Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Through the Looking Glass

My wife loved her 1989 Saab.

It has been 10 years since this car was pried from her hands. To this day, I am still reminded that I was responsible for her parting with the best automobile she ever drove. Forget that, by the end,  it was literally held together by push pins.The fabric from the interior roof sagged in unintended places, threatening to obscure the driver's vision, and the sun roof had become more of a meteorologist, informing us by clear and very wet reminder when it was raining. By the time we parted company, even our initial attempt to donate this impaired elder stateswoman was rejected.

I was reminded of the Saab last night.

In 2001, a new member of our family entered. An Audi. Over the years it has presented more than its share of challenges. Principally,  its electrical system has often operated outside the comprehension not only of our family but those seemingly enlightened souls entrusted with maintaining its condition. Yet through the flashing lights and warnings we long ago learned to ignore, this car has endured.

Now well into its second decade, it decided some time ago that it would no longer perform the task of heating or air conditioning those inside its confines unless it deemed it appropriate. This has proved an uncomfortable reality on warm summer days, but it is in the winter that the real impact can be felt.

And so it was last night, as my wife and I entered the car for a journey of only several blocks.

Now, it is wholly not our nature to make demands on this car, or any other vehicle, for such short distance. That is what god gave us two feet for. But not when it was windy, about 15 degrees and dropping like a stone.

Recent attempts to use the car during the day had proven a challenge. You see, in the cold weather, its inside had become a kind of refrigeration unit. And so, due to the unfortunate necessity of breathing, each time my wife and I entered the vehicle, the front windshield almost immediately fogged up and froze. The cold weather kept the windows from operating  so to allow some of the air we were exhaling to escape the interior confines. Thus we were forced to use cloth, gloves, anything within reach to try to create enough of a window of opportunity to see the direction in which we were headed.

But last night made that all seem child's play. When we finally were able to pry the doors open to enter its domain, even before our first breath had been taken, we were greeted with what appeared to be a layer of ice on the inside of the front windshield. The cloth proved no match, and thus the scraper, whose purpose was theoretically to handle exterior issues, was soon fully engaged. Little lines of clearing appeared, matched by what now seemed a small snowstorm dumping a nice white coating on the dashboard, the steering wheel and the front seats.

After several minutes of strenuous manual labor we had managed both a small opening through which a sliver of the outside world was available, and a somewhat significant snowfall.

When, one might ask, is it time? When is enough, too much? I know that my wife has no attachment to this machine, any more than she would a dishwasher. This is not her beloved old friend, her Saab. This thing, this almost broken down thing, has not proven a reliable friend of ours, but rather a quirky eccentric even in the best of times.

But the reality is that it may not be the moment to part company. Sure we have to put an extra layer of clothing on whenever we contemplate making use of its services. And yes, it seems impervious to our entreaties. But, remarkably the front heated seats still work wonderfully, and so, as long as we hold our breath for the duration of whatever trip we are taking, we have a reasonable chance to be at least partially warmed and fully intact when we reach our destination. And winters are never really that cold for that long, or summers that steamy.

And so, our 2001 Audi lives another day. I know that my wife firmly believes that if only I were so understanding 10 years ago, her old perfect companion would be transporting her still. Pushpins, puddles and all.

Friday, December 27, 2013




It was a strange sight, these editorial pieces seemingly about nothing of great significance. One man, outside the melee, listening and watching.

His gift was in his capacity to ignore all of the distractions, to comprehend the heartbeat of his existence, to communicate the wonder and grace of a world in which even the smallest part had meaning.

Verlyn Klinkenborg's words had a unique place in the New York Times. Nestled among the difficult and troubling issues that shape the direction of our collective human condition,  each piece invited us into a world that is often virtually impossible for most  to locate.

He was, in these short essays, a teacher and a poet. His message, I believe, was that there is a rural life waiting for each of us, if we allow it to exist.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Downhill (A Tale of Fiction)

Phillip Killy Walters knew even before he hit the ground that he was in serious trouble.

He had been skiing at two years old,  racing at five and had not stopped since. Eighteen years later, his body having been broken and put back together far too often, the sensation in the moment before impact was a familiar one. He later recalled that his mind wandered for the tiniest sliver of time wondering what would be the nature of this latest injury.

Walters grew up in the shadow of his home mountain in Colorado. He had been born for this sport. His parents named their only child after Phil Mahre and Jean Claude Killy, their two favorite World Cup champions. William and Sarah Walters had married and  immediately moved west to follow their passion for skiing. Their life would not be dictated by the accident of their birthplace.

If there was a time before skiing he could not remember it. Virtually each recorded image of a young Phillip involved some aspect of this activity. He knew every inch of every trail he stared at from his bedroom window. Everything else that happened to him was just white noise.  Skiing was not merely a part of his existence, it was his reason for being. It was in every fiber of his body, in every step that he took. The mountain was where he was at peace, where it all made sense. He needed it as much as the oxygen he breathed.
Success had been an almost constant companion. There had been little to suggest  that anyone, anywhere was better. The ribbons, the trophies, the accolades had come as freely as the snow that fell in volumes from the sky. As one season blended into the next, the pretenders came and went. The only constant foe was injury.

Walters had been airlifted off a mountain at age 18. The list of disasters, small and large, grew longer with each passing year. He lost most of two seasons and  a smaller part of  another. To all elite skiers, this was, if not an expected companion, one that was a contemplated asterisk necessary to reach greatness.  He understood pain and the terrible torture and drudgery of rehab. None of that scared him.

It was the lack of agony that frightened him as he lay on the snow. There was no discomfort anywhere, and he understood at once what that meant. He had seen this before, and even worse. But, even in that instant when the one thing he could hear was the sound of his own breathing,  he told himself he was only paralyzed momentarily.

Three years have passed since that day. Three years that filled a lifetime, no ten lifetimes, in his mind. And today,  Phillip Killy Walters was standing at the top of another race course, waiting for the seconds to tick off until he could hurtle his body downhill.

He knew the story of Kevin Pearce, knew the man himself. He understood the unquenchable drive to be able to define oneself in the only way that mattered. Even in Pearce's brain damaged state, Walters believed there was clarity. He read of Jermaine Taylor who had been beaten senseless yet reentered the ring to take punishment that would surely banish him to a future existence of diminished capacity. He listened to the former NFL players who said they would do it all over again even as they were showing the first terrible signs of CTE..
His was the story that was now being debated in every corner of every office. It had taken a court order for the sanctioning body to permit him to compete. The US Team did not welcome him back. There was only one person willing to work with him, to train him for this moment. His father. For this choice, William Walters had been demonized by the press,  the villain in a human play that had all the makings of a tragedy in waiting.

The natural and overwhelming instinct of a parent is to act as protector for those one has brought into this world. Voluntarily to permit harm to exist, and even to welcome its potential into your home, would seem an unthinkable act, a crime of the worst sort. Yet that was what was occurring while the world watched and weighed in..

When asked about the return of a former star to the circuit, fellow competitors of Walters were hesitant to speak. Did they believe he was a deeply troubled individual who could not come to grips with the reality of what he was doing, or would they have done exactly the same in his position? For so many of them, the line between the reality of who they were at the top of the mountain and in the rest of their world had long ago blurred, if not disappeared. It was almost impossible now to recreate that division.

Phillip Killy Walters was one of the last out of the starting gate. The deep grooves in the turns carved by those who came before would not make the task any simpler. The snow that was falling  in swirling torrents would create but another obstacle. Anything and everything was informing him of the mistake that was about to play out in front of all those eyes, many secretly anticipating, even looking for disaster.

In the days after the paralysis three years ago, before the first sensation appeared in his body, before the doctors told him there was a chance he would someday walk again, before there was anything to hope for, he had a long conversation with himself.  He had been resolute that day, and every day since that he would not question the choices that had put him where he lay.  Like his parents a generation before, he had been in control of his fate. This had been a matter of his choosing, and his alone. No one would dictate how and where the journey took him.

The course flashed through his mind as he readied to push off. Each twist and turn raced through his body and he envisioned himself at the bottom of the hill, home where he belonged. He said a silent thank you to his father and prayed he knew how much he loved  him and appreciated that he understood this was the only  life he ever wanted, that ever mattered.. In the next instant Phillip Killy Walters was off, chasing his destiny.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Insuring Disaster

Legend has it that the first insurance claim to be rejected was when Adam had a rib removed. GOD, the top representative of the carrier (it only had one participant) denied the claim as being elective surgery, not part of HIS plan.

Not much has changed since then. It often feels as if we are walking through a labyrinth inside a maze in trying to decipher the signs leading to the holy land of coverage. Exhausting deductibles, reaching maximum out of pockets, meandering from primary care physician and through the Alice in Wonderland of pre-authorization codes, not daring to cross state lines, feeling as much out of touch as out of network, by the time the requested treatment occurs we are often in dire need of medical attention for a pounding headache and a sudden urge to throw ourselves out the window.

Let me be perfectly clear, this in not intended as an indictment of the Affordable Care Act. This morass is a product of a flawed system where private companies are given control and financial incentive to play the push me-pull you game that serves their bottom line very nicely, thank you.

Carriers are switched from year to year as loyalty has no place in this extraordinarily unhealthy health care system. The challenge is always to be sure that at least one doctor whose name you recognize is within the ever shrinking list who have agreed that you and your insurance company are worthy of their time and effort.

For many years (or as my wife would put it, too many years) I have been insured as a group of two, myself and my assistant/officer manager/bedroom partner. Within the past several weeks our lousy existing policy, riddled with ever increasing reasons why the money for any possible treatment would come out of my retirement fund, arrived in the mail. The premium had risen (as surely as the sun does each morning).

The first alternative was to search the internet for signs of hope through the federal website. After waiting for the dust to settle from the roll-out fiasco, I was confronted with the unalterable reality that small business solutions were not going to be easy to find for 2014. But, as the used car salesman says, wait there's more.

Early last week, word filtered down that a husband and wife, as the only two employees, no longer qualified as a small business.

And so, the hunt for a solution intensified. On to the individual exchange and a whole range of choices that went from bad to worse. For us, there would be no federal subsidy to help alleviate the pain. So, before settling for next to nothing while forking out an awful lot, my wife and I decided to make certain that the rumor about the axe for the husband/wife coverage was true.

It turns out that we seemed to know more about this situation than the insurance experts or most of the people in the employ of our state

Finally, in desperation, we went to the one source least likely to give us a straight answer, our present insurance company. And this is how my wife relates the call:

"You know that this was one of those, "this call may be recorded for training purposes" conversations. After I explained our status I was told: "Yes, technically you are not entitled to this policy, but since you have been issued a renewal notice it will be effective unless you get audited. And even then, which shouldn't take place until at least March, you will be able to get a different policy"". WHAT?

If I have it right, my wife was being advised that she would be entering into an agreement with the company to accept coverage we knew was in violation of the law. We should hope they (meaning the representative's company) never caught up to us, but we shouldn't worry if that happened. Unless of course, we were then informed that they had advised us ("we have the tape") that the policy should not have issued. "We will be  denying your claim in its entirety."

Oh, you think that couldn't happen. Just ask Adam, who was certain he had received pre-authorization from HIM.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Putin, Hitler and the Olympic Flame

("Putin, Secure in Power, Says He May Free Jailed Rival")

For a brief moment in the summer of 1936,  Germany attempted to camouflage the atrocities it was perpetrating upon so many of its own people. With the eyes of the world upon it as Olympic host nation, all signs (literal as well as figurative) of the persecution of the Jews disappeared. The hated gypsies were rounded up and hidden from view. And, to the dismay of the Nazis, not only were blacks permitted to compete, but Jesse Owens became the star of the games.

Yet nothing could change the truth behind the lies, and once the Olympic flame was doused, the brutality began anew.

It is most welcome that President Putin has given hope some of the worst of his human rights violations will be reversed in the coming days. From the possible release of Mr. Khodorkovsky to the freeing of two members of Pussy Riot along with thousands of others wrongly confined, one must consider the chance that this is the beginning of a new and better time for Russia.

Yet, there is little to suggest from watching Mr. Putin over many years to viewing the recent crackdown barring "propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations", that what we are witnessing is anything more than a repeat, in different form, of the charade played out on the Olympic stage by Hitler almost 80 years ago.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Better Off Dead

Better off dead.

How does one create a character who has the most outsized life of anyone on the planet and keep it from becoming a Jack Bauer like problem? '24' couldn't sustain the pretense without either repeating scenarios in slightly altered contexts, or alternatively, making their protagonist into a cartoon version of himself. And if Brody had lived another day in 'Homeland', what would he have looked like next season?

First possibility-  Brody is into the second year of writing his autobiography "Better off Dead". He and Kerry are married but fighting all the time. Kerry has given up her career with the CIA as her manic episodes escalated, the pressure of the workplace having broken her down seemingly forever. Brody is depressed and wondering whether his last minute rescue from the hangman's noose was worth the effort.

Suddenly, everything changes with the kidnapping of their child. Was it forces at home or abroad at play? What do they want? What more is there to give? Everyone is a suspect in the minds of these two sad, tortured souls. The season unfolds in a series of twists and turns that ends, predictably, with Brody being dragged, Godfather like, into the middle of the maelstrom of intrigue, deceit and death.

Second possibility-  Brody is a man without a home. Rescued by last minute negotiations, Brody is not recognized for his heroism by the CIA director who cannot reconcile the past transgressions with one moment of redemption. He is demonized and denigrated throughout the world. Kerry, faced with the choice of career or Brody, makes a fateful and terrible choice. Both she and Brody live terrible and tortured lives.

Suddenly, everything changes with the kidnapping of their child (then go back to version one for the remaining scenes).

Third possibility-  Brody is a hero in the US, recognized for surviving 8 years of torture, and for having faced impossible decisions and unfathomable challenges yet emerging a patriot and the ultimate survivor.  He is now, 4 years later, the President of the United States and Kerry is his wife. With their young daughter, they have somehow overcome all their demons and are, against everything that reality would dictate, happy.

Suddenly, everything changes with the kidnapping of their child. Was it forces at home or abroad at play? Or in an even more bizarre machination, was Brody somehow behind this scenario, and if so, why? The season unfolds in a series of twist and turns that ends with Brody once more with a hangman's noose around his neck. And then the screen goes dark.

Like I said in the beginning, given the options for season four, Brody is better off dead.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


("Discrimination in Sochi")

There are echoes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Rule 50 of the Olympic charter. In 1968, standing on the podium with upraised black gloves, black socks and no sneakers, these men were making a statement of their deep concern for the poor and downtrodden black both in the United States and in other parts of the world, including an apartheid South Africa.

The reaction from Avery Brundage, then President of the International Olympic Committee was to suspend Smith and Carlos from the team and ban them from the Olympic Village.

One hopes that even as Russia continues its abhorrent treatment of the gay community, concern for offending the host nation will not lead to a repeat of the mistakes of the Olympic Committee almost a half century before.

The athletes from around the globe are members of a community of nations. They should be free from threat of  retaliatory action by the ruling body should they express, in words or deeds, compassion for those who are suffering unjustly in and around Sochi. The Olympic charter and human decency demand at least that much.

The NSA and You

("Judge Questions Legality of N.S.A. Phone Records")

It has the feel of a universal stop and frisk. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock of our constitutional protections, is nowhere to be found in the mass collection of phone data. Its rationality cannot be predicated upon the mere assertion that it is not targeted or that it is minimally invasive.

In a different context, legitimate questions abound when the right to vote is taken from many predicated on bogus claims of voter fraud. So too, in this setting the government should be forced to prove a compelling nexus between its theory of protecting against terrorist activities and the results of overwhelming levels of surveillance.

Liberty is not without limits and the realities of this world must be accounted for. Yet the burden should not be upon the citizens of this nation, but the government when the fundamental nature of our relationship is being altered so dramatically.

Friday, December 13, 2013

GOP You're Irritatin'

Come gather round senators
Inside the dome
And admit your mistakes
Surely have grown
But quit bellyaching
And cut out the moans
If the time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start voting
Or no Christmas at home
GOP you're irritatin'

Come right wing critics
Who prophesize doom
And keep your mouths open
From midnight to noon
And speak out of both sides
You sing the wrong tune
For I'm saying its
You we'll be blamin'
For you will lose now
And will never win
GOP you're irritatin'

Republican senators and congressman too
Please answer the call
And don't leave the room
Get out of the doorway
Come in from the gloom
For its you whose going to be hurtin'
If all legislation you continue to stall
GOP you're irritatin'

Come mamas and papas
All over the land
Let's all criticize
Those we just can't stand
Our sons and daughters
Will soon lend a hand
Your bad ways
Leave us ragin'
Please find a new path
And give a new plan
GOP you're irritatin'

The battle line's clear
The dye is now cast
Your slowdown is over
No longer can last
And the best present now
Is to get all bills passed
Our patience is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first out the door
Will never be last
GOP you're irritatin'

Thursday, December 12, 2013


It is the suffocating nature of the poverty, its relentlessness, the damage it causes to everyone in its path, that is so overwhelming. It has to be much more than coincidence that homeless and hopeless share all but one letter.

Dasani's world is startling. The privacy we take for granted in our lives is nowhere evident for this young girl. It is a life of survival where the most that can be said at the end of each day is that she is still there. It is no way for anyone to have to exist.

How can we not, viewing the reality of what our decisions engender, watch with dismay the reductions in the SNAP program and in unemployment assistance, the diminished resources for the educational system, and the understanding that the possibilities for the underclass, if not a better tomorrow, at least a fairer one are almost non-existent?

No one, not Dasani or any of the thousands like her in New York, and the millions throughout this nation, deserve to be treated by society with such disrespect. Her story ends today with a tiny miracle, a new apartment and a momentary reprieve from the worst of the nightmare. But we are left with the undeniable suspicion that her future holds not the promise of a little girl rising above her surroundings through her strength of body and mind, but of despair where her environment eventually wins and Dasani becomes yet one more victim of  impossible circumstances.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Great Grey Bridge and the Governor

("The New Jersey Traffic Conspiracy")

It is too early to give it a name like "bridge over troubled water-gate". However, it may be much more than something that Governor Christie can continue to treat in his trademark cavalier and dismissive fashion.

Would ordering the Fort Lee lane closures as retribution seem an act our governor would consider?  If one answers "yes" to that question, does this not go to the heart of the nature of the man and create serious and troubling implications of its own accord?

The early returns on the investigation make clear that there was no traffic study being undertaken at the George Washington Bridge. The trail already leads dangerously close to the governor's office.

The career of the Republican front runner for 2016 may not be de-railed or even tarnished by this incident if and when all the facts are brought to light. But until that occurs, and until the Governor demonstrates that he will give this incident the seriousness and transparency it mandates, suspicions will remain.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

$leeping in $eattle

In his version of "show me the money" Robinson Cano and his suitcase laden with gold head 2800 hundred miles west.

This is a new universe for the Yankees. When was the last time they let their best player leave for greener pasture$? The closest call was the near fiasco of allowing Bernie Williams (then at the peak of his considerable skills) to roam center field for the hated Red Sox.

The specter of  the A-Rod fiasco and the luxury tax were not the only determinants here.

For all his wondrous talents, Robby never seemed the perfect fit in NY. He had his best buddy, Melky, cast aside in part because the C and C boys were apparently too distracted playing together off the field to play their best on it. He made the game appear too easy too often as if the lack of dirt and grass stains on his uniform was an indication that he just didn't care enough. He was never fully appreciated by either team or fans.

And thus the sense of loss is muted. Yankee history was waiting along with $175 million but it could not equal the extra money that the Mariners  served up to Cano like an All-Star game home run derby offering from his father.

For the evil empire, being fiscally prudent is a new part of their lexicon, and if this means exchanging their super-nova for some slightly less glowing stars, then this is the price they (did not) have to pay.

It is a strange sensation for those of us who have lived a lifetime of watching the best players on other teams suddenly call themselves Yankees. From the days of treating Kansas City as a farm team and looting them of the likes of Maris, to the era of free agency and the signing of Catfish and Reggie all the way to A-Rod, the Bronx Bombers were also fitting some other team's best in their finest pinstripes.

Will this mark the beginning of the end? Is the team with the interlocking NY no longer too big to fail? If money can't buy us love, or at least championships, then what is left?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Drone On

("Mommy, The Drone's Here")

Why has the story of the delivery drone created such tremendous interest? I believe it is due to the multiple responses this small piece of 21st century sci-fi equipment elicits.

On foreign shores, the drone has taken on an outsized role in war zones which makes us fully aware of its ability to do harm. The sense of it an an instrument of destruction attaches to any of its potential applications.

Domestically, we live with the reality that we are being thoroughly examined and analyzed every day. This feeling is amplified by the thought of unmanned objects whizzing overhead.

Finally, there is an ample body of evidence demonstrating we are never satisfied with the response to our needs, as overnight has morphed into same day and eventually to the time it takes for instant coffee to be readied. Amazon.com and its fulfillment centers has already conditioned us to the expectations of immediate gratification.

The image that flashed on our screen as Mr. Bezos showed the future to Mr. Rose was not itself so astounding. But, on a range of levels, the package that landed on the front doorstep had meaning that leaves us intrigued. possibly somewhat repulsed and more than a little terrified.

And finally, one last burning concern. Is it necessary to tip a drone?