Mohs
surgeon. To them, my problem is much ado about nothing. And I guess,
without tempting fate or angering the gods, I agree.

Oh, by the way, that brown spot on my face failed to follow orders and
remains stubbornly attached. Another round of intentional frostbite is
in my near future. But at least it is still covered on my plan.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The 15th Club

("Woods Gets A Penalty But Is Not Disqualified")

The sport of golf has a 15th club it carries, a stick up its proverbial backside. It has rules which punish without thought or reason, explanation or context. Its history is littered with travesties of justice.

45 years ago at this very tournament, the Masters, Robert Di Vicenzo made a birdie 3 on the 17th hole of the final round. Only he didn't because his playing partner, in charge of the scorecard, miscounted. The 4 that was written down, and signed for as correct by Roberto meant that instead of his being tied for the lead and headed to a playoff, he "lost" by a single stroke. His most famous of quotes, "what a stupid I am" stands as a testament to his dignity and grace and as a signature moment in the idiocy of unbending application of the sacrosanct rules of golf.

In more recent years we have witnessed crucial penalties caused by the brushing of a leaf in a backswing while in a hazard and for grounding a club in a "sandtrap" that had less sand in it than your shoe after a day at the beach.

Just in this tournament, a 14 year old boy, trying to make history not only as its youngest participant ever, but almost miraculously as one to make it into the weekend rounds, was given a one stroke penalty for taking too much time in contemplation. What a miscarriage if he had been sent packing for allowing a  few moments of extra thought.

Tiger Woods plays golf before more watchful eyes than anyone else on this planet. Even if there was an intent to bend the rules to his advantage, which there clearly was not, there is no opportunity in Tiger's universe for anything to go unnoticed.  Probably a little flummoxed after watching a well played stroke end in such disaster, Woods made a boo boo. All the rules gurus at the most prestigious of all tournament venues, failed to find fault with his actions when they occurred.

Golf takes itself way too seriously. Nick Faldo called on Woods to "do the manly thing" and withdraw. Why? The actions on #15 did not warrant disqualification any more than Di Vicenzo's math error mandated that he be kept from the opportunity to put on the green jacket. Bring in some sanity, and let the particulars of the circumstances dictate fair and reasonable outcomes.

The Side of the Road Rage

("The Trauma of the Pink Shirt")

Road rage, especially during a moment of unintended and unwanted stasis, is a male dominated activity. This testosterone fueled idiocy relies on a total abandonment of rational thought as its predicate. I know as I count myself as one among millions who has on occasion left my brain in reverse and entered this arena (while planted firmly in the "safety" of my vehicle).

Inserting a pink shirted male into the middle of this "conversation" is undoubtedly going to be a trigger for some pointed observations. "Swearing like a man" at someone who is showing a softer, more compassionate sense of  understanding of the beauty of the color spectrum is wholly consistent with the neanderthal like qualities of one who has turned off the testosterone control sign. And what better way to demean and diminish your opponent than with an impressive string of sexually laden damaging phrases and images, for sex and power can be a fully intertwined couple.

While the author's wife and friend found his unsuccessful insertion into this fray uncontrollably funny, it is clearly better not to try to enter into a gentlemanly debate in these circumstances. For the raging bull in the red sports car, the pink shirt is an invitation to try to gore and dismember, with words if not fists.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What Makes Baseball Great

("A Baseball Golden Age")

Baseball is a game that survives and thrives despite logical dictates to the contrary. It appears to be far too slow, far too expensive to attend, and still far too littered with the memories and remnants of an era of a drug induced uneven playing field.

It can be overrun by statistics (a recent article spoke of announcers having to at least be semi-fluent in geek speak) and its season extends as far as the eye can see.

But it has a rhythm and a flow that no other sport can duplicate. It has the smell and feel of a new leather mitt, a deep attachment of parent with child and the sense that the world is not moving by too quickly. Its debates on whether the artificially enhanced belong in the Hall, on the cold reality of VORP and WARP battling the artistry which numbers don't reveal, and even whether to expand the post season universe, are all integral parts of an afternoon or evening at the ballpark. It allows time for conversation, contemplation and connection.

Baseball is a marathon taken one beautiful step at a time, and whether it is now in a "golden age", with greater parity, grander shrines, and larger gross revenues, is almost irrelevant. This sport is and will forever be more, much more than brick and mortar, dollars and cents.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mayor Abedin

("Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin's Post-Scandal Playbook")

While Mr. Weiner is polling to see if he can be considered a viable candidate once more, it would seem a stretch that New York City would be willing to embrace him with open arms. His actions were in some ways less egregious than politicians whose careers may be resurrected (eg Mr. Sanford). But the visual images presented were too striking and the timing too soon to make him more than a sideshow.

If there is a future big time opportunity in this family, it may belong to Ms.Abedin. Her tale has striking parallels to her mentor and boss, Hillary Clinton. Ms Abedin, is very bright, has been in the middle of the political arena for her entire adult life, has a compelling story of grace and fortitude and an extremely powerful and popular ally on her side.

Formerly one of Time Magazine's "40 Under 40" potential civic leaders of tomorrow, she is, in her own right, a person of significance.

If Ms. Clinton's path leads her back to the White House in 2016,  Ms Abedin  may well be in consideration for the role of her Chief of Staff. Rahm Emanuel moved from that position to the title of mayor of Chicago. It could be that New York City awaits not Mayor Weiner but Mayor Abedin.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Moneyball , Yankee Style

("Hitched to an Aging Star: Anatomy of a Deal, and Doubts")

During the halcyon years from 1995 to the present, the Yankees have always been able to outspend their mistakes. Carl Pavano and his $40 million dollar contract resulted in 9 wins over 4 seasons. Kei Igawa produced 2 victories, both in relief, for the $46 million the team paid for his services (a $26 million "posting" fee for the privilege of shelling out $20 million more to possibly the least productive pitcher, per dollar, in major league history). 44 year old Roger Clemens was brought out of retirement to great fanfare and, for his $18.7 million gave the Yankees 18 regular season starts and a total of 6 victories, 6 defeats and one desultory playoff performance.

Yet none of this really mattered for these parts were always replaceable. Throwing good money after bad was always the remedy. But that ship, at least for the moment, has sailed, and an aging, injured and diminished superstar is blocking the sun and being held responsible for bringing in some ugly looking weather.

A-Rod, in fairness, could never meet the expectations of his contract, and when he won the MVP award, was deemed to have accomplished only what his contract demanded. His personality has endeared him to few and his admitted involvement in the steroid era has diminished his stature further.

He is in many ways a convenient scapegoat for a franchise that decided to hitch its wagon to many aging superstars and is now paying the price (or more exactly not paying the price) for its failure to bring young talent through its farm system in recent years. Apart from Robby Cano and the now departed and disgraced Melky Cabrera the Yankee pool of greatness has run dry.

It is a confluence of bad timing and bad luck, with so many concurrent injuries, that makes the A-Rod signing seem such a fiasco. I hope he is able to return to his former greatness some day soon and prove all the naysayers wrong. But that possibility seems no more likely than Kei Igawa winning another game in pinstripes.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Improving My Lie

I committed perjury today.  And I state, without fear of contradiction, that I will transgress many more times in the coming months. I am, after all, a golfer.

My score is truly only an approximation of what I would wish for in the best of circumstances. When no errant tee shots stare at me from the wrong side of those white stakes when the lies in the rough are all fluffy when the 3 foot putts all decide to come to rest at the bottom of the cup when Jupiter and Mars are actually aligned.

If success in baseball is getting a hit 3 times out of ten, then the measure of my  greatness in golf is only in how much cheating is required.  The perjury scale is comprised of all the do-overs the gimmes the sun was in my eye you sneezed I lost my concentration or my contact lens moments that occur during the course of any given 18 holes.

Today was a relatively light day for me. I never had to rely on my back just tightened up I was at the doctor earlier this week and got some distressing news I can't feel my fingers or my toes. I did require the obligatory multiple drives let's count the best one on one tee, and I did adjust every lie in the fairway or rough at each opportunity but I am sure no one noticed so it doesn't really matter (the tree falling in the forest theory) and in my universe that is almost perfection. And I don't think I forgot how to count on all my fingers except maybe on that one hole where the out of bounds marker had no right to be placed where it was.

It must be something to be one of those players who is truly capable and need not utilize deception and sleight of hand to be able to fill a scorecard with birdies and pars, nor rely on I really wasn't trying to make that putt which I was sure you were going to tell me was good I would have given it to you to discover your best of times. What must it feel like when skill rather than inside the leather is the answer to the question?

Can it always be the fault of the caddy (when one is fortunate enough to have an assistant along) for misreading the line or handing you the wrong club? Can there ever be an instance where the damage was not created by the spike mark in the green or the failure of the idiot who came before you to properly rake the trap?

It is only the beginning of April and the start of what will once more prove to be endless opportunities to be creative, if not with my swing, then at least with my pencil. Who needs lessons when one can make numbers dance on a page?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring in the Bronx

April 3, 2013- Yankee Stadium-  New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox

The good, the bad and the ugly.

The good:  The company of my children.

The bad: Dressing as if I was to take part in an Arctic exploration

The ugly: The Bronx Bummers

A half empty Yankee Stadium told a tale of low expectations and even lower wind chills.

The people on the field are strangers. There is no cosmic connection to anyone but the second baseman and the center fielder.

Defeat finds a comfortable home almost at once. By the third inning the score is irrelevant. The simple and plain truth is that we are witness to a performance that pretends to be between haughty and hated rivals, but is really nothing of the sort. If you were looking for drama and meaning, you took a wrong turn when entering the ballpark.

If the baseball season is a marathon, I fear this team won't be able to make it anywhere near Heartbreak hill (I understand it is a Boston based metaphorical reference in a New York piece). While we wait for the beat up, very rich, humbled masses yearning to come off the disabled list, this squad of pretenders faces the real possibility of sinking faster than the Titanic.

I search for positives. Actually, the new cafe-like seating in the concourse is neat. Hey, if what is happening between the lines is of no moment, then the aesthetics will have to do.

Huddled under blankets, shielded from the worst of the elements by a back wall that rises but a few feet to our rear, we are, if not comfortable, at least not shivering. But waiting on line for hot chocolate that proves to be none of the former, I am given vivid reminder of the definition of bitter.

There is a collective discourse on the most pressing question of the moment: how long do we remain tethered to this stadium.  Too soon and we seem wholly ungrateful for the tickets that have been given to us, too late and we risk frostbite.

After 4 innings, an injury to another Yankee and a boatload of Red Sox players adding crooked numbers to their side of the scoreboard, my son and I give up the ghost. As we get up to leave, my daughter and her friend remain defiant and proud sitters. I admire their fortitude and question their sanity.

One inning later, all 4 of our seats will be empty.