Thursday, May 31, 2012

Power of Words

My university, Northeastern, is very fortunate to have Michael Dukakis on our faculty.  Governor Dukakis as I am sure readers recall was the democratic candidate for president in 1988.  He was unsuccessful, losing to George Bush Sr. but has been successful as a university professor and, in my opinion, was an effective governor in Massachusetts.

I've had an occasion to interview the governor for a book I wrote and I found his private persona very much akin to what my perception of him was as governor:  personable, intelligent, unpretentious, and clear.  An hour or so ago I saw him walking on campus and it was this sighting that spurred this post.

The election between Governor Dukakis and then Vice President George Bush was a close one.  As has become standard the campaign included debates between the candidates. In one, the governor said something that likely cost him the election.  Dukakis was an opponent of capital punishment.  The moderator's (Bernard Shaw) first question presented a scenario to the governor in which his wife had been brutalized.  Would the governor then, asked the moderator, be in favor of the death penalty.

Dukakis responded without hesitation. "No I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty my whole life."  The response seemed insensitive, as if Governor Dukakis did not care about his wife. It sounded as if he, in general, lacked empathy.

Many identified or self identified pundits believe that these words cost the Governor the election.  When I saw Dukakis earlier today, I thought about the episode and how a few words which he would have liked to change or utter differently changed not only his life, but an entire nation's history.  The following is irrespective of your political perspective, but consider that if Dukakis wins the election, he likely would have run in 1992 again which would mean that Bill Clinton would not have run. If Bush Sr. had not served at least the one term he had, would his son President George W. Bush, been nominated.  Again, regardless of your political orientation, our history would have been different.

A few words can have a powerful impact not only in politics.  I worked with a professor once who told me that letters he had written had changed his life.  Another professor, an administrator at my previous university, told me that the words uttered at speeches can have, and in his case, had in fact had, a significant effect on his professional life.

The effects, of course, transcend professional life in the same way that they transcend political history.  Words we said or did not say to sweethearts, letters written; words said in haste to family members and friends, can find us now embracing those we love or missing the nourishment of family and romantic love. I'm in the communication business so I am more sensitive to this than most, but it is not difficult for anyone to identify gains and losses that are based not on thoughts but on how these thoughts were expressed.  Daniel Webster is said to have said, "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."  And without that power we can lose a good deal of what is important to us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

69 Mets

It's 43 years since the New York Mets won the world series for the first time. That year, 1969, the Mets went from annual losers and jesters, to champions. Players like Cleon Jones, Tommy Agee, Art Shamsky, and Ron Swoboda became heroes. Swoboda, a woeful outfielder most of the time, made one of the best catches ever during the 69 World Series against the Orioles.

 I was a serious Met fan that summer. I was home from school and working in the United States Post Office as what was called a "Mail Handler." My job was to take parcels off of a conveyor belt and trow them (you did not throw anything in my job, you trew them (or dem). You trew the parcels into bins. For this job I had to take two tests. After two months there working with assorted other summer help, I could not stop wondering where the people who failed that test were employed.

 What made the summer palatable was following the Mets. Every day from May when they started to get hot until they clinched the division I was anchored to the tv or radio hanging on every play. And, of course, I was not alone. If I speak to contemporaries about the 69 Mets, many of them can identify every player on the roster. They can tell me where they were when Tom Seaver's perfect game was spoiled by a rookie named Jimmy Qualls, and who was the unlikely mvp of the world series (Donn Clendenon).

 Forty three years ago and fans remember batting and earned run averages with greater ease than they can recall the dates of their children's births or exactly how old their youngest sibling may be. The historian Jacques Barzun is often cited with his quip, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."  However, it is not only about baseball. Whoever wants to understand human behavior, must attempt to identify how come a 60 year old remembers the name Gary Gentry, but may not be able to tell you who ran as Humphrey's running mate in 1968, (Muskie) or even that Humphrey ran against Nixon.

Catastrophe Award

The home page on my work computer is YAHOO.  YAHOO must have a "man bites dog" gatekeeping policy for determining what stories are headlined on its page.  Yesterday the story was about Harry Truman's paperboy finally getting paid some outstanding charge.  Other recent features were about Venus Williams's diet tips and the same sex marriage of a star from the tv show "Sex in the City."

Today the story that greeted me at work was about a mother who was complaining that her 8 year old daughter had received the "Catastrophe Award" for being the student who came up with the most excuses for not coming up with their homework.  The mother felt that the child had been humiliated.

I wonder if the mother considered the possibility that her child had been negligent and needed to be held accountable for assignments like any other student in the class. There are other 8 year olds in the class who do complete their assignments.  I wonder if before targeting the instructor the mother might think about the long term damage to her daughter of a parent condoning irresponsibility.

The situation may be more complex.  Perhaps the student has some learning issues that have been identified and the excuses were an attempt to deal with some frustrating inabilities.  Perhaps the instructor is an inconsiderate fool who gives out disparaging awards to all of the students depending on their weaknesses.

But assuming that the instructor is attempting to enforce a message already discussed in class: that is, we all have responsibilities and we cannot find excuses for avoiding them, then perhaps the catastrophe award, however humiliating it may be to an 8 year old, may be a far more meaningful message than some bogus end of year stroke that may seem superficially benign, but does not educate young people to be responsible.

All of us who have worked with adults who seem to be able to make up incredible excuses for their irresponsibility--excuses that leave your head shaking and your lips parted--would have appreciated lessons like this relayed to some of our colleagues.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Leyland rant

Yesterday, I was watching the Red Sox play the Tigers.  In the bottom of the second Rick Aviles was up with two strikes, two outs and a man on second.  Aviles swung and tipped a pitch which was caught by the catcher just before the catcher's mitt hit the ground.  Some dust came up from the glove's contact with the ground around home plate.

The catcher raised his glove to show the umpire that he had caught the foul tip which--for the uninitiated-- is equivalent to a swing and a miss.  The umpire held up the catcher and looked toward the first base umpire to make sure that the tip had indeed been caught.  The first base ump declared that the ball had not been caught.

Replays showed that the umpire was wrong. The catcher had absolutely caught the ball.  When the Red Sox proceeded to score three runs in the inning after the third out was disallowed, the manager for the Tigers, Jim Leland, became understandably irate.  It is rare that a blown call can actually call a team the game. But this mistake did in fact cost the Tigers the game.

Eventually Leland was thrown out of the game. Subsequently he vented to the press and urged writers to expose this injustice.

I am a fan of Leyland. I always found him to be a stand up guy and, in this case as in almost all, I have no problem with his behavior and comments. The ump got it wrong and it cost his team the game.

But this, I think, while an injustice points out the attraction and beauty of sports.  Anyone who watched the game or particularly the replay knows that the Tigers were wronged.  The question I have today, on Monday, is how many people at work, or in their relationships, or when interacting with retailers or public servants, feel that they have been wronged--and have no arbiter to appeal to, and no rule book to point at.   The beauty of sports is that the rules, typically, are enforced, and they are written somewhere.  When your boss passes over you to promote a buddy, or behaves incomprehensibly because it is somehow in her or his best interests; when you experience an injustice with a lover, family member, even retailer--it is difficult to obtain justice.

In sports, Leyland can rant and there is a public forum to support his fury.  Last night in the Celtics-Heat game a basket made after the 24 second clock expired was initially counted. Subsequently, the referees reviewed the play and took the two points off of the scoreboard.  When someone acts inappropriately in a social or work or family situation, it is very unlikely that the injustice will be made right.  Which is one reason why, tonight, there will be millions of people watching the San Antonio Spurs play the Oklahoma City Thunder.  For the most part, the game will be fair.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


During the second quarter of the Heat-Pacers playoff game tonight, a game 6, the Pacer fans broke out in the cheer/jeer "He's a flopper, He's a flopper."

 The reference was directed at Dwyane Wade, a player for the Miami Heat who was shooting foul shots. The fans, apparently, felt that Wade had earned the foul shots by flopping.

A flopper, for the uninitiated is not someone who fails, i.e. is a flop. In that sense, even the Pacer fans would have to agree, that Wade is no flopper. He made some baskets in the second quarter of the game that looked like optical illusions and ended the 12 minute period with 20 points--a decent output for an entire game, let alone one fourth of it. No, in the sense of a failure, Dwyane Wade is no flopper. (And, despite the chants from the crowd on the play that was the catalyst for the chant, Wade did not flop--he was, in fact, hit on the play).

A flopper in basketball--and in other sports like hockey and soccer--is someone who pretends to be whacked so hard by an opponent that he falls, flops, down. A player will flop in basketball because then the referee might award a free throw to the person who has fallen. In soccer, the players are notorious for flopping because two fouls can eliminate you from competition not only in a single game but for future games in a tournament.

 There are some terrific floppers. Manu Ginobli on the Spurs is world class. Former Detroit Piston, Bill Laimbeer, was a great flopper. A guy I played freshman basketball with at Albany deserves to be in the flopper hall of fame.This guy would flail back like he had been hit by a truck when someone sneezed near him, often earning offensive fouls to the incredulous fury of our opponents.

Hockey is ahead of the other sports when it comes to punishing floppers, but basketball, based on some recent rhetoric, is considering taking steps as well. Flopping makes a referee's job more difficult. Did a player really get hit hard, or did you just go to acting school? And if it makes the referee's job harder, then the game can be decided by the acting capabilities of the players as opposed to athletic skill.

 The question I have is, in the long run, does it benefit you to be a flopper. I don't think so. Ginobli is a great player and I don't think his game has been negatively affected by his flopping, though his reputation might be. I think, however, that Ginobli is an exception. The great players did not flop and I think that is because they concentrated on playing the game well.

A flopper might figure while driving to the hoop that he doesn't have to make the basket, he can probably sell the foul. A great player doesn't rely on the referee to bail him out. A flopper figures he does not have to get set on defense to earn the charge. A flopper is considering an alternative to beating the opponent to the spot.

 Readers of this blog know that I like to draw some comparisons between sports and daily human interaction. I think that those who flop in life, that is rely on pretending to do what needs to be done, can advance only so long. Sure, some people may make a career out of pretending, but I wonder if that does not create an infection elsewhere in their systems. The people who are genuinely successful do what they do to the best of their ability and don't hope to pass as competent by flopping. I know personally that when I have flopped, I have been more likely to flop in the conventional sense of the word, and when I have worked hard to do something the way I thought was the right way to do it, I have been more successful.

Someone like Larry Bird never flopped. Had he flopped in game 4 of the 85 Finals against the Lakers in the last second when he was whacked by James Worthy, he might have gotten the foul shots to tie the game. He was whacked and could have taken a tumble into the bench.  But he did not flop, no foul was called, the Celtics lost the game to go down 3-1 and eventually lost the series in 6.  But would he have been Larry Bird, the great player that he was, if flopping was part of his repertoire. Did Russell flop? West? Havlicek? Reed?  Frazier?  No, they did not.  Did FDR flop or did he stick his nose right into the great depression.  Did Churchill flop? King?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I read today that the man who invented the remote control device to allow a viewer to change tv channels has passed at 96.

If you have been around the track as many times as I have you recall that if you wanted to change the channel you got up and manually changed it.  If you had a sibling you likely said, "I changed it last time" more than once.

Reading the obit made me think of all those things that were beyond the scope of my imagination when I was a kid that are now considered almost necessities.  A credit card, portable phone, microwave, calculator, computer.   Do you know anyone who does not have all of these and anyone over 55 that had any of them when you were a kid.

The other day a buddy of mine seemed genuinely startled when I mentioned that I do not have a GPS system. I am a map guy--always like to read them, but even if I did not enjoy reading maps I've often been behind the curve with innovations. Likely the last kid on the block to have a cell phone, or fast lane gizmo.

We have progressed.  It is great to have the communications capabilities we currently have.  Credit cards, for those who can control themselves, are the cat's meow.  I can make a baked potato in five minutes and heat up whatever is in the box in the refrigerator in a minute and a half.

Fact is, though, in terms of the real important things not much has changed much.  Emotion still runs the show. Below the inventor's obituary is a story about a woman who murdered her own daughter. Another story is about a man who jumped over Niagara Falls in a suicide attempt. A clergyman in an order that forbids sexual intimacy acknowledges that he fathered a child.

Gizmos are great, but I figure human progress is about exploring the undeveloped chambers of our hearts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What's Wrong With This Picture

When I was a kid, and probably when 90 per cent of the population were kids, we looked through the funny papers on the weekends.  I was not a huge fan of "What's Wrong with this Picture" but I did it now and again. You remember it I imagine.  A cartoon would include characters and images. Some of the images made no sense.  A clock would read 13 o'clock;  A sign for a candy store would hang over a butcher shop; an auto would have the steering wheel in the back seat. Our job as single digit aged sleuths was to find as many things wrong with the picture as we could.

As double digit adults we consider the metaphor at moments of introspection. With our work, friends, companions, we wonder or should wonder, what is wrong with the picture.

In sports, coaches are compelled to ask themselves this question.  After each game a basketball coach will scour the video and attempt to identify what went wrong and how it can be remedied.  Tonight the Miami Heat is pummeling the Indiana Pacers and in about a half hour the Heat will have a 3-2 series lead in the best of 7 semi finals.  This is quite a turnaround. After three games the Pacers led 2-1 and a star for the Heat was caught on camera squabbling with the coach.  It looked to all as if the Heat was dead and could not recover. Yet they apparently looked at "What's Wrong with this Picture" and with 6 minutes to go in the game tonight they lead 91-68. After this game the Pacers will stare at the tapes and see how they might be able to adapt for the 6th game.

Do we, in our daily interactions, operate similarly?  That is, how vigilant is the average person when it comes to staring at the tapes of our lives to find out What's Wrong with this Picture and then attempting to rectify the problems?.  My sense is that in sports, teams and coaches work harder at it.  Humans can be content to live with the steering wheel in the back of the car, and clocks that read 13 o'clock.  And when it becomes more difficult to ignore the candy store sign on top of the butcher shop, we seek some sort of temporary balm, a drug, an inebriant, five scoops of ice cream, something that can make the failure go away.  Probably be better off, like the Indiana Pacers coach will do tomorrow, and many children will when they get some time with the funny papers this weekend, to figure out what's wrong with the picture..

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not so extra

I was having lunch today with a college friend who, like me, is a relocated New Yorker now working at a university in the Boston area. She and I started college during the Johnson administration.  We were talking about this and that when I was reminded, not by any comment she made, but by something I said that triggered a recollection.  The event was in my memory bank, but it had just been a while since I retrieved it.  And I have been thinking about this post lunch because it was something that in my grandfather's parlance would be referred to as "not so extra" or if he was speaking Yiddish "a shonda"--an embarrassment.

Sometimes I wonder when I write these blogs if it may seem to readers as if I feel that I have the answers down pat.  I do not have the answers down pat.  And I am startled every once in a while by a recollection of something that I did which is not necessarily egregious, but not quite right. I think for the most part I live within the confines of my conscience. And I imagine that the reason this event is bugging me now is because I am conscious of that conscience.

So, it is 1970 sometime before the end of the semester at the end of my junior year.   I intend to stay in school for the summer to make up some credits I need to graduate on time the following May.  I know I will need a job for the summer and I don't have one.

A buddy of mine is a member of the Young Republicans and he tells me that there are some jobs available working on the New York State Thruway as a toll collector.  I can get one of these jobs as long as I shake a hand or two among some Republican lawmakers in Albany and work on the campaign of a local Republican candidate.

I was not a Young Republican and am not now an old Republican.  I have never been a  Republican although at times I have voted for a Republican candidate, though those instances are certainly aberrations.  Not only was I not a Republican, but in my family, and in my neighborhood I did not even know any Republicans. My next door neighbor didn't have a picture of her daughters on the wall when you walked in. It was a picture of FDR.  Republicans were, to my experience, misguided and not for the common person.

Still as I was musing today about this incident, I do not recall flinching once, when my buddy suggested that I could get a good paying job by posing as a Republican.

Now this is not a hanging offense, but still, there were a number of things that were really not so extra about this. As mentioned, I was not a Republican. Second, if the jobs were granted only to Republicans then there was something illegitimate about the operation. I don't think this was a to the victors belong the spoils situation, though it might have been. There was a Republican governor at the time in New York, but this was a summer job that I think, ostensibly, anyone could apply for.  Third, I spent several nights driving around Albany with a bullhorn encouraging people to vote for this Republican candidate.

As it turns out the fellow who I campaigned for was a decent guy. He really was, but I did not know that when I signed on. He could have been Dracula as far as I knew when I accepted the job.  And the damage was insignificant, my man lost--(I should have worked harder on my bull horn technique) And certainly you can trot out the argument that "everyone does this kind of thing."  Yet, hey we were idealistic college students protesting the unconscionable behavior in southeast Asia, deriding Nixon at every chance. crooning Phil Ochs anti-establishment protest songs.  And there I was with a bullhorn and shaking hands with Republican lawmakers at the capital building.

So, it was not so extra.  Again, not beating myself up about it forty years later, but it is a good thing to recall for humility purposes.

I find myself today upset with Dwight Howard for, if the allegations are correct, forcing the Orlando Magic to fire coach  Stan Van Gundy.  Always a healthy thing to look yourself in the mirror before questioning the ethics of someone else and consider things one might have done that are not so extra.,

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rejection Diet

I have been a member of the same gym since the mid 90s.  It bills itself as a Health Club and while I think that handle is a bit pretentious, it's not off the mark.  People who come there swim, work out with weights, play tennis, sweat on the elliptical machine and other mechanical devices--with the result that the exercisers (as opposed to the full time shmoozers) become healthier.

I also think one of the health benefits of the gym is the social aspect--the chatter that takes place around the machines, in the locker room, and the area near the tennis courts which serves as a lounge.

It is interesting to me at least when I realize that I may have spoken to the same people for years and I often do not know their names. It is not even as if I knew the names once and forgot them.  I have chatted with people about their work, politics, in some cases social lives, and the stock market. One fellow (whose first name I actually do know) and I share jokes. I will see him stretching on a mat and say to him, "You got one for me."  Then in mid stretch he will start to relay a story that often has me chuckling genuinely when he is done. Another fellow and I talked at length one day about the nuances of the ipad and what to buy.  I do not know his name and I am sure he does not know mine.  Another fellow and I talked about his business at length recently.  We couldn't even guess at our last names. Not unusual.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a guy in the locker room who I have seen and had passing conversations with over the years.  He had never been heavy, but now he looked lean.  Guys in the gym are often talking about having to lose a few pounds.  When I saw him I commented on this.  "You look like you dropped a few pounds."  He nodded and exhaled a "Yeah."

"About twenty?" I said.


"Done intentionally?" I said feeling relatively certain that the answer would be yes.

"No," was the response.

Now, I feel a little uncomfortable. There could be a number of causes for unintentional weight loss ranging from, "Just working out some more and it happened" to something health related. -"Everything alright?" I asked.

"No." came the response.  Then after a pause, he said "Divorce sucks."

I said I was sorry.  He thanked me the way you thank someone who has expressed condolences.  He was not effusive afterwards but said that he had not seen it coming.  And he was now living in a place he did not like without his wife and family,

If you want to understand the world and its problems I think you have to acknowledge that emotional needs and loss/success is the fuel that nourishes us. Remove it or substitute a specious variation of that fuel and we run on empty in a way that damages our own enterprise.  My acquaintance will recover no doubt.  He will regain weight in time.  But whatever affects us all to lose our appetite for food and life when confronted with emotional loss, is what we need to acknowledge is at the foundation of our health, happiness, and interactions with others.  Nearly every single person with whom we interact, either intimately or as a nameless acquaintance, is rooted, motivated, and undermined by the same fuel.  Want to understand why your lover ignores you, your co worker is regularly ornery, a stranger is obese, your neighbor inexplicably does not say hello in a way that sounds more than a grunt--- check the fuel tank for the level and quality of the love therein.  Bereft of love, we all lose our essence and our natural weight.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Three point shot

When the NBA instituted the three point goal thirty plus years ago the feeling was that teams would only attempt the three when they absolutely needed to try a low percentage shot because time was short and the deficit was high.

If you played, but it has been a while since you have been on a court, take a basketball to your local park and try to hit a three point shot.  You will see that it is a heave.

The effects of the three point shot have been dramatic.  Before the three point goal, a team could be dominant, and only would be dominant, if they had a big man. For years the Knicks, my team as a kid growing up in NY, could not compete because they did not have a center.    If a basket from twenty feet counts as much as a basket from two feet away, then a big guy who could muscle in close and take an easy lay-up was a tremendous asset.  However, now if you have a team with two or three, long range shooters, then they become more valuable than a big center who will only score two points as opposed to the three.  You see players now with open lay ups passing it back to a teammate who will try a three.

There are few dominant centers now in the Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Walter Dukes mold.  It is not because there are fewer physical types. It is because they are--relative to their value in the 50s and 60s--insignificant.  Russell would always have been an asset because he was a winner and a terrific rebounder.  However, without three point shooting threats who knows how many championships the Celtics would have won.

This is even more evident in college basketball.  A big guy in college was your ticket to championships. UCLA had Jabbar (then Alcindor) and Walton.   And it went beyond the centers.  A player like Adrian Dantley was an outstanding college player because he was adept at getting the ball in low and taking/making short shots.  Dantley would not be a stud in the three point era whereas JJ Redick who could shoot the three was a featured player.

The three has changed the game for the better as it has precluded one big player from dominating a game.

rondo my favorite

Those who have read my blogs know that I am not a fan of Rajon Rondo. He makes plays that are so spectacular that the casual fan and even some identified pundits consider him to be a keeper. I would trade him for a rebounder who could not shoot a lick, or a point guard who had half the assists Rondo accumulates, but fewer turnovers.

 The Celtics lost a game last night by working at it. They were up by 18 points in the third quarter and were playing an inferior team in terms of talent.

 Rondo made some plays in the first half that were just stunning. Behind the back, lobs, perfect bounce passes to cutting players, and one that was nothing short of remarkable when he went to pass behind his back, but instead dribbled the ball to himself around his back to set up a basket.

 For all these great plays he has no respect for the prize until the end of the game. He plays possessions when his team is up like a blockhead playing horse. When you are up by 18 you don't try a low percentage pass. You make low percentage plays when your team is behind. The prize is the win, not a particularly snazzy assist.

The Celtics, it is true, cannot win without Rondo. If he stays within himself and plays intelligently they might win the championship. However, I doubt that will happen. The Celtics now have to go 6 or 7 games against the Sixers, when they should have won in 4. That fatigue will catch up with the veterans on the team.

Also, even if the Celtics prevail against the Sixers, the time will come when the opponents get tougher. Any of the four teams in the west will beat the Celtics, not because they are more talented--though the Thunder and Spurs may be--but because the Celtics have a point guard who plays as if he is from Chelm.  He has a very good coach who says that Rondo is bright. He may be. But he plays foolishly with a dollop of arrogance as well.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Bill Russell had it. Wilt Chamberlain did not.  Bob Gibson had it. Roger Clemens in 1986 at least, did not.  Tom Brady has it.  Jeff George did not.

And apparently LeBron James does not have it.  Nor, collectively, do the Miami Heat.  Tonight they lost by 20 points to the Indiana Pacers.  LeBron James is one of the most talented players there has ever been, but on Tuesday he missed two foul shots in the last minute and tonight he could not make the difference.  John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, they all had and have it.  Somehow James does not.  On Tuesday he had an opportunity to take shots near the end and he passed on them.  Jordan and Bryant never would.

What is it?  What makes an athlete find a way to make the key play.  It goes beyond talent. If it was talent, Wilt Chamberlain would have had several championship rings.  He was the strongest big man ever to play the game. But he only won twice, and one of those times with an unusually strong supporting cast including Jerry West a player with a whole reservoir of it.

When James went to the Heat and joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the thought was that they would be, for years to come, the team to beat for a championship.   The Heat has a way to go to even beat the Indiana Pacers.  Maybe they will come back.  James is an unusually talented player, but I am not sure he has it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kiss with our eyes.

The first time I saw Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was on a Saturday night in the summer of 1978.  I went back and saw it on Sunday the very next night.

I remember that Sunday walking out of the theatre and seeing a woman near the back of the auditorium who was still and tearing as if she had taken an emotional jolt because of the play and could not return to what passes for our natural state.

Since that Sunday I have watched several other productions and listened to the recording hundreds of times.

What is there about this play that has legions responding to the show so.  And how can a play ( a revue, really) maintain a contemporary message for over fifty years?

I think it is that so many songs in the musical can speak to us all.  Can anyone really listen to "Sons Of" and not react, at least emotionally, to the message?

I think of the lyrics to the finale now and again.  "If we only have love, we can melt all the guns, and then give the new world to our daughters and sons.".."If we only have love, then tomorrow will dawn, and the days of our years, will rise on that morn." "If we only have love to embrace without fears, we will kiss with our eyes, we will sleep without tears." All true to my way of thinking.

Then I wonder what happens with the inverse. That is

"If we don't have love" we then take up arms or become a brawler.

 "If we don't have love", then are all of our days looming hours that we must plow through?

 "If we don't have love", can we ever embrace without fears?   There are few things that are more memorable than being kissed with another's eyes.  What happens when you've never been, or never can, or no longer are? Can we truly give the new world to our daughters and sons.

I was very fortunate to have a loving family and parents who were as crazy about Jacques Brel as I was and who actually turned me on to what we then called "the album."  But what happens when that is not the case.

I wonder sometime if "fan love" is a type of love that is important both to the participants and the players. I read today that NBA player, Elton Brand finds it exciting to be playing in front of wild Philadelphia fans. And as I have written the people in section "508" in Madison Square Garden, are in love with the New York Rangers.  To what extent does that affection, affect the quality of lives.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Political Issue, Not.

On the radio this morning I heard that there are new polls out indicating how voters are reacting to President Obama's and Governor Romney's positions on gay marriage.  I then read an article in the Boston Globe describing how Romney, despite his speech at Liberty University this past weekend, was soft pedaling his anti gay marriage/civil union's stance.  The article suggested that it will hurt Romney to trumpet this position.

Both the article and the story suggested that the election might be a referendum of sorts on this issue of gay marriage.

I contend that in a democracy such as ours, the controversy over gay marriage may be a philosophical issue but cannot be a political issue.  This is not to argue that philosophical issues have not, in the past, become political ones. The point is that in a democracy, perspectives on this issue have no legitimacy in an election.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with different words, assert that individuals have inalienable rights and that one population of citizens has no inherent rights that another population does not have.  This is a, if not the, fundamental plank in our country's value system.  Person A and Person B have no government granted advantages. Any advantages are earned or the result of good fortune, not of political decree.

Therefore, a president or congress cannot with any legitimacy run on a platform that deprives someone civil rights.  Of course politicians have done this throughout our history, yet such planks are incontrovertibly counter to our articulated principles.

So for President Obama to support gay marriage is almost meaningless in the sense that to not support gay marriage is to support inequality. And no citizen has the right to not support civil rights as long as those civil rights do not interfere with another's civil rights.  For Governor Romney to reject the concept and concurrently to trumpet democratic values is nonsensical.  Americans do not have the right to vote for equality. We can't have a referendum to decide on whether one sex can vote, or whether one race can eat in restaurants, or one religion can attend school.  

Blue or White

I have a buddy who told me that his father took him aside before he began a solo journey across the country. My friend had packed up his vw bug and was about to set off when his dad gave him this three word advice: "Don't trust anybody."

My parents' advice was far more optimistic. My dad was fond of singing the words to "Tis a Puzzlement" which contains the verse,

 "Is a danger to be trusting one another.
One will seldom want to do what other wishes.
but unless someday, somebody trust somebody--
there'll be nothing else on earth excepting fishes."

Who can you trust?  My general sense is that the odds are great that a stranger with whom you are dealing is not someone you can trust.  I figure 80 per cent of the time, you are likely to be dealing with someone who will be willing to take advantage of you.  And if the over-under on the percentage is in fact 80, I would take the over.

I have come to this conclusion not primarily from first hand experience with amoral sorts, though I have had such experience, but primarily because I have regularly conducted surveys with students related to ethical communication  and about 4/5ths of the participants typically contend that moral action is not their default tendency.

My sense is that this statistic crosses every demographic category, save perhaps those about to die. And I suspect those on their deathbed are likely to be more ethical because they are afraid that they could get in trouble with someone important so close to judgment time.  My grandfather, an unreconstructed non-believer until the day he died, once shooed away the rabbi who came to visit him in the hospital subsequently confiding to me that people get religion in hospitals for what they sense are pragmatic, not moral, reasons.

So, I don't believe it matters a whole lot if you are a blue collar worker or white collar worker, or rich or poor, or from Arkansas or California.  The odds, I believe, are that most people can't be trusted.

I had a recent experience with the medical profession which supports this view.  For those who know me and might be concerned as this tale unfolds, I write quickly that I am fine and always was fine despite the beginnings of this story.

On Monday last, I was feeling weak and unsteady.  It was the kind of feeling I associate with the flu. Except I had no fever and when I have the flu I run a fever.  I rarely go see a doctor but I was thinking, why not, I pay a fortune monthly for health insurance, I was feeling weak, had a bit of a cough, why not check it out. It was true that just two days prior I had run three miles without difficulty and had done a long walk on Sunday, so how sick could I be. Still, I had not seen my doc in nearly a year, why not check it out.

So I called on Monday noon to make an appointment. My doc was unavailable at the HMO, but another whom I had never seen previously was available. I made an appointment for 420.

When I arrived at 415 or so, I was called in. A nurse's aid took my weight, blood pressure and pulse. In response to her inquiry,  I told her that I was feeling weak and fluie without a temperature.  Another nurse came in and surprisingly administered an EKG.  I had had one of these a couple of years prior and it had been so good that they didn't bother with a stress test that they normally would have done under the circumstances. So I was not surprised when she looked at the EKG and said something like, "looks good."

Moments later the doctor arrived and without so much as putting a stethoscope to my chest or much of a howdy, tells me that I have to go to an emergency room in an ambulance.

Well, as you can imagine this was a bit startling. However, I had my wits about me and knew that I really wasn't feeling that bad.  I asked why I needed to go to the emergency room.  I was told that there was an abnormality on the EKG.  I had a block (not a blockage).  What is a block, I inquired. Something to do with the way the electrical current goes around the heart.

Well, swell. Still, I think this is odd because I regularly do 45 minutes to an hour and a half on the elliptical without really breathing that hard.  I suggest maybe I should see a cardiologist in the HMO.

 "Not after clinic hours" she says.  But it wasnt after clinic hours. It was 430. Why go to an emergency room when there are doctors right in the HMO facility.  I know emergency room fees are expensive. Someone will have to pay for the treatment there.  Why not take care of me right in the HMO.  I know my regular doctor would never send me to the er for something like this, so I am puzzled.

With my doctor du jour, I prevailed on the ambulance front and drove myself to the er. There I saw

  • a triage nurse (ka ching) who I tell that I am feeling weak and tired.  
  • A guy who takes an electrocardiagram (who sees the one taken at the HMO and can't find an abnormality, nor can he find an abnormality in the one he takes, but ka ching), 
  • a nurse (ka ching) who I tell I am feeling weak, but do not know why I am in the emergency room.
  •  A physicians assistant and her assistant (ka ching) who I tell I am feeling weak but by this time am not sure if I am feeling weak, but just want the story to be consistent.  
  • Then I tell the emergency room doctor that I am feeling weak (ka ching).  He can't seem to find anything wrong with me.
In the meantime the assorted health providers are sticking stuff in my nose and arm, probably wondering themselves why the hell I am in the emergency room. They are all very nice and thorough, but except for feeling weak and flu-like there is not much that they can detect. I am given a bag of glucose (ka ching) because maybe I am dehydrated.

(There are gaps in the visits from the various health providers so I am glad I brought a book to read. The good news is I had the book. The bad news is the book-- "The Year of Magical Thinking"-- is about a man who suddenly and inexplicably drops dead of a heart attack).

The thing is, it is becoming clear to me that it is becoming clear to them that there is nothing wrong with me worth visiting an emergency room.  I am getting my version of ornery in the ER, when finally five hours after I arrived the nurse comes in with my discharge papers.

The discharge papers include what is written in bold as Diagnosis.  Their diagnosis for me, someone who came in to the HMO feeling weak and unsteady, is one word:  WEAKNESS.

I am, they tell me, fine. They also mention when pressed that the original doctor in the HMO misread the EKG.  I am told to drink fluids and rest.

Very expensive wisdom.

This could be a case of incompetence as opposed to unethical behavior, but I am not convinced.  Someone is going to make a lot of money on my emergency room visit. And I do not believe the motivation was to ensure my health. I think a motivation could have been irrresponsibility or laziness. But the hospital and HMO made some money because of it.

I am fine.  Went to work the next day. Just did my hour on the elliptical a little while ago.  But I thank the citizens of the US who pay for the irresponsibility of the medical industry for letting me know that last week I was experiencing weakness.

Who can you trust?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lin or Anthony

Who would you rather have on your team if you had to select one or the other, Jeremy Lin or Carmelo Anthony?

For those not in the know, Carmelo Anthony would beat Jeremy Lin 15-5 in a game of one on one. He can shoot better, moves to the hoop as well as anyone in the game, and when he wants to can play great defense.  Carmelo Anthony went to Syracuse and as a freshman led the Orange to the national championship. After that he left to play in the NBA.  Jeremy Lin went to Harvard, played all four years during which Harvard did not go to the NCAA tournament and was undrafted when he originally sought out to play in the NBA.

However, if the Knicks had to select one or the other to give them a better chance at beating the Heat tomorrow night, they would at least hesitate before taking Anthony, or perhaps select Lin.

So, why is that. How is it possible that a player that is better than another can be less valuable than someone less talented.

The reason is that in a team sport--and basketball is an ultimate team sport no matter how they measure the prospective athletes--the whole is either greater or lesser than the sum of its parts. It is not equal to the sum of its parts.  And what can make a team greater than the sum of its parts is a player who distributes the basketball. And what can make a team less than the sum of its parts is a player who does not involve teammates.

Let's say a weaker player can shoot 60 per cent when nobody is guarding him and 30 per cent when someone is guarding him.  And a great player can shoot 80 per cent when nobody is guarding her or him, and 50 per cent when they are being guarded.  This would mean that a distributor who can get the ball to the weaker teammates will allow the teammates to take shots at 60 percent whereas a better player who is well defended and taking shots will be shooting at a lower rate.

There are other reasons why distributors like Lin, Steve Nash, or Chris Paul or Magic Johnson in his heyday might be more valuable than "better players" but the biggest reason is that the distributors increase the percentages of those who take the shots because they find those players when they are open.

Take Lin over Anthony and the Knicks have this series tied at two games a piece, and Stoudamire does not get frustrated because he did not get the ball and does not cut his hand missing the game.  Without Lin on Wednesday, the Heat will pummel the Knicks.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Selective Perception

Communication studies, and other areas of study for example psychology and sociology, examine the phenomenon of selectivity in listening and human interaction.  There is selective exposure, attention, perception, and retention.  In a nutshell you expose yourself to messages that you might want to hear, pay attention to what you desire to, perceive meaning by filtering out that which is not palatable and remember what you want.  The classic example academics like to use occurs when a student asks what she or he needs to pass a course. The professor replies, "well you have not attended  the class except for one time when you were lookng at your blackberry, don't seem to listen, and have not scored well on all the other exams.  I guess it's not impossible that you could pass if you somehow reverse direction and study like mad for the final but it is highly unlikely."  If the student leaves and says to her or himself, "no problem, all I have to do is study and I will pass" you have an example of selective perception.

It's easy to shake your head when you hear such a story, but the fact is that if you are someone who selectively perceives you may be unaware of the tendency. And if you are unaware of your tendencies you could go through life assuming that you listen dispassionately and are not filtering out what you don't want to hear. 

I think what makes people successful in life is their willingness to look themselves in the mirror and ask if they hear just what they want to hear or listen to it all even when "all" can be bruising.   Athletes who will not hear that they have a weakness when they bat, will always blame something for their low batting average.  The ones who listen to coaching can remedy the problems.  The same is true outside the arena.  When someone tells you that you have been a goof, and you should know better because you are smart--you can't walk away thinking that the other thinks you are smart if you want to avoid a goofball tag.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May 4, 1970

Tomorrow, May 4th, is graduation day at my university.  It is a big celebration and I think we do it up right.  The university rents out the TD Garden, formerly (and informally) called the Boston Garden.  Students pour into the arena and parents fill the seats.  It is so popular that the 19000 seats are sold out such that you can get a pretty nice dollar for an extra ticket on CraigsList.

I will attend the ceremony and I know, as was the case last year, I will enjoy seeing the parents and students smile through the day.

I do think it is important to remember tomorrow, for all of us who have an opportunity to celebrate any aspect of this wonderful life gift--whether it is a graduation day or a Friday or just a day when you have to go to work and do nothing special...I think it is important to remember tomorrow that on May 4th 1970 four students were murdered at Kent State University.  And the killers got away with it.