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.