Thursday, July 31, 2014

Impeach Me, Impeach Me, Why Don't You Teach Me

("None Dare Call it Impeachment")

It should be a play, a musical. Think "Guys and Dolls":

"Call a vote and impeach me, impeach me, why don't you teach me, I'd love it; Take a shot and just sue me, sue me, try to undo me, I'd love it.

You tell me I'm just a no goodnik, alright already, so sue, so sue. With subpoena, just serve me, serve me, try to unnerve me, I beg you."

Thank goodness Congress is going on vacation. My head hurts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

French with a Jersey Accent

"Tres froid" I announced to everyone as I returned to my table outdoors, having walked through a very cold restaurant. My remark brought smiles to the faces of those assembled.

It has been almost 45 years since my last French class. I was a remarkably untalented student, convinced I had maneuvered my way into the honors class because the assistant golf coach had been my 10th grade French teacher and apparently taken a liking to me, if not my accent.

Once in the honors class, my harsh tones and total lack of proficiency were tres noticeable. Mr. Juka, the teacher saddled with my presence for my last two years of high school found any excuse not to call on me. I distinctly recall that he would go up and down the aisles, in order, seeking an answer to the question that lingered in the air. However, when it would be my turn to butcher a response, he would drop a pencil, or in some other manner become distracted, and would almost uniformly fake as if I had already completed my mangling of the language.The sound that emanated from me must have seemed to him like fingers scratching agonizingly slowly across a chalkboard. I am certain my shortcomings made his head hurt.

My classmates, Ozzie and Gene, were the unhappy recipients of many a phone call seeking not so much help and guidance with homework, but a bail out from whatever French woe had befallen me. Preparation for tests meant a nearly continuous stream of cries for help from mon amis.

And the worst part was that everything that came out of my mouth sounded like I was speaking a New Jersey form of French. The melody of that language was completely lost on me, and the words spewed forth without any soft or gentle breezes attached.

This week, my friends from California came to New York City to visit their nephew, niece and her husband. Marc was fluent in French, having gone to the same school as I growing up but somehow mastering the intricacies that fully escaped my grasp. Georgette (pronounced with the lightness of a small wave lapping against the shore) was a native speaker of the language. Her family were French through and through.

Over the last several decades my wife and I have journeyed often to the West Coast to spend time with our friends. Depending on the circumstance, Georgette moves seamlessly from English to French to Spanish,  with what appears to be unerring proficiency. Although, I do recall  on one occasion she recounted a tale of her car  burning up and reported that her "rear end was on fire". 

Pour moi,  I  make a point  on each visit to announce at every conceivable opportunity that we must "allez vitement" even if there is no place we need to be in any particular hurry. Throw in a "peut etre" or two along the way, even when the choice is manifest, and I feel as if I have matched the prowess of  our  hostess,  word for word (I wanted to write this phrase in French but I could not do so without cheating, and I was afraid if I left this page, my accumulated work might disappear into la nuit).

Good fortune has allowed me to visit Paris on more than one occasion. I am quite surprised that there was not a picture of me in every establishment, much like an FBI warning poster, advising tout la monde of my impending arrival, and warning that no ear is safe in my presence. If they had only known, I am certain that most places of public accommodation would have politely requested that I "fermez my bouche"  so as not to frighten other customers.

"Bon soir, comment allez vous" would be about the only full sentence I would be able to recall as we met Marc, Georgette and her family for dinner at a restaurant directly across from the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center (my  pronunciation put a distinct second "r" sound after the first "e"). I didn't think to ask "Ou est le bain?" when I was headed to the bathroom later in the evening (maybe because I knew where it was).

Most of the conversation at the table was in English. The husband of the niece was hesitant to speak, even as he clearly understood what was being said. Maybe he thought he was less than fluent in our tongue. Well, I would show him what less than fluent really is.

There were certain triggers that brought forth a stream of conversation that I could not follow. I tried to pick up a word, or maybe even a phrase, but my ear could not pierce through the night air to attach a meaning to anything that was being "parlezed en francais". I sometimes nodded my head "un peu" as if I were taking it all in. 

"No, merci", I intoned as I was offered some morsel of food which gave me ample opportunity to demonstrate my proficiency, so many years after my last B- in 12th grade.  I know this came out distinctly sounding like "no mercy". I find it telling that all these years later, I still have occasional nightmares about walking into a test, overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge.

Throughout the evening, there was a sprinkling of two or three word responses by me in jarringly bad French. My piece de resistance was my very short singing of  "la plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle" which was the only part of a verse I recalled from a tune I had learned a half century earlier. If there was anything worse than my speaking French badly, it was singing French badly.

In small doses, at least for one evening, I think this act amused those who were subjected to my annihilation of their native tongue. As dinner finished,  we bid "au revoir" and I walked into the "tres chaud" evening humming  "la plume de ma tante" and wondering why I never heard from Ozzie or Gene after high school ended.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Republican Party

("Up From Greenwich")

In 2008 there was a collapsing job market, a stock market in free fall and  two wars that stretched as far into the future as the mind's eye could see. The Republican party was not an easy fit for anyone, and there were considerations of its imminent demise.

So what brilliant strategy accounts for the reversal, six years later, of its declining fortunes? It is in the relentless attack on the most vulnerable.

Don't extend unemployment benefits, don't raise the minimum wage, don't support health care reforms to insure the basic welfare of the underclass. Rid our society of those who infiltrate from over the borders. These are the enemies.

It is in the negatives that this party has risen from the ashes. Mr. Douthat gives them far too much wholly undeserved support when concluding that they are somehow not the party of the rich.

The Republican party deserves enmity, not praise, for backing into a powerful position predicated on messages of hate, fear and survival of the fittest. If playing to our worst instincts is truly how to attract the middle class and the well to do, then this is very sad commentary on the state of our nation.

The Family Business

When I was a young boy, I admired everything about my dad. I wanted to grow up to be just like him. Since he was a lawyer, that was the field to which I was inevitably drawn. And when I finished law school, after a year's clerkship, my dream of entering the family business was fulfilled. Sadly,  my dad passed away shortly after we began working together.

Neither of my children ever expressed a desire to continue this legacy. My daughter is a speech therapist and appears to be thriving in her work. My son, a student of public policy.  Not that this was a bad thing, it was just one less connection, or maybe a small reflection on how they perceived me and what I was.

That has all changed. For last evening, my son announced that he was now entering the family business. No, not that one. The other one, getting published in the letters section of the New York Times.

Over the past half decade, my son, my entire family, and a community of friends, acquaintances and even total strangers, have been apprised of my unending attempts to see my words in the Times. Remarkably, there have been many successes which has only spurred continued efforts by me and increasing alienation of those around me.

And the one at the center of my self created maelstrom has been my son. Appointed as my personal editor, he has been forever witness to my relentless pursuit of fame, if only in my own head, and fortune, from a writing career destined never to move into first gear.

But rather than be repelled, he has been endlessly patient and understanding, encouraging and compassionate. And through this process, one other thing has happened. He has clearly learned how to spot those writings of mine which are likely to find a welcome home in the letters section of the Times.

Beyond having a far keener and perceptive mind than I, he is a far better writer. As such, whenever we have been in discussion on a topic of import in the news and his analysis seemed clear and correct, I have implored him to "write a letter to the editor."

He has refrained, maybe because he saw me taking all the air out of the room with my incessant pursuit, or maybe because he just did not feel the compulsion, as I did.

Last night, as I opened my cell phone to read my e-mails, this note appeared:
"With dad as my mentor, I wrote this yesterday and thought it felt letter-worthy, so I sent it in. Dad has trained me well."

Underneath, was a note from the NY Times advising that:
"We are considering your letter for publication in the next few days, either in the printed paper and the Web site, or on the Web only. Below is an edited version of your letter."

My heart swelled with pride. I let out several "woo- hoos" or something like that in the middle of a room filled with a family mourning the loss of a loved one. Maybe this was not the best time to tell those assembled of my son's accomplishment and of the great joy I was experiencing.

The note from my son meant more to me than he could ever fully understand. It brought me back to the days of my youth when I looked upon my dad with a sense of awe and enormous pride. I understand that I am far less a being than he was, far less a role model to be emulated. But my son has found in my undertaking, in me, something positive, something worthwhile and has, with his considerable talents, finally decided to join the family business.

Here is his letter as it appeared in the New York Times.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A World Without Pity

It is Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. The forces of good in a battle to the death against foreign invaders. This is Rick Perry's Alamo and the National Guard are the last line of defense. Forget that this is not Santa Anna but a group of overwhelmed children.

For Governor Perry, the lessons learned from his 2012 presidential debacle are being played out on this stage. No longer are there echoes of "I don't think you have a heart" for failing to recognize the plight of the young here illegally. For the man who couldn't remember the third Federal agency he would eliminate, or what Governor Romney stood for before he stood for something else, this call to arms is an easy fit. Xenophobia polls well with his audience.

The days of sanity for Mr. Perry and those like him who play to our worst instincts have long since passed. What remains is a vitriol without borders.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Little Rock Nine at the Border

("Tears for the Border Children")

They were but children, who suffered unending physical and verbal abuse. Their arrival was opposed by the Governor of the state and it took the intervention of the President to assure their safe passage. Their escorts were members of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.

The year was 1957, the place Arkansas, and the children became known as the Little Rock Nine. They were African Americans seeking to integrate an all white school. They had been chosen based on their excellent grades and attendance at their former educational homes.

The recent hysteria concerning the young who have crossed the border evokes the ugliness of those days. Incendiary comments from public officials clearly intended to bring out the worst in those who can find no place in their hearts for understanding and compassion. Children who are vilified  for the unforgivable sin of the color of their skin or their attempt to seek a better life. Repelling an invasion.

Mr. Blow speaks of locating our better angels. Almost 60 years after Little Rock, we are reminded of how difficult a task that can sometimes be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Governor Christie, Redux

("Christie to Test Presidential Hopes in Iowa Bid")

It is unsurprising that we have not heard the last of the New Jersey governor. With nary a mea culpa, he will endeavor to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. For, as we will be informed, Mr. Christie is still standing after all that his enemies have done to denigrate and destroy him.

Forget about the numerous ongoing investigations. Don't worry about the  unemployment numbers in his state, the train tunnel across the Hudson that never was, the pension fiasco, the Pulaski skyway, or the lives and homes destroyed and not rebuilt after Sandy. None of that matters in this tale.

Instead, we will learn of a man who is not afraid of a fight, not afraid of speaking his mind, who stares down the hard truths of this world with fire in his eyes. He will be a gladiator, a warrior wounded in battle, who remains unbowed and unbroken. In a time where passion is seen as having left the oval office, Governor Christie will be portrayed as the anti-Obama.

And so, in a bizarre way, the governor may suggest that Bridgegate and all of its progeny have done him a favor. While it is a long way from here to the White House, and by all rational examination there would seem to be too much baggage for his ultimate coronation, for the moment the story of the man with the outsized ego and abrasive personality is still being written.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chelsea Clinton, In the Line of Fire

Stop picking on Chelsea Clinton. She has done nothing to deserve your enmity. The fact that people are willing to overpay for her services does not make her a villain. And, it should be more than an asterisk that these monies enrich the Foundation, not the young speaker.

Yes, the Clinton brand can oft times be grating. Yes, Bill and Hillary have certainly put their feet in their respective mouths (let's not go there) on more than one occasion. And yes, there is a great deal of ego attached to the family. But these are people who have devoted a substantial portion of their lives to public service and who have been willing to suffer the slings and arrows along the way.

Attack them for their flaws, but do not attack Chelsea without predicate. She is a young woman who is beginning what might be a very important career, and if she remains in the public eye, will undoubtedly have her own faux pas to explain away. But she should not be criticized in advance, or made to appear unseemly just for joining the family business.

Monday, July 7, 2014

("Beliefs, Facts and Money")

It is pervasive and infects the thought process of those who stand in righteous indignation. It is the George W. Bush weapons of mass destruction theory on steroids. Facts have no place at this table.

It is most reprehensible because it entrenches positions, allows no room for debate, no compromise, no pursuit of a greater good. And, as the article by Mr. Nyhan would suggest, the intention to insert evidence into the dialogue, is enough to exacerbate and offend. It runs the gamut of issues not only on the environment, economics and creation but on gun control, immigration reform and every other problem that demands intellectual curiosity.

We have come to a startling low place. Our politics are diseased, our ability to act removed and we are left merely with accusations and allegations.

For those who believe in the benefits of the mind and not merely the gut, it is an impossibly sad and difficult time. And for those who know better but willingly choose to ignore, it is a moment filled with shame.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Not So Fab Five

("Limiting Rights: Imposing Religion on Workers")

We have now learned, thanks to our less than supreme court, that for profit corporations are people who have some very deep religious beliefs which must be respected.

In the wake of yesterday's determination lays shards of constitutional protections for women. But this was only meant as collateral damage, for the true target of this convoluted mis-conception was President Obama's signature piece of legislation.

For all of us who looked on as the justices opened the floodgates to further attacks on the Affordable Care Act, it should serve as clarion call  to examine the blurring of the lines between politics and the judicial branch. The not so fab five have taken an active role in reshaping the landscape of our nation, impacting the ability of the most oppressed to vote, sanctioning endless financial opportunity for the few to control the election process and reducing to rubble the clearly intended meaning of legislation forged to protect a vast portion of our citizenry. Logic and precedent have been reduced to the role of bench-warmers.

The assault on our rights and our way of life continues unabated and will remain in jeopardy for as long as the starting five is permitted to act with such utter disdain and contempt for the dictates of the Constitution and the citizens of this nation. It is beyond time that we entered into a serious 21st century discussion about term limits for those who sit on this bench decade after decade, impervious and ill intended.