Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review--Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

This is an excellent book.  The author is Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote the very popular Eat, Pray, and Love.  I enjoyed that as well, but this book I found to be even better.

It is a sequel of sorts.  If you have not read Eat, Pray, and Love or seen the movie by the same title--Liz Gilbert falls in love in the "love" part of that true story.  Committed is about the couple's subsequent journey toward marriage something that they were not considering when they fell in love, but were compelled to consider because of legal issues. (Gilbert and her sweetheart had each been divorced previously and were adamantly opposed to marriage).

Eat, Pray, and Love is a love story.  It is also very well written.  We, or at least many of us, can identify with heartbreak, healing, and the joy of reconnecting.  The familiarity of the story, the engaging writing, and the happy ending  made the book as popular as it was. (I will throw in, that despite the lukewarm reviews of the movie, I thought the movie with Julia Roberts was excellent and loyal to the book).

Committed is not a story in the same way as Eat Pray and Love. Committed is not difficult but not a page turner either. It could sit on my coffee table all weekend and I would not feel like I needed to read it. With most books I like, I can't not pick them up when I am into them. I shlep them everywhere in case I have a few minutes to read.  Committed was not this way for me.

Still, the book is wonderful.  Gilbert is so gifted as a writer, and so humble and straight shooting throughout.    I learned quite a bit about marriage and was especially informed by the history portion.  But what I liked the most were her honest and often self-deprecating reflections describing how the two of them, in very difficult circumstances, maintained and strengthened their union.  On the inside cover of the book, I kept writing page numbers down of sections that I found to be meaningful. After a while I ran out of space.

Sometimes when I like a book of non fiction that reveals the author's philosophies, I wonder if I like the book because the author thinks like I do.  My personality is not like Liz Gilbert's, but my sensibilities, I believe, are.  If you are looking for some escape reading, this is not for you, but if you are interested in relationships and the  inherent obstacles to loving, I think you will find this book as good as I did. Gilbert writes of couples that all they want is a "little bit of privacy in which to practice love."  The question to me is when the privacy is there, do the couples practice effectively.  I am curious to know how Liz and her husband are doing these days. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aint No Way

Earlier this week on my way to work, I heard that Senator Daniel Inouye had passed away.  Of course I never knew the man, but he was a politician I respected so was saddened to hear the news.

In the late spring and early summer of 1973, much of America had their heads around the ongoing Watergate hearings in Washington.  Senator Inouye was on the committee that was examining what the "president knew and when did he know it."  These are the hearings, you may recall, during which John Dean spent three days revealing the inner workings of the executive office and how a coverup had infected the president's office after the 1972 break-in at the Watergate complex.

I spent a good deal of time watching those hearings in May and early June. In mid June I was visiting a buddy who did not have a tv but the two of us listened, 1940 style, to the radio and I recall hearing Dean's first day of testimony during which he made a very long statement about the Nixon White House. Dean's account was disputed by other members of the White House, yet these challenges were undermined when Alexander Butterfield, another witness to the committee, revealed that all conversations in the oval office had been taped--thus ensuring that disputed renditions of events could or could not be substantiated.

Daniel Inouye stood out during this time as a person of integrity who would not be bullied and was riveted firmly on an ethical foundation.  Even the Nixon White House grudgingly agreed with this depiction.  When they were reviewing the committee members and attempting to assess who would or would not be a loyalist, John Ehrlichman referred to Senator Inouye as "Aint no way" as in there aint no way this guy would be loyal to anything other than his sense of right and wrong. Inouye was also a co-chairman of the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987 and here again, established himself as a person of ethical conviction.

So,  I was sad to hear that he was gone as were, according to reports, many even conservative colleagues in the senate.

Contrast this with the news that Judge Robert Bork passed away today.  Judge Bork is known to those who followed the Watergate case as the Solicitor General who fired Archibald Cox on the night called The Saturday Night Massacre.  President Nixon feeling as if the special prosecutor Cox was investigating too industriously, ordered Elliot Richardson, the attorney general, to fire Cox.

Richardson refused. Richardson had promised Cox a free rein in the investigation and therefore claimed that he could not fire Cox for conducting the investigation in the manner Cox felt was appropriate.  Richardson's associate, William Ruckelshaus, also would not fire Cox.  Next in line was Robert Bork.  Bork did fire Cox.  To some that seemed inappropriate.  If a special prosecutor is investigating the president, and the president fires the special prosecutor, it erodes the credibility of the investigation.  Many people felt that the attorney general's office could not do what it purports to be doing--uphold the law--, if it was complicit or even seemed to be complicit in an obstruction of an investigation.  So, Bork's willingness to do what the president asked him to do, fire the special prosecutor--especially since Bork's bosses refused to comply--made Bork seem like a toady and someone willing to compromise the judicial process.  Fourteen years later when Bork was nominated by then President Reagan to be a supreme court justice, the senate voted NOT to confirm the pick from the very popular president.

Regardless of political orientation, people respect those who stand on an ethical foundation.  According to some friends of Bork, his rejection by the senate made him increasingly more conservative. Inouye, on the other hand, was able to endear those on both sides of the political spectrum because he supported something that Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, and Liberals all respect--the combination of honesty, courage, and loyalty to the principles on which the country was founded.  It always seems to me that when we look back on those we knew in politics, in our family, in our organizations, and in our relationships--those who stand out are those who stood for doing the right thing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Can't get through it

I wrote a blog on Friday in the aftermath of the killings in Connecticut. I argued then that it was our responsibility to continue to enjoy life despite the horror.

Can't quite get to this. I am looking forward to a football Sunday today, but the day's potential joy is under siege as I read about the event and think about what occurred. The list of 6 and 7 year olds who were lost is unthinkable and when you think that it is real, how to enjoy the moment? I was thinking a moment ago about the kids who survived and how forever scarred they are likely to be. I recall that tennis great Andy Murray is a survivor of a similar massacre when he was in elementary school in Scotland. He has, by appearances at least, survived without debilitating psychological impediments. But how can you put this behind you.

The magnitude of this event has become greater to me. The challenge to enjoy time is not a simple one.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Keys to the Kingdom

I received an e-mail last night from a friend who, among other things, relayed that some neighbors had asked her to join them in a quilting session. She declined thinking that the real goal of the invitation was to proselytize. She knew that she already had, as we all have, the keys to the kingdom.

This morning I was scheduled to meet my buddy Ken for a breakfast chat at 8. Donna and I were buzzing about getting ready for the day and my departure. Her car was blocking mine so she would have to move it for me to back out and make my breakfast date. As I was finishing the morning dance, finding my wallet, keys, and shoes--ready to dart out into the cold, the phone rang. I figured it was Ken telling me he would be a few minutes late. Donna went to the phone and saw that the call was from another friend of mine who lives on the Cape. I had not spoken to him in a while and had only two minutes or so to get in my car, so I let the voice mail pick up.

A little strange to get a call from him at 740 in the am after not hearing from him a while. Then my cell phone buzzed. Saw the number was my Cape friend's. Stranger still for him to call me a second time as if there was some urgency.

I've known Don, my Cape friend, since 85. I rented his house for a couple of summers and have visited him now and again for now nearly thirty years. In the 90s, he, his neighbor James, and I would rendezvous annually in Providence to watch a Providence basketball game. James was also a professor so he and I shared war stories while shmoozing at the games. We had not met in Providence for a few years but for a stretch there the three of us looked forward to our annual Providence rendezvous for the friendship more than the basketball game. On the way to my breakfast meeting I returned Don's call.

Tonight the Mount Union Purple Raiders will play the St. Thomas Tommies for the championship of Divison 3 football. I love watching this game. Mount Union is going to the championship game for the 8th consecutive year and 16th time in the last twenty years. Division 3 is an afterthought to most sports fans if it is thought of at all. Yet, for the fans and players of Mount Union and St. Thomas the game tonight is the most important sporting event in the world. I love the energy of the players and I admire the coaching of a team that gets almost no exposure but plays its collective hearts out year after year to get to a championship.

The game's excitement and all games' importance, however, has been punctured today because of the incomprehensible tragedy in Connecticut. Madmen have killed 27 kids and teachers in an elementary school this morning. What kind of sick person kills children. What kind of sick society do we live in where sick people are manufactured who bloody schoolyards and think, somehow, that there is a rationale for the act? How to overcome such a tragedy and enjoy anything? Does it really matter that Mount Union is playing in its 8th consecutive championship game and 16th championship game in 20 years?

When I called Don on my way to breakfast with Ken he told me that he was sorry to have to give me some sad news so early in the morning. He had just been told that our friend James had succumbed to cancer. When I got to work I pulled up an obituary and saw that he had been sick for a year. There's a photo of him with a big smile next to the notice and it is all I can do to not feel sick when I glance at that picture.

Twenty seven kids are dead in Connecticut. James is gone having been eaten up by stomach cancer.

Yet despite this--maybe even because of it--we have the opportunity, if not obligation, to live and enjoy time. It was good to breakfast with my friend Ken this morning. We talked about this and that and he is coming over on Sunday night so we can root hard for the Patriots.

I will think of James and the twenty seven murdered kids tonight. And I will watch 22 excited athletes give everything they can to win a championship.

We do have the keys to the kingdom. The kingdom is right here. My friend who wrote last night is so right. We dont need the keys identified by proselytizers who feel they have a secret route to a locksmith. We have the keys. We have the Kingdom. Our choice is to open the doors that will bring happiness to all those around us, and ourselves.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wild Turkeys

The commute this morning was a bear.  It took over an hour for a drive of about 14 miles--almost entirely on superhighway.  The congestion was such that I had multiple opportunities to listen to the traffic report on the all news all the time station so that I could be informed "on the threes" that I was in a traffic jam.  I think the expression the helicopter reporter used--every ten minutes--was that the pike was "a mess."   The journey made me think wishfully about living in rural America and the joys of watching cows as I comfortably took country roads to work.  When I entered the office, I mentioned the congestion and my thoughts about the desirability of country life. My office neighbor wailed. "Don't do it.  I been there. There are rednecks."

As I drove, in addition to the radio reporter reminding me that I was and would continue to be aggravated, I heard the news stories that recur on the newswheel.  One story was about a meeting that is to be held in Brookline tonight on the subject of wild turkeys.  Brookline is a well heeled suburb of Boston which, peculiarly, is actually within the city.  You can drive out of Boston going west, go into Brookline, and then continue west and find yourself in Boston again for several miles before you reach the suburbs that are beyond the city limits.  Brookline has sections that are drop dead stunning and others that look like any old place but enjoy an excellent school system and very high real estate values.

Apparently, Brookline,  has a problem with wild turkeys.  Brookline is not the only area around here who has seen these birds. A few years ago, I looked out my window in Waltham--miles west of Brookline--and saw a parade of wild turkeys walking along the front yard. Since then, it has become not uncommon to see such a flock often strutting in a family line with the momma up front and the brood obediently one by one behind her.  The march reminds me of the cover of Make Way for Ducklings, except they are not ducks, but turkeys.  The turkeys have not bothered anyone, they just go about their business such as it may be, walking in the backyard and then I guess to the woods and park which is behind our dwelling.

The news story about the turkeys that I heard at least four times this morning was that the people in Brookline were gathering to deal with the "problem." It seems as if the wild turkeys are attacking the Brookline-ites and something has to be done about it.

If this is so, then the Brookline turkeys are substantively different than their Waltham cousins who are docile and mind their own business.  My hunch is that the Brookline turkeys are just like the Waltham turkeys.

I'm thinking that at the same time that the good citizens of Brookline are meeting to discuss the turkey problem, the turkeys are meeting to discuss the problem with the citizens of Brookline.   My sense is that the issue of who are the turkeys might be one to contemplate.

In the country you might have rednecks. In the city, you might have wild turkeys.

platitudes and latitudes

This morning I was looking through Facebook postings. I read a note from an old fraternity brother who said he was on his way to the Albany airport journeying to Florida to visit with his grandchildren.  He commented that he was looking forward to seeing the kin and "catching some rays"--a phrase that dates all of us who remember the Kennedy administration.

I was reminded by his post of something I wrote when I first visited Florida "as an adult"--as opposed to the obligatory drive-through-the-night-during -spring-break college experience.  The "as an adult" visit at the wise age of 27 took place during my first spring break as a college professor.  I was living near Buffalo New York at the time in a small pretty town by Lake Erie called Fredonia.  Very pretty, but winters are cold. What passes for spring is still cold.  Can have snow in May cold.

I flew to Florida during spring break that year for some warmth.  One day during my week stay I found myself sitting by the pool, enjoying the sunshine, and musing happily about the 80 degree contrast between the 85 degree clime and what I had read was the concurrent degree total in Buffalo.  I wrote a note to my buddy Kenny during this reflection in which I included a silly poem remarking on the difference between the north and south, and happiness.  The poem included this verse:  "For mirth don't follow platitudes; just seek some lower latitudes."

Clever.  But inaccurate.  I enjoyed my stay in Florida and there is something special about a northerner getting out of a plane in West Palm Beach in January looking like a geek with a coat and hat, when the airport is buzzing with people who are barely clad.  It brings a smile to your kisser.  Yet mirth does not linger because of latitude.

The first line of what I thought was a very witty couplet, is accurate--"for mirth don't follow platitudes", it is the second line that is off target--unless the reference to seeking lower latitudes means searching for direction not by following your head, but acknowledging the wisdom of your heart.

My now travelling fraternity chum will enjoy the rays when he arrives in Florida, but what will make him kvell is holding onto his grandchildren and enjoying moments with his kin. Such mirth nourishes and lingers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I read today that the oldest person in the world has died at the age of 116.  I figure that no matter how objectively I do the computations, I am on the other side of the hill.

I received a note today from an actor who is playing a lead character in the play, Betrayal, now being performed at the Huntington Theatre in Boston.  There was a movie decades ago with Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley, and Patricia Hodge that is based on the play.  I thought the movie was excellent as is the Huntington production.

The play is about an affair.  A woman is the lover of a man who was the best man to her husband at their wedding. There is betrayal on several fronts.  One could say that the best man betrayed the husband and the wife betrayed the husband.  The best man has betrayed his wife--though she never appears in the play. There is the suggestion that informing the husband of the affair would be a betrayal to the two who are trysting.

I received the note from the actor because earlier this month he had written to me when he had discovered that I play squash.  There are references throughout the play to the fact that the best man and husband were regular squash partners but were no longer playing.  There are other squash references as well, but I may have already given away too much of the play--though if you were to watch the film or the play you would see that all that I have written thus far one discovers early on.

The actor had never played squash and wanted to learn something about the game. So we went to Northeastern's squash facility. I brought my racket and we went on the court in our stocking feet. We didn't play but he whacked the ball a few times.  We spoke with some of the squash players on the NU team who coincidentally were gathering for their practice session just as we were leaving. After I saw the show I wrote to the actor congratulating him on a riveting performance.  And it was.  If I had not met him and seen him behave so differently I truly would not have recognized the character in the play.

In squash the only betrayal is legitimized by the rules. You can try to fake your opponent by appearing to hit the ball long, but instead softly banking it off a side wall. Such a shot is called, interestingly, a "boast."  But a boast in squash is completely legitimate. Players in squash are considered good sports, never trying to abuse the rules for advantage.  A very strange rule in squash allows a person to gain a point if she or he feels that an opponent is standing in the way of making a good shot.  Instead of pulverizing the opponent with a ball, the play stops and the player who is blocked simply gains the point.

I have written this before in this blog, but a key factor which accounts for the allure of sport is that the game and rules are indeed transparent.  Sure, some people try to cheat at all games, but squash in particular is a contest which tries to rise above the sordid games played outside the arena.  Professional football is a far more violent game, but even in this sport, we all know that you have four downs to gain ten yards,  and you cant get an extra one if you know someone or if a judge owes you a favor.  When the referees went on strike earlier this year it threatened the appeal of the game itself, because a number of games were decided not on the basis of the rules.  The Green Bay/Seattle game had such a bizarre inappropriate ending that within days, the strike was over as the league could not survive the fans' sense that a contest would be determined by inaccurate or capricious officiating.

Little in the way of betrayal in squash.  Lots when you leave the court.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

But I am Gonzales

In the summer of 1969, my brother and I applied for and then got summer jobs working for the post office. We both worked the parcel post belt for most of the summer. Occasionally we worked what was called "the bum room" where sacks were folded and stored, and every once in a while we were on the loading docks receiving incoming bags of parcels and placing them on skids.

The job was not that difficult; we knew we were only there for the summer so the problem with the work--that it was dull--would not be something we had to worry about. And we have great stories from some of the characters we met on the parcel post belt and thereabouts.  To be sure, the people I have met in so called white collar jobs are just as idiosyncratic as those in the blue collar post office. The difference is only the flavor of quirkiness.  I have met some strange ducks with very highfalutin college degrees, so my comments about the post office are not to be considered as condescending remarks from a college professor.

Our job on the parcel post belt amounted to waiting for parcels to travel toward us which we would then trow (as in throw) into bins.  A manager at one end of the belt would tell the workers there to "keep dumping" the parcels onto the belt, while my manager on the belt, would exhort us to "clear the belt" encouraging sometimes a frenzied tossing of the parcels just to clear the belt as more and more packages came our way.  Getting the parcels into the right bin became secondary to getting rid of the parcels. If the belt were to be clogged with parcels-- meaning we had not cleared them quickly enough--the fellows dumping the parcels and their manager would consider this a victory of some sort having dumped parcels more quickly than we could trow them.  The result was this folly of rapid dumping and haphazard trowing, an explanation perhaps for some slow delivery if you lived in Nassau or Suffolk county in the summer of 1969.

The post office we were in was really outdated.  It looked and was like an old factory. Cement floor, dust all over the joint, lunchrooms right out of 1950 industrial films.  And so, a new facility was being built for the modern '70s. On occasion we would be taken to the new facility to get it ready for its opening. We veterans of the old parcel post method were wide eyed when we saw the newfangled way parcels would be sorted.  Something like watching Mr. Wizard or the GE exhibit at the 1964 worlds fair.

Our work at the new facility involved moving things from here to there prepping for the grand opening. As was the case on the old parcel post belt, managerial instructions toward this end were haphazardly, but loudly, barked.  "You, take that bucket and move it here." "Push those skids to first class."  "Get those bum bags the hell out of here. Let's go."

The veterans and the summer workers were moving around like a poorly coordinated marching band in various directions pushing this and hauling that, crisscrossing, comically to any observer not her or himself engaged. One of the regular workers was named Gonzales.  A manager in a tie doing a management dance was pointing here and there giving orders.  To Gonzales, he gave a nod to a ladder that was lying on its side.  "Look," he said, "You and Gonzales take that ladder the hell away from here."

Gonzales, always in an old fashioned tank top undershirt--forever with a toothpick in his mouth--snapped his head back. With spittle coming out from around the toothpick he responded incredulously "But, I am Gonzales" he said.

The manager did not want to be bothered with this fact. He made a gesture with his hands that could have passed for the illegal procedure signal of a football referee before strutting somewhere else to bark some command.

To this day whenever I hear someone call another Gonzales I can't help myself from thinking if not saying, "But I am Gonzales."

I thought of the story today on the way to work even though I had not heard anyone say Gonzales.  I was thinking about something my dad had written recently about how we are all connected to one another. I responded to him that I agreed. I commented that the word "individual" refers to a bogus construction not a reality.  Yes, I am  in a different body than my colleagues at work. But maybe we ought to consider the possibility, as Rod Serling-esque as it seems, that we are otherwise connected in a way that cannot currently be explained such that no individual is a human entity by her or himself.

Lovers, in particular, are hinged in a way that is as real as the way the door to my office is hinged to its frame. Try to yank lovers apart and it is as unnatural and destructive as trying to rip a door off its hinge.  If we think of ourselves as individuals--discretely separated from others--it is difficult to function without something being set off kilter in our universe.

I've blogged about this before, but it is worth considering that we introduce toxins into our system once we deliberately separate from others and especially those we love.  "But I am Gonzales" is only true on a level related to hoisting ladders independently.  Gonzales is more than Gonzales and is not even Gonzales without the connections Gonzales has to others..

Friday, November 23, 2012

1 oclock news

I heard a story this afternoon on the one o'clock news.  A man went out with his toddler during the night hours of Black Friday to buy a flat screen tv.  His wife was working somewhere on the night shift. The deal for the tv, I am assuming, was too good to miss. The bargain would expire before the spouse would get home.

The man gets the tv.  He drives home with the flat screen.  Later he is called by a representative from the store because while he has the tv home and secure, he neglected to bring home his toddler. "Oops," or something of that sort, the proud owner of the tv says.  He goes back to the store to get his child.

I went out today to do some errands.  I did not go near the malls, but overheard chatter at the supermarket that the stores are packed with frenzied shoppers.

A)  How bad can the economy be?
B)  What is the big deal about this day?
C)  Is there a shrine somewhere in the capitalist hall of fame for the marketers who created this idea that the Friday after Thanksgiving should be designated super sale day.

I could barely lift the paper on Thanksgiving off the sidewalk. It was fatter than the Sunday Times.  Advertisements for all sorts of things one does not need spilled out when I removed the brick from the plastic wrapper.  You want sweaters, you got it. And if you want to get up at 3 in the morning some are 50% off.  How bout some candles that smell nice.  Haul yourself out of bed at 1 a.m. and there are three for the price of one.  Mini box sets which I could not possibly live without are regularly 12.99 but today--and just today--you can get a set of 3 empty boxes for 9.99.  Instant Rebates are available on cameras.  Lots of FREE items are available as long as you drop a couple of C notes on other items concurrently.

There is nothing that could get me to a mall today.

Book Review--Elsewhere

I have read all but one of Richard Russo's nine books.  Books like Bridge of Sighs, the Risk Pool, Nobody's Fool, and The Whore's Child (the latter a collection of short stories) are on my top shelf in terms of good reads. Russo's newest, Elsewhere, is billed as a memoir.  When I saw that it had been published, I bought the book and just finished it yesterday afternoon.

When you read authors' works you, or at least I, develop a notion of the kind of person they might be.  Elsewhere changed the notion I'd had about Russo.  While it is billed as a "memoir", the focus of the book is not on Russo so much as Russo's life with his mother. Given the nature of their relationship, it would have been difficult to write a personal memoir without his mother being central to it.

Clearly, it seems to me, and I judge this not primarily by some remarks he made in the Acknowledgments but because of the whole of the book, his mother was, and even in death now, is central to his life in a way that is greater than most mothers are central to their children's lives.Russo's mother was nothing like mine. Russo's mother was beyond quirky--contrary, very very clingy, needy, and well difficult.  From the time he left for college--with his mother going right along with him-until her death, the two were tethered and he was her life support.  In the book, Russo does not complain about his plight; in fact he portrays his mother as sympathetically as a man would who, in some ways, was nourished himself by the relationship despite the enormous draining effect it had on his life. It is unbelievable to me that someone could write a masterpiece like Bridge of Sighs and yet need to continuously jump when the phone rang and rush to the rescue of something that needed no immediate attention.

Russo's  father left when he was a kid and does not factor into this book much at all.  I found it a bit strange that the father who is likely the inspiration for the narrator's favorably depicted if irreverent dad in The Risk Pool is rarely part of this story. It's surprising not so much that the father and mother had no connection after the marriage ended, but  that since the burden was heavy and constant on his son, there was no attempt at intervening for the kid's behalf.

Russo comes across in this book as a man who has a hole in his heart because of something big missing as a kid.  From his novels, I had a sense that he had his life very much together.  Yet, I don't think he does.  Nobody does really, but at the end of this book I felt as if Russo had hoped that the writing would have provided some closure for him and ease of pain.  It does not seem that way to me.  He is still at sea as it relates to his mother and lives with a deep emotional bruise which I did not sense from the way he humorously and brilliantly writes his novels.

Do I recommend this?  Well it is a depressing read and I am not sure there is anything that comes to a conclusion or take away other than to know that we all have tsuris even those who might seem to be unaffected.  Before I read this book,  I thought of Russo as a mensch who had an insightful perspective on human interaction. I still feel this way, perhaps more so, but I also know that he is not as carefree and unaffected as I imagined him to be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Give Peace a Chance

My doctoral dissertation is about the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.  When I was writing it, in the summer of 1976, my advisers suggested that it was an important topic as the tension in the middle east then was high.

The tension in the Middle East has been high at least since 1948.  My research was about the 73 Yom Kippur war. From 1948 through 1973, a mere twenty five years there had been four wars. There was a war in 48, 56, 67--the six day war-- and the 1973 war. Twenty five years, four wars.    

Now in 2012, nearly forty years later there is another war in the middle east. And since 1973 the region has had very little rest from bloody war.  I was in graduate school in 1973 and I can remember a poster pasted to a wall in the Student Center at the University of Buffalo.  "Every test Israel takes, is a final."

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have asserted that Israel has the right to defend itself and this, to me, seems so self evident that it troubles me that anyone needs to assert this.  It troubles me that some will ask why is Israel involved in yet another war.

Here is why in a nutshell.  In the charter of militant groups is the objective to destroy the state of Israel.

Imagine this: You move into a community and a neighbor immediately informs you and all the other neighbors that they have as a goal to kill you.  So, tell me, how do you react when they try to do so.

If Hamas wants peace, they ought to give peace a chance. You don't give peace a chance when in your charter you declare that you want to destroy your neighbor.  If at Thanksgiving someone sighs and asks, why are the Israelis, always at war, please stand up and ask how the inquirer would feel if someone was disrupting the calm of your meal by bashing on your doors and screaming through the windows that a primary objective was for you to die.


Monday, November 19, 2012


Andrew Luck had a tough day as quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.  Two of his passes were intercepted and returned for touchdowns. He fumbled the ball away once, and his team lost 59-24.

He was interviewed after the game and asked about the loss. The questions were not easy.  Did you ever lose by this many points?  How do you respond to such a loss?  What happened on the pick sixes (interceptions returned for touchdowns).

Luck responded by praising his opponents for playing well, accepting responsibility for the loss, and determining to work harder.

Last week Governor Romney and many of his supporters responded to the presidential defeat by explaining that the loss was because people liked gifts, handouts.  He identified women who would be getting free contraceptives as a group who voted for Obama because of this largesse.

I think Governor Romney might take the implicit advice from athletes who when they lose are taught to not blame anyone else, but work harder to achieve their goals.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Game

Yesterday, Saturday, I was in Harvard Square early in the morning.  As I was driving in on what is now called John F. Kennedy Boulevard I was reminded by an additional police presence that yesterday was the day of THE GAME.

In these parts THE GAME is the Harvard-Yale football game played annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Harvard is having a good season and Yale is not, so Harvard was a thirty point favorite yesterday.

I parked my car, got a cup of coffee and sat in one of the several coffee shops on Massachusetts Avenue--a road that intersects with JFK boulevard right at the Harvard Square subway stop across from the campus.  On the sidewalk, at 830 were undergraduates and alums wearing Harvard and Yale gear. The game was at noon.  The stadium is across the Charles River, a ten minute walk from where JFK and Mass Avenue meet. I took the walk and as I got closer to the stadium the activity picked up.  There were no crowds yet, but it was buzzing.  Already tail gate parties were getting going, a barbecue pit was set up near the stadium and hamburgers and various tail gate fare were being cooked up such that the area smelled more like the late afternoon than early morning.Two scalpers asked, in scalper code, if I wanted a ticket.

 I walked back to the Square and saw two fellows lugging long wooden tables from a truck setting up, I assume, for some soiree.  In the back of the pickup were no fewer than twenty cases of Heineken beer.

The game was a sellout.  The stadium seats over 30,000.  At 12:30, only thirty minutes from the start of THE GAME, Boston College was hosting Virginia Tech.  I looked in today's paper and there were over 30,000 in attendance at that game no more than a few miles away from the Harvard-Yale contest.  Also at 1230, downtown, a ten minute drive from Harvard Stadium, the Boston Celtics were playing a home game against the Toronto Raptors.  A little less than 20000 attend the Celtic games.

So, at noon yesterday, within a short radius, 80,000 people were watching a sporting event. This does  not include the 12,000 who saw UMASS play the University of Buffalo about twenty miles away in Foxboro.

THE GAME turned out to be a very close one. It was tied at the half, and in the second half the lead changed a number of times.  Finally Harvard went ahead and put the icing on the cake with a long scoring run when what they were really trying to do was run out the clock.  Very exciting. The game ended at about 330.

My guess is that there were no Heinekens left by 5.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A nation of Adolescents

Again, I hear on the radio and read in the mainstream and social media, that there is a national scandal.  A general who is married is having sex with his biographer who also is married.  The story is complicated because the biographer senses a rival paramour and has been writing to this other woman hoping to push her away from the general.  More news surfaced today that another government official was aware of the activity.

This, despite the media attention, should not be a national scandal. It is depicted this way only because we are a nation of adolescents and act like tittering teenagers when we talk about it.  The general and biographer's sexual relationship is, in fact, none of our business. It is the business of only the lovers and the spouses.  The general was not sleeping with the enemy.  The intimacy was consensual.    It seems as if these two fell in love or at least were physically attracted to each other and had sex.

Is this wrong?  How the hell do we know. We have no idea of the particulars. And besides the biographer and general have not asked us our opinion.This should be where this ends.

The conventional notion of marriage--a social construction--is that there is a pledge to be monogamous.  The best guess is that these two made these pledges and violated them.  I am not a big fan of people who violate pledges, but nobody really knows anything about the nuances of the relationships.

I am drinking coffee now. It is in a paper cup.  I have a cup of coffee. This is not a social construction. If I drink this coffee I will taste coffee. If I hurry up and write this blog the coffee will be hot when I drink it. Hot, as it relates to coffee, is not a social construction.  If I drink a lot of the coffee I will be jittery and in no shape to conduct my two o'clock or four o'clock meetings after lunch.  Jittery is not a social construction.  Monogamy is not a social construction. Bigamy is not a social construction.

Marriage is a social construction.  What it is and has come to mean has been constructed by our society.  If you take a step back, you would realize that when you marry you are explicitly or tacitly agreeing to a set of principles that have no organic provenance.  If you agree to them and remain committed to them, then, that is your business. If you agree to a different set and remain committed to them, that is also your business. And if you agree to them and do not remain committed to them, that is also your business.   I have no more right to comment on the general's behavior or to consider it a scandal, than to point at my neighbor's holiday decorations and scream "scandalous".

When I was a kid there was a house a few blocks away that was decorated in a way that you would not believe. When I write you would not believe it, I am not exaggerating.  We would take visitors to see it. You would have trouble parking on the otherwise lazy street during holiday season.  Unbelievable display.

It was, I'll opine, in bad taste.  It was ostentatious, took away from anyone else's decoration, and was like someone painting his house hot pink or purple.   But it was not a national scandal.  What people do without interfering with others is not a national story.

As it relates to the general and his biographer, maybe their marriages were on the rocks. Maybe they had spoken with their spouses and decided that they were going to open up their marriages. And maybe not.  Whatever, it is not a national story. It is a local story. Very local.

We are a nation of adolescents. We react to sex the same way as adults as when we were in junior high and found out that Jane, who was wearing Billy's id bracelet, was smooching with Louie by the handball court. People who are in monogamous relationships may say that they are under contract. Fine. It is their business how they construct and adhere to their contract.  It is not ours.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

the downfall of the magician

When I was in graduate school I took at least one course, maybe two, in therapeutic counseling.  In one of these we had a "Reader"--a term I am not sure that's still in use.  A Reader as opposed to a textbook was an anthology--a collection of essays or cases or articles. Not sure why they were or are called Readers as opposed to anthologies.

The Reader in this class consisted of a series of cases or stories fictionalized to make a point.  Each story was headed by a quote of some sort.  One was about a client who had created a set of rationalizations and a persona to fit what he desired as opposed to what was real.  He experienced a series of disappointments when his created self collided with who he was.  The section was headed with the quote:  "The downfall of the magician is the belief in his own magic."   The point, in the course about therapeutic counseling, was to acknowledge that in dealing with those seeking help, we had to be aware of the tendency to lose one's self in the course of constructing a bogus reality.

Since the election I have read at least two articles that describe Governor Mitt Romney as being shell shocked on the night of the election when each of the battle ground states with the exception of North Carolina was coming in for President Obama.  I had become in the weeks before the election an avid follower of the race.  Each morning before I did much of anything, I sat at the computer and looked at the previous day's polls.  I counted the likely electoral votes for each candidate several times a day attempting to assess the permutations necessary for a victory.

After the first debate Governor Romney's status changed dramatically.  Many battleground states that had  been leaning blue, became red.  But after the Biden/Ryan debate and the second presidential contest, that trend reversed.  During the last week of the election only North Carolina and Florida were showing red.  New Hampshire had gone to blue and Virginia was going that way.  The state that everyone identified as the key state, Ohio, never, ever became red.  I must have looked at 50 different Ohio polls in the month before the election. 95 percent of them were blue, a couple showed the race a tie, and maybe one or two had a tiny Romney lead. However taken as a whole, Ohio was clearly blue.  Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Nevada--they were consistently blue.

Yet toward the end of the campaign Romney's advisers contended that their polls showed the results differently. They stated confidently that the election would be a decisive victory for the governor.  Even Minnesota they claimed was not out of the question.  The Republicans said they had momentum, and enthusiasm, and they would win the battleground states and the election.

I was not at all positive that Romney would lose, but if one looked at the polls that would have been the way to bet.  And, as it turned out, the polls were stunningly accurate. The Ohio result was almost exactly what the polls consistently indicated.  Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania--they all went as the polls indicated they would.

So, while I would expect Governor Romney to be disappointed, to be shell shocked, to be startled each time these results came in indicating one battleground state after another went to Obama, this is surprising to me.  Apparently, he believed in his own magic.

And I think that was the downfall of the campaign for him throughout.  When they trotted out that the crowds were enthusiastic and this meant a victory, I think he might have believed it.  When he said that they had momentum--even when the momentum reversed--I believed he swallowed his own line of malarkey.  You can't really redirect appropriately any course that is off line, if you think it is on line.

It's not just in politics, but one would think that someone familiar with the election process would be sensitive to the tendency to selectively perceive data in a way that could be counterproductive.

Not everything relates to sports, but this does.  In sports if you believe, for example, that you have a great defense--then you lose by 40 points, you can not continue to believe you have a great defense.  If you do, you will lose your coaching position or, if you are a player, your playing time.Sports and competition reduces the chances for self deception among all who continue to play.

I do not remember a whole lot from that class I took many years ago, but I do remember the quote.  It is my, and everyone's downfall,  when we believe in our own magic and kid ourselves to think that what is real is what we'd like it to be.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

basketball matters

Last night I could not decide whether to go to the gym for a needed workout, or watch the opening night basketball game between my school, Northeastern University, and our in-town rivals, Boston University.  BU is sort of out of town up Commonwealth Avenue and not a spot from which you can get to downtown without taking a subway.  Northeastern is right in the city, a short walk to Fenway Park, the Prudential Center where the marathon finishes, and the tony back bay and south end sections of the city.  A little bit longer shake of the leg and you are at Quincy and the Hay Market.   So to write that we are in-town rivals gives BU a little more credit than it deserves.  (I wonder at times if I have read too much of our publicity literature--but this is the truth about the names of the schools.   Boston College, another rival, is incontrovertibly misnamed as it does not even sit in Boston, but in Newton a nearby suburb).

Nevertheless the BU/NU game has about as much tension and interest as any of our basketball games.  Hockey is a big draw at the school, but basketball not so much.  The BU game does draw some fans and has been exciting the last few years. In the 80s and 90s it was even more tense with one game including a near fist fight between the two coaches.  So, I decided to attend the game and resolved to exercise on the morrow.

It was crowded getting into the arena last night, but not packed.  It was loud though as supporters from both schools were couched together and the cheering sections already shouting before the opening tip.  I rarely sit in the upper deck but that was where I was perched, parked there just when the NU team was being introduced.

One of the fun things about watching a first game of the season is that the teams are so juiced--no squad is deflated because of a depleting losing streak and the players have not had an opportunity to develop resentments because of lack of playing time.  The players last night played the entire contest as if they had been in a starbucks knocking back espressos for six hours before the tilt.  NU came out in a tenacious man to man and we were fighting through picks and jumping through the roof to grab rebounds. Unfortunately, during the first half we were throwing up bricks reflecting, I am thinking, the anxiety of an opening game.

As I have mentioned in these blogs, I played some college basketball on a freshman team.  The last player on the bench on both BU and NU teams on their worst day would beat me when I was at my prime on my best day by 15 points in a one on one game to 15.  And I can, (or at least could) shoot.  Still these guys are so much better than I was that I find it startling sometimes to see them throw up shots as if they are pushing cinderblocks into the air.

BU went ahead by ten points and held a lead until the midpoint in the second half.  Then the stud for NU took over and was able to get BU to foul often.  We caught up with foul shots and some good inside baskets so that down within a couple of minutes the lead was changing regularly.  Then, someone from BU hit a three putting them up 63-62 with less than a minute to go.

We called a time out and set up the stud who not only lost the ball but fouled a player in the process--fouling himself out of the game and giving BU two foul shots with ten seconds left.  BU hit the first and missed the second.  NU is down 64-62 with ten seconds left and the stud on the bench.

NU takes the ball up the court and with two seconds left it is somehow in the hands of a fellow who has amassed a grand total of one point in the preceding 39 minutes and 57 seconds of the game.  He takes a long three at the buzzer.

It goes in, NU wins, and the place erupts in a way I have never seen it.

In one second the NU coach goes from someone who does not know what he is doing to genius. The BU coach goes from a genius to a fool.   The erstwhile one point player goes from a member of the bricklayers union to the school hero.

The NU coach is wildly and widely congratulated by those who might have been wondering whether it was time for a change.  Players run down a gauntlet of admiring fans as they go to the locker room. The BU coach is shaking his head and, one hopes, is being consoled.

One of the number of images that will stay with me from last night is related to the look on the NU assistant coach's face at the end of the night.  NU has an assistant coach who must be close to 70.  He was the coach's coach when the coach played college basketball.  He does not need this job.  He could retire one assumes without worrying about a paycheck.  This guy was positively beaming last night after the game. Just a broad genuine smile ear to ear.

What does it matter.  A kid hit a three at the buzzer.  Does it affect the economy? Address our problems with Iran?  Deal with the political dichotomy in this country?  Well, no.  But to the wild fans who are still feeling the effects of the cheering, the coaches, and certainly the kid who buried the three, it matters. In today's Globe the headline of the article about the game reads, "Pollard's 3-pointer propels NU over BU."  I think the kid will probably clip and save the headline.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thoughts for the Right

I am not sure how I would have reacted had the situation been reversed, but I am surprised at the reaction of many Republican leaders in the two days since the election.

Today I read Mike McConnell's less than gracious congratulatory communication to the president.  I see that Karl Rove is insisting that the Democrats suppressed votes.  Fox News yesterday posted an article which identified five reasons why the media skewed the election for the Democrats. (Never mind that Fox News is a powerful media outlet).  I see how the governor of Florida will adamantly oppose the Affordable Health Care Act despite the fact that the election has reenforced it as the law of the land.  Bill O'Reilly reduced the results to the conclusion that the majority of Americans just want things--as if the reason for the Obama victory was because all Democrats want a hand out.

I'm sure there are Republican leaders who are embarrassed by these reactions.  I have heard some speak more reasonably and I am guessing that the people we are hearing whine just may be the most vocal of those who voted for Governor Romney.

The Republicans will have to dispassionately look at what they supported and realize that to run on such a platform is to guarantee a loss.  They alienated gays, a large percentage of women,  and immigrants for whom they suggested self-deportation as a reasonable notion.  

A fellow I play tennis with commented last night that the chickens just came home to roost.  In  an  election that will be decided by two or  three percentage points you can't disparage a much larger percentage of the population and then be incredulous when you lose.

I have friends who I love and respect who believe in the Economic policies of the Republican party.  They voted for Governor Romney.  However these friends do not respect the social agenda of the Republicans nor, I am thinking, are they comfortable with the childish reaction of the vocal leaders. My recommendation to the Republican leadership is that they need to stop yielding to the reactionaries, genuinely embrace populations  they alienated, and stop acting like babies who are crabby because the bottle of milk they spilled themselves is no longer available..  Otherwise as time  goes on they will become inconsequential and a sad footnote to American political history.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

303 or 332

Today at 7:15 a.m. there was a line at the polling place and I had to park in a nearby Walgreens because there was no room in the school lot.  I understand that the lines in Cambridge and Boston were enormous.

My buddy Brian assured me this morning that President Obama would win.  It was comforting. I have been adding up the numbers like a human calculator for a week now trying to identify who would be successful.

Last night I heard about "enthusiasm" in the Romney campaign. I wish the case was that the Romney camp really was reporting about enthusiasm that they witnessed. However, I don't think that is the case.  There might have been enthusiastic crowds, but I think "enthusiasm" was the message point the Romney camp identified in their strategy sessions.  I think the Romney camp thought that by saying there was enthusiasm-regardless of how much enthusiasm there actually was--they would create enthusiasm and votes.  

Throughout the campaign I found that the message from the right was not truly a reporting of what they claimed to be seeing, but rather something generated as the message du jour regardless of whether that message was in fact, fact.  Concerns for the middle class during the first debate, momentum in the weeks before Sandy, enthusiasm now--were tactics as opposed to realities.  Romney had momentum after the first debate--but when after the second debate the momentum stalled, he claimed to have momentum as a ploy to manufacture momentum.

It is this creation of narrative regardless of fact that I find offensive.  Fact is, that while it turned out to be a liability--I thought that Romney's stand on not bailing out the auto industry was actually the right thing to do.  He might have earned my vote if instead of backtracking when that became a liability, he double downed on it--instead of doubling down on the spurious claims he made in order to gain an advantage.  Had he told his base what I believe he really thinks--that a woman should not be prohibited from making choices--I would have been more likely to consider his candidacy.  Yet what he actually did throughout the campaign was change direction like some dust in a windstorm.  There might be a there there, but because of what he did I wasn't sure that the there there could be trusted. .

And, of course, he did nothing to stop the public service charlatans: the governor of Florida and the attorney general of Ohio, who attempted to restrict voting.

I am terrible about predicting elections.  Just awful.  I think with my heart sometimes, so who knows if 303, let alone 332, will turn out to be accurate.  But I will not be surprised if tonight the election will show that many Americans were not taken in by the right's slight of hand.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Criterion number 1

Last night I was looking at an internet site when a poll popped up.  I was asked to indicate who I will vote for on election day.  I so indicated and then immediately the results to date appeared on the screen. My guy was losing and that was deflating.

What I saw next was similarly deflating but I did not sense how much so until I began considering the poll as I was driving to work today.  On the screen was a simple question.  It read: "Which of the following issues is the most important issue for you when you consider your voting decision."

A number of items were listed: jobs, economy, equal pay, immigration, education, abortion.  I scoured the list, thought about it, and did not see the issue that I considered most significant.  I checked "other."

I have an opinion and a strong one at that, on each of the issues listed.  The idea that Roe vs. Wade might be overturned by the same people who bemoan "big government" is very difficult to understand.  Who could argue that equal pay for equal work is debatable.  Who--who has any experience teaching--would argue against the idea that public education and educational resources is essential for our country.  On almost every issue that was identified on the list I feel as if the choice is  binary and my choice is correct.

Still, none of those items is the most important criterion for a president.  That criterion is character.

You want to roll your eyes and consider this naive nonsense, knock yourself out.  But for me--both for pragmatic and moral reasons, character is the primary criterion upon which everything else is based.

If you have a moral compass which creates a foundation for ethical behavior, I'm likely to vote for you. I am not talking about some superficial adherence to some official religious creed.  I dont care if you go to church or are a "family man" or never swear.

I care if you think being honest is a virtue.  I care about how you are likely to treat people who can't help you get elected.  I care if you think about sending a percentage of kids to their certain death for no reason other than to save face.  I care if you care enough about your responsibility as officer not to fall asleep at the wheel and risk the safety of the citizens of the country.

Sure, I care about someone who can get things done. That is important.  And I have to consider the positions of the candidates on key issues.  But the most significant criterion is trust and character.

So, your kid has two offers for a job.. One is more lucrative than another, the company financially secure and connected to powerful people.  This company promises your kid a car.  But there is a sleaze sense you have when you talk to the CEO.

The  other job offer is from a company that also is financially secure, but not as lucrative or powerfully connected.  This company is owned by someone you can trust.  Your kid asks for your advice.

 What is your recommendation?

Saturday, October 27, 2012


My route to town during the week often provides choices now that I have a job with regular business hours. I am one of those guys who listens to the fellow in the helicopter.  His message is typically the same and usually is nothing more than a reminder that if I leave between 740 and 830 it is going to take a while.

I have, however, become creative.  At a certain juncture I can make a choice to take alternate routes. It is always a bit of a guess.  You see the traffic lined up on route 16 and you have to decide to make a left and go into it and risk a backup that drives you mad on the turnpike--or go right and take Commonwealth Avenue for a stretch.  Of course you can just forget those routes altogether and take 20 to town. Even then you have options. It's a puzzle of sorts, given conditions x and y, how can you get to z?

On Tuesday I had to get in early and spent a good portion of the commute patting myself on the back for having made the correct choice at every turning point. (It has gone the other way on more than one occasion). Maybe it was because I was not particularly aggravated that I began to muse about the metaphor of having to make choices when the road gets jammed and aggravating. It is not the first time I have had such thoughts, but this week--maybe because I am starting a new lap--the metaphor notion arrived more vividly.

You come to traffic and what to do, take the highway or the backroads?  I don't have a gps system but I understand that some sophisticated versions can tell you which way to go on the basis of traffic.

 I don't think the entrepreneurs have developed a gps system that would apply when there is traffic in our heads. This would be a valuable tool.when confounded about which way to go.  Should I stay in this home? job?  Should I raise my kid with a strict hand because he is acting out--or bathe him or her with unconditional love.  Should one stay in a marriage that is rocky and threatening to either destroy your shocks or make you numb--or stay the course and pave the road?  Should I move to timbuktu or stay put?.

A GPS system would be good for such cerebral traffic, no?

Last summer there was a very happy high school reunion that I attended with a bunch of us who are over the hill but enjoying the ride. I go to each of these and they are all fun, but this one was particularly joyful. Since then someone opened a facebook site just for our class and it has been active.  One fellow created a string: "Who is still with their high school sweethearts?"  Another string, "Who still has their high school ring?" A third, "Does anybody know what became of ..."

The fourth string was of interest to me as well.  Someone asked if anyone had a list of those who have passed.  One such list had been available at the reunion and I have referenced it in a blog I wrote around that time.  However, what has happened  because of the social media is that people who had not attended the reunion in August have joined in the class conversation with the result that more names have been added to the list that nobody wants to be on.

I learn yesterday that a fellow I took driver's ed with is now gone. I had not seen this guy since we graduated.  Someone posts his obituary and I see that he had become an academic like me. He worked at various institutions and had become astonishingly accomplished.  A woman who endured the same English class I was in during tenth grade had become a prolific literary critic.  I read book reviews regularly and never noticed her name (likely because she used her married name).  Her obit was posted and she apparently was at the top of the class in terms of literary reviewers.  I see her smile and hear her self-effacing high school comments and even though I had not seen her in nearly half a century I am sad to read about this.  There are others too that I'd not known had passed.  At one point I hesitated to look at the facebook string lest I read about someone else who I can hear laughing in my memory bank and who is now gone.

Sometimes you hit traffic and there is no way out.  Both Ralph and Merle died of cancer.  No alternative routes to dodge the effects.  No GPS system that can make a suggestion to allow the journey to continue. For those of us still on the road, it might be helpful to view that traffic as something our friends who are gone would like to have the opportunity to address.  And employ our GPS systems to make our time on the road as happy as it can be.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ducks and Pigs

Old Joke.  A man walks into a bar with a duck under his arm.  An old geezer sitting at the bar has had more than a few.  He yells out to the newcomer.  "Hey" he slurs, "Whaddaya doin in here with that pig?"

The fellow very politely replies, "This isn't a pig. This is a duck."

The boozer shouts back. "I wasn't talking to you buster, I was talking to the duck."

Lots of vitriol going back and forth as we near the end of the campaign for president here.  Some of it as gratuitous as the dig from the geezer to the man with the duck.  The campaigns have long since eschewed even handedness and are now jumping on any misstep by the opponent to say "Gotcha See there what a fool my opponent is."

It is so easy to begin seeing the candidate you don't like monolithically.  As I read through the comments on social media your guy is presented as great and the other as the devil.  Not likely to be the case.

A question I have is how often do the candidates realize that they have become someone other than who they are.  Romney has certainly morphed from the guy who campaigned to the right of Ronald Reagan. And Obama must wonder now and again if he isn't pouncing too much on some of Romney's faux pas, which reflect less on Romney's innate character and more on some foolish thing he has said which renders him vulnerable.

The guy at the bar knows the fellow has a duck under his arm. He is just being mean.  It must be tough for the candidates not to get mean after 6-8 months of nonstop battling.  It would be nice, however, if combatants for public office could just resort to identifying how the two are simply different ducks and leave the pig out of it.  It would also be a relief to see their supporters do the same.

Friday, October 19, 2012

lap dance

My father sent me a note this evening commenting on my blogs.  One of the comments related to the 10-11-12 short entry. This referred to fleeting moments and the need to seize time.  Dad told me about a Horace Mann quote which reads, "Lost yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with 60 diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever."

I'm about to complete my current lap around the track this weekend.  Ready to start on the next one in a few days.  The truth is that on this last lap as on all of the preceding ones, there are golden hours that were lost.  There are also golden hours that were not.  And there are still other golden hours that were not lost, but I was not wise enough to realize they were golden at the time and only see the beauty in retrospect.

Probably not unique in this way.  I was watching a documentary about athletes the other day who had lost it all and were broke. Their stories were repetitive and depressing. They took for granted their skill and wealth and are now bereft of both--all they have are recollections of joy and their foolishness.

Heard today about a colleague who is in his last hours.  Can see the guy clearly. Always had a twinkle in his eye.  He was around my age when I knew him as a colleague, then he must have retired, and now we get this notice telling us that we might want to consider a program for him to recall his contributions.

There's an old Honeymooner episode where Ralph and Norton are trying to identify their good "pernts" and bad "pernts" with the idea to focus on the bad pernts and make them good ones.  As I approach turning into this next lap I think that while I am very happy with a number of things about what I have done with time, what I believe is a bad "pernt" is not realizing that certain golden hours were golden.

I wonder if that is how A-Rod feels now having been benched in the playoffs despite being the highest paid player in baseball.  I wonder if Romney and Obama in this whirlwind that has been the last six months, have had time to marvel at what both of them have accomplished.   I am a fan of one of these pols and not the other, but regardless I admire them both for their energy if nothing else and perseverance.  They have been putting on their game faces nearly every hour of every day and one will of course lose.  That person will still have had many golden hours which they might have difficulty acknowledging as such.

A walk for an ice cream cone, a smile in a park, dinner with your folks, reading a good book, whacking a tennis ball just where you wanted to... golden moments each set with 60 diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are lost forever. My lap dance as I begin a new trip should be to take the steps to reverse the bad pernt that on occasion has had me not acknowledge some golden hours that are now lost forever.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

George McGovern

I just read a search engine headline that relayed that George McGovern is no longer responsive and is nearing the end of his life.

It's difficult to comment about someone whom I've never met and who I only know from media representations.  That written, I've always thought of McGovern as a mensch who stayed true to his conscience regardless of the politics involved.

 I voted for McGovern in 72 and will never forget the acceptance speech he delivered at the convention.  (Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the night, and therefore many Americans did not hear it).   McGovern was snakebit in that campaign, losing his vice presidential candidate half way through the election and then not being able to convince others to take the second spot for fear that Nixon's lead was insurmountable--which it turned out to be.  He was also a victim of what Donald Segretti later admitted to as "dirty tricks"--perpetrated by Nixon supporters.

I always thought McGovern handled himself with class and spoke from the heart.  He lost the election in 1972, but he was a good citizen of the country, and someone willing to fight for ideals even when they were unpopular.  We are about to lose an American hero.

Energizing the Base

I have often scoffed at those who argue that politicians must energize their base.  I recall that when Sarah Palin was selected in 2008 as the GOP Republican candidate for Vice President, many explained this bewildering choice by commenting that this would energize the Conservative base in the party.

My reaction was to suggest that they reconsider this wisdom.   Would Conservatives vote for Obama if McCain had selected a liberal Republican as the running mate?  They would--as the alternative would not be palatable to them..  So, why pick a Conservative who could alienate those in the gray area who might otherwise be swayed. The answer came back: "well they need to energize the base."

After last night's debate and the resulting post debate discussion, I am reconsidering the stance I'd previously taken about the importance of energizing loyalists.  The October 4th debate which Mitt Romney--according to almost every indicator--won, had dispirited Obama loyalists.  These supporters would still vote Democratic as to vote Republican would be unthinkable, but the enthusiasm for their candidate ebbed.  I noticed the subdued reaction in several places, but most notably on the web.  Prior to last night, there was less political cyber cheering for the Democrat, fewer jabs at the opponent, fewer posts suggesting that it was essential to get the vote out.

Last night and this morning, however, the volume is back on.  It seems as if many deflated Democrats are now filled with an energy because of what they witnessed.  One might argue, "well these people are still going to vote for Obama and one vote remains only one vote energy or no energy.".

This is true, but discussion in support of a candidate can lather and create a contagious narrative which might influence those undecided.  There is a greater bounce to the step of Democrats this morning, and the Republican noise has been, to some extent, muted.
In the same way as Romney energized his base after October 4th, Obama energized his on the night of October 16th. As opposed to what I have thought previously, this may have an effect on momentum and the eventual success of the candidate.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Well, we thought about the game

One of the songs in "Damn Yankees" is called The Game.  At one point the players, incredibly as is the case with all musical numbers, break out in song and croon about how they need to stop thinking about anything else, but the game. "We thought about the game, the game..."   I can remember when I lived in Buffalo, on the eve of the sixth game of an exciting Boston Celtics--Buffalo Braves playoff series, my roommate, now a successful lawyer, walked in to the apartment, tossed his law books on a chair, and began singing "So we thought about the game, the game..."

For what might be obvious reasons, this song has popped into my head the last few days and not because of the Major League Baseball series or the glut of football games that took place this weekend.

The political debate tonight is analogous to a sporting event.  Those of us who have been following the pol/ls and the rhetoric know that this debate is a crucial one that can affect the election and consequently the direction of the country.  Never has it been any more obvious that speaking--the ability to articulate one's thoughts and get an audience to accept them--is a powerful phenomenon. There is the old Daniel Webster quote. "If all my possessions and powers were to be taken from me with one exception I would choose to keep the power of speech, for by it I could soon recover all the rest."

Governor Romney knows this is so.  During the first debate, he was able to wow enough voters to render what had been a one sided contest into a dead heat.  Now, the pressure is on President Obama.

Tonight, one might contend, the pressure is on the New York Yankees to win a game in Detroit lest they go down 3-0 in their best of seven series with the Tigers.  I am rarely one to downplay the significance of sport, but in this situation the pressure on Yankee starter Phil Hughes is nothing compared to the pressure on President Obama.  Republicans and Obama's liberal supporters ridiculed him after the first debate.  Tonight he has the job of winning back the voters who turned lukewarm or cold after the first contest.

It is not melodramatic to write that so much is riding on the outcome of this contest.  Roe vs. Wade will either be the law of the land or history depending on the outcome.  Medicare will either continue as the safety net for seniors or change in a way that is essentially not recognizable.  The country's approach to taxation and war and business and civil liberties will be a function of the outcome. The two candidates have agreed centrally on one issue and they are both right.   The choices in this election are as starkly different as they have ever been--akin to the Nixon-McGovern election of 1972.

I have a standing singles tennis match on Tuesday nights (as long as the two sixty somethings who are combatants are both uninjured at the time).  I wrote to my bud last night and asked if we could change the time so we could watch the debates. He was agreeable, but we both eventually agreed that it would be better on our nervous systems if we played while Romney and Obama were sparring.

I've known people who could not watch a game during the exciting times because they got too nervous. I have almost never felt that way.  However, tonight, I do.

In the seventies I went to see the Thrilla in Manilla in a movie theater.  This, for the uninitiated or young, was the third and rubber bout between Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali.  More is riding on this bout tonight.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I saw something today on Facebook that was startling, but not surprising.  It was a photo of a man standing at a political rally.  His shirt read Romney/Ryan at the top.  In large letters below that was the following: "Let's Put the White Back in the White House."

Of those who are voting for the Republican candidate,  most--I am guessing--would not endorse the sentiments of the racist with the shirt.   However, there is a number who would. I wondered during the last election how then candidate Obama could overcome the large population of simpletons who reject people on the basis of ethnicity.  The answer seemed to me that McCain, in a move that was straight out of the Chelm playbook, selected a running mate that even the racists could not tolerate. In fact, the population that hates on the basis of race, might hate on the basis of gender as well.  Had Palin been convincing as a possible successor to McCain in the event of tragedy, or had McCain selected anyone with a modicum of knowledge and experience, I believe enough people would have voted against the black candidate because he is black.

Racism is still here.  I am not at all suggesting that Romney or Ryan support racism.  And they are in a difficult position desiring all the votes they can get.  The question I have is this:  If Romney were to repeatedly in every campaign speech bang out his opposition to racism and to those people who wear these shirts--would he win the election.  If a standard refrain of his speeches were, If you are voting for me because I am white and he is black, I don't want your vote--would Romney prevail?

I don't think so.  I think if you eliminated all votes that were cast for Romney because he is white, and all votes that were cast for Obama because he is black, Obama would win the election.

Racism is still here.  Ryan is not Sarah Palin.  And it is sad to write that I think that despite whatever merits Governor Romney may have, he may get elected on skin color, not because of these merits.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Next year, November 12th will work, then December 13th the following year.  But after that we won't see this again in our lifetime.

Another reason to seize the day.  Once it is over, we've lost it forever.


I do not like the Yankees.  Never did.  When the Giants and Dodgers moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively (but not respectfully) my dad took us to Yankee stadium because there were no other teams in town. There, in the Bronx, I cheered for the Washington Senators or whoever were the Yankee opponents in the double header that Sunday.

Nevertheless, what occurred last night--despite my disappointment in the outcome--is what makes sport great, advertising for ball games expensive, owners rich, and fans in a lather come game time. There was more drama in the Bronx last night than on Broadway.

Down 2-1 in the ninth inning the manager for the Yankees did something that I could not believe. I had the sound down (because it appeared to be working as a jinx against the Yankees) so I could not quite believe what seemed to be transpiring.  One of the highest paid players in all of baseball, Alex Rodriguez--A-Rod to his fans--the number three hitter in the powerful Yankee lineup was being pinch hit for.  A player named Raul Ibanez, a bench player--a substitute-was batting in the ninth for one of the greatest home run hitters in history.  Rodriguez is currently number five on the all time home run leader list with only Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays ahead of him. Next year he will pass Mays who has 660. A-Rod has 647 and counting.

To take A-Rod out for a bench player when all you need is a homer is so unbelievable that I sat up in my chair and inadvertently knocked the cat off my lap.  Raul Ibanez for A-Rod?

So, all that Ibanez does is slam a homerun into the right field stands to tie the game and send it into extra innings.  He does this in the 9th.

When he comes up again in the 12th, all Ibanez does is slam another home run into the right field stands to win the game.

Baseball movies would not have such a dramatic ending.

The Orioles and Yankee haters might not like it, but games like last night's are high drama.

The epilogue to the real world drama, the sprinkles on the cone, occurred about two hours later when the Oakland Athletics, losing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth scored three runs to beat the visiting Detroit Tigers.  The bad news for the advertisers is that the cost of a thirty second spot just went up.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


One of the issues that I found disturbing in last night's presidential debate related to the responses--from both candidates--regarding the medicare issue.

Governor Romney and his running mate Congressman Ryan have proposed that we go to a voucher system instead of Medicare.  The plan, as they have described it during the campaign, would not affect those who are 55 years or older.  These persons would be grandfathered into the current system.

When asked about the plan last night, Governor Romney asserted again--that this will have no effect on those 55 years or older.  One would assume that this assertion has been stated repeatedly to avoid alienating voters over 55 years who would find the voucher system unattractive.

Simple question: If the proposal is unattractive to those 55 and older, then why would it be attractive to those 54 and younger.

Leaving aside the issues of whether those now 54 will eventually become older and, to some extent, not want to fight with insurance companies over benefits, and whether private insurance companies are likely to provide better service to those infirm than the current system--leaving aside these two issues--there is something that I find fundamentally offensive about the asterisked plan--and about the president's rebuttal.

To assume that 55+ year old voters will find the Romney-Ryan plan palatable because it will not affect them, is to assume that those over 55 do not care about anyone  but themselves.  To extrapolate, it suggests that people are not concerned with any issues unless they are directly affected by them.  I, alas, hit 55 a while back.  Does this mean I should not care about the people who are 54 and younger--or our society as a whole.  Let's see, if I am not black, does that mean I should not care if the civil rights regulations of the 60s were to be repealed.  If I am not poor, should I not care about disproportionate taxation. If I am a man should I not care about women having a right to choose.

The assumption that we should only care about the medicare proposal if we are under 55 is offensive.  President Obama's response was somewhat tongue in cheek when he said that "if you are 54 and under you should be concerned."  What I would have liked to hear the president say is that we do not pass legislation solely because it benefits individuals.  That everyone should listen to his response.  That if you are 15 or 95 you should pay attention to the response.

When I was a kid it was an annual battle to get the community to vote to approve the school budget.  Many residents in our area would argue that they had no kids, or their kids were out of school, so why vote for the school budget.  Well, maybe--assuming the budget does make sense--we should support the schools because we have a commitment to consider our entire society and not just ourselves.

At the core of what bothers me about the voucher system is NOT that it is myopic--though it is (when you are 90 you are not going to want to fight with insurance companies when your knee is killing you and you are too tired from life to fight anymore) what bothers me is that the proponents keep telling the 55 year and older population not to worry. It's not going to affect them.  That is not good enough for this person born in the Truman administration and I am sure it not good enough for a majority of people who have been around the track as many times as I have.    If the current Medicare system is a good plan for us then it should be there for others--our colleagues, children, friends, and strangers.  Neither the Republicans or Democrats seemed to acknowledge this last night.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Huntington Caterers

I am not sure there is a team that is more pathetic than this year's Boston Red Sox.  As an inveterate Yankee hater, a Red Sox fan, and an admirer of the Baltimore Orioles, I watched tonight's Yankee/Red Sox game with interest.  Had the Red Sox won, the Orioles would have been tied with the Yankees for first place in the American League East with only one game left in the season.

The Red Sox led 3-1 in the ninth inning and then managed to give up two runs in no time to let the Yankees tie the game.  In the twelfth with two outs, the Red Sox reliever walked a batter that had not played in 23 games. He then walked the next batter on four pitches before giving up a walk off single.

When I played little league my team was called the Huntington Caterers.  The Red Sox remind me of the Huntington Caterers.

I think, however, we had more heart.


In the Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield relays a story about a classmate at one of the prep schools he attended.  The classmate, whose name I believe was Kinsella, would interrupt his teachers' lectures by yelling out "digression" whenever the teacher, well, digressed.

For some reason this popped into my head today as I was driving to work.  What I started to think about was whether digressions were always a bad thing.  Are digressions always transgressions?

Sure, as someone who has spent a good deal of time teaching students how to prepare and deliver talks, I know organization is a key to success and speakers should follow a coherent path when they address audiences.  To digress would, of course, violate this principle.  Tomorrow night when the presidential candidates square off during the debates, they will probably want to stay on topic and not digress--unless the response to a question would take them into dangerous waters--making a digression an attractive strategy to avoid a vulnerable area.  However, often such a dodge is obvious, and besides it is deceptive, so an ethical speaking coach would recommend that speakers stick with the key messages and not digress.

But outside the world of public speaking, a digression might not be a bad thing now and again if, in fact, the path you are on is taking you the wrong way.  To digress from forward motion heading to perilous turf would seem to be the thing to do.  To digress in such situations might indicate some progress even though an outside observer probably would not see this from her or his vantage point.

In sports, varying your game plan when you are being pummelled is the thing to do.  Same thing outside the lines of sport. And outside the lines of sport a good friend is someone who shouts Digression.  Unlike Kinsella who was pointing out a deficiency, your friend is urging you to digress in order to right yourself-- a necessary step for progress.

Friday, September 28, 2012

johnny hunter will find you quick and you'll wind up in a stew

Partridge, Partridge you better stop hummin'
Look around you who's that coming
Johnny Hunter will find you quick and you'll wind up in a stew.

My former SUNY Fredonia colleague and now friend, Dan Berggren is an accomplished folk singer and writer.  His cd, Adirondack Green, has given me hours of joy as I listen to it in my car or at home.  Dan taught Radio and media courses when we both were in western New York. Together with a few others we started a Communication and Media department at SUNY that flourished and as far as I know is still popular.

There are many songs on Adirondack Green that I like, but my favorite is Johnny Hunter.

Old Black Bear You Better Not Wait
If I were you I'd hibernate
Johnny Hunter will find you quick and you'll wind up in a stew.

I first heard Dan perform this at an outing for kids near the college campus.  The kids loved it but I think I enjoyed it even more.  As you can tell from the excerpted stanzas, it is about critters in this case in the Adirondacks who are on the lookout for Johnny Hunter, lest they wind up in a stew.

The idea of a group of animals getting together to warn each other makes me smile. And while you can't tell without listening to the accompanying music, the tune is catchy  as well. Each time the song comes along on the cd I break out in a little smile.  I probably have heard it thirty times this past week as I tend to play the hell out of cds for a stretch and then when I realize I have heard the same songs over and over, make a switch.  Today when I heard Johnny Hunter I smiled as I do, but then thought of Johnny Hunter a little differently.

What if Johnny Hunter is not a real hunter, but is metaphorically, some agent out there that if we dont watch out can mess with our path.  If you think of Johnny Hunter as the anti-Cupid, some agent that derails us from following our heart, well the song works that way as well.  If we do not follow our hearts, then Johnny Hunter tends to find us quick and we wind up in a stew.  How many of us have wound up in a stew when instead of doing what our heart has suggested, we follow some safe and comfortable path to avoid hunger?

The last stanza of Dan's song goes like this:

Whenever you're in the woods alone
Sing this song with mighty tone
Or Johnny Hunter will find you quick
And you'll wind up in a stew.

Not bad advice whether you're a partridge avoiding Johnny Hunter, or a person sensing that if you're not careful, and continue on an enticing if incorrect path, you might wind up in a stew.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

A colleague of mine back when I taught at SUNY Fredonia raved about this book. He and I usually have similar tastes.  At the time, over thirty years ago, I picked it up and read the first chapter and it did not grab me.  I figured I would read it at another time.

Since the original recommendation, every few years or so, I hear or overhear someone speaking glowingly about A Confederacy of Dunces.  The most recent such conversation took place in the locker room of my gym.  A fellow was going on and on about how hilarious the book is. Then a couple of weeks ago I went to a used book sale at a local library and saw A Confederacy in the Classics section of the sale.  I bought it and figured I would give the book another shot.

The title, I discovered, is derived from a Jonathan Swift quote: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."  This factoid appears right before the novel begins and is preceded by pages of reviewers' testimony from reputable publications attesting to the  quality of the book.

I can't agree.  The book is about a very intelligent, but irreponsible and inconsiderate, iconoclast. Ignatius Reilly.  The author does not intend to make him out to be anything other than he is.  Reilly is a lout, has an inflated sense of self worth, a mooch, and all around trouble maker.  John Kennedy Toole, the author, depicts Reilly as a genuine, if clever, pain.   While it is never stated explicitly, Reilly considers himself besieged by a confederacy of dunces and he, Reilly, to be the only true genius.

My feeling was, after only a few pages, "enough already".  The character and story does not really go anywhere. We read about Reilly as an incompetent and irresponsible jerk when he works in a clothing factory, and then as a hot dog vendor, as a son throughout, and occasionally as a sort of boyfriend to a bohemian woman he met when he was in school in NY.

Yes, there are clever quips from Ignatius, and the literary/historical references are impressive, but for me the laughs were infrequent, the story not there, and I felt no sympathy at all for Reilly or really any of the characters save perhaps the fellow referred to as "Jones" throughout.

Interesting and sad fact about the book is that it was written in the early 1960s, but was not published until 1980.  Toole tried to get the book published throughout the 60s and was unsuccessful. In 1969 he took his life.  His mother, subsequently, pestered people to read the manuscript and finally got a professor to do so.  He, Walker Percy, loved the book and worked towards publishing it.  The edition I have lists Toole as the sole author with an introduction by Percy.  I have seen more recent editions of the book where the authors are listed as both Percy and Toole. Don't know the backstory on that.

In sum, I can't recommend this book, but a whole slew of others can and do.  Yes, I think we are all at times the victims of a confederacy of dunces.  Ignatius Reilly though is a victim of his own silly narcissism and laziness.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

hooray for our side

I read this morning that a plane that Ann Romney was on yesterday had to make an emergency landing when the cabin began to fill with smoke.  Fortunately she is safe and unhurt.

Regular readers may be able to detect my political leanings, but I don't like to campaign in these blogs for any candidate.  I have found some of the political postings on Facebook a little offputting regardless of whose side is being endorsed.  Sure, I am amused more when my guy is not the brunt of some cartoon, but in general the back and forth reminds me of the stanza from the old Steven Stills/Buffalo Springfield Song,"For What It's Worth"

What a field day for the heat
a thousand people in the street
singing songs and carrying signs
mostly say "hooray for our side."**

It's not just the social media, of course.  Fox News and MSNBC are neither, despite the name, news programs. They're both there to yell Hooray for Our Side.

I heard yesterday that Ann Romney shot back at some of the GOP supporters who were critical of her husband's campaign.  She said something like, "cut it out, it is tough out there.  You try getting in the ring."

I bet it is.  One might be inclined to respond to that with the Truman quip, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."  I have got to think that both the Romneys and the Obamas often want to flee the kitchen.

The problem this week with the Romney campaign is that it seems as if he has turned up the heat in the kitchen himself.  And the emergency plane landing with the smoke in the cabin has got to seem to them and their supporters as something of a metaphor.  The cabin must seem as if it is filling up with smoke.

I am not a dispassionate observer of the election.  I know who I want and I am following the election carefully.  But I do have what I hope will be a dispassionate observation about an event that took place just yesterday, probably around the time that Ms. Romney's plane filled up with smoke.

Mitt Romney, after being hounded by both Republicans and Democrats released his 2011 tax return and a summary of his last twenty years of returns.  I think the former is a long time coming. The latter I believe is a big mistake.

During the 1973 Watergate Hearings a man named Alexander Butterfield revealed that President Nixon recorded his oval office conversations.  These conversations, special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, and before him, Archibald Cox, suspected would reveal if the President indeed had conspired to obstruct justice in the aftermath of the Watergate burglary.  The President did not want to give up the tapes and claimed Executive Privilege.  The prosecutors were persistent, but Nixon after significant pressure only agreed to provide summaries of the tapes.  The prosecutors would not accept this, eventually went to the Supreme Court, and Nixon was forced to release the tapes.  When that happened, the so called Smoking Gun was revealed which led to the President's resignation.

There are those who claim that if President Nixon had come forward with the evidence right away and had apologized for his activity, he might have been spared the ignominy that is and will be at least a part of the history of his presidency.

Romney's tax return for 2011 might not force his plane to go down, but there are some questions there.  I think he will be able to endure the criticism related to it.

The twenty year summary is another thing. Big mistake. He is going to be pressured to release the actual returns and not the summary.  Already, in today's paper there is speculation about why the summary was released and not the actual returns.  In one article it was conjectured that the summaries might be an attempt to camouflage returns in which the Republican candidate paid no tax.

If Mr. Romney does eventually release his returns, and if there are smoking guns therein, his plane is going to go down.

And the plane might have been able to stay aloft if right from the start he released his returns and explained why he did what he did.

Hot in the kitchen.  Next week it may be the Obamas who need to adjust the thermostat.

**(To make sure I had the lyrics right for the song, For What It's Worth" I went to Wikipedia. There I read that the song was recorded in December, 1966.  Only nine plus months later, in early September 1967, I bought, for the grand sum of about four dollars, two tickets to hear both Janis Ian and the Buffalo Springfield, at a concert in Albany.   The campus center room where they played probably held no more than a hundred people and it was not packed.  Janis Ian was well known. But the Buffalo Springfield, not so much at that time.  Now of course the 1966 song is viewed, accurately, as a remarkable predictor of what would transpire on campuses in the last years of the 1960s and early 70s.  I really can remember hearing Buffalo Springfield play "For What It's Worth" live on that night.  Not sure I quite got it when I heard the song.  I was not then much of a politico.  My largesse "splurging" for the tickets was done largely to try to impress a date).