Monday, March 31, 2014

Daisy and Sarah

I looked at the clock as I woke up. It was 6:22 AM on a Saturday in late June of 2013. I would be dead 12 hours and 11 minutes later. I was seven years old.

I always hated my name: Daisy. What kind of a name is that? I was not a flower. I did not bloom from the ground.  But I guess it was ok because I got my name from my sister Sarah. She was three years older than me, and she was my hero. When Sarah first saw me, I was being cuddled in my mother's arms. I was tiny and precious, small noises coming from me, sounding very much like a purr.

"What shall we name your little sister?"

"Penny", Sarah said.

"That's good, really good, but anything else you can think of" my mother asked.

"Wendy, Tony, Patty,  Nancy." It seemed certain my name would end in a "y".

"Daisy, because she smells good."

"Daisy, it is" my mother said.

My habit was to jump into Sarah's bed every morning, as soon as I woke up, and cuddle with her. When I was smaller, Sarah used to love this, holding me so tight I thought I would burst.
But she grew tired of this after a while, and this morning, like so many others, she yelled out to my parents in the next room: "Mom, Daisy's bothering me."

"Daisy, leave Sarah alone. Let her sleep. It's Saturday morning. Nobody is getting up with you yet."
I waited as I almost always did for everyone to start their day.

This Saturday I had no real plans except to follow Sarah around no matter what she was doing. I thought she had some girlfriends coming to our house in the afternoon, but I wasn't certain.

It was 8 AM before my mother got out of bed and went downstairs to make breakfast for the family. She was dressed in the tee shirt that she wore to bed almost every night once spring arrived. It was an old baseball shirt that my father had worn when he was much younger.

She opened the door to the backyard for me. I loved this yard, with all its nooks and crannies. I could run around there for hours, and every chance I got, I headed out there.

"Don't wander Daisy, breakfast will be ready in a minute."

In the distance, I heard the loud, unmistakeable sounds of Timmy. I didn't like him. He was very mean. He scared me. He lived around the corner, and on many days we would pass one another. I always ran as fast as I could to make sure I got away from him.

"Daisy, breakfast."

I moved out from behind the tree, where I had been digging a little hole. I shook myself off, and hurried inside. I was very hungry.

Sarah and my dad were already in the kitchen when I got there. Sarah was eating the cereal she loved so much. She always made sure to give me a bite or two, despite my parents telling her not to.

I ate very quickly, my food gone well before everyone else. My dad was always the last to finish. He studied the newspaper between bites, hardly looking up to see what the rest of us were doing. He was nice, but never seemed to pay much attention to me.

Until I was four, we lived in the city. I never liked it because it seemed that I was never free to do what I wanted. When we moved to the country, to the house with the big backyard, I was very happy. There was so much more space for my toys. That morning, after finishing my food, I went searching for my favorites and played with them for a long time.

When I got tired, I looked out the big window in the living room, letting the sun warm me. I stayed there staring at everything that was going on, and I think I even fell asleep for a little. That is until I heard Timmy as he headed past our house on a morning walk with his family. He got very noisy as he came closer, and his mother scolded him. "Keep quiet, Timmy. Leave Daisy alone."

The rest of the morning passed quickly. Sarah watched some tv shows and then went to her computer, playing some games and making plans for the afternoon with her friends. Mom showered first and then dad. After, they both sat down in the living room sipping their coffee and reading. I kept mostly to myself, sometimes walking close to Sarah and gently nudging her to pay attention to me.

"It's too nice a day to do nothing" Mom said. "We are going to take a little ride".

l loved being in the car. I would mostly curl up and fall asleep as soon as we went anywhere more than a few minutes away. My favorite trip was to visit mom's brother Harry. He lived in a house with Terry and Groucho. Terry was my age, and my size, and we were always so happy to see one another. As soon as I got to Harry's I would go looking for Terry and once we got together, well we never wanted to be apart.

And so, we headed over to Harry's for lunch. "Hello Daisy", Harry yelled as he spotted me running out of the car. "How is the big girl doing?" But I would have nothing to do with him, for I was on a hunt for Terry. And when I found her, I ran in circles, going faster and faster, as we chased one another forever. "Slow down girls", Harry said,"or one of us is going to trip over you." Everyone in my family was laughing as they watched Terry and me. It was perfect.

Way too soon it was time to leave. Sarah's friends were coming to our house and we couldn't be late. As we got back into our car, I looked out the window to get one last glimpse of Terry, but she was nowhere to be found.

Sometimes, Sarah would let me rest my head on her lap during our car rides. This was one of those times. And when she looked right into my eyes and said "Daisy, I love you", my body just about melted into hers. My sister gently stroked my hair until I fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up when the tires of the car hit the gravel of our driveway. We had a pretty long driveway and a yard in the front of the house, not as big as in the back, and not fenced in, but still with plenty of room to play.

Soon, Sarah's two friends came over. It was late afternoon, after 5PM and they were planning to stay for dinner and a sleepover.

"Hello Daisy", Samantha said. "Hello Daisy" Leslie said. I nodded a greeting to both of them.

Dad was making hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill in the back. It would be a little while before dinner was going to be ready.

Normally, Sarah and I went to the backyard to play. But for some reason, today, Sarah asked if it was okay to go out front.

"Just make sure if Daisy is with you that she doesn't wander into the street" my mother said. "It is your job to watch out for her".

"I will" Sarah promised.

Sarah, Samantha and Leslie were on the same softball team this summer. Each of the girls had brought her mitt along. They decided to have a catch. I was very good at chasing after balls.

It was 6:30. Dinner would be ready in just a little while. The girls were almost finished and ready to head in. Then I heard Timmy coming around the corner.

Sarah yelled for me to come to her. I was just so mad at Timmy that I couldn't listen. I was so tired of him and decided that I would not be afraid any longer.

As he headed past our driveway, I made a dash for him. I was going to run around him in circles, going faster and faster, sure that he could  never catch me.

"Stop, Daisy, stop." Sarah was screaming. "Stop."

Just as I headed full steam past Timmy, a big black car drove by. I never saw it.

As I lay there, I was sorry that I hadn't listened to my sister. I could hear her crying a type of cry I have never heard before. It was more like moaning and she was calling my name over and over. I couldn't walk up to her and nudge her. I couldn't put my head in her lap. I couldn't tell her it was not her fault.

My father and mother came running as fast as they could, trying to calm Sarah down. It would be many hours before she would stop crying and many months before she would smile again.

I, Daisy the dog, was cremated and my ashes were placed in a small box on the windowsill near where I loved to sun myself on warm summer days. Every day I make sure to tell Sarah not to be sad, that I still love her and miss her..

And that she is still my hero.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Price of Perfection

("What Umpires Get Wrong")

Lou Piniella, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver. Leg kicking, dirt flying, chest bumping, cap askewing, base throwing, expletive producing, mayhem. Should this all be deleted with a push of a button?

This is, after all the 21st century. The bad boys of tennis, from Nastase to Connors and finally the king of the potty mouth, McEnroe, have disappeared as our gaze turns to the giant screen in the sky for answers.

Have we witnessed the last of the Bobby Knight like chair flinging episodes as referees huddle under an umbrella of secrecy, checking the angles and maybe their stock portfolio while the game grinds to a screeching halt?

And John Madden's face would  today have far fewer opportunities to turn ever increasing shades of angry over an act of sheer incompetence, as the not so instant replay booth takes human error out of the equation.

Is part of the fabric of all these games the imperfection of those adjudicating or is the umpire/referee/official  merely a distraction, an unnecessary distortion of the athletic endeavor?

What would happen to baseball if 0% of the calls were blown? We could  measure the height and depth of the pine tar on the bat of Mr. Brett and leave him with nothing but a computer printout to protest. Armando Galarraga would have his perfect game, and the heartfelt apology of Jim Joyce would never have been heard. I can even well imagine the tones of  the artificial voice advising the beleaguered batter "Strike three yer out."

In 2040 when Derek Jeter's son is trying to leg what appears to be a routine single into an improbable two bagger, will we be waiting to learn his fate from hand signals on the ground, or from the computer's infallible information that flashes on the screen on the back of the seat directly in front of each one of us?

If "kill the ump" becomes nothing more than an artifact, will we have advanced or fallen prey to our own achievements? Will we be taking the humanity out of the equation or accomplishing what we have always sought?

At what cost perfection?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Alms for the Rich

("A Nation of Takers")

Mr. Kristof speaks of five public welfare programs turning us into a nation of takers. I believe his categories deserve alternate names:

1. Welfare subsidies for private planes -  "King Lear-Jet"
2. Welfare subsidies for yachts - "Choosers Can Be Beggars"
3. Welfare subsidies for hedge funds and private equity - "The 1 PerCent's Solution"
4. Welfare subsidies for America's biggest banks - "Too Rich to Fail"
5. Welfare subsidies for American corporations from cities, counties and states - "The Well-Off State"

And I suggest the title of his op-ed might instead be called "Alms for the Rich".

Monday, March 24, 2014

Christie's Defense

("Inquiry is Said to Clear Christie, but That's His Lawyer's Verdict")

Perhaps there will be no smoking gun located. Perhaps there was only the pervasive attitude, the implicit understanding that steamrolling those who stand in your way is not only permitted but required. Perhaps Governor Christie will survive and grow emboldened by the inability of the opposition to destroy him.

But an investigation by the very law firm that is also responding on the governor's behalf to other ongoing inquiries screams conflict of interest. To spend a million dollars of taxpayer money essentially to mount one's own defense strategy, and then to announce vindication, seems ludicrous. To contend that the analysis even approximates completion when many of the central figures in Bridgegate have not spoken is only to arouse skepticism.

Who among us would have expected the law firm hired by the Governor to advise us that he was at the heart of the Fort Lee debacle? What has transpired is that some very high priced counsel are now more ably equipped to go on the offensive. Until all the information is in and assessed, this position amounts to nothing more than a distraction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Slap on the Wrist


Re “Putin Recognizes Crimea Secession, Defying the West” (front page, March 18):
It appears as though President Vladimir V. Putin does not even need a fly swatter to deflect the sting of the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in response to Russia’s march toward annexation of Crimea.

I understand the complexity of the situation and that we need Russia’s assistance in many other battles, from Iran to Syria and beyond. But this opening gambit seems only to invite ridicule rather than serious concern.

In the face of the magnitude of the invasion and occupation by Russian troops, and everything it has wrought, we should either demonstrate our opprobrium with something far more concrete than a slap on the wrist for 11 Russians and Ukrainians who easily look upon their penalty (frozen assets and a travel ban) as a badge of honor, or just say nothing for the moment.

Maybe there is little we can or will choose to do to change the course of Mr. Putin’s trajectory in Ukraine. But symbolic acts of no consequence seem to send the worst of all messages.

Uniform Success

There is a great price to pay for the continued success of the Yankees. They are running out of uniform numbers.

The Yankees may soon begin counting at 11.

With everything from 1 to 10 already removed from consideration except for 2 and 6, the numerical shortage is alarming. As #2 begins his final year in pinstripes, so too will his number retire to the pantheon of heroes at season's end.

That will leave only a single digit in the single digits. Lonely #6, but when was the last time we heard from it? Joe Torre left the Yankees under somewhat acrimonious circumstances after the 2007 season. Yet, he was, and by all accounts will be, the last to put on the uniform number resting between DiMaggio and Mantle.

As Torre heads to the Hall of Fame this summer, Brian Cashman may deem it the most appropriate time to do what he has said he would. And if he carries through. then by next season, like the 10 little Indians, the Yankee single digit uniforms will officially be none.

By way of further quirk, when this happens, 1 through 9 will have been removed 10 times, as two catchers, Berra and Dickey, share the honor of having the same number retired by the team. It is a bit ironic that the person with whom Berra shared time behind the plate for several seasons, Elston Howard, also has his #32 enshrined by the team.

Phil Rizzuto protects double digits from beginning at the beginning and thus the next prized prospect, with endless possibilities, can only hope that he is given the number 11 to wear proudly.

The 1929 Yankees were the first team to permanently assign numbers to their players. It is reported that the batting order served as predicate for the uniform number given to each player in the opening day lineup. Thus Ruth wore #3 and Gehrig, the cleanup hitter was #4. 

I know we are in the era of specialization and there are designated hitters in the American league, but what position does #11 play?

The most famous of all ceremonies removing a number from statistical contemplation was the first. On July 4, 1939, in his incomparable farewell speech, Lou Gehrig, reviewing his life and facing somewhat imminent death said that he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Both the speeches and the significance of retiring a number have diminished since then. But it still carries the specter of sustained greatness with it. 

Over the years, this tradition has spread throughout Major League baseball. There are now more than 150 players and managers whose numbers have been retired. Casey Stengel is the only one whose number has been retired by the Yankees and another franchise (yes, those Mets).  Hank Aaron, Rod Carew and Rollie Fingers have also had more than one organization remove their number from any possible future diminution.

But Nolan Ryan, and his three different retirement dinners holds the record for most gold watches handed out to a single performer. Unless of course, one considers Jackie Robinson, whose #42 had its last glorious moment in the summer sun on any major league baseball diamond when the incomparable Mariano left the stage.

Possibly the next important question for the Yankees is whether there should be a determination if any of those who have worn double one are worthy recipients, posthumous or not, of a place of permanent glory at the Stadium.

Herb Pennock, Lefty Grove, Waite Hoyt, Joe Page, Johnny Sain are but some of the old timers who wore #11 with distinction. And while there was certainly a fallow period, as names like Bernie Allen, Billy Sample and a host of other pretenders struggled to reach elevated heights, in recent years Dwight Gooden, Chuck Knoblaugh and Gary Sheffield have worn this number with success.  The jury is out on the current holder, Brett Gardner, yet he seems, for the moment, to be among the lesser #11 lights.

But I ask whether, among that group, is there not sufficient cause to bring number 12 to the forefront? And if that were to occur, I have no doubt that among its wearers is one worthy of coronation.

As we begin the end of the Derek Jeter era, and the demise of the one digit uniform on the most storied franchise in baseball history, there are weighty matters for contemplation. For example, when in the inevitable march of time will we watch the first triple digit uniform roam center field for the Bombers?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Inside Putin's Head

While all politics is, in one form or another, an examination and probing of the psychological strengths and weaknesses of your opponent, the current crisis in Ukraine has made the study of what makes Putin tick into a virtual obsession.

The pages of your newspaper are replete with pieces that not only speak to the facts on the ground but to the motivations that drive the Russian president and to the question of what, if anything, will deter him.

"What Putin Really Wants", "Why Putin Doesn't Respect Us", "Putin, Flashing Disdain, Defends Action in Crimea", and "The Man on Horseback" are articles, op-eds and discussions intended to dissect the inner workings of the man and look for something, anything that will make him reconsider and reverse his recent course of action.

I suggest that "Putin on the Couch", authored by a leading psychiatrist, would make for fascinating reading. The shaping of world events by the force of one man's personality and vision has rarely been so evident..

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Putin and the Paralympics

("US Cancels Paralympics Delegation but Athletes Will Compete")

In 1979 the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provoked much anger and protest from the government of the United States. President Carter threatened a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow if the Soviet's did not withdraw from their unwarranted incursion. When the battle raged on, the boycott occurred.

Now, in the face of the recent Russian action in Crimea, and the imminent threat that this could escalate to other parts of Ukraine, the United States has spoken once more, but quite differently. This Friday, the full contingent of US paralympic athletes will be in Sochi to begin their competition. Whether it is the timing of the event, merely days into the present crisis, or other factors that militate against the United States taken a stance similar to that of 1980 is uncertain.

What is clear is that the light that shone on Sochi in recent weeks has been extinguished. It is far more than the Olympic torch that has gone out, as the reality of the Putin era has been brought into full view. These paralympics will forever hold a very strange place in political history.

Kayla Montgomery

("For Runner with M.S., No Pain While Racing, No Feeling at Finish")

Overcoming a disability to compete at elite levels is an incredible accomplishment to be greatly applauded. But in some of the discussion of Kayla Montgomery's feat, there are alarming parallels to allegations made against other disabled athletes.

When there is question raised as to whether Montgomery's M.S. provides her with a competitive advantage, it brings to mind the travails endured by both Casey Martin and Oscar Pistorius (who is now facing problems in a wholly different arena).

Martin, severely hobbled by a birth defect in one leg, had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to compete (with the "aid" of a golf cart) at the highest level of his sport. And Pistorious was forced to push back against adverse rulings and compelled to undergo rigorous testing before his carbon fibre prosthetics were permitted in able body events.

It is hoped that Ms. Montgomery will be applauded for her bravery and her athletic prowess in the coming months and years and any discussion of competitive advantage from a numbness in her lower limbs will quickly fade away.