Monday, April 28, 2014

The Question of the Obligation of the Athlete to Take a Stand Against Moral Wrongs

What is the proper role for an athlete in the spotlight, given the opportunity to make a statement of protest against outrageous conduct?

In the early 1990's an earlier version of Donald Sterling, one Marge Schott, was owner of the Cincinnati Reds. With a combination of arrogance and apparent absence of self awareness, she castigated blacks, Jews and almost anyone that stepped in her path. For this, she was twice suspended by the league and eventually more than gently pushed to sell out her ownership interest. But there was little or no talk of player revolt in the face of her behavior.

It is rather echoes of the 1968 Olympics that could be seen in the actions by the Clipper players before game 4. Tommie Smith and John Carlos chose the medals award ceremony to make a very loud statement of their opposition to apartheid in South Africa and to continuing racial segregation in the United States. It was a moment that seemed uniquely situated to demand a response. For their single, black gloved, raised fist, Smith and Carlos were castigated and compelled to leave the Games.

This year, in the face of the Vladimir Putin laws against homosexuality, and the controversy that it created, the Olympic games were conducted without even the hint of a Smith/Carlos moment.

So, where and when is the right time for the athlete to become something else, to become an advocate, a spokesperson, a force for change? Even the reporting of the New York Times comes to seemingly different conclusions about the adequacy of the reply of the Clipper players to the antics of Mr. Sterling ("Amid Uproar,Clippers Silently Display Solidarity" versus "Given Cause to Make a Stand, A Team Settles for a Gesture").

I am, much like your newspaper, of two different minds on this question. Athletes are not schooled in the world of protest and politics. It is not their chosen role and it is hard for us to find they must be the voice of passion and persuasion in challenging unmitigated wrong. On the other hand, these are people who have been given center stage and a once in a lifetime chance to force us to take a long and hard look at our prejudices. If they can move us even a little in the right direction, does this not become a much larger issue than the game they play?

Donald Sterling is in the eye of the storm, and he deserves whatever punishment is forthcoming. For the players, the questions will abound as to whether theirs was an act of bravery or something far less.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Death of the Gimme

I am fundamentally opposed to creating a cavernous hole in the middle of every green, as it changes one essential component of the game of golf: the "gimme".

No longer could we take out a putter, place it lengthwise between the hole and the ball and announce "its in the leather". No more could we stride briskly after our first poorly struck putt and knock it away, almost before it stops moving, thereby advising the rest of the group of our 100% certainty that the next stroke would be one of perfection. Never again could we look pleadingly into the eyes of those in our foursome, almost begging to hear the words "that's good".

If the universe were to accept an ultimate golf destination the approximate circumference of the Grand Canyon, how could we talk about the "yips" over a four footer? Those long belly putters would soon be a relic of the past, and the economic ramifications on the industry would be calamitous.

My round of golf consists of an accumulation of methods of cheating: two off the first tee, a floating mulligan, moving the ball in the rough, an inability to count past seven, considering out of bounds a mere suggestion and any other way to bend and manipulate the rules so that the ultimate score comes within a few well placed pencil marks of where I require it to be.

Don't mess with perfection. Don't make the green only a receptacle rather than a place where our creative instincts shine most brightly.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Parking Ticket

I stared at the directions on the screen like I had never seen them before.

"Insert the card fully" it mandated, as if what I had done was something different.

Oh, it wasn't.

"The magnetic stripe must be down and facing to the right". I am not certain if these were the exact instructions, but I removed the card and tried to re-insert it as required, unsure if I was in fact meeting the specifications.

I had charged 0 cents, thus allowing for no time to park my vehicle. I pressed the "add time" and my mission was complete. I had an official document, to be prominently displayed in the front window, driver side, of my car, giving me the permission of the City of New York to leave my vehicle where it was for over an hour.

I followed the dictates, first almost allowing the small slip of paper to fall into the crevice between the inside of the windshield and the inner workings of my automobile, but managing to retrieve it even as but a tiny sliver remained visible.

Finally, success.

My struggle to perform the most simple of tasks was not unexpected. It came to me naturally. And so, even as I applauded my abilities, I knew some disaster, for something presently unknown to me, must await. It was but an inevitability.

And I did not have to linger long for the answer.

My wife and I returned to the car well within the allotted time. While she got on the cell phone to call our daughter, and asked me to wait before moving so that we could determine our next destination, I saw what appeared to be some kind of flyer stuck on the exterior front window, underneath the windshield wiper.

I kind of shimmied over in my seat, opened the driver door and reached for the offending advertisement. Only it wasn't what I thought.

"A ticket. What is this?" I had no idea what I could have done to incur the wrath of the City of New York.

The $35 charge explained "receipt faces down/no driver no permit no activity".

I had placed the receipt with the wrong side being exposed for public view. Rather than reporting that my expiration time was 8:39 PM and my expiration date was 4/24/14, I had merely informed anyone interested to "Watch for Cyclists when opening doors or making turns".

My wife didn't even need to suggest to me the level of incompetence involved. She had seen a version of this play performed so many times that conversation on the subject would have proven nothing but redundant and useless.

When we tried (or should I say she tried) to rectify this problem by advising the City of New York online of who they were dealing with, and providing photographic evidence of my lack of comprehension, she was alerted that the ticket had not yet been processed within the system and it might be at least a week before we could plead idiocy as a defense. And, I will then find out whether I have to also appear to parade my stupidity in open court.

The worst part of it is I know that this is far from the last time that a variation of this theme will play out before me. There will be a moment when, to the vast majority of humanity, there is  but a seemingly innocuous request, some minimally invasive mandate that will instead set off seismic shock-waves within my brain, leading to some almost inconceivable calamity.

Hanging from the mirror of cars of some of my friends are small placards announcing that the person driving this vehicle has physical limitations and requires favors to accommodate these special needs. But I have never seen one that speaks to afflictions like mine. I think I should have been able to place, right next to the upside down piece of paper a notice to the world that "the driver of this vehicle is unable to follow even the most mundane of commands, and therefore if you see anything unusual about the receipt you are now staring at, just ignore the problem and move on."

Discrimination is an ugly word.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Twenty Cent Wire

There was silence on my end of the receiver. No, make that dead silence.

"Your wire was 20 cents short. You will have to send another wire out for 20 cents. Today."

Not too many months ago I was asked, no required, to address a 2 cent error that THE OTHER SIDE had made in a real estate transaction. Once burned, twice infuriated.

"Are you still on the line?"

The dead air had caught her attention. I was trying to control my emotions.

"Are you kidding me?"

She repeated her instructions, almost verbatim. The message was clear and unmistakeable. She was not kidding.

"I need the wire by 5PM today and the fed reference number."

I understood that her client was about as huge an entity as took up space on this planet. Fannie Mae. I comprehended that the red tape could suffocate even the best intentioned. But really, was there never any room for the tiniest sliver of common sense?

Earlier in this transaction I had advised that my client wished to acquire title to the premises not in individual names, but in a Limited Liability company. You would have thought I had just requested a presidential pardon. After days of endless point and counterpoint, the royal thumbs down was given and the deal disintegrated. Only later, did rational thought intercede and a one sentence amendment found its way into print.

It is just the endless barrage of bureaucracy that is overwhelming. It seems to follow all of us, constructing its own labyrinth of obstacles. Recently my son was seen in an emergency room for no more than a few minutes to examine a bruised finger. Despite all attempts at reason, the hospital refused to adjust, even the tiniest bit, the $1250 bill, all of which had to be paid out of pocket. It was, we were informed, a level 4 protocol. I can only imagine what would fall in a lesser, less expensive category. Cutting fingernails, level 3.

What, I thought in fleeting fashion, would happen if I just mailed them two dimes, or even twenty pennies. Even worse, what if I just refused to accede at all to their demand? The inevitable, inescapable conclusion, was mountains of potential problems, professional sanctions and maybe worse.

My local banker was most sympathetic to my plight. She would, she advised, try to intercept the first wire to add the missing 20 cents. But when she called back to say that it was too late, and indeed I would have to come to the bank to fill out the paperwork for the additional wire, I was not in the smallest sense surprised.

When I did not get there quickly enough to assuage the concerns of those protecting the rights of their client, the calls and emails began. Not one or two, but several, bordering on many. All with the same urgency, all with the same deadline.

I was advised that the inquiry would be made on an hourly basis until resolution was achieved.

"You are not going to believe this." When I informed the real estate broker on the deal what was happening I could almost see his head shaking on the other end of the call.  And oh, by the way, the sentence you just read did not contain the expletives that followed almost each word.

Am I telling you too much, revealing in too bright light, my frustrations and my contemplations? I wonder whether any of you reading this would have responded in a more dispassionate manner. And if so, how can you be so calm in the face of such nonsense?

The banker had the paperwork all filled out on my arrival. As I sat there, I checked my cell phone to see yet another email reminding me that my obligation was still not met. I emailed back that I was doing what needed to be done at that very instant.

The next morning I was in court and did not get to my office until early afternoon. The email  that greeted me advised that there was no confirmation that the wire had been initiated. My first order of business, get the Fed reference number.

Finally, the proper information was relayed and my task completed. I got a very cryptic "tyvm" from my insistent friend.

Are there life lessons in this tale? Be more attentive to detail, maybe? Be less frustrated by the inevitable small calamities that mark everyone's life, possibly? Be happy, be at peace, who knows. Or maybe it was sending me just one large message in blinking red lights. Contemplate retirement.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Lifetime of Loyalty

("They Hook You When You Are Young")

One factor that Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz does not account for in his calculations, is that for those of us well into our seventh decade, there was no Met team (good or bad) to divide our attention or loyalty when we were forming our lifelong baseball attachments as 8 year olds.

The Mets, Jets, the Devils, Islanders and Nets hold no moment for me, whatever their level of success in the years after their formation, as my psyche was permanently attached to the ups (and downs) of the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks at the optimal sports obsessed moment of my youth. I was born in 1952 and none of these interlopers even existed in 1960, except for a fledgling American Football League team named the Titans that begun operations that very season.

For the Rangers and the Knicks, those were mainly sour times. What I recall most of those days was taking pride only in the number of saves made by Gump Worsley (not the far too few wins) or the magic of Richie Guerin (dismissing the fact that he was a very poor man's Bob Cousy).

So yes, I have bled Yankee pinstripes my entire life, and maybe much had to do with the greatness of Mantle, Ford, Berra and Maris. But with the Giants and Dodgers having exited for the West coast before 1960, and with possibly the worst team in baseball history (how can you not love Ed Kranepool) not operating until 1962, the Yankees were (literally and figuratively) the only game in town.

Thus, maybe success is not the overriding criteria for a lifetime of loyalty. I was hooked not from the residual effects of great triumph but merely from the presence of these franchises each and every day, come heaven or hell.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Death Panels

("Health Care Nightmares")

We have, after all these years, finally discovered the true meaning of "death panels". It is the intransigence by many states with Republican leaders to accept money, being offered by the Federal government, to expand their Medicaid roles. The result, as Mr. Krugman notes, is the likely demise of thousands of people.

Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in 2012, which struck down the requirement in the Affordable Care Act compelling states to expand their definition of Medicaid eligibility, states were able to reject FREE money the first year and virtually free money for years thereafter. The result is that there are an estimated 5 million people, in various Republican controlled states, who are not earning enough to qualify for subsidies to pay premiums for health care coverage, but make too much to obtain Medicaid assistance.
And these people, predicated solely on the mindset of their state government that it can and will do anything and everything to make the President and his signature legislation fail, are the victims. Not victims in a hypothetical sense, but in a real world, DEAD sense.

For that, there should be remorse where there is none, and shame where its absence is striking. And so, death panels do exist and our Republican leaders continue to watch idly as those who can so easily be saved are not.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney's life read like a B movie: fame and fortune far too young with far too little understanding, followed by wild excesses and extreme poverty and a final act of redemption. As a script it would have undoubtedly been rejected.

He will forever be linked with Judy Garland, two hugely talented young performers who struggled to deal with the realities of life once the director yelled "cut". Theirs was a partnership born in a very different moment in time in the film industry and in our culture. On the heels of the Great Depression and on the eve of war,  we were a country less cynical and more willing to embrace the promise of hope. Rooney and Garland captured this with a spark of the spirit and the twinkle of the eye.

And one other item caught my attention as I read the NY Times piece on the life of Mr. Rooney: how hard working an actor he was at the height of his stardom. We have grown accustomed to our biggest stars appearing before us for a brief moment and then disappearing into the night. Not so in the days when there were contracts with studios and even a Mickey Rooney had a clock to punch and a job to go to every day.

He was a little man of big stature, and though his star certainly faded over the years, he will hopefully be remembered kindly by history as something more than a meteor who shined for a moment and then burnt out.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Summertime Blues

And we thought it was a long cold winter. We ain't seen nothing yet.

With financial coffers wide open thanks to the long arm of their advocates in the Supreme Court,  with the sense that the Democratic majority in the Senate will shortly be but a memory, with the open wound of the health care roll-out still festering despite last week's numbers,  the mid-term Republican blizzard of mis-truths and misdeeds will soon begin in earnest.

Shut down the government, shut off monies for the long term unemployed, take food out of the mouths of babes and the vote from those who oppose you. Kill gun control, treat immigrants like dirt and global warming like a fantasy. Make the President a four letter word and abortion a crime. Protect the wealthy at any(and very substantial) cost to everyone else. Consider the basic right of health coverage for millions of our most vulnerable a grave mistake. THIS is the party much of our country is waiting  to embrace.

Bear responsibility for mandating a course of economic austerity at just the wrong moment,  base your position on financial inclinations that are abysmal and social predilections which are even worse, THIS is the party much of our country is waiting to embrace.

If this the winter of our discontent, I can't even imagine what this summer will be.