Saturday, January 29, 2011

Middle East Primer for Third Graders

Directions: Read this story about Izzy and Ishy. At the end see if you can answer the questions and help Izzy and Ishy decide what they should do.

Part I. Izzy

A long time ago, a man named Izzy was evicted from his house for no good reason. Izzy struggled mightily, but was forced out nevertheless.

Izzy moved down the road into another house. His new neighbors, however, also gave him a hard time and also forced him out. Izzy packed up and moved into yet another home. There, he worked hard, minded his own business, and figured that if he kept quiet all would be well. Izzy was wrong. Every so often, for what appeared to be sport, Izzy's neighbors took to beating up on Izzy and his family.

Izzy kept moving on. He wandered from place to place, but always, after he’d lived in a house for some time, he would get pestered, abused, and eventually he’d have to leave.

Finally, a madman tried to systematically destroy all members of Izzy's family and almost was successful. Izzy survived but made a decision,

"Enough is enough. I'm going to get my old house back."

So, Izzy complained to the powers that be. They listened to his case, considered the recent efforts of the madman to destroy Izzy's clan, and decided to give Izzy his old house back providing that he shared the space with the people who had moved in during the interim.

Izzy said "fine", returned to his former home, but wasn't in the place for one day before his neighbors attacked him. Izzy had been moving around too long and been kicked around too often to give in easily. Izzy mustered all his strength and survived despite severe odds. The battlefield victory allowed him to stay in his old house.

Nevertheless, periodically to this day he still has to beat off his neighbors who still are furious that Izzy was allowed to move into their property without their consent. Izzy has managed to fight off the neighbors every time, but the battles are taking their toll.

Despite the frequent warfare, Izzy has done a very nice job of redecorating his old house. The place needed some repairs and Izzy was willing and able to do the repair work. He has made the house look very attractive.

Part II Ishy

After Izzy was first forced out of the original home--the house he eventually returned to--a man named Ishy moved his family into Izzy's old house. Ishy barely knew Izzy. He wasn't taking Izzy's house away. The house was available, so Ishy moved in.

Ishy had been living in the house for a long time when a man came to his door and told him that Izzy wanted his house back.

"Who's Izzy?" said Ishy.

"Izzy," Ishy was told, "used to live here a while back."


"So, he's been kicked to hell and back, and now he wants his old place again."

"Yo. It's not my fault he's been kicked to hell and back."

"Well. He's moving back in anyway. Now look you can have the first two floors, Izzy is moving into the other floors…”

"Who are you to tell me to share my house with this Izzy guy, that I don't even know? This is my house, buddy. And Izzy or Dizzy, isn't moving in."

"That's where you're wrong Ishy. We took a vote and decided that Izzy gets two floors. He's had some tough times. People are always taking out their troubles on him and his people. Guy's gotta be safe."

"Let him move into your place, buddy. This is my place. Why does he have to move in here?"

"This is where he used to live. That's why he wants to move back in. Word is that if you go way back you two are brothers. Anyway, he wants to move back in. And he's entitled.

"He's entitled?!!!!! He's entitled?!!!!! What about me? I'm entitled too.”

"Look. You're just gonna have to share. Now get ready. He's moving in on Wednesday."

"Over my dead body…"

Part III Izzy and Ishy

Ishy proved to be correct, but his wasn't the only dead body. When Izzy moved in, Ishy got all his friends together and attacked Izzy. Somehow, as we've seen previously, Izzy survived.

Ishy became furious. Not only was he furious because Izzy had moved back in, but he felt terrible that he had lost the fight to Izzy.

Izzy was furious too. He finally had gotten his home back, and despite that apparent victory, every so often he had to fight this Ishy character who refused to live alongside Izzy in peace. Ishy will not even acknowledge that Izzy lives in the building.

Ishy, Izzy feels, is an ungrateful pain. Not only has Izzy cleaned the place up so that it now is very snazzy looking for everybody Ishy included but regardless Ishy continues to attack Izzy.

Izzy, Ishy feels, is a trespasser. Not only has Izzy come into Ishy's house, but Izzy's running the show, telling Ishy what he can and can't do, in what he, Ishy, feels is Ishy's own home.

Ishy decides, enough is enough. As long as Izzy stays here we're gonna play hardball.

Izzy decides, enough is enough. If Ishy is going to give me a hard time, I'm gonna play hardball.

Questions for Third Graders

Which of the following are appropriate things to do to solve the problem?

(1) Ishy should declare that he is determined to destroy Izzy and periodically behave like a barbarian claiming justification.

(2) Izzy should reduce Ishy to a second class citizen; make him feel like a conquered loser; and periodically behave like a barbarian claiming justification.

(3) Ishy should spend time listing the reasons why Izzy is a jerk and the instances when Izzy has behaved badly. Ishy should ridicule anyone who says anything good about Izzy.

(4) Izzy should spend time listing the reasons why Ishy is a jerk and the instances when Ishy has acted badly. Izzy should ridicule anyone who says anything good about Ishy.

(5) Izzy should have his tough Uncle Sam help him fight off Ishy.

(6) Ishy should have his strong oil rich buddies help him fight off Izzy.

(7) Izzy should recognize that Ishy has a beef and declare that openly. Izzy's Uncle Sam should do the same. That might be a start.

(8) Ishy should recognize that Izzy has a beef and declare that openly. Ishy's oil rich buddies should do the same. That might be a start.

(9) Ishy and Izzy should declare that the issue is complex and continue to destroy each other.

You have two minutes to answer the question.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ko bia

I don't think it was my first baseball game with my dad, but it was one of the early ones. I think so because I don't remember my brother with us. My brother, only twenty months younger probably didn't go when he was 3 or 4, so I am probably 5 maybe 6.

I was a Giants fan because my Dad was a Giants fan. New York Giants that is. Pre, the abomination of the Giants and Dodgers moving. Before they left New York, both the Giants and the Yankees games were televised on Channel 11, WPIX, in New York. The Yankees were sponsored by Ballantine Beer. I have a recollection that the Giants were sponsored by a beer called Knickerbocker.

I have a fair memory anyway, but the jingles for beer companies are very clear in my mind. This is because beer companies tended to be the primary sponsors for sports teams. Since I watched a good deal of sports, many ditties live on in my consciousness.

My beer is Rheingold the dry beer, ask for Rheingold whenever you buy beer, it's not bitter not sweet...won't you try extra dry Rheingold beer.

Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.

But it is the Ballantine beer jingle that is etched into my consciousness.

"Baseball and Ballantine, what a combination, all across the nation, baseball and Ballantine. 'Hey get your cold beer!', hey get your Ballantine."

The singer who crooned, 'Hey get your cold beer' did not enunciate well. Cold beer was uttered as one three syllable word. The beer part was sung as if it had two syllables and there was no r at the end of the word.

So the shout sounded like,"Hey get your Kobia. Hey Get your Ballantine.'

Dad and six or five year old me are at this game. I have been told that I have a stubborn streak. This, my mother contends, is inherited from my father. And apparently as this anecdote suggests I had this trait as a lad. A woman once told me that she knew what she would put on my tombstone. "He wrote the book on everything."

Truth is I am quite flexible. But I digress.

We are at the game and Dad hails a beer vendor. He asks for a Knickerbocker beer. I pull on his sleeve when he has the drink and ask a very simple question.

"Why didn't you get a Ko Bia?"

"A what?" says Dad.

"A Ko bia"

"What is a Ko bia?"

I sing him the jingle. He looks at me with the same perplexed gaze I saw once when he came into the bedroom and I was watching the test pattern waiting for the first tv show of the day to come on.

Well we battle for a while he insisting that there is no beer called Ko bia, but they are saying cold beer. I of course will have nothing of it. Ko bia is a brand like Wheaties as far as I am concerned.

I like beer, but why is Ballantine and Baseball or beer and sports conflated. Is there any reason why when we go to a game, or watch one at home, we take out a cold one. It seems to me that there is nothing natural about this association. And like many things in life we assume that what is unnatural is natural simply because we have been dunned with information in support of an unnatural construction.

Ko bia all over our universe. And many who are willing to argue stubbornly that the construction makes sense.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Last night in the gym I saw a fellow perspirer sitting on a stretching mat. He was in one of those buddha like positions that I can only imagine. Back upright, legs folded and splayed with each knee making contact with the mat. Soles touching. I told him he looked like a prophet about to dispense wisdom.

"A man goes to the hot dog stand." he begins. "He asks for a hot dog. The vendor gets a bun places a hot dog in the bun and hands it over to the customer. The customer hands a twenty dollar bill to the vendor. The customer waits, the vendor does nothing. Finally, the customer says, 'What about change?'

"'Change' says the vendor, 'comes from within.'"

I got a laugh out of my buddy in guru position's joke. And I've thought about the punch line over the last several hours.

The fact is that the cliche on which the punch line is based is wrong and sends people who've internalized the alleged truth of it skidding.

Sure, in order to make a change in behavior one has to do some introspection. But the flaw in the cliche is that thinking that change can come from within diverts one from the reality that we are connected. And as best as I can reckon we are incomplete without these connections.

If we make the assumption that we can operate autonomously then we begin to skid away from the truth. And the truth is we are linked. The skidding makes it difficult to navigate and stay on course.

If we were not all inherently connected then how could one explain the phenomenon of loneliness. Loneliness is not an abstraction. It is real when we experience it. And we can experience it even if we are among others, pretend to be connected to them, but are, in fact, detached. So, if we are supposed to, and are able to, truly be autonomous then why do we feel lonely when we do.

We do, because, we are naturally connected to some others and therefore change can not come from within, unless we are cognizant of how incomplete we are without others.

Another buddy of mine who is a fanatic Jets fan wrote to me today telling me how nervous he is about tomorrow's game. He has no money on the game. Why should he or anyone care about a team. Sometimes we forge connections with teams just like we develop romantic, filial, and fraternal connections. What happens to your team, affects you.

Change, I do not believe, comes from within. Change requires shooting straight with yourself so that you know you can not change unless you embrace with whom and with what you naturally are linked. There is no you without me. There is no me without you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

blood libel?

I have political views, but I do not use this platform, that is this blog, to articulate them.

However, as I came in from shoveling snow just now I saw something on Yahoo that just flabbergasted me.

I see that the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate has used the term "blood libel" in a message.

Governor Palin has responded to intimations and accusations that what motivated the shooter in the Arizona killings were gun analogies. Governor Palin and others had employed such analogies when identifying sitting Democratic congresspersons who were targeted by Republicans as those who should be ousted in upcoming elections. One example of the shooting metaphor was a map of the United States on which rifle sight icons had been inserted at places where Democrats were coming up for reelection. Representative Giffords had been such a congressperson seeking reelection.

Governor Palin has objected to the accusations that she and others have spurred the maniacal behavior of the perpetrator of the shootings. She has said that such accusations are an example of "blood libel."

This is an astonishing statement. Any Jew who has a remote sense of history knows that "blood libel" has been used by antisemites for close to 900 years (867 to be precise) to disparage, accuse, prosecute, and kill Jews. Movie goers and/or readers may recall the Malamud book and subsequent movie, The Fixer, which deals with a blood libel case. Those familiar with WWII history know that Der Stuermer was a Nazi newspaper that employed the blood libel (and others) to justify the elimination of the Jews.

Okay so the target in the Arizona killings is a woman who when campaigning identified herself as a Jewish woman. The shooter had a copy of Mein Kampf among his possessions. And a presidential aspirant uses the term "blood libel" in her formal scripted messages.

It is either one thing or another. She is either (a) using this expression to subtly stir up her conservative base, "you know those liberal Jews in the media", or (b) she is a simpleton with a staff of simpletons who know nothing of history and are not curious enough or industrious enough to vet formal messages.

I will give her the benefit of the doubt. She is a simpleton. She has no clue of history and has no desire to discover much about it. She surrounds herself with people who, incredibly, have never heard the expression "blood libel." The members of her "thinktank" were plucked from the streets of Chelm. (This allusion will have no meaning to her).

My outrage at this usage is not so much that it is beyond insensitive to people who have been slaughtered in the name of it, but rather that there are people who are considering this simpleton to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Today at noon there is a college football bowl game. Tomorrow, Sunday night, at 8 there is another college football bowl game.

The one today pits two very mediocre teams, Kentucky 6-6 and Pittsburgh 7-5 against each other. Pittsburgh's success is such that they fired the head coach that led them to this bowl. Tomorrow Boston College will play the University of Nevada. Nevada's claim to fame this year is that they beat Boise State when the kicker from Boise made two very unfortunate mistakes at the end of the game. I am not sure what Boston College's claim to football fame is this year. Boston College--which is actually not in Boston but in a neighboring suburb--had a 7-5 record but they, like Pitt, and Kentucky, and Nevada--do not deserve to be showcased.

These games are nothing more than exhibitions scheduled to satisfy a voracious audience. They are scheduled as they are for an interesting reason. Today the NFL playoffs will begin at 430. A game will be played at 430 and another at 8. Kentucky is playing with Pitt at noon in a silly exhibition today because so many fans are nervously and excitedly waiting to watch the NFL at 430. They have ants in their pants awaiting kickoff. They need a shot of football to allay their nerves before the 430 tilt.

Why is BC playing a silly exhibition game tomorrow at eight? Because two more NFL games are scheduled from 1-8 tomorrow. The networks are betting that fans will have the shakes on Sunday night and will need some football like a junkie requires a fix.

I will be interested in seeing if there are many fans in the stands for these college games. I have noticed, even in some of the bigger bowl games that the stands are empty. The bowl/exhibition season is for tv, voracious fans, and shekels. They have all the legitimacy of Boston College's name. The bowl tilts are really not a game. They are somewhere close to a game. Just like Boston College is somewhere close to Boston.

Monday, January 3, 2011

raccoon lodge redux

For the past four years or so my brother and I participated in a football pool during the NFL season. Each week we predicted, against the spread, who would win the NFL games. We called ourselves the Raccoon Lodge in deference to the place where Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton frolicked when they wanted "good, clean, fun."

In one of our early years in the pool, our success was so pitiful that during the season we asked our mother, who knows as much about football as we know about say, knitting, to select the winners. And she did about as well as we did.

So for several seasons the Raccoon Lodge struggled. This year, however, we seemed to hit a hot streak. Going into the last game of the season we were up by five games on our closest competitor. On the final Sunday morning of the season, just yesterday January 2, we were on the phone for a long confab talking about who we should select to maintain our advantage and come away with first place. We pooled our wisdom and had a miserable week.

Nevertheless, because of our five game advantage we managed to prevail winning the league by three points. It was not easy. After the early games we figured out that we would have to lose every single contested game in the afternoon in order to lose our lead. Hah. I left the sports bar where I had been watching the games intensely and went home to enjoy a nice leisurely afternoon that would leave us as winners. How likely would it be that we would lose every single game in the afternoon?

As I sat in my easy chair at home, and as the games progressed, it became clear to me that we were in the process of losing every single game in the afternoon. I took the only steps that one could take. I did what any normal sports fan would do in this situation. I got into my car and went back to my lucky seat in my lucky sports bar. I could not risk sitting in an unlucky seat and tempting fate.

I wasn't in my lucky seat at the lucky sports bar for more than a moment when I saw that one of our teams had gone way ahead. Another game was going our way. Whew. It was a good thing I got to that seat before some other--perhaps a rival in the pool--had discovered the good luck charm which was the third--not the fourth-- seat from the right as you face the bar perpendicular to the main drag.

Today we were formally notified that the Raccoon Lodge won first prize in the contest. Hah. Check that out, Subway the second place challenger, or Speck who came in third. You were going up against the sons of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. What kind of chance did you think you had?

Seriously, though, the experience has given me some pause. I wrote in the Madness of March that those who enjoy going to Las Vegas during March Madness are essentially just out on a lark, like someone who might go to Disneyland for a vacation. The sports enthusiasts who travel to Vegas in March are there for a vacation. And I have argued that there is nothing wrong with the excursion.

However, yesterday, I found myself rooting for teams that I typically do not root for because they were our teams in the pool. A "meaningless" touchdown for the Redskins in the Giants/Redskins game bringing the score to 17-14 Giants, was not meaningless to me. It was not meaningless because the Raccoon Lodge had the Redskins plus 4. I wanted to buy a round for the house when the Skins scored that "meaningless" touchdown. I never root for the Colts, but I was hoping that they would defeat Tennessee--by more than 10-- in order to secure the victory for Kramden//Norton.

The truth is that while I am glad the Raccoon Lodge won--like I might be happy when I win any contest--it was not as much fun watching the games yesterday.