Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thanks for Nothing

("Democrats Get a Gift from the Roberts Court")

A thank you note to Mr. Roberts is definitely not in order for the decimation of the Voting Rights Act. The theory of Mr. Douthat that this wrong committed is more than offset by its motivational effect is ludicrous. Yes, getting punched directly in the face will tend to make one more likely to learn the art of self-defense, but that is not a basis for being grateful to the one whose fist caused the black eye or broken nose.

So what if the polling data demonstrates that this blatant attempt to stack the deck backfired?  There is no rational thought that would lead to the conclusion that more wrongs should be committed, or that this error should not be undone, because it didn't accomplish its intended purpose.

Thank you very much Mr. Chief Justice for your attempt to be so kind as to make the Republican party and the high court  appear so small minded and manipulative. I greatly appreciate your  effort Mr. Douthat at making me understand why I am being so naive in not looking at the bigger picture. However, please remind Mr. Chief Justice that his challenge is not to find clever ways to help by hurting, but rather to do the right thing for the right reasons.

Confessions of a Non-Drinker

(This is written in response to a  New York Times opinion piece entitled "Booze as Muse")

They are possibly the four most boring words strung together in the English language:
"I'll have water please" (if a contraction is considered two words, then my prior comment is amended to read "five").

It is not an intolerance born of religious mandate nor fear of tumbling from some imaginary wagon. No, my total lack of imbibery emanates from the knowledge of how I respond immediately after the smallest whiff of wine or alcohol passes my lips and enters the combat zone.

The burning sensation in my chest, the difficulty taking the fullest of breaths and the time spent in various endeavors in the lavatory are not the thoughts one cherishes. Even four decades removed from being a high school and college occasional drinker and consistent up-chucker, there is little that would lead me to a determination that drinking and I should be on speaking terms.

The very infrequent times over the intervening years when I put my toe back in the water (or more accurately allowed something more powerful than two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen to navigate its way to my insides) have ended in abject failure. Thus neither birthdays, anniversaries, New Year's eve nor other similar cause to raise a glass is reason enough for celebratory swig. And  while earlier this week, after what seemed like whatever could go wrong at work not only did but exceeded all negative expectations, the suggestion that I deserved to take in  more than a few large glasses of red or white did not result in my following this seemingly sage advise.

Over the years, I have spent countless dinners watching others approve of the vineyard and year or find comfort in a favorite beverage to take the edge and sometimes far more off (figuratively, not literally). My role is merely that of observer.

Recently, as summer descended in all its anticipated glory, I attended a party celebrating its arrival. The house and yard were filled with two generations of drinkers. This was a crowd that clearly intended to vacuum up every last ounce of mimosa, every sip of scotch, bourbon or whatever the brain and body demanded and make certain that each red cupped beer sitting next to that famous ping pong ball was fully drained of its contents. As the level of the noise and laughter grew, I felt out of place and out of touch. Instead, my thoughts were mostly of what it could mean to send these people out into the night.

I know that my friends find many of my eccentricities (otherwise known as shortcomings) somewhat less than endearing, at best head scratching. And this abstinence, whatever its derivation, is but one more oddity. For those who are around me for the first time, my four word request (or maybe it is five) is inevitably followed with an explanation bordering on an apology. My wife's favorite line on the subject is that I am "boring", not merely because of my non-participation in a time-honored tradition but also as I do not drink coffee or tea, or anything remotely hot except for the very infrequent chocolate.

 I am not passing moral judgment here. The fact is that I am somewhat envious of those who can alter the universe, at least slightly, for a few moments. I wish I could have the choice whether to be one of them. I never think jokes are funnier,  stories more interesting, others cleverer, or enjoy the myriad of other amenities that flow as natural consequence from the flow. I am never going to be the life of the party based on alterations. But I know that this is the price I have to pay for not spending the evening discussing the problems of the universe with a toilet bowl.

And so I vow to look at the  half empty glass of water before me, in all its safety and security, as instead being half full,  and internally say four words (or maybe five) of appreciation to my long time very boring whistle-wetting partner: "I'll drink to that."

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Flickering Torch

The Statue of Liberty just shed a tear.

“No matter how many miles of fence we build and how many agents we station on the border, I truly believe people will come to this country illegally as long as they believe America offers a better life and a better job,” Mr. Portman said on the Senate floor. ("Bill to Expand US Database to Verify Hires"). Mitt Romney could not have stated it more eloquently.

Forget spending $40 billion. No need to build 700 miles of fences. Send 40,000 border patrol officers home to find productive employment elsewhere. Merely insure that our country no longer serves as a land of opportunity for those who, like every one of us, want nothing more than the best of possibilities for themselves and those they love.

There is a basic lack of morality in the fervor to protect our citizens from alien invasion. This is not "War of the Worlds" and these are not creatures from another planet come to destroy us. These are fellow occupants of this earth who have not had the same chances that serendipity has afforded us.

I appreciate the fact that we want the United States to prosper. I get that, especially in these continuing difficult economic times for so many, there is a natural tendency to say and do things that may sound rational in the moment, but in the long view seem particularly ugly. I comprehend that much must be compromised so that some comprehensive immigration reform is even a remote possibility.

But the very ugly truth is that, in the words of Senator Portman and many others like him, there is a blindness to what makes this country a beacon of light. The torch the old lady holds proudly above her head just flickered.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Search of Dignity

 ("Joining Together in Justice")

It is the connective tissue of struggle against oppression that binds those with diverse issues and voices.

Victories, however real, are never without question and easy tomorrows are never assured.  Words and even mandates are poor match for hearts and minds filled with contempt and disdain.

The ruling on the Voting Rights Act failed to recognize these realities and turned a blind eye to the ever ready efforts to diminish and extinguish the voice and power of minorities.  Racial bigotry is not dead, it is a chameleon and has merely changed its facade. So too, the decision on university admission policies disengages from truths that remain painfully self evident.

And while it is time to applaud the gains made in the struggles of those whose sexual orientation has left them the target of the worst discriminations, even those cheers must be tempered by the knowledge that there is still much work to be done.

Lest we forget, Roe v Wade has been the law of this land for four decades. But those who stand in opposition remain undeterred in their battle to diminish and eviscerate until there is little left but the shards. Vigilance in the face of  relentlessness is not an option but a mandate.

It has been a tumultuous few days for the many in search of the freedoms to which each one of us is entitled. They are once and forever linked and their causes joined in the never-ending pursuit for recognition of the dignity and purpose in their lives.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Great Expectations

("First Looks and Lasting Impressions of Athletes' Debuts")

July 17, 1997.  I was one of almost 52,000 fans in the stands for the game at the Stadium, a number twice the normal attendance for a weekday encounter. On the mound was the flamethrower from Japan, the one who demanded that he play for the famed home team, the New York Yankees.

Draped over the stands that day were signs welcoming what most expected was the newest in the pantheon of legends of this storied franchise.  Hideki Irabu  was sure to be the next Nolan Ryan, only more. He threw almost 100 pitches in his debut, lasting one out less than 7 innings. The record shows that he gave up 2 runs and 5 hits, and struck out 9. But what I most remember were the faces in the crowd, many so different than I was used to seeing. And how, once Irabu left the game, so did thousands upon thousands who were there not for the outcome between the teams but for the debut of their hero.

It turned out to be more mirage than miracle. Irabu would last only a few seasons with the team, and was most remembered for once being called a "fat toad" by the less than subtle owner, George Steinbrenner.

Irabu's life would end in tragedy in 2011, a suicide victim.   Maybe the weight of unfulfilled expectations contributed to his demise. But for one magical moment in the early summer sixteen years ago, he owned New York.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Occupy" Brazil

 ("Brazil's Vinegar Uprising")

There were echoes of "Occupy Wall Street" resonating throughout this piece.  Not so long ago, in Zuccotti Park, and then around this country, protests erupted, challenging not only the 1% but, as it turned out, just about anything and everything.  In Brazil, we are told that the list of complaints ranged from police brutality to loud boom boxes.

"The people/united" reminded me so much of those first days, where the marches through the streets of downtown New York City included chants  of "this is what democracy looks like" and "we are the 99%". And the placards, both then and now can be either pointed and powerful, or merely seeking "the right to stay in one place."

"Occupy" is now mostly memory, its most interesting present tense regarding compensation for books improperly discarded as all remnants of the protest were removed from its original home in New York.

Ms. Barbara states that those in the streets of Brazil "have the right to be ineffective and foolish- we're still learning how to protest". In hindsight, I think that the movement in our country never really went beyond seeming, as least to many, ineffective and foolish.

For those in Brazil,  in the giddy early days, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to be avoided if they are not to suffer the same fate as their American counterparts. To be all encompassing, to hear many diverse voices, may at first be exciting and interesting, but ultimately may sound like not much more than a lot of noise.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Price of Free Food

I walk into the apartment, barely nodding a hello to those gathered, and head to the kitchen to survey the offerings. The counters are filled with some of my favorites. I decide on the bagel, on one half piling the lox, while the egg salad and tomato cover its twin. Eying all the desserts, some still in their cellophane wrapping, I silently count the anticipated calorie intake for the evening. I soon hear what will be a common refrain over the next several days. "Just came for the food?"

I had received a call on Saturday morning that my best friend's father passed away. Since the funeral I have spent as much time as possible in the company of my friend and his family, offering my love and solace. Can I help it if this happens to coincide with the time my dinner alarm sounds?

My friend lives virtually in the direct path between the place where I have spent many weekends the past several years, and my New Jersey home. Often I find my car  headed to his residence on Sunday evenings, just to say hello. And, oh yes, this inevitably seems to coincide with supper.  The tale frequently repeated is that, late on Sunday afternoons, my friend and his wife turn off the lights and lock the doors, hoping that I will just keep moving on.

Now, at this most solemn of times, my friend tells his mom not to worry about lacking in company once the mourning period ends. He advises her that as long as she keeps putting out extra food, I will find an excuse to be there.

I guess I come by my reputation deservedly. It does seem that whatever house I enter as a guest, opening the refrigerator and peering in to consider the opportunities is part of my ritual. "Don't they ever feed you at home" is almost a constant refrain, seeming to attach to me for decades like the back end of a hyphenated last name.

But wouldn't you think that the solemnity of the occasion and my sadness at the loss of someone to whom I was thisclose would warn others to give me a pass? Surely all could tell that the second plate full of salad, the extra piece of grilled chicken, the assortment of cakes and cookies piled high before me, or the slice of pizza that I ate as a kind of exclamation point at the end of one meal, surely they knew that this was merely my coping mechanism for my grief.

I am considering eating before I go over to pay a condolence call tonight. And, once there, I will probably have to sneak that extra plate of food in secrecy, almost like a thief stealing the good silverware when all eyes are averted.

I sit down with the woman who has been a second mother to me for half a century. She appears to be so grateful that many who have been part of her life for so long are around her.  The talk inevitably turns to those wonderful summers of my youth, an almost permanent house guest at their place by the beach. And of all those meals at the end of the day, the barbecues where the steaks, burgers and dogs were in abundance and I ate more than my allotted share. I still recall with unbridled delight the crumb cakes that I would gobble up in the morning, long before most of the others in the house had awoken from their slumber.

This is not a week to dwell on my issues, or to cast aspersions my way. This is a time to celebrate the life of one who was well loved and well respected, and to give thanks that he was with us for so long. But I do know that there is this awful thought creeping up from the recesses of my mind, that I have to keep beating back. "I wonder if there will be some more of that delicious crumb cake tonight."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Dad's Face

"Are you Robby Nussbaum?"

I was at a rehearsal dinner for a wedding more than a hundred miles and a half century removed from "Robby".

I nodded that I was.

"I saw you and thought it was your father. I am Rhoda Kahn."

It has been 34 Father's Days since my Dad was alive.

I had not seen Rhoda since she and my sister were friends at a time John Kennedy was our leader and the Beatles were a young band making a name across the big pond.

"I got shivers when you walked through that door."

I don't think I resemble my dad at all, at least in a physical sense. My son reminds me often that my head is perfectly round while my dad's, at least in my mind, was leaner and longer. And our noses were not at all similar, his hook (sorry dad) no where in evidence on my face.

Yet here, half a country away from where Rhoda had settled decades earlier, she had seen something unmistakeable.

I spent most of the evening telling this tale to anyone and everyone. And it turned out to serve a dual purpose. Not only was I able to have something to say to a room filled mostly with strangers but it allowed me, on Father's Day weekend, to bring back thoughts of my dad. And from this came unexpected benefits.

One of those to whom I recounted this story had known my dad.

"Your father was one of the most wonderful people I have met in my entire life, so bright and so kind."

It was remarkable to me that the speaker, only in his mid 20's when my dad passed away, and who had known him but a few years, could have such a strong, clear and lasting recollection.

Like many children, if we are lucky, my dad was my hero. He was everything that was now being said about him. But so many years removed, it was startling  to listen to these words.

I like to think that what Rhoda  would have told me about her memories of my dad was of his many wonderful qualities. And what drew her to me was not the facial resemblance but something deeper and more profound.

And, by the way, one more reason why this meeting could not, on this weekend of all weekends, merely been by chance. The last name that Rhoda has gone by since her marriage: Nussbaum.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Looking Under My Bed

I woke up in the middle of the night, startled and in a panic, a single thought running through my mind, over and over: had I just ruined my life?
Was I being paranoid or was I now to be on the "watched" list if not the watch list? Was I no longer anonymous, at least to the wrong people?

I had recently done what, over the past half decade has become second nature to me:  submitting a letter to the editor of the New York Times. In it I chose to be critical of the government's blanket intrusion into our lives through surreptitious gathering of our phone records. I used words like "offend" and "disturbing".  I took a swipe at the President, and threw in a negative reference about the last President for good measure.

On my computer, I now read my words in the Times. If the print version mirrors what I am seeing, my thoughts will be the lead in a series of comments on this topic. My critical view of the administration's actions sits next to a drawing of an American eagle, one wing now a clandestine eye. I wonder if I will soon be the target of that eagle's eye.

In recent days there has been many a revelation of government mining the records of those whose "questionable" actions came across their radar screen.  Information on calls of many reporters was studied in the hope, so we were advised, of uncovering the source of leaks on an issue of sensitive national security. IRS agents decided to pay particularly close attention to words like "Tea Party" in analyzing applications for those seeking certain beneficial tax status.

When the second amendment "wing nuts" cried foul over the attempt to pass legislation on a national registry regarding gun purchases, as this would be but a gateway to further government incursions, I silently mocked them for their belligerence and wrong minded fear.

But now the shoe may be on my foot. Am I now to be that scrutinized reporter, that right wing political machine masquerading as a charitable organization, that gun owner who tightly clutches his weapons close to his heart? Am I the next one in line?

Many have recently said they welcome the government into their home, that there is nothing to hide. But what happens if the government actually takes you up on that offer? What does that mean and where does it stop?
Fourth Amendment rights, when they don't appear to be in jeopardy are just an interesting collection of words penned by some people over two centuries ago. But, had I in my attack gone a bridge too far? How am I to know if Uncle Sam will soon be knocking at my door, or peering in through my window if I can't see him or hear him?

Yes, I know that this is all most likely delusional meanderings in the dark hours of the evening. Literally like yesterday's newspaper, tomorrow what I have said will be history and the few who have perused the letters and noticed my name will have moved on to more pressing matters. But what if I am wrong, and someone with the power and the ability gets upset with me? What then?  Am I forever more to be looking under my bed?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Someone to Watch Over Me


("Surveillance- A Threat to Democracy")

The lack of moral outrage at the revelation of the extent of government intrusion into our collective private records can be attributed to two basics: the indiscriminate nature of the action and an inherent trust in this administration.

The fact that no one individual is being singled out for attention may make it feel that there is no invasion or trampling of Fourth Amendment protections,but it is the very fact of the enormous non-focused volume of the gathering of information that is so disturbing.

 So too, it is the "trust me to do the right thing" attitude of the government and President Obama's "welcoming" debate on this issue only when the question is involuntarily thrust into the spotlight that offends. I want to believe that this is not the era of Bush-lite but we should let the facts take us to the proper conclusions.

We should be demanding an explanation as to why there was no transparency and to know if there is a more reasonable and less overwhelming manner in which to  respond to the ongoing threats that propelled this program. To feel we are still insulated from scrutiny and to respond to the steps taken with a shrug of our shoulders is to provide an open invitation to future unwarranted incursions.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Two Cent's Worth

What does two cents buy these days? Would you seriously consider giving someone a piece of your mind for that price?  Would you contemplate selling your thoughts for half that amount? Do you or anyone you know still go around pinching pennies (and are you willing to risk a charge of assault and battery for such action)?

There is actually a grassroots organization, Citizens for Retiring the Penny, spending its time (and presumably some hard earned dollars) lobbying for the elimination of this puny excuse for coin of the realm.

But while you would be hard pressed to find anything of value that can be acquired for what is clearly as close to next to nothing as white is to rice, I can tell you what two cents has just purchased for me. Aggravation.

Without going into great detail, in closing a mortgage loan the lender requires a financial statement (HUD) which accurately reflects all the costs relating to the transaction. Among these are the lender's calculations on what sums must be placed in escrow with them for payment of certain future obligations.

I recently acted as counsel for the buyer in such a matter. The HUD was pre-approved by the lender, and all went forward without a hitch. Until today that is. I received the following at 6:54 this evening:

" My post closing department has found an error on this HUD. Line 1001 should read $5842.38, the Aggregate Adjustment amount on line 1007 should be -$614.98. Unfortunately, this error affects page 1 and 3 as well. This HUD will have to be re-signed by all."

I immediately thought that something must have slipped my attention, and now I was going to have to pay dearly (whoever dearly is).

I rushed to pull up the original HUD and this is what I found:
Line 1001 - $5842.40
Aggregate Adjustment-  -$614.96
The mistake, which was of the lender's doing (as the figures set forth had been provided by them to me) involved two measly one cent pieces.

For the lender's pressing forward to remedy the boo-boo, the following results:
1. A letter was prepared by the "Loan Closing Specialist" advising me of the problem.
2. I read the letter.
3. I got pissed off about the letter.
4. I either have to fight the bureaucracy, which will involve my writing my own letter and/or making a call discussing why the requested course of action is without value, economic or otherwise; or, in the much more likely outcome
5. Revise the HUD to match the numbers now given.
6. Send this document along with a letter of explanation for my insanity to my client and counsel for the seller.
7. Hope that neither my client or the seller throws my request in what should be the appropriate receptacle.
8. Await the return of the signed revision., eventually forwarding a fully executed document back to the lender.
9. Ask the lender to mail to me the two cents of my client that they are improperly holding in escrow, based on their earlier errors.
10. Retire from the practice of law.

There is nothing common about sense and there is nothing rational to be gained from going through the exercise I have outlined. But then reasoned contemplation and paper pushing are about as compatible a couple these days as penny wise is to pound foolish.

For two cents I'd chuck it. But right now that money is in the lender's account and I want it back.