Saturday, December 19, 2015


I got out of the house for the first time in a while today.  A friend drove me to the city where my school, Northeastern, was playing against the number 1 team in the nation Michigan State University.

This was a big game for us.  We typically play the likes of James Madison University, William and Mary, and Hofstra.  This year we did in fact play and defeat the University of Miami, but that was an aberration and besides Michigan State is the best team in the country.

Usually you can buy a seat at our arena and then sit anywhere you would like.  Our team does not draw that many fans. This game was sold out. Just packed. I knew someone in the athletic department and because I am, temporarily, disabled was able to get two tickets in the disabilities section despite the fact that there were armies of people who could not get into the game.

For the first ten minutes we hung with Michigan State, but then the talent disparity became very apparent.  Our studs looked like benchwarmers compared to their players.  And in the second half we just looked exhausted, having expended all energy at the start. We tried to press and they went through the defense like we were standing nailed to the floor.

Lots of people sporting Michigan State tee shirts and jerseys in the stands.  Right near us there was a pack of MSU supporters. Our fans outnumbered theirs, but they had a loyal following coming a thousand miles or so to Boston.  A healthy bunch of people (prior to noon) banging them back in the alcohol section of the arena.

The take away for me from the game is the unevenness in talent. Northeastern has some excellent players.  They looked like the JV compared to MSU in the second half.  The players we recruited and thought were finds when they accepted our scholarships would not have been considered by Michigan State.

Probably the same way in all types of work. You think you are an excellent writer, then you read someone who truly is an excellent writer.  I guess the trick is to find a vocation in which you are the MSU of that particular activity.  So, you decide to be a teacher and you are the cat's meow as a teacher. You become a plumber, and nobody can fix pipes like you.  You play the piano and you are among the piano players piano players.

If MSU is not playing in the final four this year, I want to see the players who can defeat them. They are now 12-0.  And boy did they look good.

For me today was a grand contrast to the days that have preceded it.  Just felt so energized and alive at the arena. What a buzz. The choreography of the game. Fans yelling. Cheerleaders screaming whatever they scream.  Coaches exhorting their players. Our athletic director, a great AD and fellow, walking around and shaking hands with alums and well wishers.  Just a joy.

And since I have not been out much in a spell, it was a rude awakening to wait on the corner for my buddy to come by and pick me up after the game.  It felt like Alaska out in Boston today.  I hear it has been warm mostly, but today as the wind whistled through my coat and pickled my gizzards, the tropics seemed particularly attractive.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Children Act

The Children Act by Ian McEwan is about a family court judge. Fiona listens to cases dealing with child custody, safety, and assorted other family issues.  We are introduced to several of her cases but one in particular is central to the novel.  A seventeen year old boy needs a blood transfusion to stay alive.  His parents are born again Jehovah's Witnesses and believe that transfusions are not permissible in the eyes of God.  The boy has been reared in the church and is also adamant about adhering to the word of God even though, without a transfusion, he knows he will die.  Since the boy is months short of 18, he cannot make the decision himself.  The hospital is arguing that there is a procedure that will save the boy--the transfusion. The church and parents are adamantly against it. Fiona will make this life or death decision.

Fiona is experiencing a disorienting event at home. Her husband for many years has announced that he would like to have an affair and, essentially, would like her permission.  Fiona is stunned. Jack asserts his love for Fiona but says he needs to be intimate in a way they have not been. Fiona thinks the affair may be a fait accompli, but Jack will not confirm that.  Fiona does not support his wish, so he packs a suitcase and leaves their home.

Bruised, of course, Fiona staggers to work and decides to change the locks on the doors.  She calls a locksmith and then immerses herself in the various cases including the one with Adam Henry, the 17 year old boy with leukemia.

If you want to read this book, stop after this paragraph.  It is a short book and, while a bit disjointed, i will attribute that assessment to my being not in the best place while reading it.  I am glad I read it, as it is as sweet and soft as young Adam Henry the 17 year old Jehovah's Witness.  And, ultimately, it is about our foundational need for love.

Fiona decides she must meet with Adam in the hospital before she renders her decision.  The boy is smart, funny, creative but certain that the word of God compels him to reject the transfusion. She reminds him that she has the power to allow the hospital to administer the transfusion. He says he knows that and says that if she does so, it would make her an "interfering busybody." He then reads some poetry he has written and plays the violin for her.

Fiona leaves and decides to find for the hospital. The boy receives the transfusion.

Meanwhile, one day shortly after he left, Fiona finds Jack at the door to their home sitting on top of his suitcase. She lets him in, but he is relegated to a spare bedroom.

The book evolves from there and what transpires is meaningful and substantive.  It comes down to this. We need love. We seek love. It is our foundation. And whatever we do, whatever decisions we make, should be made with that awareness.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

referee bashing

Last week especially, it was open season on the NFL refs.  Everyone was piling on grousing about how poorly they were officiating the games.

Fans have a short memory. A few years back the referees went on strike. The NFL brought in replacement referees to officiate the games.  They were awful. Keystone Kops. And it became glaring, at that time--since forgotten--how good the real officials are.

Football rules are far more nuanced than any of the other major sports. What constitutes a catch, being down, pass interference, holding, unnecessary roughness--are largely subjective decisions based on allegedly objective criteria. For example,  in order to claim that a catch has been made the receiver has to be able to make a football move. That is the objective criterion. But the official has to determine if a move is a "football move".  Not so easy.

Last week against the Patriots, the officials made a big mistake which they quickly admitted. In the Ravens game a week or so back, the officials made another error which did in fact cost Baltimore the game.  They were indeed bad calls.

But how about the overwhelmingly correct calls they make. And how about the fact that all the players make errors too. The officials are no more robotic than the players.  They are entitled, every once in a while, to some slack.

Some talking heads in a control room who couldn't remember a grocery list and barely know the rules themselves, get together and squawk about the outrageous officiating. "How could they not see that? Don't they know the rules?" I am not joking when I write that if I had a dollar for every time I have heard an announcer make a statement that reflects ignorance of the rules, I would be loaded.

Give it a rest. Look in the mirror.

My only problems with referees occur when I think they are being influenced by the crowd or, worse, are somehow prejudicial.  I have seen that happen and it is infuriating.  The Colts do not go to the super bowl for the 2006 season unless somehow Troy Brown is called for holding on a play when he was not in the same time zone as the alleged offense.  It was a crowd influenced call at best.

I do have a beef with referees when they do not know the rules.  With the NFL though it is amazing to me that they know all the rules they know. Occasionally, I will hear an official describe what took place and it is like a doctoral student describing a bit of research that nobody ever knew existed.

Get off the NFL referees backs. And try to remember what it was like when Harpo, Chico, and Groucho substituted for them.


Thanksgiving is over.  What is left is the suet we need to purge. I certainly did my part to support the farmers.  Pre meal, meal, desserts. Did not want to offend any of the cooks or bakers.  My cousin's daughter Sara, prepared the feast.  And, she told us, that she ran a five mile race in the morning.

The food was wonderful.  However what provided the greatest nourishment, truly, was the clan. Quite a concentration of Zaremba people in the photo above. Might be a record of some sort for Zarembas in one room outside of Poland. It was so wonderful to be with them.  I was dragging a bit on Thursday morning, but as time passed at Chez Zaremba during the day I felt physically healthier.

At one point I imagined my parents and my uncle and aunt--who used to host.  I imagined them sitting around us, behind the dining table, kvelling because we were celebrating the holiday together.  I could hear them whispering among themselves--"Who is this little one. Who is that one?" None of these ancestors ever met Sophie. My uncle had not met two of his grandkids, now big boys.

Jack reads his little speech about what he is thankful for.  He was thankful for three things. One was his sister because she is so cyoot. (his spelling). The other two things can be summarized. He was thankful to be sitting in this room being nourished by a loving family.  Me too Jack.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Je suis

Just last weekend we all were stunned by the news of the massacre in Paris. I wrote in this blog how such acts have an insidious effect on us all. They permeate our consciousness and overtly or subtly affect our daily behaviors.

There is a scholar named Diane Vaughn who wrote about something she called The Normalization of Deviance.  What she suggested was that sometimes we get used to inappropriate/deviant behavior to the extent that it becomes normalized and essentially not considered wrong.  For example, when someone justifies a behavior that you know is inappropriate by saying, "everyone does it", they are providing an example of how people can behave reprehensibly yet not necessarily acknowledge their transgressions because similar activities have become normal.

Say, for another example, you are an educator and colleagues take excessive sick days, that is days on which they are not really sick. The colleagues take the time off because they know that they can get away with it. Well, if all colleagues in the school begin to do the same, it may become normal to use up all your sick time as vacation time.

One more example, assume you are in sales, and lie about the qualities of the product you are peddling. If you cease to consider the lie inappropriate because it has become so common in your line of work, then that deviance has become normalized. You don't even consider it lying.

I noticed two posts this past week that made me sit upright. The first came from my cousin who reported that there had been, yet again, a series of murders in Israel.  One of the victims actually had been a graduate of the same school my cousin had attended in Queens as a youngster.  My cousin posted a photograph of the massacre and wrote something along the lines of "I am waiting for the Je Suis Israel" signs to pervade social media.  Then a blog from an attorney named Micha Danzig was posted that was entitled, "Jewish Lives Just Don't Matter-as Much."  It was a powerful article that made the argument that when there are massacres in Paris the world, appropriately, is horrified and expresses outrage.  But when routinely citizens in Israel are killed, the reaction is not as loud.

Perhaps this is because that killings in the middle east have become normalized. We have become used to the horrific deviance in that part of the world. It has been close to forty years since I visited Israel, but one of my vivid memories of my stay was of being on a bus and hearing that there had been a bombing in an open market. And the reaction on the bus was not nearly as great as it would have been if say at Haymarket-- the public open market in downtown Boston--there had been such an attack.  People on that Tel Aviv bus just shook their heads.  Few gasps and no shouts of outrage. Political killing had become normalized.

But is there something else here?  Is it possible that Jewish lives really do not matter as much? That people are not as concerned with Israel as they are with France. One has to be careful to see Jew haters everywhere, but it struck me odd to realize that just shortly after the killings in Paris, killings in Israel barely made the news. There were, to be sure, fewer murdered in Israel this week than in Paris last weekend, but nevertheless the outrage was muted.

It would be nice to think that this is just a matter of people being numb to the horrors of the middle east.  But I am not sure that would be the accurate take here.  We should all stand up and be, as if we are the victims when there are horrific murders for no good reason. Je suis human. Nous sommes human.

And surely as we approach holiday time in the West we need to be very very vigilant against those who cite religion as a justification for inhumane behavior.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Unlikely Events

Judy Blume is best known for her young adult novels that addressed topics that had previously been taboo.  Premarital sex, menstruation, divorce...her stories were not from Ozzie and Harriet.  Her books were very popular and she has had quite a following.

In the late seventies she tried her hand at adult novels with a book called Wifey.  I read it and thought it was pretty good.  It would not, in my opinion, have made her famous and wealthy in the same way her children's and young adult books had, but it was a better than average read.

A few weeks back I saw a review for a new adult book by Judy Blume called, In the Unlikely Event. I don't typically like to read reviews because they sometimes give things away.  I do skim reviews trying to get a sense if the reviewer is panning the book and to get the gist.  I don't like science fiction stories much or those with a lot of gratuitous killing.  So, I skim the reviews.  I saw when I skimmed this one that Blume had actually written at least one other adult novel--in addition to the just published one-- which had been positively received.

I was in the library and saw In the Unlikely Event on the "new books" shelf and took it out.  I just completed it this afternoon. After I was done I went on line and read, not skimmed, several reviews that appeared on Amazon and elsewhere. For the most part people liked the book, and some liked it a lot.  I am not among those.

There was not a whole lot there and I thought the writing was not particularly engaging. The story is about a number of people who lived in New Jersey in 1952 and witnessed three plane crashes within a few months.  While the book is a novel, the three crashes did in fact occur near Newark airport in 1951-52.

There are a slew of characters and outside of the main four or five, it was tough to keep them apart.  There is a teenager, her mother, her mother's mother, the grandmother's beau, an absentee father, a dentist, the dentist's wife, lover, assistants, daughters, and son.   And there are many others.  I'd say that the side stories were irrelevant except that would suggest there was something central in the book to which side stories could be relevant.  The book is about people who happened to live near the crashes. While a couple of these people were directly affected by the crashes, the others were going through the throes of life that all of us go through or might go through.  Blume tries to make the case that their lives were all affected by the trauma.  I'm sure there was a community that developed because all had witnessed this strange coincidence. But most of their issues were not created because of the crashes.  The absentee father's brief return; a divorce; an elopement; a teenage break up--all part of this book---had not a whole lot to do with the crash, just that the people who were involved in these side stories also happened to live where the crashes took place.

I can't recommend the book on any front.  It was interesting to me to find out about the crashes because I had no knowledge of these events, but beside that--as I understand younguns now say--"meh."

Finally, while the book is billed as an adult novel, there are times when it reads like a young adult story both in terms of what the teenager who is the main character experiences, and how the book is written.

Blume has a well deserved reputation as an excellent young adult author.  I think the positive reaction to this novel is a carry-over based on her reputation.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris

This famous line from Casablanca takes on new meaning today.  In the movie it refers to lovers who have shared a romance that can not be extinguished.  Humphrey Bogart, while in Paris, falls in love with Ingrid Bergman who is under the assumption that her husband has died in war.  Bogart and Bergman have a wonderfully intense romance in Paris.

The husband, however, has not died and reunites with Bergman. When she with her husband visit Casablanca they run into Bogart.  Bogart and Bergman still feel the affection but cannot express it. Bogart tells Bergman that, regardless, they will always have Paris.

So it is with lovers.  If you are truly in love, it does not go away. You'll always have it.

Yesterday, the latest group of cowards acting in the name of absurdity, killed 128 innocent people in Paris.  And now the world will always have Paris.

We will always have the fear that some fanatic could surface and attempt a slaughter.  Every time we get on a plane we are reminded of the worthless detritus who perpetrated 9/11.  Who can tell to what extent life and joy will be affected because of yesterday's act. Will people be reluctant to go to a concert hall, football game, restaurant? Even if just for today 11/14/15 you were planning a trip to the city to see a show, might the acts in Paris make you pause?

The best defense to such cowardice is to go on living as one would have had there been no murders.  But even if we are able to do that, we will, at least on some occasions, be affected as thoughts of what could be make us hesitate when we consider activity.  Lovers do this too. A broken heart can affect the willingness for someone to embark again on romance.  But I think in this instance the damage from the terrorists is more overwhelming.  And that is saying something.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I went to a very good high school. People moved to my town because of the schools.  In 11th and 12th grade I took American history and did very well. In 10th grade I took World History and did well.  In college I took a course in the spring semester of my freshman year called, American History from 1865 to the present.  I was still a diligent student at the time. As a sophomore I took World History at a time when I had begun to become well, sophomoric, for a spell. So the intensity of my studying was not as great as it had been in that course.

Still, I took 2 1/2 years of American history, and 1 1/2 years of World History.

And it wasn't until I was a graduate student when-while reading a novel --that I came across a reference to Kristallnacht.  I was at home at the time visiting my parents.  Since the book was a novel, I was not sure if the event actually had occurred or if it was the creation of the author. So, I asked my folks if they had ever heard of Kristallnacht. They had, of course.

But how had I not?

Truly, I had been--in high school at least-- an industrious history student. There is a story there about how I became so, but that is for another time.  There were statewide exams in New York for American and World History and I think I scored above a 95 in each.

And yet I had never heard of Kristallnacht until I happened across a reference in a novel.

Yesterday I was thumbing through facebook when I saw that someone had posted a reference to the anniversary of the event.    I decided to post a photo as my own comment on the importance of remembering what occurred.  So I typed in Kristallnacht in google and looked at many photos.

The one I have included here was the most unnerving.  All the pictures depicted the shattered glass, but this one included something else.

Take a good look at the photo.  What is most troublesome about it to me is not the shattered glass of the storefront, but the two smiling pedestrians, enjoying the horror.

They are likely dead. They look to be about 40 in the photo taken about 80 years ago.  But what about their legacy. Did they have children? Did they teach their children that somehow the holocaust--or this precursor to it--made sense? What about their children's children? And theirs? How do they feel when they see these smiling faces?  How could there be smiling faces after Kristallnacht?

One person who commented on the photo wrote something along the following lines.  Would there be smiling citizens in the US if some of the xenophobic and superficially patriotic politicians get their way?

I think the answer is yes.  Not in the 1930s. Not in the 1950s in Little Rock.  In 2015. In red and blue states.  A good number of people smiling, over something like this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


When I was about thirteen my brother and I would play touch football in the street with a pal of his and that friend's older brother. Richie and Brian Moore. One day we were getting silly and changed the rules. We decided that you could throw a pass in any direction forward or backward even after you crossed whatever passed for the line of scrimmage. The older brother, Brian, started calling the game umba, pronounced ooombah.

So in the huddle we would say the play would be the umba as in, "okay, third down, let's do the umba." This meant you passed the ball and then started lateraling the ball back, and tossing it forward effectively playing keep-away with the defenders.

Occasionally you see professional or college teams playing a version of umba at the end of the game. A team that is behind and has no real chance to score on a conventional play will start lateralling the ball backwards in the hope that someone will get free and eventually score.

One cannot do the full umba in real football because one cannot pass a ball forward once it has crossed the line of scrimmage (starting point) for a play.  But you see teams passing the ball backwards hoping that someone might be able to, miraculously, move forward. Ninety nine times out of one hundred, the play ends with nothing close to a score.

Prior to last weekend the two most famous umba successes occurred in a (a) 1999 playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans in which the the Titans actually threw only one lateral and (b) a Cal/Berkely Stanford game in the 80s in which there were five umbas. The Cal player scoring the touchdown actually slammed into the Stanford band at the end of the game as the marchers had come onto the field thinking the game was over.

On Saturday, however, the University of Miami played the umba like nobody else with eight laterals (some count nine) before scoring.  The enthusiasm for the Miami victory has been muted as, after the game, officials declared that the referees made errors in allowing the score.  Still it was called good at the end of the game and was something to behold.

Wherever Richie and Brian Moore are, and we have not seen them in over 50 years, they are smiling. When an umba play did not work, Brian was wont to say that "we could not do the umba for an umba bean."  Miami did the umba like the best umba bean of all time.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


This is the one time of year when all four of the major sports leagues are in action at the same time. Hockey is a few weeks into its season, Basketball recently started, Football--incredibly-is at the midway point, and Baseball in the World Series.

The success of the leagues with the enormous salaries paid to its athletes, the extensive media coverage, and the now pervasive fantasy league spinoffs, indicates just how important sport is to the people who follow the games. It has been a while since I was a fanatic Met fan, but my New York cronies who are still supporters, are not too far short of crazy worrying about the team. I get it. If it were not for the fan enthusiasm there would be no espn, and I could not-tomorrow (I actually will not, but could) watch football from 9:30 in the morning until close to midnight.

So, fandom is real. People revel in sports. Baseball is called the national pastime. All sports are pastimes for so many.

All this is preamble.

I have found myself this season very much caught up with the New England Patriots. I have always been a fan, but now the feeling is more intense.  Last Sunday I had to listen to half the game on the radio. That was okay, but I timed the drive home so I could listen to the first half while on the road and get into the house in time for the third quarter. I did not want to miss a play.

The Patriots are undefeated and I find myself fist pumping after each victory more than ever.  It's not because I have become long in the tooth and really not because I am any more of a football fan than I had been previously. In fact, tomorrow the Patriots are not playing and I probably won't watch any of the four games that will be broadcast from beginning to end. I'm not that interested in the games in general. I am interested only in the Patriots winning.

And here is why.

Last year after the Patriots won the AFC championship game the fans of the team were (yes I am aware of the pun) deflated. We were deflated because of one of the more fakakta incomprehensible sporting side stories of all time.  Instead of being able to enjoy the victory and excited about the superbowl, we had to listen to losers whine about why they lost.  Moreover, we had to endure listening to the support of the commissioner of the league, who was leading the way of a spurious investigation.

The celebration after the superbowl victory was subdued as well as the "independent" investigation continued. I wrote throughout the off season that I feared that the commissioner had a smoking gun that would identify the Patriots as compromising the game. Otherwise why would he be so persistent. He had to know this was a blow to the fandom.

There was no smoking gun. The investigation took forever and when the dust cleared it became clear to anyone who had a half a brain, that there was absolutely no evidence that the Patriots had done anything wrong. Even the absurd allegation that the quarterback was "more likely than not" "generally aware" of someone else's transgressions could not be supported. No proof of transgressions. No proof of someone being "generally aware" of someone's transgressions.

The reason I want the Patriots to win so much is to take the face of the commissioner and rub his snout in the foulest of odors.  Fandom is what makes the league, and the tv contracts, and the players' salaries. Fandom is what makes the commissioner a very rich man and the owners very rich.  Fandom is why from 930 tomorrow morning until midnight advertisers will pay more for one thirty second ad than you or I will make in several years.

So, I want the Patriots to win all their games and then have the commissioner have to stand on a podium and hand over the trophy to the team he dragged through the mud. And I want him to experience the wrath of the people who pay his salary.

That would be justice.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Three Days in August--Review

I've had this book on my bookshelf for quite some time.  I was looking for something appropriate to read for these days so I pulled it out and dusted it off.

Three Days in August is about baseball, specifically three days in the life of Cardinals former manager Tony La Russa. La Russa has been an effective manager wherever he has been employed. Buzz Bissinger the author of Three Days in August and also the author of Friday Night Lights, had taken a liking to La Russa so he thought to write about the manager's approach to the game and the game itself.

While the book is primarily about a three game series with the Cubs in August 2003, there are digressions to events in the past that relate to players and coaches in the 2003 series. For the most part, though, this is an inning by inning analysis of what takes place--from the manager's perspective--during a ballgame.

I love baseball. It was the first game my dad explained to me and I can remember taking a book out of the library written for kids about the nuances of the game. I was only about 8 but I came as close to studying the book as I studied anything as an 8 year old. I had pictures of the New York baseball Giants scotch taped to the wall in my bedroom.  I follow the Red Sox ardently and was a crazy lunatic New York Mets baseball fan when I was still living in New York.

With all that, I found this book too dense and detailed. Yes, it was interesting to know what La Russo was thinking when he was deciding about a hit and run, or how pitchers are looking for very specific portions of the plate for specific pitches, but, even for a fan, it seemed too much.

Bissinger writes very very well. Friday Night Lights, the book, is probably the best sports book I have ever read and I have read many sports books.  It is just a terrific depiction of Texas high school football. Just a great read. His writing abilities make this book as good as it is. His love for the game and respect for those who understand its intricacies comes out of nearly every page.

Still despite the excellent writing, you will have to love baseball a lot to love this book. I think that if you spent your life as a coach you, too, might love the book.  And, if you just want to get a better sense out of Tony La Russa you will find the book valuable. I have a much better sense of the type of man he is after reading the book. In that way, a goal of Three Days in August has been met.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fetzey Second

Mom and Dad

You used to tell me that when I was a tot I said my birthday was "october fetzey second".  It was the Fetzy second yesterday.  I missed your phone call.  I took this picture mid day. It's what I look like now.

All is well.  Saw Bobby last weekend. We were in Florida dealing with the bankers, insurance agent, plumbers, and assorted others.  Let me tell you, you did not pick the brightest bankers in the world. Between the three big shots there (not the low life tellers) none could figure out how to open the safe deposit box. There is an expert who was not there who will return on Monday.  Great.  Just cost the two of us another grand to fly down there and get the box.

The plumbing company you contracted for came out for the sink filter.  The instructions you wrote about how to change the filter must not have been accurate. Bobby almost got a hernia trying to yank the filter out.  We called the plumber who himself nearly collapsed and he had some tools.  Also, we discovered "extended" plumbing does not extend to the plumbing we needed to address.  So, ka-ching for the plumber.

Saw Wally and Ona and Brownie.  Went out to dinner and regaled each other with tales of Chicopee. Your names, of course, invoked with genuine reverence.

Matt called me yesterday. Jack is great and Sophie is right behind him.  Jack is in first grade now and wowing the elementary school.  Sophie into everything.  Shannon and Matt broaden the dimensions to multi-tasking. Last week Matt finished work, drove to Bordentown, trained to Brooklyn, ran a half marathon, and then joined Bobby and his clan at MSG for a hockey game.

We went through a box of cards you had in the closet.  Did you keep everything? Everytime we are down there, we find some nook where there are cards and photos.  You two were really love birds.  So beautiful in your letters to one another.  Found photos I had never seen before.

Still hear people around the complex speaking about how special you are.

Mets are in the World Series.  Patriots are undefeated. Leaves are falling. Starting to get chilly up north.

It was a happy day yesterday except every so often--as I do on non birthdays as well--I figure I will have a chance to talk with you.

I hope you can read this.  I doubt it, but as you would often say, dad, "what the hell do I know?"

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hail to the Victors Valiant?

If you are a sports fan and have been around the track a few times you've seen some startling endings to games.  Not sure anyone has seen a more stunning ending than the conclusion of the Michigan State//MIchigan game last evening.

I have a friend whose son went to Michigan. In June he starts talking about the Wolverines and assessing the team's chances. He once flew on New Years day morning, across country for a Rose Bowl game in which Michigan competed, and took the red eye that night back to New York after the game ended.  I figure my friend, Gary, is still sitting like a statue with his mouth open now ten hours after last night's game's end.

Michigan State and Michigan are intense rivals.  Michigan State is undefeated. Coming into last night Michigan had only one loss.  Big game.  100,000 people in the stands. Hail the Victor's Valiant, the Michigan fight song blasting from the band throughout the contest.

With seconds left in the game Michigan held what appeared to be an absolutely insurmountable two point lead.  It was fourth down at around the fifty yard line and Michigan had the ball.  Punt it away and the nine seconds on the clock would evaporate. MSU did not even have a returner ready to catch the punt. They were coming in for the block in a one in a million attempt to block the punt, grab the rebound, and run into the endzone.

No block was necessary.  The nine seconds evaporated alright.  The Michigan punter dropped the snap and then fumbled and bumbled the ball into the hands of an MSU defender who ran into the endzone. End of game. Michigan State wins. Victors Valiant, Not.

Trust me, Believe me. (1) The punter for Michigan did not sleep last night.(2) The punter called his mama last night. (3) My friend Gary is not happy.

For those who wonder about the inherent value of sport vs. the value derived from betting on the game, the peculiar outcome did not affect bettors who, mostly, bet against the spread. Michigan was giving about 6 points. So win by two or lose by 4 you still are a betting loser if you bet on Michigan.  All those people who cheer for MSU and are dancing in the street still, are not doing so because they won a bet--they would have won anyway.  They are dancing because of how much sport can affect the joy in one's life.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

One and Done

The phrase "one and done" means different things to sports fans depending on the season and context. In the NCAA tournament one and done means that a loss in the tournament results in a team's elimination.  In the world of college basketball recruiting, one and done refers to outstanding players who compete for a college for one year and one year only, before leaving school (to whatever extent they were "in" school) to play professionally. Their college careers are one year, and done.

In the world of baseball, the wildcard playoff games--which concluded last night--one and done means that the four teams that are eligible to play for a championship by virtue of winning the wildcard berths, play a one game, winner-take-all contest to determine which team advances.

There are some baseball followers, especially those in New York and Pittsburgh this morning, who contend that one and done games in the baseball playoffs are cruel ways to end a season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, won 97 games during the regular season.  They had the third best record in all of baseball.  The Chicago Cubs won 98 games, the second best record in baseball.  However, because they played in a division that was home to the Cardinals, a team that won one hundred games, both the Cubs and Pirates had to play a one and done game last night. The Pirates lost, so they are done.

Is this fair?  Does it make sense that now there are eight teams left in the baseball tournament, none are the Pittsburgh Pirates, and of the remaining teams, six of the eight have records far inferior to the Pirates' record?

I might feel differently if I lived in Pittsburgh now or cheered for the Yankees--another one and done victim-albeit a victim with not nearly the stellar record of the Pirates.   However, my sense as a sports fan and commentator is that one and done in the baseball playoffs is fair and essential for the league.

Three years ago baseball had one wild card team per league.  The three division leaders in each league were automatically eligible to compete for the championship. A fourth team--a wild card--was eligible and that team was selected on the basis of the best record among teams that had not one its division.

So, there were four teams in each league competing.  The victor of one three out of five playoff series, would play the victor of another three out of five series, with the successful teams playing a four out of seven series to determine which team would represent the league and compete for the world series.

The problem with this format was that the Wild Card team--that had NOT won a division after 162 games--competed in the playoffs at essentially the same level as a team that had been victorious in its division.

The baseball regular season is a seven month competition to determine who can advance to play for a championship.  It must mean something to prevail within your division after seven months of competition. The reward for such success is that you do NOT have to play in a one and done game.  At the very least you compete in a three out of five series.

So the Pirates and Cubs were obliged to play one and done, because they could not, after seven months, overcome the Cardinals.  If a team wants to avoid the pressure of having to play a one and done series, the burden on them is to compete diligently all season long to ensure they win a division.

This is not to suggest that the wild card teams do not compete diligently. The Cubs, Pirates, Yankees, and Astros--this year's four wild card teams--did indeed play hard. But they did not win the division.  Baseball purists and those old enough to remember the Doors and Watergate, know that there was a time when no matter how stellar your season was, you did not advance to a championship series unless you won your league, let alone a division within your league.  Before 1969, only two teams advanced.  No wild cards, no division playoffs, just a world series.  Two teams out of twenty played for all the fruits of victory.  That is ten percent for those mathematically challenged. Now ten teams out of thirty are eligible. Thirty three percent for those who spaced out during arithmetic.  So, the Pirates and the Cubs and the Yankees and the Astros would not have gotten a whiff of post season play if not for the present format.

I like one and done. It rewards the teams that prevail during a long regular season and yet it still gives an opportunity to close pursuers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Saturday night live

When I was an undergraduate, an evening out usually started at around 9 or 10.  There was a particular establishment that did not really get hopping until midnight, such that if you arrived at 10 you would be all by your lonesome. Two hours later you could not gain purchase on the floor as there were so many students in the joint that you were, I am not exaggerating, often aloft among compressed bodies.

Last Saturday the brothers of old KB got together for a reunion of sorts.  There was a mixed atmosphere since the catalyst for the event was the death of a brother several years older than I.  While it was mostly a joyful time there was a eulogy for the fellow who has passed.  The son of the deceased joined us.

The composition of the gathering was such that I sat at the table with the "young guys"--every single one of the young guys eligible for social security.  And several of the older guys were people I had never met.   There was not a soul in the entire room we reserved that had both (a) color in his hair, or (b) hair.  If you were peddling a membership in the hair restoration club or dye, you would have come to the right spot for customers.

Another thing I noticed was, whereas in prior reunions several brothers brought their spouses, the only women in that room were wives of brothers who had married their last college squeeze. In some cases, the girlfriends--now wives-- had dated other brothers in attendance before wedding their dance partner when the music stopped.

It was very good to see my old buddies.  We told old stories, recounted favorable athletic successes, discussed our health, and mused sadly about those of us who were no longer around. A frequent inquiry at this reunion was "are you retired, yet" followed by either "when did you retire" or "when are you going to retire?"

I still find myself smirking about the most amusing thing about the night.  Instead of us starting out the evening at 9, most of us were saying our goodnights at 9.  My buddy Kenny and I were the last to leave and we were out the door about 9:45 around the time when we would begin cavorting when we were kids. The guy who planned the program knew very well who he was dealing with. Cocktail hour did not start at 9, it started at 5. We were seated at 630. They brought out the cake at 830.  Even the young guys started yawning a half hour later.

Kenny and I went out afterwards for a nightcap. After one drink I told him I was falling asleep.  I did not come close to making it until midnight.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Goodell and Brady

In the first three weeks of the season, Tom Brady has led the Patriots to three victories.  In each game his play has been nearly perfect.

One can assume the balls have been inflated properly.

Imagine what kind of competitive advantage he would have had, had the balls been deflated? According to Commissioner Goodell, Brady was culpable for being generally aware that someone else had deflated footballs during last year's AFC championship.  The deflated footballs allegedly provided the Patriots with an advantage.  

Never mind that after the balls were inflated at half time of that championship game, the Patriots went on to play better than they had in the first half. And in the Superbowl two weeks later when noone doubted the proper inflation levels of the balls, the Patriots defeated the Seahawks.

Still, throughout the winter Goodell and his childish toadies continued to deflate the joy of the fans with the silly perpetuation of irrational claims.

I look forward to the Patriots winning the superbowl if Goodell has not been fired by then.  If he is still around, he will have to hand over the trophy to the team that Brady captains. It ought to be an interesting moment for Goodell.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Savage

Next weekend the brothers of old KB are gathering for one of our regular reunions.  In the last ten years or so, it seems like annually a few of us get together and then every few years there's a bigger crew that meet in Albany and hoist a few.

We have met in February to see an Albany basketball game in the daytime and cavort telling tales in the evening as we imbibe far more than we should. "Whatever became of Jane Smith?"  "Who is the woman who got away?"  "What is your biggest regret?" As often we meet in October.

Wiser than when we were actually sophomores, (though we may act sophomorically)  we typically consume not far from, and often right at, the hotel where we will be sleeping it off.

The meeting next week has a somber tone to it. A guy I have met at these reunions,  but never really knew at school since he had a few years on me, passed suddenly a month or so ago.  So the gathering tomorrow is in honor of Marvin who, I have heard from so many others, was one class guy.  But in addition to some somber toasting we will have time to enjoy each other's company, spar about our political attitudes (the rich guys have become Republicans), and reminisce.

Got a call from my buddy Kenny on Thursday telling me he is up for the weekend. Kenny is a remarkable trouper. He spent most of the summer in knee braces after having taken a bad fall on Memorial Day weekend. He came by a month ago and in these Forest Gump braces still walked around town, drove and kept his spirits. I think he still has the braces on. Knowing the considerate, sober, and sarcasm light group of guys who will be there, I can guarantee that after a few minutes of "hope you are feeling okay" his stones will be roasted with quips asking if he is an extra for a Forest Gump sequel or if the metal helps him get Cleveland on the radio. No doubt someone will inquire about how the braces retard his carnal activities.

So, I was thinking of Kenny a moment ago, and I smiled as I thought of a common refrain we utter when we see each other after a spell or speak on the phone. Usually I, but sometimes he, will begin the conversation bellowing the words, "And noone can explain..."

Thinking of that, and Marvin, created a detour in my cerebral meanderings such that I started to think of a fellow we knew whose moniker was The Savage. David Neuman, The Savage--a fellow freshman in 1967 in the freshman dormitory, Waterbury Hall.  A few years ago because of the capabilities of social media, I read that the Savage had passed. I don't know the details.

It was maybe the second week of classes and I, back from the "new" campus where classes were held, was standing on the long serpentine line on the old campus that led to dinner for the Freshmen.  Unless you timed it right, the Freshmen were backed up a winding staircase, waiting for your time to get to the front and then devour the fare for the day, regularly hamburger patties, which we called "hockey pucks."

So, this one day I was standing in line halfway up the staircase. There next to me is this rather short, meek looking fellow.  He introduces himself and within a minute he tells me that "back home they call me the Savage."

He introduces this nickname because he informs me that in the downtown area where we reside there are a lot of "townies" who can cause trouble.  But, he tells me, I need not worry if, he intimates, I stick with him because "back home they call me the savage."

I am a combination of amused and flabbergasted by his claim. I break out into a broad smile and put it to him: "You're kidding. Why do they call you the Savage?"

No smile on this guy.  He responds: "Because I do savage acts."

"Really, what kinds of savage acts have you done?"

"Once hit Hans Schmidt in the back of the leg with an orange."

"Who is Hans Schmidt?"

He goes on tell me that Hans Schmidt is a professional wrestler who was wrestling in Rochester. The Savage hails from a Rochester suburb. He went to an arena apparently for a wrestling match and during the bout chucked an orange at Hans Schmidt.

About this time we were close to the food and I could not get over this Savage guy who kept telling me more stories to prove the point that his handle was appropriate.  Afterwards I told a bunch of buddies about the Savage and we got a charge out of going up to him and asking for other examples of things he had done that were savage

One of my friends in Waterbury had an older brother also at the school. When we told him about the Savage he thought of a prank.  He got a bunch of his cronies together and planned to dress up as "townies" and see just how savage he was.  No attempt at fighting, just poking fun.

So one night in walks these four seniors, dressed like local hoodlums (each of these guys is making over 200 K now easy). We get Savage in his room and into the room come "the townies".  One of the seniors says, "We're a couple of the local boys, we hear you don't like us types, and we (starting to point with his finger) don't like it one bit."

Initially the savage was a bit nervous and wary, but soon afterwards the seniors started laughing and revealed that it was just a gag.  Without missing a beat, the Savage smiled and shook hands around and then whipped out a piece of paper from his desk.  He got up on a chair and began reciting a mega ribald take-off he had written to the beat of a popular song of the day called Ringo.

It was classic hormone driven stuff, about a guy seeking out loose women and one in particular. Ellen.  "The story spread throughout the land, that I had eaten Ellen's gland." 

Sophomoric stuff like that, but what made it funny was not the lyrics but the brassy nature of the guy to go Karaoke on us right after the gag.

The last lines of the real song Ringo ends with

But on his grave they can't explain, the tarnished star above the name of Ringo.

We are hysterical as Savage is going through his parody.  When he gets to the end, he belts out the final lyric with his hand in the air like a marathoner who has just won the Olympics

And noone can explain, the hairy nuts above the name of Ellen!

So when Kenny and I get together we often chant these words from nearly fifty years ago as a reminder of our freshmen year and the Savage. "And no one can explain..."

Lost touch with the guy almost immediately after college, even after the first couple of years of school he seemed to travel in some other circles.  Good guy.

 Rest in Peace, Savage.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

They gave it their best shot

The Patriots gave it their best shot at making me look foolish, but we, the Patriots, won by more than a touchdown. Some seriously poor clock management in the fourth quarter. Had it not been for a circus catch by Amendola who knows what condiments I may have required to make the crow go down well.

Rex Ryan needs to coach a team to have more discipline. The Bills committed so many penalties.  Very amateurish at times.

A prediction here for next week: The Bills will not be able to focus after this tough loss and they will succumb to their next opponent.


It is 1256 pm.  The Bills kick off against the Patriots in less than five minutes.

I guarantee the Patriots will win this game by more than a touchdown.

See you in three hours to either gloat or eat crow.

It is sad that juxtaposed with the game I have to endure watching political ads for first Chris Christie and then Jeb Bush.  It is one of the problems of living close to the New Hampshire border.  This little pisher of a state gets so much attention every four years because the first primary is there.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Time and tide

Nearly twenty years ago a woman in one of my classes approached me and asked me if I knew her father.  Her last name was the same as his, but I had not made the connection. When I looked at her I saw my former fraternity brother very clearly in her.  I had also known her mother--they had met in college.  One day the parents came to visit and the four of us-the daughter, parents, and myself reminisced in my office. She, the daughter, got a kick out of hearing how her teacher and parents could have acted sophomorically at one time.

Within the last ten years I have met with parents of prospective students. Our school has become extremely competitive. One of my roles here is to attempt to describe our programs accurately so that we will attract the best and the brightest to Northeastern.  Often the best and the brightest arrive for their visits with their parents so I have had the opportunity to speak with the folks.  I become unnerved at times when I realize that these parents are often several years my junior and it is the exception to find that we are contemporaries.  References to events that were current for my generation are met with glazed, if polite, looks by these--much more often than not--well educated parents.

Yesterday I had a moment.  We had our annual assembly for faculty in our college. I met and spoke a bit to our new faculty explaining my role here. Some of my colleagues did the same.  There was an election for a senate representative--and then there was a party.  At it, I had the occasion to speak for a second time with a new faculty member.  She told me that she had taken five years off after her undergraduate education before pursuing her doctorate.  We talked a bit about where we were from and she discovered that I had gone to elementary school quite close to where her father had grown up in Brooklyn.  She then mentioned the year when her father graduated from high school. The dad--a father of a professor who began graduate school five years after she completed her undergraduate degree--is younger than I am and not by a little.

Oh, well.  I can still do the elliptical for an hour.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser Part 2.

The behavior of ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and last night--Chris Collingsworth and Al Michaels just are difficult to comprehend.

In the wake of Judge Berman's judgment which excoriated the league--justifiably--,  the NFL and its enforcers have attacked the Patriots in the same way a whiny loser tries to get back at someone who has defeated them.

When the Steelers last night complained about their headsets not working, instead of knowledgeably commenting that the NFL, not individual teams, supply radio equipment, the announcers intimated that the Patriots were "at it again."  Please.  Right after the fiasco known as DeflateGate the Patriots are going to mess with the Steelers' signals?  And shouldn't this august announcing team know that the equipment is not provided by the stadium, but the league?

Collingsworth opined that while he read the forty page decision by Berman there was nothing in it about culpability, rather due process.  Read it again boychick.  The Berman judgment is clear that there is no evidence of culpability and that what passed for evidence was bogus.

The NFL's behavior is unconscionable, and their puerile reaction to losing is even more reprehensible.

Roger Goodell did not have the stones to show up at the stadium. The commissioner did not come to opening day.  Really.

And where are the owners.

This whole matter gets curiouser and curiouser.

Oh, by the way, balls were not deflated last night. Brady was near perfect and the Patriots, yawn--once again--were victorious.

Monday, September 7, 2015


So, a year ago today we had your unveiling. We did both of yours at the same time since you passed so close to one another.  Also, we picked September 7th, because tomorrow the 8th is your anniversary date.  This is a picture from that night.

At the unveiling Jacqui said she imagined that you were holding hands beneath the stones. I don't believe in such things, but if there is a post life, I am sure that is the case.

Happy anniversary mom and dad. Thank you for the foundation.


In the offseason NFL coaches and player personnel representatives attend what is called "the Combine." It is a place where aspiring players come and are tested for attributes.  The team representatives want to see how fast one can run, how high they can jump, how much weight they can bench press, and assorted other capacities.

In each case the assumption must be that players with certain attributes will help a team win.  The identification of the attributes must be based on this assumption. Why test how fast someone can run the forty yard dash unless speed in that distance is key to team victories.

But what if a player is habitually victorious at the college, high school, and in the case of Tim Tebow, professional levels. That is whenever a particular player plays his teams tend to win far more often than they lose.  And what happens when that player does not score as well as others on the various tests.

It would make sense to me that a coach would acknowledge in this eventuality that the criteria identified as those needed for wins cannot be all inclusive.   There must be some other factors that are not measurable or the identification of these other factors has not yet occurred.

The case of Tim Tebow is an interesting one. When he played professionally for the Denver Broncos, the Broncos won.  When he played for the Florida Gators, Florida won.  The player's teams win.  From what I have read, Tebow cannot throw that well and is deficient in other areas.  Yet he wins. Similarly, Doug Flutie did not measure up on various tests. All he did however, like Tebow, was win wherever he played.

Tim Tebow was recently cut by the Philadelphia Eagles because he was not good enough.  The other quarterbacks are allegedly better.  I wonder what these other quarterbacks winning percentages have been. In Flutie's case one of the more astonishing decisions a coach has ever made was when Wade Phillips the then coach of the Buffalo Bills benched Flutie in a playoff game. He was benched despite the fact that Flutie had taken a loser and made it a winner in his two years as starter. He was benched in support of a taller, stronger, quarterback--who had a weaker record as a starter. The Bills lost in the playoff game.

Tom Brady is as good a quarterback as any who is playing in the NFL.  It is important to remember that the only reason he got an opportunity to play is because a player who excelled on all the Combine tests was injured. When Drew Bledsoe was injured Brady came in and had an opportunity to show how good he was. Juxtapose Bledsoe's Combine scores with Brady's, and Bledsoe had a clear edge.  Yet, Brady's win loss record is far superior to Bledsoe's.

I think some humility is necessary among those who claim to be experts.  Just because you cannot identify a factor that contributes to winning does not mean that that factor does not exist. If I was the coach of the Jaguars, or Buccaneers, or Raiders or any of the teams that are habitual losers, I would give the ball to Tebow until he started to lose.  And if that did not happen, rejoice, admit you don't have all the answers, and continue to give him the ball.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Zarembra and Goodell

My brother and I have been having trouble with the bank where my parents' funds were located. We had addressed what needed to be addressed for us to access the account and have a document to that effect. However, the person who created the document is no longer with the bank. He has been fired and there is no record of our interaction on the bank computers.  When we presented another banker with the document she told us it was worthless.

Annoyed and very frustrated, we had to go through  the whole process again. In the meantime the bank stopped payment on checks--that we had been told by the fired banker--that we could write. We had to deal with calling the companies, apologizing, and requesting the waiving of penalty fees.

Finally after resending materials to the bank we received a mailing back that included a document. On the document our information had been typed in. In order to proceed we were told we simply had to sign on the dotted lines to obtain access to the funds.

Unfortunately when we received this mailing we saw that it was riddled with errors. Instead of the account being called the Meyer Zaremba account. It was MeyerS Zaremba. In several places it was MeyerS Zaremba.  My brother's last name was spelled ZarembRa.  I was listed as living at  my brother's home with my brother.  I do not. Despite the fact that I sent in my driver's license and information about my place of work--my home state is listed as Florida and my employer is listed as North University (I work at Northeastern University).  Our phone numbers are incorrect. In a place where a primary and secondary trustee should be listed, I am listed as BOTH the primary and secondary trustee.

It is an incredible document.  My brother called the bank and heard the woman who created the document (the one they did not fire) spew a litany of excuses:  "I don't know why the computer did that", "That's very strange",

 If she kept her job, imagine the doozy who was canned?

"I can't imagine how this happened," she said on a number of occasions when she spoke with my brother.

It happened because she was incompetent and clueless about the fact that she was incompetent.

All through the fiasco known as Deflategate, I have been unable to understand the rationale that Roger Goodell had been using to arrive at his decisions. I wrote in this blog on a number of occasions that he must have had some bit of compelling evidence that he had yet to show. Otherwise this activity made no sense.

As we review the decision that came down yesterday--by the first impartial arbiter in this case--we realize how flawed and capricious the decisions by Goodell have been in this matter.   How could several very well paid people have thought that what was meted out as punishment was fair?


  • suspend a player four games because "it is more reasonable than not" that he was "generally aware" of someone else's transgressions?
  • hire an "independent" consultant who clearly was not?
  • claim to be impartial when you listen to an appeal, but--finding no evidence that could support the original decision--you headline your decision on the appeal by trumpeting the absence of Brady's cell phone as incontrovertible evidence? 
    • ...And you do this at the same time as you withhold evidence from Brady's lawyers
  • draw an analogy between being "generally aware" that a ball was deflated--to taking steroids to enhance performance.
  • do not, despite repeated requests, deny a report about how many footballs were deflated by how many psi even though you know that the report (a) damns Brady and is (b) wholly inaccurate.


I just keep shaking my head.  Of all the lawyers working in the NFL office didn't anybody scream out--"hey the emperor is naked?  We have no case."  And besides we are dragging a player who is an icon--maybe the best player in the league--through the mud for no good reason.  We could get sued big time.  Also, we are implicitly criticizing an owner who has done more for the NFL than any owner in recent history.

I am not right all the time with predictions, but on this I was spot on even though one need not be a wizard to realize that Deflategate was a sham.  My prediction now is this:

  • For the next week or so, Goodell's stock is going to continue to plummet like a boulder in a bathtub as more people look through the Berman report and realize just how ridickalus the Goodell decisions have been.  
  • Goodell's squawking about "his intention to appeal" will grow softer.  
  • Players are going to scoff at decisions the NFL office makes. 
  • The owners will get together and realize the NFL is beginning to look like a joke.  
  • Roger Goodell will not be the commissioner by Thanksgiving, maybe Columbus Day.

He and his office have behaved like the fools at my dad's bank. Incompetent and clueless.

Monday, August 31, 2015

anna karenina

There's a scene in one of my favorite novels, The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, when Helen the daughter of a grocer suggests to Frank-a clerk and her sweetheart-- that he read a number of novels. One is Anna Karenina. 

This reference to Anna Karenina was not the first time I had heard of the novel. It had been identified as a must read and a beautiful book by some teacher or teachers.   Had a girlfriend once who nodded her head solemnly when I asked if it was worth reading. I have a vague recollection of questions pertaining to the book appearing on sample statewide high school English examinations.

The Russian novelists are not easy. I had been told to read Crime and Punishment forever.  Like Anna Karenina it had often been mentioned to me reverentially.  In my late twenties I read the book and I was not sold.

I feel differently about Anna Karenina. I saw a copy at a used book sale a while back, plucked it off my shelf a few weeks ago, and just completed it. I am sold, sort of, but do have some reservations.

The book is too long. I know it is the style of the Russian novelists, but contemporary readers do not need that level of detail and can't believe readers ever did. In one scene a superfluous doctor--completely peripheral to the plot--visits Levin (a key character). He comes because Levin's housekeeper has fallen. We find out the housekeeper's name, where she fell, and what she was carrying when she fell. "A jar of mushrooms which she had just pickled." Neither the doctor, the housekeeper, the fall (we find that she sprained her wrist), where she fell, or the mushrooms--pickled or not--have anything to do with anything.

Aside from the detail, the novel is a tough book to follow. Each of the characters has a formal name, a given name, and in a number of cases a nickname.  Stepan Arkadyevich is also called Oblonsky and occasionally is referred to by his nickname, Stiva.  Try to keep track of who is who for 853 pages and you will work up a sweat.

Also, while the book has a main theme, there are a number of other ones and the connections between the themes are thin. The book is about social class systems, religion, societal mores, and most importantly the power of love.  The digressions into philosophy regarding the (1) peasants and less so (2) religion are really unnecessary and lengthy.  A long scene, maybe twenty pages involves Levin using a scythe to "mow" the lawn with the peasants.

All this is the bad news.

The good news is that the characters are so well drawn. Oblonsky is my favorite--not in terms of his character--but how completely he is depicted. I feel as if I know the guy. Anna, Kitty, Levin, Karenin are similarly well described.

The translator deserves some credit, but the language is remarkable. It is amazing to me that someone could have conceived of this book and written it without a computer. The book was written in the 1870s.

I was impressed early on with how some of the story and the emotions of the characters could be relevant today. Not the parts that deal with the class system, or societal norms, but the parts about relationships.

So, two questions.

(a) what is the book about centrally?
(b) is it worth slogging though? Is it worth the hoo hah endorsements?

The short answer to the first question:  The book is about the overwhelming power of love and how if one does not get or respect the power of love, they are ruined.  Also, how love--if suppressed--can be ruining.  Think of love like a beach ball you take into a pool.  If you sit on the ball you can suppress it. But once you release the ball it is going to spring to the surface. That is the essence of the book.

The longer answer to what the book is about:

  • Oblonsky has had an affair.  His wife, Dolly, is understandably upset when she finds out and is threatening to leave. Oblonsky, although not really repentant, does not want Dolly to leave.  He asks his sister, Anna Karenina, to take a train to Moscow so that she can speak to Dolly and try to convince her not to leave.  
  • Dolly has a sister named Kitty.  Kitty has two suitors. One, Levin, is madly in love with Kitty and comes to Moscow from the country to propose. Unfortunately for Levin there is another suitor, Vronsky, and Kitty is more in love with him. Kitty rejects Levin's proposal because she loves Vronsky.  
  • Vronsky intends to ask Kitty to marry him, but wants to talk to his mother first. The mother coincidentally, is--like Anna-- travelling to Moscow and they are on the same train.  
  • When Anna steps off the train she sees Vronsky there to pick up his mother. They see each other and are smitten.  
  • Anna is married and feels horribly confused by her reaction to Vronsky.  She does continue to her brother's and consoles Dolly. But then she figures she better get out of Dodge because of the feelings she has for Vronsky. 
  • So Anna leaves early, but Vronsky tracks her down and expresses his love. Anna tries to suppress the love. But she is smitten.
  • Kaboom we have a problem that involves Anna's husband, and Kitty, and Levin. and of course Vronsky and Anna Karenina.

Is the book worth reading?  Well, I am glad I read it, but I'm not sure I can recommend it.  It is very powerful and in parts startlingly well written. Some characters especially Oblonsky are tattooed to my head. But the book is really too long.

In the Assistant, Frank does read Anna Karenina because he is so in love with Helen and Helen asks him to. It is tough to believe that Frank, a drifter, reads the book.  I'm not any better than Frank Alpine because I read this book. Just saying that Frank would not.

Malamud must have known that too. But he wanted to make a point.

In  the Assistant Helen breaks up with Frank. Frank tries to get her to relent; to embrace their love   When Helen does not relent, Frank says to her:

"That book you told me to read.  Did you understand it yourself."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Forty years ago today.

I remember just where I was forty years ago today.

Forty years ago, a little earlier in the day than now, I was driving to Ridge Lea Road to take my oral comprehensive exams that would qualify me as a doctoral candidate.  For those unfamiliar with the dance steps, when you begin a doctoral program you, essentially, contract to take a certain number and certain types of courses in your area of study. At the conclusion of the coursework you take what are called qualifying exams. These have both a written and oral component. After the written, you go in and your team of advisers ask several questions to ascertain that you have sufficient foundational knowledge to then proceed and study something that nobody has written about previously.  The result of that research is a dissertation. Get done with that, face another oral exam on the research you did, and you earn your Ph.D.

That Ph.D. is your ticket to college teaching and a guarantee that, should you continue on the path of academia, you will be a peasant compared to the guy you knew at college who graduated with a BS somehow despite the fact that he spent a good portion of his college years on a barstool.  The Ph.D. earns you the right to make 50k less than that guzzler who now works somewhere in Marketing.

So, I was en route to relative insignificant means forty years ago, today.

I was tense on the drive to the test and tried to psych myself up on the highway. My anxiety was based on something very peripheral to the test content itself.  Two of my professors were at loggerheads over issues that were unrelated to me.  One accused the other of being an easy mark, which made the accused I predicted (accurately as it turned out) grill me like a piece of swordfish on a hibachi during the orals. The accuser--wanting to show that his disparaging comments about his colleague reflected his superior intelligence--also would hit me with his best shot.

I can remember that morning like it was yesterday.  I had a routine that summer that served me well as I prepared for the exams.  Every morning, almost as soon as I rolled out of bed, I put on my shorts and ran 1.8 miles around a beautiful park in Buffalo called Delaware Park.  When that was done, I came back to my apartment two blocks away, knocked back a cup of coffee, hopped in the shower and then ritualistically parked myself at 9 in front of a little portable tv set to watch the Honeymooners.  After the Honeymooners I drove to school.  On the morning of August 20, 1975 I figured if the Honeymooners that day would be one of the better episodes it would be a good sign. The episode was the one with the handcuffs (Unconventional Behavior)-- a pretty good one.

Ridge Lea Road housed the temporary campus where my department was temporarily housed.  The campus looked like a series of Howard Johnson restaurants kerplunked together.  I went to graduate school in a parking lot with, essentially, triple wide trailers as classrooms and academic offices.

Anyway I get there and the two antagonists were loaded for bear. They acknowledged me, grunted at each other, and said effusive hellos to the third interrogator who was straddling the fence on their dispute.

They started the questions. What happened was--and this was something that was either pure serendipity or I was far more prepared than I gave myself credit for that day--every question they asked me was something I happened to know.  This may sound like false modesty, but it really wasn't.  In those orals they can ask you what Aristotle had for lunch and it is fair game.  They were asking all sorts of questions about their respective areas and in a number of cases I had just reviewed what they were asking about a few days before the exam.  I remember one guy asking about a really picayune label used to identify certain individuals in a grapevine communication configuration. Just the day before I said to myself that I might as well remember what the labels were. He pulled his head back when I responded with the right label. "That was my best question," he said.

I passed easily. And, as a residual effect, it soothed the tension between the two combatants.  I am not sure if it was my performance or if, after pelting each other with memos (in the days before e-mails), when face to face for a period they became less aggressive toward each other.

So, here I am forty years later, a tenured professor at an excellent university. Earning nearly 200,000 dollars less than contemporaries, whose gut might as well read, "Budweiser".  Nevertheless, career wise I am content. How did I get my ticket punched. Well, there were some other factors. I did write a good dissertation that is so complex that now, when I look at it, I have to remind myself what I did with the charts. I absolutely give credit to myself for some industry at various stages.  But a big factor, no baloney, was luck or divine intervention.  There were a lot of questions a grand inquisitor could have asked that day for which my response could have been, "damned if I know".  And had they asked such questions, I would not have passed Go.  As it happened, the zingers they sent my way were zingers I studied.

Forty years ago today.

I have since considered August 20th a lucky day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Blue Jays, fandom, Brady

Since my recent visit to Toronto I have become a Blue Jays follower.  When I was there, the Jays picked up Troy Tulowitzki and then David Price.  After that, Toronto played inspired baseball and didn't lose much. The team was several games out of first behind the Yankees when I arrived in Toronto. Now, because of the additions and how those additions affected team chemistry, the Jays are just one game back of the Bronx Bombers.

My primary allegiance is still to the Red Sox and I might have some mixed emotions if the Sox were to play the Jays in a game that was meaningful.  However, given the hapless Sox performance this season, I need not worry about any meaningful game between the Sox and the Jays.  We, the Sox, are mired in last place and playing God awful baseball.

So, go figure, when two tickets came my way for tonight's game I reacted like a five year old excited kid. I called my buddy Ken and he was similarly thrilled, so the two of us are going to the Sox/Indians game tonight.   Such is fan enthusiasm for sports.  On the way in to work today I was thinking about my first game with my dad. I was skipping along Bragg Street in Sheepshead Bay-- five year old me.  Now 60 years later, if I could still skip, I'd be bouncing along the Fenway to see the last place Red Sox.

Go Red Sox. Go Blue Jays.

On another note, tomorrow Tom Brady appears before a judge in the interminable Deflategate saga.  I continue to fear that the commissioner has some evidence that he is waiting to spring as an October surprise.  Otherwise I simply cannot believe that Goodell would continue hiking on this bizarre trail.

Every few days another bit of evidence surfaces that suggests that Goodell (1) fined the team and Brady, (2) removed draft picks from the Patriots including a number 1 pick, and (3) for 25% of the season--suspended one of the best players in the game---on a hunch.

Why would Goodell do that?

  • Is he just doubling down like a stubborn simpleton at a poker table who has no hand?  
  • Does someone have a gun to his head for a reason that I cannot fathom?

Today one of the owners opined that it was time for this to be over. As students of mine used to say during the Clinton administration, Duh.

And where are the other owners? It is football season and we are still talking about this fakakta nothing for which there is (a) no evidence and (b) an apparent conspiracy to fabricate evidence------Unless, there is evidence, that Goodell is waiting to pull from his hat like magician with a rabbit.

Meanwhile earlier today it was 90 degrees--bright and sunny. Now it looks like the day the earth stood still.  Big dark clouds.

Two weeks ago today we had a similar situation when hail came down the size of golf balls denting cars and bruising noggins.  Not sure if I should wear a baseball cap or a football helmet when I skip--er walk to Fenway in a few hours.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Killer

Yesterday I wrote a short review of Sharp Objects, the first of the Gillian Flynn novels.  Today I went to Amazon to see what others had written about the book. Before I got to the reviews I saw and read a brief interview with Flynn.  In it, she made this comment:

"When I wrote Sharp Objects I didn't know who the killer was for a bit."

I don't know how a writer can do this, particularly a writer of mysteries or books that have a whodunit dimension.  If I, as a writer, do not know who did it, when I introduce a character who might have done it, might I depict him or her in a way that is an unlikely characterization for a killer?

But what do I know. Maybe if I wrote novels I would get it.

I have, in the hour or so since I read that interview, begun to think of the comment in a broader sense. Do we have a clue about our desired outcomes when we begin our day, or spend our time?  I think it is fair to say that for many, what we do on a daily basis is inconsistent with any long term planning. We just want to get through this particular "chapter" i.e. day.

Tomorrow I will look at my outlook calendar see what is in store for me at work, get ready for the thises and thats I will likely need to address, but do I know who the killer is?

I once was accused of thinking that I would live forever and maybe, just maybe--according to the accuser--I needed to plan out life beyond the short term.  Not sure that was a fair characterization of much of my decision making, but it was worth considering.

Do we know who the killer is? That is, do we know when we go about our business that we are going about our business because it fits in with some important objective? Or do we just get through the day and make sure we beat the traffic, are prepared for a meeting, get some exercise, and have taken the chicken out of the freezer in the morning so that there is something to eat for dinner.

I think novelists have a responsibility to the reader to think through their stories, especially mysteries. I think they need to know who the killer is, before they can tell the tale. And, on this Sunday morning, it comes to me that we, or I, would be better off if there was a notion at some point of a desired end, and then motion toward that objective.  Otherwise you get to the end of your own story and the killer who aborted and abridged your life is the person you look at in the mirror.

Don't know if this maudlin musing came about because of a dream I had just before I awakened.  I was thinking, in the dream, that my dad's funeral had been a week ago (it was actually over a year ago). So, I decided in the dream, to give him a call and ask him how it went.  And then I was startled--still in the dream--to acknowledge that such a phone conversation was impossible even with the new whiz bang technologies of 2015.

I woke up then and figured that lying in bed was not optimal even on a lazy Sunday.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

yo mama

Sharp Objects is the first book that Gillian Flynn wrote.  It preceded Dark Places and Gone Girl--the latter a successful movie.  Both Dark Places and Gone Girl are well written and fast paced. Gone Girl has a ridickalus ending but it is still a good read.

This book isn't a good read.   The characters are not believable and are stick figures to boot. Even the main character is not well developed. The events are unlikely. The chances that the doer could have been the doer are nil.

I am glad Flynn was encouraged to write because she has gotten so much better, but geez how did this novel get a second look.  It has the value of being short and it has a science fictiony feel if you like that.  There are killings if you are into blood and strange murders. (Worked with a guy in the post office once who said he didn't like any movies with no killing). And there are some sex scenes which, while implausible, can produce a little steam.  But my recommendation is that you skip it.

The book is told in the first person by a journalist who comes to her home town to investigate the murders of two young girls. The doer in the story just could not do it. The mother is a prime suspect and unless you lived in hell as a kid, you never met a mama like this one.

priorities in order

Last Thursday Donna and I had to go to court.  Over a year prior, we had come home one day, and found that someone had crashed through a tiny window in our basement leaving shards of glass everywhere. Upstairs my ipad had been taken, and in the bedroom jewelry had been stolen. Drawers were opened everywhere, clothes thrown around as the perp looked for items.

The police came and knew this was the m.o. of a repeat offender that they had been trying to handcuff for a long time. He has been referred to as "a frequent flyer."

The police were great, but told us that it was unlikely that we would get our items back. More than the jewelry however, the sense of security and peace that we took for granted had been dented. We live near a wooded area so a burglar could hide easily undetected and come into our windows relatively effortlessly.

We had resigned ourselves that we were just going to lose the items and retain the sense of vulnerability. But the police returned and said that they thought they could prove that the repeat offender in fact had done it.  He had pawned some of the jewelry and the pawnbroker had identified him.

So fourteen months later we were in court.  That was a four hour scene in and of itself that maybe I will go into some other time.  The nutshell version here is that up from the courtroom basement comes the guy who did it.  He is in shackles because he is now in jail for another b and e.  While the lawyers do their interminable--very unlike Perry Mason/Law and Order song and dance--he smiles and chats with the court officer. The guy has a glaring tattoo on his neck and false teeth that stand out when he grins. His mother, in the courtroom for support, runs up to kiss him.

The perp's lawyer knows we are in the courtroom as is the pawnbroker, so he decides to try and plea. He and the district attorney go to a back room with the judge to make a deal.  They return from the back room and the deal is that the burglar will admit to breaking into the house and stealing the jewelry. He will get 18 months in jail which will include the time in jail that he is currently serving for another offense.

The bottom line is for the burglary to my home he will serve about a year.

Today, I wake up early as is my wont these days and look at the computer.  Not sleeping all that great recently--not because of the break-in---probably because of drinking too much caffeine during the prior day.  Anyway, I am up and looking at headlines.

And I see something that at first startles me, then amuses me, then gets me sort of annoyed.

A man in Florida has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years for a crime. His crime is that he had sexual intercourse on a beach.

I click on the link and discover that the crime was less benign than I originally thought.  The intimacy took place in the daytime, and there were people around who could and did see, some of the spectators were children. One child wanted to know what was going on. The mother was upset.

The news story included comments from observers who were aghast at the "vulgar" behavior they were forced to witness.  I think "forced to witness" is a disingenuous phrase, but that was what was said.

The alleged perpetrators contended that the woman (who was on top) was merely dancing, and that there was no penetration and therefore there was no offense. The prosecutors argued that a video taken by an observer--no doubt an outraged spectator who wanted simply to be a responsible citizen--showed that this was no harmless cha cha, it was indeed the deed.

The penalty for the outrageous behavior: 2 1/2 years.

Some repeat offender breaks into my house--we still haven't fixed the window, just have it boarded up--steals a computer and some family heirlooms, leaves literal and figurative filth in his wake, and gets 18 months to be served concurrent with other crimes.  The court clerks joke around with him while he awaits his lawyer's plea bargaining.

A couple has consensual sexual intimacy on a beach and gets 2 1/2 years.  Observers are outraged at the vulgarity of the crime.

Glad to read that that our societal outrage is appropriately placed.

I wouldn't be surprised if adult readers here, if you were to candidly fess up, have indulged once or twice in the open air, in the daytime, when it wasn't beyond the possibility that you could have been seen, but you started up and then took a chance.  But even if you have not, I would be curious to hear anyone's rationale for outrage because a couple had publicly engaged.

Friday, August 14, 2015

google earth

Count me in as someone wowed by sites like Google Earth. I have spent time looking at homes where I have lived from the vantage point of a satellite.  I have gotten a kick out of it nearly every time.

There is a problem, though, that I have noticed.  When I put in my own address on Google Earth, the satellite focuses in on the wrong house.  It is not mine.  It is my neighbor's-- two doors down from mine on the small road on which about a dozen homes sit.

The first time I saw this--a year or so ago--I figured it was an error soon to be rectified. At that time I saw that my actual house--not the one indicated--had a canoe in the backyard and a red honda civic in the driveway.  And indeed, a few years back one would find that canoe in my backyard and red civic in the driveway.

The canoe, for the last three years, has been housed at a dock not far from here and the red civic was sold at about the same time.  I figured that maybe when Google updated the image, they would get the house right.

So, I  checked the other day.  I can't see the civic or the canoe anymore and I can see the new school across the street. Apparently the image has been updated.  However, when you type in my address it is my neighbor's house that is identified as mine.

Not a big deal, I guess, but it makes me wonder how Google Earth [thinks it] knows which house is which house.  And wonder if other sites that "know" things about me are correct.  I discovered one day that when you type in my name at one of the several sites that claim to know everything about everyone including their address, age, and relatives--that there are seven or so Alan Jay Zarembas living in the Boston area.  Then after some more scrutiny I realized that each of these Alan Jay Zarembas were precisely my age and, also, that the addresses for these Zarembas coincided with all the homes I have lived in since I moved to the greater Boston area since 1981.  Not likely that I live in all these domiciles concurrently. As my grandmother would say: "me kennet dantzen mt ayn toochas aft tzvey chasanahs".  {translation:  "you can't dance with one ass at two weddings"}.

So, the sites can get it wrong or, at least, not completely right. I wonder what happens when someone tries to find out about other things about me.  Do I have children, siblings, parents--how much money is my house worth; how much is in my bank account; what are my hobbies; do I like peanut brittle.  How about if they get it wrong when they want to see if I have a criminal record.

I think that new technology is wonderful but wonder if I am fortunate that my name is not John Smith.  Or perhaps John Smith is less vulnerable since criminals would know there was too great a chance of mistaken identity sleuthing out a Smith's background.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

There is no smoking gun. No evidence at all that Brady did what the NFL claims.  No evidence even that he was "generally aware" or that it is "more likely than not" that he was generally aware.

So, I don't get it.  Unless there is some October surprise, I do not get it.

Is Goodell a fool?  Can't believe that, though he has behaved foolishly.  There are so many questions about the NFL's behavior.

  • Why has this taken so long? 
  • Why go after a person whose behavior has been impeccable and is an NFL icon if there is no evidence of wrongdoing?  
  • Once Goodell realized that there was no evidence, why didn't he put an end to the investigation--even if he felt in his gut that Brady was culpable? 
  • Why did Goodell conduct an "independent" investigation that was clearly nothing of the sort?
And why are the other owners silent?  This has been a terrible distraction for the league. After the hearing on Wednesday the 12th, it became clear to anyone who looked at the transcript that the NFL had nothing, bubkas, and had drawn conclusions on the basis of logic that would be ridiculed in a middle school classroom.  Why have the owners not met collectively and then fired Goodell?  The owners are interested in the health of the NFL. The season is about to begin.  The league office looks goofy.

At the very least, the result of this nonsense will be a huge battle when it comes time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.  Maybe a strike.  No owner wants that. 

So why haven't the owners stepped in to say Goodell got it wrong.

 I never went to law school, but if what I read from yesterday is the case, the only leg to stand on that the NFL has, is their right to unilaterally make rulings.  However, it would be myopic or arrogant to believe that that right would mean much if the ruling was so clearly inappropriate.  Sure, the judge might uphold the suspension on the grounds that the CBA allows for it, but how long would it be before Brady files a defamation suit that would be a sure winner in a court that does not hop and have a pouch.  

And what is this about, anyway?  The Patriots were winning 17-7 at the half. They inflated the balls. The Patriots won 41-7.  In the superbowl when the balls certainly were not tampered with, the Patriots prevailed with Brady playing impeccably. 

The judge is urging the sides to settle. If you were Brady--AND assuming you did nothing wrong-- what is to settle?  

Consider this scenario.  Someone accuses you of stealing 100 dollars from your wallet. You did not do it.  They form a commission that contends you stole the 100 dollars.  You deny it.  A judge comes in and finds that there is no evidence that you stole the 100 dollars.  

Would you settle and agree that you stole only twenty dollars just to end the matter?