Thursday, December 29, 2016

New York Times Best Letters of 2016

My letter on Muhammad Ali was chosen by the Editor of the Letters Department of the New York Times as one of the best of 2016. I set forth the unedited version below. Hope you enjoy a second look (or a first) at this post:


He came to us as a curiosity and stayed as an icon who altered our landscape forever.

Far beyond the confines of a ring, Muhammad Ali was defined as a fighter with quick fists, quick wit and an indomitable spirit. He willingly forfeited riches, his crown and would have his freedom, if it had come to that, following the dictates of his religion and his heart. He might have arrived as part showman but he remained as a dedicated, serious ambassador for his beliefs.

Parkinson's may have sapped him of his most obvious strengths, making him a physical shadow of his earlier self and taking away much of the sound of his voice. But Ali's poetry was not limited to his outward beauty or rhymes. His was the heart of a lion, the will of David against Goliath, a life equal parts passion and compassion.

He was, for half a century, an American treasure. And he will forever remain one of the most influential voices of our time.

Born Cassius Clay, lived long as Muhammad Ali, died a legend and a hero to countless millions around the globe. Forever may he be recalled as one who was both butterfly and bee, a man filled with enduring beauty, grace and power.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Response of the Democrats to the Inaugural Address of Mr. Trump

(With a little help from Mr. Lincoln )

Four score less six days ago a minority of  our electorate brought forth on our nation a new leader, conceived in infamy and promulgating the proposition that all rich white men are created equal.

A great many have been outraged by his uncivil war, testing whether our nation, or any nation, so ill conceived and so wrongly dedicated, can still endure. We will soon meet in great battle in our most hallowed halls.We have come to dedicate ourselves to that war, and pledge to never take respite or rest until each of those in our nation who have put their lives in our custody has a better place to live. It is all together fitting and proper that we should do this for the very least and the very last among us.

We cannot desecrate -we cannot castigate - we can not call fallow - this ground where we must now tread. The brave men and women, living and dead, who struggled in these very halls to make us more than we now appear, have made sacred this space, far more than our power now to diminish or expand. The world may little note or long remember these words in the cacophony of the coming hours.  It is for our party, those who now stand beside me, beside us, to rededicate ourselves to the battle, to proclaim that the work of those who came before us, who so nobly pledged their hearts and their lives, will not be cast asunder, will not be lost to the blur of history or the blink of an eye. It is rather that we be ever mindful and ever committed to the hard task that is now before us- that from the strength and courage, the passion and dedication, the vision and vigilance of those our honored forebears, we are renewed and revitalized, with increased devotion to those challenges for which they gave their last measure - that we firmly resolve that our causes will not be forgotten or compromised and all our efforts will not be in vain- that this party, this nation, undeterred, shall have a rebirth and a resurgence - and that this government, despite the protestations of those in power who would wish us less, will remain now and forever of the people, by the people and for the people, and we shall not fade slowly into the night but we will, as one, emerge stronger, wiser and better.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Small Hands, Big Mouth

("Trump Says the U.S. Should Expand It's Nuclear Policy")

So Donald Trump has small hands and a big stick. How could someone, still almost a month from taking office be doing such damage, giving the Twitter finger to a two state solution in Israel, and poking a finger directly in the eye of nuclear diplomacy?

He has tweeted China that he may not keep his tiny hands off Taiwan. He has doubled down on his no Muslims allowed policy. He is building a foreign policy tsunami while sitting in his underwear in his palace in NY or Florida.

Do you know the worst possible job in the world? Communications director for Donald Trump. Each day trying to turn a 140 character rant into a coherent thought. Stepping back the principal mandate in this job description.

While Trump fiddles around, Obama must be burning. His legacy, and the office itself, already in tatters. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Freudian Slip?

This was the headline of today's news alert for WNYC:

"A Trump Tower Resident Asses His Neighbor"

A Freudian slip? More likely a victim of a malicious auto-correct (the error was quickly noted and "Asses" became "Assesses")

Finally, a reason to laugh.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Electoral College Is Here to Stay

("Time to End the Electoral College")

Historical perspective matters not. Present reality dictates and Republicans, who control state and federal government are as likely to move this country away from the electoral college as Mr. Trump is to stop tweeting.

It is a waste of time and resource to contemplate a universe that will never exist in the current environment. The electoral college is the best hope the Republicans have to remain in control of the presidency in a country whose demographics is shifting decidedly blue.

Gerrymandering, undocumented allegations of voter fraud, "fictional truths", are but tools of the trade. The mother lode is the electoral college and protecting its future is critical to the future of Republican control of the Oval Office.

It is time to wake up and start dealing with issues that can be challenged and impacted not one that cannot.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Search of a Missing L - The Lost Rules of Spelling (Speling)

I am in search of a missing L.  I know it is around here somewhere, I just can't seem to locate it.
What happened to all those double consonants that have disappeared (soon it may read: what hapened to al those double consonants that have disapeared)?  I was recently reading an article that discussed (discused) the "skilful" rider. Was the other L left by the roadside, victim of a hit and run driver?
Are we shedding (sheding) letters (leters) to save time? Are we abandoning duplication? Are we worried (woried) about our 140 character limit?
What class (clas) must I take to learn the new rules? When is doubling up still permissible (permisible)?  Will we soon do away with bunk beds and twin mattresses (matreses)? We have lost double features at the movies and we now even have split doubleheaders in baseball (basebal).

It is all (al) a little (litle) too confusing. If you see, I have not, to this point, included the double vowel in this lament for it does appear (apear) at the moment to be a bridge too (to) far. But what if even that bridge disappeared (disapeared)?
Are we now to abandon double negatives (no, not that one), discard double entendres and do away with that dastardly double cross (double cros)? Can we no longer double down or double up? Are we done doubling our pleasure, doubling our fun?
And what about two for one bargains? And will (wil) one no longer be the loneliest number but two? 
I long for simpler times with simpler rules. When we knew to cross (cros) the street (stret) looking (loking) both ways. When night followed (folowed) day, seven hadn't eaten nine and i followed e, except after c.
Now it is all (al) a mess (mes). And I can only hope a skilful rider can navigate the terrain (terain) successfully (sucesfuly) and arrive (arive) home to sip a double (single) latte (late) before it is too (to) late (latte), oops (ops).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dr. Frankenstein's Lament

Dr. Frankenstein is unhappy with the monster he created?
Party leadership and right wing pundits have led us, crumb by crumb and step by step, to Donald Trump's doorstep. For years they have fed their followers disinformation and obfuscation. For years they have railed about fictional wrongs and filled their speeches and their writings with factual "inaccuracies'. It was a means justifies the ends attack on everything Obama, everything Democrat.
From a foreign born Muslim President, to health care death panels, from snowballs in Congress to refute climate change to the directive from Mitch McConnell to be first, last and always obstructionists, this was a determination to abandon truth as a predicate for opening one's mouth or penning one's words.
And how could those who believed in their party, believed in their media personalities, how could they distinguish between all the past lies that had accumulated over so many years and all the present ones that spewed forth in dizzying succession from Mr. Trump.
You cannot walk away from past transgressions so easily Mr. Sykes. You cannot merely wash your hands of the President elect and think all is forgiven. No, it is your job to right your wrong and raise your voice in continued opposition to the monster you created.

On the Roof of Mr. Trump's Limousine

Is that Mitt on the roof of Trump's limousine? And next to him, Christie?

Who can forget the image of the New Jersey governor looking like he just ate way too much humble pie as he lap dogged behind Mr. Trump?

And Mr. Romney being sickeningly effusive in his praise of the president elect as he kissed not only his ring but his derriere in his audition for a part in "Donald Knows Best."

Counting on the mercurial leader to forgive and forget is, as one might say to Mr. Christie, a bridge too far. Remember, Mr. Trump's favorite son in law had a little score to settle with the former attorney general of NJ for putting his dad in prison attire. And Mr. Romney's fifteen seconds this campaign was spent almost entirely on letting the world know Seamus would make a better President than Donald.

So Mr. Trump's dalliance with Mitt has passed and he has concentrated on choosing only the best and brightest of his former opponents for meritorious appointment: Ben Carson picked to head Housing and Urban Development even as the good doctor himself advised that he was not qualified for the position and Rick Perry, the man who would abolish the Department of Energy if only he could remember it's name, now chosen to lead it.

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Property of Charles Metzner

The name is written in cursive, the letters faded but, amazingly, still legible. I do not know Charles Metzner, never met him, but almost 100 years ago, almost 30 years before I was born, he gave me a gift.

Between 1921 and 1924 the Exhibit Supply Company manufactured a set of 193 baseball cards. The cards measure 3 3/8" by 5 3/8". Black and white images of many of the stars of the game are pictured. Players in various poses, and at the bottom of each card is a cursive spelling of the name and a smaller, all capital letters description of their position and team.

Geo. H. 'Babe' Ruth

I recently went on a collector's website and learned that the key cards in this set were Ty. R. Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Walter P. Johnson and Babe Ruth. Charles Metzner did not have the Walter P. Johnson card but the others are at my fingertips at a moment's notice..

Today is the 37th anniversary of my dad's passing. The memorial candle flickers on the dining room table. The same table where last week the book that once belonged to Charles Metzner sat.

My dad was in summer camp in the mid 1920's. His counselor, at least one of those summers: Mr. Metzner. I can only imagine the passion that my dad displayed for his sports heroes. Even in  1932, when my dad was 14, he compiled a book of clippings of the most significant athletic events of the moment. This book has for many decades been nestled next to the other one which once belonged to Charles Metzner.

I don't know what motivated Mr. Metzner to give my dad this gift. Maybe he thought that this collection was but a child's undertaking and he was outgrowing such things. Maybe my dad was relentless in his request. Maybe it was a spur of the moment decision. Maybe it was deeply contemplated and considered.

My memories of baseball cards and camp are decidedly less uplifting. When I was but six, I spent my first summer at sleep away. And much like my dad before me, I was consumed with my love of sport. But my attraction to the baseball cards of my counselor was less honorable. I remember being held back from activities one day as my counselor scolded me for taking some of his cards. I was not a master thief, unable to read the cursive handwriting that showed the rightful owner's name. But this is not a story about my failings. Well maybe not entirely.

The baseball cards that sat on the dining room table last week were not there solely for my viewing pleasure. Also sitting at the table were two auctioneers, one of whom took particular interest when I had mentioned, almost in passing, what was once the property of Charles Metzner.

It has been so many years since I really looked at this book, or at the many hundreds of baseball cards that I had collected in the 1950's and early 1960's. When my children were much younger, we would occasionally pull these out of storage and they would be saddled with a few minutes of my reminiscences of my dad and of my own youth. But my children are now both in their 30's and what really was the purpose of holding on to Mr. Metzner's past belonging?

I sent a text message to the auctioneer the following day and asked about the extent of his interest in Ruth, Cobb and Hornsby. But even as I wrote this note, I was filled with a sense of uneasiness. These were vestiges not of baseball played almost 100 years ago, but of my dad and me, and a shared passion.

He wrote back shortly after and expressed his continued willingness to acquire these pieces. But the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that I would be dishonoring the memory of my dad and also the gift from Charles Metzner if ever I were to say yes to an offer, whatever it might be.

And so today, I watch the burning candle and remember everything that my dad was, and everything that he meant to me. And I am glad that the gift from Charles Metzner is where it now and forever belongs, safe at home.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Storyteller

What is politics, what is existence, if not storytelling? We discuss, consider persuade and cajole through the art of the tale. We talk, we live from one short story to the next.

And Donald Trump for all his many faults, his eccentricities and foibles, was a far better story teller than Hillary Clinton. Maybe because he talked so often in fictions, his possibilities were endless. He is practiced in the art of manipulation by deception and illusion, building a career and a fortune on his capacity to weave his particular madness into gold.

Yes, his images were full of darkness and fear, of desperate times and evil people. But where all we heard was the sound of a charlatan at work, he captivated and propelled those who were hypnotized by his words.

Hillary Clinton spoke in phrases that were mired in concrete. She did not stir the mind and the heart in any of the ways that Mr. Trump did.

And so the profane, the obscene, the ridiculous and the nonsensical became the story that far too much of America heard. And believed. 

We will be soon led by a storyteller in chief, a person consumed not with policy considerations, but   merely creating a narrative that fits neatly with his vision. Carrier is but the first of these imagined triumphs. 

And our task for the tomorrows to come is to find a powerful voice to tell our story of our nation, and ultimately to wrest away the attention of those now gathered at the feet of Mr. Trump. It is all in the hands of the storyteller.

Bright Lights - A Christmas Tale

This is not a tale of religion, so don't turn away. This is, as the saying hanging in the kitchen of one of my dear friend's announces, a story of "excess is best".

As we drive down the block, I am struck not so much by the size of the houses, but the lights that make the night sky bright. To my left or right I am given constant reminder of the season at hand. Though no snow appears on the ground, I am certain that Christmas is nigh.

But whatever brightness emanates here, it soon seems merely the darkest of evenings as the road bends to reveal the house I am soon to enter. Not only is the yard, front and back, saturated with glowing and moving figures announcing that Santa would soon be heading down the chimney, but if the radio was turned to 107.7 FM, a Christmas song, followed by a series of jokes, could be heard all emanating from a continuous looped broadcast from the house.

Walking across the yard, the window in the front was showing a cartoon on its shade. The senses were assaulted and overwhelmed by holiday cheer.

But if one were to stop here and never step foot inside, it would be like only seeing the Mona Lisa from the nose up. For if the outside of this home announced it's intention to celebrate, the inside screamed it.

It was more museum, more exhibit than one could almost imagine. Room upon room filled from stem to stern with every possibility. Santa climbing up and down a ladder in perpetual motion. Santa on a zip line, with the clap of a hand, descending from the sky, and with a second clap reversing his course. Two Christmas trees, each festooned with seemingly a thousand ornaments,  little treats to be discovered one by one as the eye tried desperately to take in all the information and convey it to an overwhelmed brain.

There were winter villages composed in the most particular detail, trains moving up and down the hills,  a tram carrying it's occupants heavenward. The enormity of what lay before us, one room more intricately conceived than the next, is almost impossible to report.

And in the midst were the revelers, intentionally dressed in some of the worst looking holiday sweaters imaginable, a wink and a nod of the head to deliciously bad taste.

For me, who grew up in a neighborhood where Christmas trees were hard to find, and Christmas lights were few, it was as if I had woken in a Disney, or more accurately, a National Lampoon movie. Think Chevy Chase on steroids. 

There is the moment when over the top is no longer in the worst of taste but the best. And this house, this evening, this extraordinary testament, was nothing short of the best. Excess in all its wonder and glory.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Lost and Found

You know that lost weekend in your past? I just found mine 

My son always says I have no recollection of my youth. That when he visited my old college campus with me I remembered living for two years in what turned out to be the administration building. And yes, almost all of what happened almost half a century ago long fell from my brain and was carted away with the trash. But not everything. 

I have been dealing with another lawyer for almost two years on a transaction. His name sounded vaguely familiar, but having lived almost 65 years not much doesn't sound vaguely familiar. But he never asked if I was the same person he had gone to college with and I think everyone I meet along the way lived for two years in the administration building with me. 

Today we met face to face for the first time on our deal. At least he met my face. As for me it was all a blank. 

"Are you the....." I was. And with that he rattled off a series of questions about my former roommate, one of my friends who did not even attend our school and whether I married my old college girlfriend. Who was this guy and why did he know so much about me? 

Like I do in so many situations, I pretended.  I didn't lie, I just sort of made it seem he had made a more lasting impression on me than the "who the hell is he" response that was circulating around my mostly empty cranium. 

We finished up our conference, I promised we would get together soon along with my old roommate, and then I made my way outside. 

It was not until about half an hour later that the dim lightbulb in my head suddenly began to flash, in all neon. 

I picked up my cell phone. "Were we together that weekend on that road trip when we went to visit my friend (the name he had mentioned to me earlier)?" He WAS. 

That was during my single period, when my girlfriend had graduated and I was participating in some activities that were not for PG audiences. And that weekend, that road trip, well I can't really tell you much about it. Not because I don't remember but because I now do.

I would venture that youthful indiscretions are something many of us look back upon in later years with a mixture of embarrassment and delight, simultaneously slightly repulsed at our misdeeds and in equal measure wistful for those unforgettable times. Only I mostly forgot them, at least this one, until now.

Am I the rule or is he? Are a lifetime of events, important, innocuous, innocent or otherwise, stored and ready for retrieval in your head? How could people so central to such tales disappear? Where did they go? One of us carried in stark detail in his back pocket that time of life when we were young and more than a little wild. And then there was me. But with help, a flood of long dormant brain cells had stirred to life.

My suddenly new old friend and I laughed over memories rejoined. Our past now simultaneously recollected, our present but excuse for this strange, wonderful coincidence that filled both of us with such warm, warped thoughts of a very naughty weekend I retrieved from the lost and found.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Person of the Year

It is like a sharp stick in the eye as I stare at the image of Mr. Trump on your cover as Time's Person of the Year.
I understand that this is not an endorsement of his policies, but merely a recognition of his impact on the present and future landscape of our political and global universe. 
But that does not lessen the pain of Mr. Trump's "here I am" half glower, that look that speaks a million words, that self-satisfied picture of him having proven all of us, his horrified critics, so completely wrong.
Donald Trump sells, and so your magazine will do well this week. But at what cost, what steep price will we all have to pay? I think your cover should have more appropriately been entitled "Person of the Year???"

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Numbers Game

("Derek Jeter's No.2, Last of Yankee Single Digits, to Be Retired")

When my children were young (they are now both in their 30's) I challenged them to give me the names of the players whose Yankee numbers were retired out in Monument Park. My son created a mnemonic, a running tale in which all the most hallowed of pinstripers played a role.

With the list soon to be a staggering 21 upon the ascendancy of "number 2, Derek Jeter, number 2",  I am quite certain my son's story would now be almost as long as the game itself.

I now assign a new simpler task, recalling the single digit lineup as follows:
Leading off, at second base, number 1, Billy Martin

Derek Jeter, shortstop, number 2, batting second

Babe Ruth, batting third, number 3, right field

Lou Gehrig, cleanup, number 4, first base

Joe D, center field, number 5, hitting fifth

Joe Torre, third base, sixth in the lineup, number 6

The Mick, number 7 , batting seventh, in left

Yogi and Bill Dickey sharing the catching duties and the number 8, batting eighth

Roger Maris, as DH , number 9, batting ninth

And announcing the game, Holy Cow, Phil Rizzuto, number 10.

Single digit numbers on a jersey were at one time intended to correlate to batting position in the starting lineup. It is almost a perfect fit, as the one to nine Bronx Bomber team, in numeric order, forevermore strides to the plate.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mr. Trump, Please Shut Up

("Trump's Breezy Calls to World Leaders Leaves Diplomats Aghast")

Mr. Trump, please shut up. It is more than a month before you even take office and already your big mouth has caused potential problems abroad.

Your cavalier remarks, your back of a matchbox knowledge of the most inflammable of situations, is a grave danger to this country. Your using adjectives and adverbs as a crutch to hide your embarrassing deficiencies is not of help as you maneuver through the most combustible, complex political mazes.

You don't study and don't comprehend and that is the worst of all combinations. You cannot bluff your way through, as each word you utter will have consequence, each phrase you toss out will be analyzed, each tweet dissected.

If I have one piece of advise, it is that you say nothing, not one moronic syllable. Silence is golden Mr. Trump. And we know how much you love gold.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Processing Donald Trump

I have grown quiet in recent days, my pen resting by my side. I feel, as do many like me, that I am going through the grieving process, trying to cope with a profound loss.

The mind wants desperately not to live in a state of negative being. That is why it would rather I wipe the slate clean for the President-elect, treat his past sins as meaningless peccadilloes and permit him the latitude to create his vision for our universe without pre-judgment.

But that is near impossible given the continuing tweets reminding us of the dangers that lie ahead for constitutional safeguards and those freedoms we hold dear, the cabinet choices that reinforce the notion that our worst fears will be realized for the future of our economy, our environment, our poor and suffering, our women, our immigrants, our standing in the international community.

We are informed that control is now in the hands of the dangerously wrong and  the critical beliefs that should constitute an immutable framework for this nation are in serious jeopardy of being cast asunder.

So I must not become complacent or indifferent to what I witness. Must not stand idle and allow this tragedy to unfold without comment. Must awaken from my stupor to give voice to my concerns.

Forget the five steps. Acceptance of the reality of Mr. Trump's presidency is not an option.