Saturday, December 31, 2016

On Beauty

Does love trump and overwhelm all the impediments lovers manufacture? Does love endure despite the character flaws that sabotage efforts to connect?  I think these are the questions that On Beauty by Zadie Smith addresses, and addresses affirmatively.

This is really a terrific book. The author's ability to describe behavior is indescribable.   It is almost worth reading the whole book for pages 205-207 when Kiki and Howard discuss his infidelity.  The part about the glee club had me giggling like a maniac making a scene in the public place I was in. Also, how Smith could so accurately describe university life given that she is not an academic, really a tip of the hat.  These are just a few examples.  I think I can string words together better than the average bear, but when I read someone like Zadie Smith,  I realize that there are amateurs and then there are professionals.

The book is about a couple living in a university community on the outskirts of Boston. Sometimes I thought it was Wellesley and other times Harvard, not that it matters much. The couple has three kids. The father is a professor who is a bitter rival of a visiting professor.  Howard, the main character, is a white liberal married to Kiki a black woman.  Dr. Kipps, the rival, is a black conservative whose daughter and wife feature prominently in the novel as do Howard and Kiki's three children.

This is the best book I have read in 2016 and the year on the east coast will end in a few hours.  If you are a reader, I highly recommend the novel. It is not a page turner like a who dunnit, but I was sufficiently engaged to inhale about half of the book in a short period of time.  Could be that my interest relates to the fact that much of the novel is about university life. I was surprised to see the many amazon readers whose reviews I read subsequently who did not like the book.  Not me.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

La La Land +

I saw an excellent movie today. La La Land. It is good all the way through, but the last scene in the Jazz Club has happened to us all, or at least many of us.  The movie is about a romance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling-- an aspiring actress and a dedicated Jazz pianist.  I don't know what else to write without giving away too much. Go see it.

Also finished a mystery this morning.  The novel is called Snow Angels and it takes place in a ski resort town above the Arctic Circle in Finland.  An actress has been murdered, gruesomely, and the Inspector, Inspector Vaara, attempts to locate the killer.  Among the suspects:  his ex wife, his ex wife's long time boyfriend, a registered sex offender, another cop, the other cop's son, and the investigator's own father.  The novel takes place in the darkness as it is around Christmas time (just coincidental to my reading it around Christmas time) when there is no light in northern Finland.  Fast read, though the names can be difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with common names in Scandinavia.   Also there is a lot of dying, and not ordinary deaths either.  Good news is that if you are inclined to learn about another part of the world, the book brings to the otherwise unfamiliar reader, a sense of the culture and life struggles in Northern Finland.

Finally, while I am reviewing, I trekked to the movies a few days ago and saw Manchester By the Sea.  Very good, not as good as La La Land, but I will bet both will be up for the best picture Oscar. A young man becomes the guardian for his nephew and has to deal with a tragedy from his past.  It takes place in the Boston area so if you like references to these parts, that is an added benefit.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Marjorie Morningstar

When I was fifteen I became very sick over the Christmas break and had to stay in bed for over a week.  My father gave me the book, The Caine Mutiny to read, and having not much to do except read, drink fluids, and perspire I raced through it.  Long time since I was 15 but I remember loving the book.  I still have some of the scenes etched in my head--the one with the strawberries for example, and the post-trial "Multitudes, Multitudes" toast.  Maybe if I read the book as an adult I would have a different take on it, but then at least--and in my memory--I thought it was terrific.

When I told my folks I liked the book my mother suggested another one of Herman Wouk's novels, Marjorie Morningstar.  Dad made a face at that suggestion commenting that Marjorie Morningstar was just some saga about and for a young girl.  On the basis of this review I never had much of a desire to read the book, but recently another friend--someone with whom I went to camp--mentioned the book commenting on how effectively it portrayed a character (not Marjorie, her love interest) who worked at a resort for adults.  I had once seen the last scene in Marjorie Morningstar, the movie, but beside from that and my dad's 1964 review of the book, I knew little about it.

So, I got Marjorie Morningstar out of the library, started reading on the first of December and just finished it last night.  It did not grab me the way The Caine Mutiny did, and for much of the very long novel, I was thinking that once again Dad was right. It is a big fat book with lots of text and little dialogue so it is a bit of a slog to get through. If not for the last ten pages, I might be highly critical of the novel but the last ten pages--written as part of the main novel, but really a postscript-- is "a where are they now" epilogue and has made me think of the book in a different light. I'm still not sure I could recommend the book, but I think it will hang around in my consciousness for a spell.

The book begins when Marjorie Morgenstern is a 19 year old Jewish girl living on central park west in the 1930s. Her family is not affluent which may be an indication of the 30s as they would have to be 80 years later, but the family is not impoverished by the depression either.  Marjorie throughout is depicted as beautiful and has suitors galore. She aspires to be an actress and fancies that when she is successful she will change her last name to Morningstar. Most of the book takes place during the next six years of her life and the central plot is about Marjorie's love affair with a man she meets at a summer resort.

I did not care a whole lot for Marjorie or her love interest, Noel Ehrmann.  I did not think either of them were mensches, though Marjorie had more class than Noel.    So, for 550 pages I am reading about Marjorie and Noel and assorted other suitors and escapades and my feeling was essentially that I did not care much what happened to them. However, as mentioned, the epilogue put an interesting backdrop on the rest of the story.  Fifteen years later, much of who Marjorie was, is forgotten even by Marjorie. She has grown to be someone that would have been of no interest to Marjorie.  Is this the way it goes? Are we, when in the throes of something in our youth, so caught up in what seems essential, that when we look back on these times we are not recognizable to ourselves? Are our fifteen year later selves unrecognizable to those who knew us when?

One very valuable aspect of the book is that it depicts attitudes toward love and sex and marriage that may have been common in the 30s, but are not now.  And it was interesting to me at least to imagine how Marjorie's life would have been different if she had lived in the 21st century and not the 1930s. (This next sentence you might not want to read if you are considering reading the book).  In one scene, for example, Marjorie is beside herself worrying what a man will think of her once she reveals that she, at 24, had been intimate with another.

I think I will take out the movie as I would like to see if the movie--as is the case with movies--changes the story much.  I would not be surprised to find out that the ending is different based on the little snippet I saw of the end of the film.

Bottom line, I am reluctant to write such things, but I think this may be more of a woman's book than a man's as it centers on the thinking of a woman as she matures.  It may be of interest however to anyone who is seeking some insights on attitudes toward intimacy a century ago.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Let the Toasts Start

Happy birthday, Dad.

I've been thinking of you all week.  As time goes on I do not miss you less.

I was down at the condo last weekend.  I saw Wally and Eileen as I typically do when I am down there.  And as is always the case each, unsolicitedly, made some comment about what a great person you were.  Ona sent me a note in the morning.  She always remembers your birthday and the day you passed. You touched so many people.

A few years back I took one of your suits and had it altered.  I've altered two of your jackets and they fit me just fine. The suits are a bigger challenge for the tailor.  You never had the soft belly I must have inherited from mom, but you were wider. So it took some work for the tailor to try and make it work.  I've had the suit in the closet for a couple of years and never wore it. Yesterday, I decided to do so.  Could not fill it out. Waist is too big, suit jacket just did not work the way the sports jackets have.  Just could not fill your suit.  Probably some metaphor there.  At one of the camp reunions I was asked to lead the prayers before dinner.  I flubbed the opening line.  Barry chirped, "He's no Meyer." It was all in fun, but in some ways Bird's quip and the metaphor with the suit are apt.

It's a good thing you died in 14 of heart related disease, because otherwise the election of 2016 would have killed you as if someone had taken a knife to your chest.  Hillary Clinton ran and was predicted ala Truman-Dewey to defeat the Republican nominee... (get ready for it) Donald Trump.  Despite the wisdom of the experts and the fact that Clinton received over 2 million more votes than Trump, the snake oil salesman won the electoral college vote.  I can hear you saying, "You're kidding" from the grave. Not kidding.

We lost Pumpkin. The guy did not come back on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving.  Just disappeared. It was a blow.  When we asked the policeman who lives on our block if he had seen him, the fellow--who we've met previously--confided that one of his kids has had chemotherapy a number of times.  Losing Pumpkin is sad, but relatively, not that significant.  Still we miss the guy.  When I come down the stairs to make coffee I think I am going to hear him meow for his grub.  Sometimes I see Donna gazing out the window looking for him.

On a positive note, we went to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving again.  It was wonderful to see Hillel and Sam and their kids.  Sophie and Jack were there with Shannon and Matt.  Bobby and Lynne as well.   I kept imagining you sitting around the table with Uncle Morris and Aunt Ethel kvelling at your descendants spending the holiday as you had.

On the even more positive note, we are all healthy.  knock on wood.  I am completely ambulatory--still can't run--but can walk forever.  I have not had a physical since the spring, but at the time the prognosis was life.  I'm still gainfully employed but could cease doing so tomorrow and not have to worry as long as I do not adopt a rich person's life style. Even if I was a rich person I would likely not adopt a rich person's life style. Of course if Trump does what I fear he will, I will be broke by the end of January as the stock market will take a dive. (So far it has zoomed up, but he is not in office yet).

Well, dad, I will close this electronic birthday note.  You are still hanging around in my consciousness and I am grateful to have such a fine person in my head as well as part of my real and symbolic DNA.  When I was at the condo, I went through some of the CDs that we have not as yet taken back up north.  I saw the score from The Student Prince and played--over and over--the Drinking song you would sing at the dinner table or while in the shower now and again.  It makes me smile to think of you belting it out.   "All I ask is the right to see, those smiling eyes beguiling me."

It would be great to see your smiling eyes beguiling me.

Happy birthday, Dad.  Thank you for the wonderful wisdom.

"Drink, Drink, Let the toasts start."

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Often when I go to a college basketball game by myself I bring a book.  I do this because in division 1 college basketball there are automatic tv timeouts at the dead balls after the 16, 12, 8, and 4 minute marks in each half.  Add to these breaks, the halftime period, plus the four timeouts each coach has per game, and you have the potential for 17 breaks during the course of a contest.  If I am by myself, I figure I might as well bring a book for these times as opposed to contemplating, say, the state of our democracy (where it seems to be okay that a former enemy may have affected the results of our presidential election and not too many people seem to care a whole lot).

Reading a book during basketball breaks creates a minor problem for me.  I have been blessed with many health related gifts (knock on wood).  One of these gifts is that at an age when I am closer to 70 than any other round number, I do not need glasses to read.  Almost always now when I go to dinner with contemporaries each person at the table has to take out reading glasses or they cannot see the menu. On occasions when glasses have been left in the car or pocket book or at work or wherever, I become the designated reader for my party.  Folks of my vintage marvel at my ability to read without spectacles.  My long range vision, however, has deteriorated.  With specs I can see fine, but without them street signs are blurry as are figures on a movie screen or basketball court.  I did not want to have to have "must wear glasses" on my driver's license and thought I could pass the test without them.  I figured there might be a time when I did not have my glasses and could do just fine without them.  When, while taking the eye test for driver license renewal I attempted to read the letters at the bottom of the chart, the young woman at the counter looked up at me dully and said, "Why don't you get your glasses" which I did and even startled myself when I saw what a difference they made.

The point of all this commentary about my vision is that when I go to a game with a book, I have to continuously take my glasses off when I go to read during time outs, and put them back on when I want to resume watching the game. The idea of bifocals would only be appealing if I needed a different sort of lens for reading, but since I don't need any lens for reading I figure I can deal with the mild inconvenience at basketball games. And I do.

The other night I was a second or two slow putting the specs back on when the game resumed and saw the real contrast between the unfocussed players and then their clear images.  And I was struck for the first time with the idea of what a metaphor this whole vision business is for me.

 I have always been very good at seeing a situation for what it is.   I don't kid myself as a general rule and when faced with an uncomfortable--or comfortable--situation, I see it clearly for what it is.  But I've been accused of not being able to look ahead as clearly.  A woman, way in my past, told me that "the problem with you is" (I had heard a number of versions of what the problem with me was--this was just one of the problems, according to her, of me) "that you think you are going to live forever."

I'm not sure that that is exactly how I think.  I do have a sense that we are here for a finite period, but I do think that sometimes my vision for the future is not as good as it could be. This, of course, is quite a liability in the betting casinos. Also for political punditry.  I was positive that Carter would beat Reagan in 1980 until the last few weeks of the campaign. I really was not worried about a Trump victory last November. (I did pick, to the exact number, the electoral vote count in 2012--but that was an aberration).

I'm not sure how much I can generalize my strengths and weaknesses to others, but I do think even for those who have the ability to see the here and now acutely, the ability to see long range is often impaired creating relatively unattractive presents in the future.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


About twenty five years ago, a friend told me that his sister-in-law was despondent because she had lost her cat.  I was not a cat owner at the time.  When the friend went on about how the sister-in-law had become so sad about the loss, I said to my friend, "Hey, it's a cat."

Thirteen or fourteen years ago, Donna came home with a kitten. It was a tiny thing. A friend had told her there was a litter, and we had talked some about getting a pet, so she drove up the north shore and came back with this cat who had been placed in a carton box for the drive. I was watching a football game when she returned and was essentially on my back in the recliner.  Donna dropped the cat on my chest and went out to buy stuff for the critter. He was so small and hardly moving. There was such little motion that at one point I thought the guy had died on my chest.

In my family we never had pets growing up and I had my doubts about whether being a pet owner would be a positive experience.  In no time, however, I became very attached.  He was an orange and white long hair so we called him, very appropriately, Pumpkin.

Had you told me two months or two years or twenty years before Donna kerplunked Pumpkin on my chest that I would have become enamored with a cat I would not have bought it.  But enamored I became.  I enjoyed hanging with the guy and found him to be a terrific companion.  Once when I was sick and Donna out of town, he popped up on the bed and hung out with me all night as if he knew I could use a looking after.

Like me, Pumpkin was fairly autonomous.  We decided to allow him to be an outdoor cat, and the Pump reveled in the freedom. He would scamper out in the most awful weather. We'd see him climbing trees, chasing squirrels, rolling around on the sidewalk.  When he was out at night, he typically returned around 10.  A few times he hit the late bars causing no small amount of angst in our quarters, but then he would show up in the wee hours walking back as if to say, "Whaddaya worrying about.  I'm fine."

On Saturday afternoon we picked up the Pump from the cat hotel where he was lodging while we went to eat turkey in Philadelphia.  He was his normal self on Saturday, bouncing around the house when he returned, scarfing down his special food, meowing to get out or have us turn the water on in the bathroom,so he could drink by the sink.

Sunday morning was the same routine. Tough to drink my coffee and read the paper with the guy meowing requesting this or that.  Sunday night at around 6 Donna let him out while I was watching the Patriots play at a local tavern.  We would let the guy out as late as 9 since he always came home. I've let him out as late as 10.

When I returned around 630 Donna asked me if I had seen him in the driveway. I had not.  Around 9 we began to worry as he had not eaten in a spell. At 11 we walked the neighborhood with a flashlight. Then again at 1 am.

The Pump is still not back. I came home early yesterday, Monday, figuring for sure he would be on the side porch waiting to get in.  No Pump.  The food we left out for him was untouched.  When I saw the full bowl on the porch my heart sank.

The guy is probably gone.  Even if he is not, he has to eat special food, so if someone found him and is feeding him, he will be sick soon enough.  We have posters and put the guy's mug on facebook.  No news.

The Pump was a great cat.  Wherever you are, we miss you, little guy.  If you are near a computer give us a ping.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The brouhaha around the Pence-Hamilton incident is, on the surface, a tempest in a teapot.  However, below the surface, I am not sure what occurred is insignificant.

(1) The President-elect is entitled to tweet his opinion on whether a cast member can or should make a statement directed at the Vice President-elect. The President-elect is also entitled to negatively characterize the actor's comments--even if his characterization is, as it was, inaccurate to any dispassionate ear.  And the audience is entitled to voice its collective disdain for the Vice President in the manner that it did. If the second amendment is to be preserved at all costs, it is for sure and certain that the first amendment should be preserved and observed.

So while the right to utter comments is indisputable and all the commotion about how appropriate it might be is something I will think about if I live beyond 145 and have some free time, the potential chilling effects on free speech that could be the residual of Trump's tweet, are not benign.  Might people begin to fear voicing their opinion lest they be the subject of inquiries by the president of the country?  Could comments about, for example, the media being "bad people", SNL being "unfair", and the Times printing irresponsibly, retard anyone's or any medium's willingness to communicate critically?

(2) What the actor said at the end of the Hamilton production, is nothing compared to the nature of criticism that our presidents typically receive.  Go ask the living ex Presidents about the relative magnitude of such remarks.  If this Hamilton sort of criticism will rile the President-elect, what sort of fellow is he?  Anyone in the public eye worth anything must be able to take a shot, or they will be wounded so regularly that they will be too impaired to do the job.  President elect Trump lost the popular vote by over one million votes. There are a lot of people not real happy with the results.  These voters have to deal with the reality of this administration, and Trump has to deal with the reality that if he wants to bring the country together as he claims, he will have to recognize that publicly criticizing opponents will not be a balm that bridges the divide.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

All Hell

And Then All Hell Broke Loose is a book by Richard Engel, an NBC news correspondent, about his experience in the middle east.

I will nutshell it for you.  The middle east--except for the relatively calm Israel--is a a frightening place where there is little regard for human life, when human life is juxtaposed with perfervid and irrational belief in the need to rage holy war in the name of Islam.

There is no one singular event identified when "all hell broke loose." All hell has been breaking loose for some time, and each iteration of angry jihadists is more horrible than the previous one.  At one point he writes that at least when the dictators were in power, while the building was foul, edifices themselves were standing. He does not advocate for a return to the good ole days of Saddam Hussein.  Just that the case now is that there are killers recruiting children to be killers perverting the teachings of Islam.  He suggests that both the Bush and Obama administrations are partially to blame, though my read is that while both may be, the real blame is on those who have not dealt with their anger in a way that humans need to deal with anger. Does this make me a western infidel? No, it makes me someone who thinks that chopping off the hand and foot of a 14 year old because he did not want to join ISIS, is an abomination--regardless of (and because of) any spiritual orientation.

The writing, particularly since this is the work of a journalist, was not as good as one might like. It does not help that there are a lot of foreign names that might be difficult for someone outside of the middle east to remember.  Still, he--literally and figuratively--flies all over the middle east and sometimes the reader is dealing with trying to digest pages written, it seems, at the same frenetic pace as his comings and goings.

I can't really recommend the book.  Maybe for experts in post Gulf War middle east (while I might know more than the average bear about the region, I am not in this category) this will be an interesting read. My take-away is that the place is every bit as dangerous if not more than we believe it to be by reading the papers. And that the author took some mind boggling risks to pursue his journalistic career.

As it relates to risks, the author draws the analogy between football players risking their health to play a game they love and him taking risks to cover the middle east. It's not quite the same. This guy lived in jeopardy almost weekly according to this book. And the jeopardy was not a pulled muscle or injured knee. I don't think he deserves hero credit for being reckless.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Leonard Cohen

Usually it takes me a long time to pay attention to the lyrics of a song. I can hear a popular song one hundred times before the words sink in.

But I remember the first time I heard Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love.  I was out on my deck listening to WERS which is a college radio station in the Boston area. On Sunday mornings they have a program that features Jewish and Israeli music.  My parents used to listen to WEVD on Sunday mornings in New York. WEVD was a station dedicated to Jewish music and themes so when I, on occasion, tune into WERS I am reminded, fondly, of those Sunday mornings with my family.

So, I was listening this one day to WERS--perched on the deck, reading the paper, no doubt sipping some coffee when I first heard Dance Me to the End of Love.   Immediately, and atypically, I was engaged on the first listen.

Leonard Cohen passed last week. Cohen influenced many of we boomers.  Since his passing, his work has been praised and played quite a bit. Saturday Night Live, instead of their recent political satires, began their show on the Saturday after the election with a rendition of the Cohen song Hallelujah--performed, I'll assume, for two reasons: to honor Cohen and to soothe an audience emotionally distraught because of the election results.

I have been fond of Cohen since the early seventies. I bought The Songs of Leonard Cohen in the fall of 1971 and still have the album. I played the CD so often that it is now damaged.  Despite my fondness for Sisters of Mercy, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye, the song that I sought to play after I heard of Cohen's passing is one that was not on the album I played incessantly. The song I wanted to hear was Dance Me to the End of Love.  I went to youtube and found this version of it.

Leonard Cohen was a special person. For those emotionally bruised by a disturbing national decision, listening to Cohen now provides a temporary balm.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Mortem

Somber day here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and I am sure in other states as well.  Lots of glum faces at work.  Saw a woman by the coffee machine who had clearly spent some hours weeping last night, red around the eyes.  We commiserated for a spell while we waited for the caffeine pick up necessary for people who waited until 130 before giving up on Pennsylvania.

Often, after a team I follow loses a big game, I wake up in the middle of the night with some sadness and can't quite identify why.  The last time this happened was when the Patriots lost to the Broncos in the championship game last January.  This was like that only twenty times worse. 

I kept waking up and muttering almost incoherently.  We shut the set off at about 2 so when I woke up I started thinking that maybe something bizarre happened and they found 100,000 votes in Broward County.  The only good news in the early morning, and it was not much, was that in the middle of the night she won New Hampshire.

Just before I quit last night I went on the computer and saw that the pundit who predicted a 99 % chance for a Clinton victory was now writing that such percentages were like a "parlor game."  I think he needs to rethink what he does.

Let's say someone has a disdain for Trump and is tepid about Clinton.  Well, if that person really thinks Trump is an abomination but is told that it is nearly a certainty that Trump will lose, maybe a voter voices her or his discontent by voting third party even though she or he thinks that Clinton is competent.  In Michigan if one in 10 people who voted third party did so because of the parlor game, Michigan goes to Clinton.  In Wisconsin if 2 of 10 did so because of the parlor game, then Clinton wins Wisconsin.

What happens when you elect a person as president who accepts if not embraces the support of neo-Nazis?  Today is the anniversary of kristallnacht.  Check out what happened in Philadelphia today, 78 years later.

Monday, November 7, 2016


I think Hillary Clinton will win the election tomorrow with somewhere between 274 and 340 electoral votes. Best guess is 307.  Earlier today I counted up and thought it was not impossible to get as high as 411. But best guess is 307.  Could she lose? Yes.  If she loses either Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he wins all those states that are very close: Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, Trump will become President elect.  Don't think it will happen.  I hope not.

What will occur if I am correct and Trump loses?  My feeling is different from other persons who have opined on this question.  I do not think the Republican party will lash out and scream that the election was rigged, nor do I see any significant outbreak from the racists who have supported him.  I think that the Republican party members for the most part will distance themselves from Trump and his more vocal supporters like someone running from a foul smell.  Almost immediately, even those who offered tepid support, will want to behave like they never heard of the guy or his beliefs. I read that a Republican strategist commented recently that Trump brought minority voters to the Democrats in a way the Democrats never could have.  The GOP must be furious that Trump has made electing Republicans more difficult.  Every irresponsible quip that Trump uttered will be disavowed by GOPers. The Republican party will do to Trump what most people do to losers--shun him.  I believe you will see Democrats and Republicans united in one thing--condemnation. I would not be surprised to hear of bipartisan support for prosecuting Trump for the Trump University sham as well as tax evasion.  Republicans will try to scrape Trump off like someone attempting to get manure off their shoes.  I don't believe there will be a honeymoon for Clinton, but talk of jail and impeachment will be muted.

What will happen if I am incorrect and Hillary loses?  I will not be surprised if because of tax evasion and Trump University, he becomes the first president ever to be impeached and convicted. (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted.  The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend impeachment for Nixon, but he resigned before the House as a whole could vote to impeach. Consequently, Nixon was never actually impeached).  I see in Trump's early days an uncomfortable and superficial coming together of the GOP.  It will be short lived. Trump will almost immediately attempt to punish those who supported him reluctantly.  Consequently, he will gain enemies among the GOP who will conspire to get him out of office.  The lone positive of a Trump presidency would be to watch how he reacts to the incessant criticism and pressures of that office coming to him from both parties, overseas, the press, and his own supporters who will be upset when he can not implement racist legislation.

Either way the Trump brand is forever tarnished. Isn't it remarkable that with all of the Trump properties his "victory gathering" on Tuesday night is to be held at an okay, but nothing special, Sheraton only a few blocks from Trump Tower.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Election Immersion

I have not been posting much this month.  In addition to work related items I have become immersed in the election contemplating various scenarios. I count electoral votes like a miser counts personal funds--hour by hour or nearly.

My concerns about the election are visceral in that I worry, truly, about the residual effects of a Trump presidency.  I believe the stock market would tank after an initial burst upwards.  I think the US position in the world will be reduced and render us more vulnerable.

I know some people who are voting for Trump, not many, but some. And those are doing so either because of an aversion to the Democratic nominee or because of an allegiance to the Republican party. I personally do not know anyone voting for Trump because they think he would be a good leader. I know there are people out there who do feel this way, but I do not know them.

Some comments about Trump's candidacy and his campaign.

  • The worst thing he has said, the comment that somehow did not torpedo him but should have, is that Senator John McCain was not a war hero and that he became a war hero because he got caught.  Trump said he likes people who do not get caught.  What does that make the dead? Are they the ultimate non heroes because they were caught for good.  
  • Trump's pussy comments and then explanation of the pussy comments are not to be believed. I played basketball for three years in high school (never, alas, on the varsity) and one year in college. I played intramural basketball forever and work out five times a week still.  I was a member of a fraternity and lived in a freshman dormitory where braggarts held court discussing their prowess.  And I have never ever heard anybody comment like that about women.  I have heard men use coarse language of course. And I have heard men speak about their ability to woo women such that they were eager to engage.  But I never heard anyone talk about grabbing women under the assumption that these fellows were so powerful or alluring that such grabbing was okay, condonable, or welcome.  If we heard of anyone speaking like this--even the raunchiest of the raunchy--would consider the braggart crazy in the head.
  • Trump's comments about the handicapped man is something that, amazingly, did not put the kibosh on his candidacy right there and then.
  • The announcement of "extreme vetting" whatever that means and that any Moslem would be prohibited from entering the country is anti-American and mind bogglingly so.
  • His foundational idea that he would build a wall and force Mexico to pay for it---is there a word that transcends fakakt?  
  • The man LOST close to a billion dollars in one year, and has not been taken down as a bad businessman.  Trump Vodka, Steaks, Airlines, Casino--all were losers.  Why would we want to put, say Social Security, or any part of our treasury at risk? 
  • His invitation to a long time adversary to hack our computers is nothing short of treasonous.
  • His support for Newt Gingrich after Gingrich's condescending chauvinistic put down of Megyn Kelly is beyond the pale.  Trump's own comments about Megyn Kelly are beyond the pale.
  • There is nothing more central to democracy than the notion that our elections are on the up and up.  This whining, "the election is rigged" narrative is as unAmerican as palling with Putin.
There's more, but I will stop here. I hope the polls are correct. My prediction is that if he does lose, Trump will not be the champion of the disenfranchised. He will become a pariah within the Republican party and his own party members will initiate criminal charges on Trump University, the hacking of computers, and threats to challenge the health of candidates in office and those running for office.

P.S. The good news is that this is the only time of the year that all four major sports are in regular season action at the same time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Best wishes

I reread yesterday a blog I posted on Yom Kippur a number of years back.  I titled it, "There was Soap."

I liked what I reread, but am/was not sure how I could write anything more distinctive today, Yom Kippur the main day of introspection for those in the tribe.

"There was Soap" refers to a key passage in the book, Love in the Time of Cholera.  Essentially, it refers to unconditional forgiveness.--forgiving even when one has not earned forgiveness.  If you are so inclined to read the blog again, you will see that I make the point that sometimes such forgiveness extends to forgiving ourselves--even when we have not earned it.  This assumes that the residual of the day's introspection is a commitment to not continuing to do what required forgiving.

This virtue of forgiveness was put to the test within the last hour.  I wanted to check and see what time the shofar is blown this evening.  On this day the blowing of the shofar marks the end of the fast and the time when the services are over.

So I went on line and typed in what one would type in to find the time.  As is the case with everything now that you could possibly want to know, the googling resulted in several hits.  I clicked on a couple until I found the one which indicated when, in Boston, the shofar would be blown.  When I scrolled to the bottom of the page, I was taken aback by a one word comment from someone who, for who knows what reason, had paid a visit to the site.

The one word comment from, go figure, "anonymous" was KIKES.

I am not a religious person.  I believe, as my father was wont to say--to the irritation of my mother--that the problem with the services in temple is that there is too much "god" in them.  This quip drove my mother mad, but I think it makes sense.  I believe that monotheism does not mean that there is one "god" so much as one right. That is, there are things about how to conduct our lives that are incontrovertibly right. It is right to be kind to others, right to be sensitive to others, to not steal and kill.  And it is our job as humans to try and do what is right, live within the confines of a moral conscience.

So if I don't believe in god, then why do I observe the holy days.

One reason is that I like the feeling on particular days of knowing that throughout the whole world, Jews are saying the exact same prayers as I am.  If you were in Peru last night and went to temple, you would have been chanting Kol Nidre.  

A second reason is to stand up to the misanthropes who write Kikes.  I like to go to a temple and say to these sorts, "Right here, buster, right now.  Lot of good your Kike writing is doing.  I'm still here."

A third reason is that when I go on high holy days it sometimes sets me straight.  During the holy days there is a moratorium on your routine, a routine which can sometimes bump me off the line of living as I think one ought to.

So, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous who wrote Kikes on the website--let me tell you what I am going to do. In a few moments, I am going to take a shower, put on a suit, grab the tallis bag that my grandfather bought for me in 1962, and go to a service. During it--and all day until they blow the shofar--I will try and remind myself that I cannot become like you.   And I will send you my best wishes towards an awakening for yourself.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

l'shana tovah

Tonight at sundown begins the new year for those in my tribe. 5777.

I saw in the New York Times today that there were several advertisers that wished its readers, l'shana tova.  A good year.

I'm reluctant to employ the slogan of a political candidate to whom I have no allegiance. However, a challenge to all is tikkun olam which, in the vernacular of today's politics, can be translated as "Let's make the world great again."

What can one do toward that end?

Nothing profound here in terms of the recipe. Work to love yourself and be the person you want to be so that loving yourself comes naturally.   And love, as a verb, those you love, as a noun, and be loving toward everyone in y/our orbit.

Rosh Hashanah (the word rosh literally means "Head", shanah means "Year") is an opportunity to be introspective, a time to take a look at what is what, and get on track to where you want to go.

Happy new year to those who celebrate and observe this time.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

78 rpm

I just read that today is National Coffee Day.  (Is there a date on the calendar that is not a national something day?)

In the Boston area, coffee establishments--of which there are only about 1000--have various promotions in honor of the day. It is only 66 cents a cup at Dunkin Doughnuts. You get a cup free with a food purchase at another shop.  You become eligible for free coffee for a year at yet another.  One can apparently leave the wallet in the pocket and obtain morning fuel-- and perhaps a second and third cup.

Some possible repercussions because of the coffee shops' largesse.

Check to see if your colleagues are speaking more rapidly today.  The person who informs you of all sorts of mundane irrelevant to anyone but his life's activities, may be spewing these meaningless reports so quickly that they are, not that it matters, unintelligible.  Today, you may hear about traffic confrontations, trips to kids' soccer games, problems with water heaters, at a much faster clip

See if you notice a marked increase in the gait of your colleagues.  Is the guy who typically plods up the corridor moving as if he is late for a bus?  I just saw a colleague who regularly lumbers as if he would rather never arrive in his office move as if there was a check taped to his door.  Perhaps he took advantage of dunkin doughnuts 66 cent a cup offer.

Does it seem as if the public toilets have more traffic?  If your office is near a lavatory, can you hear flushing noises with greater frequency?  Is your office mate making even less sense than is typical? Are meeting participants who ramble getting to the point more quickly, or rambling on yet even more tangents?  Later in the afternoon are the lounges filled with slumping bodies who have crashed after a larger than normal fix?  Do you see coffee entrepreneurs laughing even harder because the product that costs them a few cents to make, and for which they charge two plus dollars, is even more clearly today, delightfully, addictive?

Let me know.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

One of those guys

When I was a summer replacement in the United States Post Office I toiled with several other temporary workers. Most of the time I was on the parcel post belt. My job was to "trow" (nobody threw anything in the post office, we "trew" things) parcels into bins.

This is how it worked. Parcels would travel on a conveyor belt. I, and several others, were to pick up the moving parcels from the belt. We'd read the address, find the bin for that locale, and "trow" the parcel into that bin.  So, if I snagged a box that read Babylon, my task was to spot a bin beyond the belt and trow the box into a bin with all the other parcels heading to Babylon.

It was an interesting job, not because of the challenging nature of the tasks (though since the bins were arranged in alphabetical order it was sometimes challenging to trow a parcel into the Syosset bin since it was way in the back).  One aspect of the job that was interesting were the dynamics between the temporary workers and the regulars.  The regulars had short cuts for many of the tasks and a routine for their work. Some of the regulars were supervisors and, in that capacity, made suggestions to us about how to get things done swiftly.  There were several characters who had amusing ways of passing the time while trowing parcels or handling other responsibilities.

A couple of years after my stint at the post office, I went back to the location to visit with some of the people with whom I worked.   I ran into a fellow who had been a temporary that summer, but had stuck around and was now working full time in a supervisory role.  When we chatted he said, "Remember when we used to have to deal with the supervisors. Well guess what, now I am one of those guys." The way he said it was amusing and I can still see the expression on his face when he summarized his new status.

The other night we were watching the Monday Night football game after Hilary squared off against Trump. I had, despite my intentions to not watch the debate, viewed much of it.  But it ended, thankfully, at about 1030, so I turned my attention to the game.

I did not do so because of my interest in the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons.  I did this because in the fantasy football family league I reluctantly joined this year we "had" Drew Brees as our quarterback.  The Maroons, our team, had lost its first two contests and it looked bleak for this week's as well.  We were down by 60 points going into the game, so Brees would have to have a great night for us to have a chance.

The thing is that according to the rules of fantasy football, Brees was having a great night.  So good that by the time I tuned in we were close to overtaking my cousin's husband in our head to head battle.  The Saints and Brees had the ball and were driving which meant we were accruing points with every pass.

However, down by only three points the Saints had to relinquish the ball.  The Maroons chances therefore became slim.  All Atlanta had to do was get a first down or two and the game would be over.  Atlanta did get an initial first down so it looked as if the Maroons attempt to break into the win column would have to wait.  But then what happened was that a player from Atlanta broke into the open and was en route to the end zone.  This was good news for our fantasy football team.  If the Atlanta player scored, Brees could get back on the field and might complete a few passes before the game ended. If he did so, the Maroons would win.

So, because I am a participant in fantasy football, I started to shout for the Atlanta player to score a meaningless touchdown so that Drew Brees might throw some meaningless passes.  I barked "Go, Go, Go" at about 11 at night. Donna was ready to call the local asylum because this to any reasonable person made no sense.  Did not stop me. I kept saying Go, Go, Go.  Sadly, the runner was tackled, Brees did not get on the field, and the Maroons lost.

I am becoming one of those guys.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

All My Puny Sorrows

When I was reading this book I felt that it had to be autobiographical.  Then I finished it, googled the author and found that while this book is listed as a novel, it is very close to, or indeed, a memoir as events in the book are identical to events in the author's life.

The fact that the story is in large part real makes this book even more sad than it would be if it was pure fiction.  All My Puny Sorrows is beautifully and cleverly written.  But it is so sad that I am not sure I can recommend it.

The book is about two sisters who were brought up in a Mennonite community near Winnipeg.  One of the sisters is a brilliant pianist.  The narrator, the other sister, is an author. The story includes episodes from the sisters' early family life with their loving parents.  Much of the "novel" takes place when the sisters are in their forties, but there are reflections about childhood throughout.

All My Puny Sorrows is beyond sad.  A message in the book is that given the emotional blows that this family endures, most of the sorrows that weigh us down are relatively puny. I'm not sure it works that way and I will write more fully about this later in the blog.

If you think you might want to read the book despite how sad it will likely make you feel, then do not read the next paragraph.

One of the two sisters is a brilliant pianist.  The narrator, the other sister, is an author.  (Miriam Toews, the author, grew up with her sister in a Mennonite community near Winnipeg. Her sister was a concert pianist).  A central character in the novel is the sisters' father, a very good man.  He is also a depressed man who commits suicide by sitting on the train tracks one day.  (Miriam Toews's father killed himself by sitting on the train tracks).  The central character in the novel is the narrator's sister.  She, like her dad, is also very depressed and the novel focuses on  how the family, already bereft of a father because of his suicide, attempts to address the sister's suicidal tendencies.  It doesn't help. She, like her father, sits on the railroad tracks and commits suicide. (Miriam Toews's sister in real life committed suicide, like her father, by sitting on the railroad tracks).  Throw in an aunt--whose own daughter had previously committed suicide. The aunt comes to Winnipeg in an attempt to comfort her suicidal niece. During her visit, doctors discover that the aunt needs to have emergency open heart surgery.  She has the surgery. She dies after the surgery.  The book is just one barrel of laughs.

But, despite this, it is a valuable read.  The narrator describes the events vividly and includes her own missteps.  She, her children, her mother, her friends are fully drawn, very real, and earn the reader's sympathy.  Some scenes are brilliantly described, even if maybe a little heavy on the metaphors. It will be a while before I forget the part when the mother, sister, and sister's daughter try to put up a Christmas tree.

It is true that compared to this family all our sorrows are puny, but no matter how bad someone else has it, our relatively puny sorrows do not feel puny to us.  All of our sorrows will be a burden even if we know of others who have it worse.  My favorite character in the "novel" is the mother. She is a survivor.  She loses her husband, daughter, niece, and sister and still attempts to find the light.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I am attempting to unpack why I do not want to watch tonight's debate.

A number of things to point out.  In our history, ever since televised debates became common, the events have had dramatic effects on the elections. Kennedy's first debate with Nixon vaulted him to a national figure and made Nixon seem relatively apprehensive and incompetent.  The Reagan-Carter debate in 1980 was held on the final weekend of the campaign season.  When they went into the debate the polls had the contest neck and neck.  In the debate, as on the election two days later, Reagan won by a landslide.  When Dukakis ran against the elder George Bush, his response to a question about capital punishment torpedoed Dukakis's candidacy.   Ford misspoke in his debate with Carter in 1976 revealing ignorance or, one hopes more likely, just misunderstanding of the nature of the question. Ford's response was a pivot point in the election.  Gore's sighing and eyeball rolling could have been the tipping factor in the crazy 2000 election with the hanging chads.

So, the debates matter.

And the stakes here are very high.  I follow the election polls closely and as of this writing it seems likely that Clinton will win with 272 electoral votes.  Since a winner needs 270, this is a slim comfort margin. Any one state now in Clinton's column swinging to Trump means we have this Trump person in the white house.

It is frightening to me that in many states there are more people who think that Trump would be a viable president than those who recognize this egocentric goofball for who he is.  My favorite quip about Trump was one I heard in an interview. "This guy was born on third base, yet waves his arms and jumps up and down as if he hit a triple." No humility. No sense of how he is not fit for this office.

I think our economy and national safety are on the line.  If we get close to election day and it is still a close race, I will take whatever meagre sums I have in it, out of the stock market and put them in an insured account.  And who knows if that will matter if the person with knowledge of the nuclear codes is this person who always thinks that there is a safety net because for him daddy always provided one.

So, I don't want to watch because I am afraid that Clinton will stumble and, apparently, Trump can fall on his face and dirty his underwear and people in the Dakotas and Kansas and Utah and Oklahoma, and Idaho and Arkansas, and Mississippi and and and, will still vote for him.

I'll take a long walk and then hope someone will tell me that Trump showed his true self and Clinton held her own.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


There are a number of taverns near me within walking distance.  Not a real short walk, but places a person with a decent set of wheels can amble to without it being an ordeal.  The closest is a restaurant with a Cheers like bar attached.  Not a bad restaurant, but not much of a place to go to to watch a game with like minded fans.

There are three other establishments within 3/4 of a mile which have their distinctiveness. One is for folks who barely can remember 9/11.  Another for persons who probably know who the Beatles are.  And a third that is part of a very expensive restaurant. There used to be a fourth, Bullets.

I have parked myself at many an establishment to watch sporting events.  Some places are not written up in GQ and I don't really mind the dives.  There is a sports bar about three miles from me that I attended once and decided it was too depressing even with football games and fans populating the joints. But I will try most any place once to watch a game

However, I never walked into Bullets.  Bullets was a bar that sat right next to a Dunkin Doughnuts. What struck me about Bullets is that when I went in at 8 am to Dunkin Doughnuts to get a cup of coffee and a bagel, there were guys stumbling out of Bullets who looked like they had already knocked back several pints.   Bullets, go figure, went out of business a few months ago.

Who I wondered frequented that place? I found out about two weeks ago.

Beyond the Cheers-like restaurant in a different direction, there is a joint which is really nothing more than a living room.  It has a person's name on the door.  I once, curious, went in there and it was as spartan as any place I've ever been to.  Very small.  Really my living room is as big.  There is a long table top that serves as a bar. No beer on tap. Just bottles.  No credit cards accepted.  There's a dance floor with a karaoke mike that gets some traffic and two old tv sets that always have a sporting event on them.  I kind of like the spot.  It is often crowded--which doesn't take much--and people seem to be enjoying themselves despite the fact that it really is nothing more than an empty space with some tables you might find on the street on garbage day that former owners are tossing.

The other night I stopped into the room.  I was having a cold one watching the Red Sox when a fellow started chatting me up. He seemed like a reasonable guy to me and I will bet the only person in that joint who regularly knocks back Johnny Walker Black.  He knew many of the people in the crowd.  At one point he shook his head and told me, sadly, that someone he had just said "hi" to was one of the crew that had come over to this place after Bullets closed up.

Well, that killed me.  You could walk past a number of decent places on the way from where Bullets was to this nothing place.  What did the regulars at Bullets do? Did they convene and say what is a bar that is equal to the dumpiness of Bullets? And did someone say they knew just the place.

Coincidentally completely, I had read a review of a book called, Later, At the Bar, that highly recommended the read. So, I took it out of the library and read through the short novel--which is really just a series of loosely connected short stories.  Later, At the Bar is about the regulars at a bar called Lucy's which is in a fictitious town in upstate New York.  From various hints I think the fictitious town is based on areas near the Finger Lakes region, a rural part of central, western New York.

I did not think Later At the Bar was that special. Moreover I didn't recognize a soul there as someone I rubbed shoulders with at any of the sports bars where I have frequented. Of course, Lucy's is not a sports bar, but still I found nothing attractive about the characters.  I read the book after my encounter in the living room now populated by the erstwhile denizens of Bullets, so I thought about the characters in the book as those who might have been inhabitants of Bullets.  But I don't think they were.

Most of the characters in Later At the Bar went to the bar to get drunk. And maybe to hook up with another drunkard.  They often did hook up and I found myself contemplating the nature of engagement that could take place even among interested and enthusiastic parties who have had close to two six packs before messing around.   There did not seem to be anyone in the novel who (a) I'd like to befriend (b) had a full set of teeth and/or (c) was a real person.  

The living room establishment has more character and bona fide characters, but that the clientele selected it after the demise of Bullets, leaves me shaking my head about the draw of certain types of watering holes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Open 2

If you are a tennis fan, you oohed and aahed watching the finals on Sunday.  Wawrinka played like a computer figure whacking the ball with his backhand in a way that seemed impossible unless you were inanimate and stroked on the basis of a programmer's algorithm.

I was at the Open during the first week.  The high school boys met up for dinner on Tuesday night and then saw Beautiful which was just as its title suggests it could be. It was like going to a Carole King concert.  John, one of my cronies, had bought terrific seats which were worth the shekels and then some. Dead center, about eight rows back, we felt the earth move under our feet.

The tennis center has made renovations that resulted in a much more pleasurable experience for the spectators.  There is a new grandstand and, this year at least, the old grandstand was still in operation. This meant that there were four stadiums (five if you count court 17 which has plenty of seats as well) where you could park yourself to watch great tennis. The small courts on the periphery have also had some work so that there are more seats while still giving the spectator a terrific view of the action.  We saw most of an excellent women's match within a few feet from the combatants.  An interesting note about that match was that each player looked fantastic and yet the winner was shellacked by her next opponent.  And then that winner was shellacked two rounds later 6-0 6-2.  So, the woman who, to me, looked like a champion was soundly beaten by someone who was subsequently soundly beaten.  And that victor did not make it to the finals.

We did not leave the center until about 8 pm so we watched tennis from 11 am til 8--nine hours of oohing and aahing.  Caught a bit of seven or eight matches.  We did not eat a whole lot at the center but even with the water and ice cream and something else I cannot remember we almost paid as much for the refreshments as we did for the tickets.  The people who are selling bottled water are hysterical as they count their money.

I have become more attuned to the sounds that complement sports than I had been previously.  I noticed that during turnovers in the stadiums there is music played to, I'll guess, entertain the fans during the 90 second breaks.  Also the spectators themselves are not as mute as in prior years. Tennis players in the past have demanded silence during their play.  I can recall being embarrassed when one of our trio had used a cell phone during a point. This time there was chatter during play which did not seem to be offensive to the other fans or the players.  The Ashe stadium now has a roof which was used during the tournament even when there was not much more than a sprinkle. When I went into the Ashe the roof was open, but still it seemed a little noisy in there. I have been told that the sound was din-like when the roof was closed.  The grounds themselves had an ambient sound which made the experience more festive than it would otherwise have been. The ambient sound was a composite of conversation, music one could hear seeping from the various stadiums, and the whoosh of the fountains that are here and there at the tennis center.  We could see, but not really hear, the ESPN sportscasters interviewing John McEnroe and other commentators.  A studio is set up on the grounds near the Ashe stadium which is for post match interviews and pundit analyses.  The noise you hear there is more from the gawkers who shout at the broadcasters.

If you are a sports fan, and fond of tennis, it is a bucket list item to go to the US OPEN once before your last walk over.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kaepernick--What goes around

There are three basic questions that surround the Colin Kaepernick et al's decision to kneel, instead of stand, for the national anthem before athletic contests.  It is interesting to me, someone who was in college during the height of the student activism of the late 60s and early 70s, that this precise issue--for related causes--was prominent then.

The questions:

Does he have a right to do this?

Does the action promote Kaepernick's cause?

Is there a legitimate cause that is worthy of this protest?

Does he have a right to do this?  Yes, of course. In this country one has a right to exercise free speech as long as the activity does not directly jeopardize others.  There is an irony of course in protesting a government that allows you to protest when such allowances are not granted in other countries that manufacture reasons to protest that are far more compelling. Nevertheless, the answer to the question is a strong yes.

Does the action promote the cause?  This is not as easy to answer.  There is already an awareness of injustice among many and for this population the action is more complementary than inherently persuasive.  However, protests like Kaepernick's may ignite embers that are relatively dormant. If this occurs the protests do promote the cause.  The protests may even sway some who have been made aware of the alleged injustices because of how the spotlight shines on the protestors.

However, the actions can also have a polarizing and counterproductive effect.  Instead of making all aware of injustices it may create or highlight tensions that exist between ethnic groups. The result is less kumbaya and more animosity.  The American flag is important to many so to not honor it is to inflame emotions of some people. They will become less likely to support those who have been victimized because of prejudices.

Is there a legitimate cause that is worthy of this protest?  Strong yes and strong no which is, admittedly equivocal.  Yet the answer makes sense.

Yes, there are government representatives who are prejudiced to the extent that they take actions against some populations when they would cut slack to others.  Absolutely, positively.  This is against every principle of an allegedly egalitarian society. It is reprehensible so shouting loud and clear about the offense is called for. So, the answer is a strong yes.

But the strong no is equally loud.  It is tough to be a cop.  And by gesturing as they have the protestors implicitly criticize all police officers who have an extremely difficult job. It is an insult to the hard workers who are working to protect us all.  When I grew up a guy on the first floor was a police officer.  His son was a good friend of mine.  The idea that Eddie, the dad, was anything other than a hard working person trying to do his job was absurd.  So, when I personalize the protests it does not sit well with me. I imagine Eddie watching Kaepernick kneeling and how this would anger him.  And how justified he would be to become angry.  It is absolutely wrong to stain the entire police force for the actions of some.  The next time you are burglarized or beaten, you are going to want a cop to track down the perpetrator.  How would you expect her or him to address your concerns if you had been sending the message that all cops were nogoodniks?

In the 60s it was common to hear the revolutionaries refer to police as pigs.  I remember my dad being furious at this.  Always telling me how unfair it must be to a guy like Eddie--a hardworking cop, a black cop in a white 1950s police force, in a city that was not Mayberry, who walked a beat daily-- to have to hear that nonsense.  Is it that much different now.  How would you feel if you were a hardworking cop?

In sum,

Does Kaepernick have the right. Absolutely positively.
Do I think he should have done it in the first place? you could make a good case. There have been prejudicial police behaviors.
Do I think he should continue to do this? I think at this point the negatives outweigh the positives as it has become a polarizing issue.
 Is his cause legitimate? Strong yes and strong no.

Monday, September 12, 2016

right here, right now

My recommendation to those who read Kate Atkinson is to try and read her books in a short period of time. The novels are complex with multiple characters some of whom are from prior books. Within a paragraph the reader finds allusions to Julia, Josie, and others who've had assorted relationships with Jackson Brodie--the main character.  The plot lines are complex. It is in one's best interests to not pick one of her novels up unless you can dedicate a day to it.  Otherwise you are forever re reading sections that you have already completed.

I have likened reading her novels to going on a roller coaster. After the one I just finished, When Will There Be Good News, it felt more like trying to stay on a bucking bronco--not that I have ever tried to do that.  It may be that I feel this metaphor is apt because--despite my recommendation--I was unable to read this one straight through. I read the first 100 pages in a gulp, but the next 150 I read in spurts during the course of a work week. I read the last 100 plus in a short period, but I probably did not get all the nuances, kept getting thrown off the Bronco.

One thing that a reader should definitely do is read the four Jackson Brodie novels in sequence.  I read the fourth one first, and then the first, second, and third.  Had my memory been better I would have known reading this third one, about what happened to a central character in it because she was mentioned in the fourth.  I only know this now because after I finished I checked out the fourth on Amazon. You can put in a word or name that might be in a book and find any place where that word or name is mentioned in the book.  I thought this one character might be familiar so I typed her name in and sure enough something that provided a surprising pivot in the third would not have been surprising at all had I had better recall.

All this is preface.

I highly recommend this book if for no other reason than its message at the end. And, I confess, I did not feel the impact of the novel until I finished it and read one of the many glowing excerpts from reviewers.  Laura Miller, a reviewer from Salon wrote "The novel satisfies the question in its own title. The answer is: Right here and right now."  This is likely cryptic to those who have not read the book, but when you complete it you will see why this is a walloping and accurate synopsis of the message.

It is tough to nutshell the novel without giving away much, but I will try. As always I'll warn that if you want to know nothing about the story, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.  In the Past (the title of the first section) a young family is walking home through a field from a trip to the market. A madman attacks the family in the field: killing the mother, infant child and daughter of 8. A six year old daughter is somehow able to escape.  This event happens right in the first ten pages.  When the book goes to the present (titled Today) we find out that the six year old has become a doctor and has married a shady fellow. She, Joanna (call me Jo), has a baby. Joanna hires a teenager to help care for the baby. The teenager became an orphan when her mother died in an accident. The teenager has a ne'er do well brother who is nothing but trouble with a capital T.  Enter another victim of a mass murder, the policewoman who is still trying to catch that perpetrator (the policewoman happens to be Jackson Brodie's love interest from the last book), a train wreck, switched identities, arson, and a disappearance.

In short, a whole lot of bad stuff goes on. At the end we readers learn the answer to the question posed in the title: Right here and right now is when there will be or could be good news.

When Will There Be Good News is wild. Atkinson can sometimes be exasperating, but I am glad I started reading her Jackson Brodie series.  This one will stay with me for a long time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Last night I participated in my first ever fantasy football draft.  I figure that if I am going to write about contemporary sports I need to become aware of something that has, in recent years, been on only the periphery of my consciousness.

It would be difficult for any sports fan not to have fantasy sports on at least the periphery of one's consciousness. There are dedicated articles in newspapers and, for my taste, far too many sports programs solely about the fantasy game.  At one time it was an anomaly, but now it is not, to see fans in sports bars with laptops set up. They are not checking their e-mails--they are seeing how their fantasy teams are doing during the course of a Sunday.  And they get excited about aspects of the game that make no sense unless you are one of the tribe.

It is that which has put me off of Fantasy Sports.  I like the game itself. As I wrote in the Madness of March, the key to the game is the game, not the spread.  I do comment at how many people in las vegas--including myself--can get into watching a contest with an eye on the spread, but I make the point I hope that one need not have a wager on a game to "make it interesting." The game itself is interesting. If it was not, then there would not be a lucrative sports business based on the games.  On Saturday the 3rd, there was college football on television from 730 am in the east until close to midnight.  That is due to the inherent draw of the competition.

But, not for the first time, I digress.  Back to my first ever fantasy football draft.

I had been urged  by my nephew and niece to join a fantasy sports league last year.  I had no interest. This year the league went into its second season and I, reluctantly--more to be less of a party pooper than anything else--joined up.  It is a Zaremba league. My nephew is the commissioner and "owns" a team. My niece owns another.  My cousin, his daughter, his son, his daughter's husband, my brother, and I make up the 8 team league. No doubt the computers are befuddled at how there can be so many Zarembas in one place at one time.

But we were all there, well virtually, last night. The draft was at 7 pm.  My brother with his typical considerate patience called me up, me the Scrooge of fantasy football, to explain the process so I would not be a stick in the mud come 7 pm.  I had attended a fantasy draft previously and blogged about it a couple of years back with the kind of smirky disdain of someone who believes his love of sport is above it all. (This coming from a guy who might stand on one leg and tap my fingers in exactly the same order before a field goal to give it good luck).

So, for twenty minutes we did a mock draft and I got the hang of it.  As the clock on the computer wound down for our Zaremba league to commence, I got kind of excited.  By the time it hit zero, I was into it.  ESPN who I guess sponsors these drafts, has their act together. When it comes time for you to draft there is a bell that goes off. There is a process for dragging a player from a list onto your team. Each player is listed in order of some expert's prediction of who would be the best player to select at any one time.  It's all very well organized.  There is even a place where you can write smart alecky remarks to your competitors like "Nice pick goofball." Each owner has two minutes, a commissioner's decision regarding the length, on how long you have to make a pick.  We had a "snake" draft which means that once the 8th team picks of the 8 team Zaremba league, then that team picks again, then the 7th, the 6th, the 5th etcetera.

It took an hour to finish the draft. It was fun.  I was into it.  I stocked my team with Patriots which, if you knew what you were doing, was probably not the wisest way to go since only so many Patriots can score in any one game.  But so what.  I kind of get it now.  It will be interesting to see if my affection for the Patriots is diverted at all as I follow the fantasy league.

My love for sports will remain about the game itself.  But I am kind of interested in how the Maroons (this Zaremba team) will fare come Sunday.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Open

The US Open begins today.  Annually I attend the event with some high school friends.  I recall when I first went, some twenty years ago, my dad asked me afterwards if I had seen Sampras play.  I told him that every single one of the players looked like Sampras.

This year the Ashe stadium will have a roof.  This will be interesting. The way the Open works (or has worked) for spectators is that one buys a ticket and can attend any event on any of the seventeen or so courts in the complex.  At some courts you are within a few feet of the contestants. In the larger arenas, except for Ashe, you might be a bit away but still within a few yards.  Your ticket comes with a specific assigned seat for the Ashe.  And, unless you are loaded, that seat is a very long way from the action. For this reason while we typically go into the Ashe stadium for a short time, we don't stay there. This year will be different particularly if it rains.  There used to be a policy that if there was a rainout one could get a refund. Now, given the roof, my guess is that even if all the other courts are rained on, you can park yourself in the Ashe all day and watch the day matches.

One year one of my friend's clients invited us to a VIP section of the stadium. This was quite nice. We were within a few feet of Billy Jean King and some other notables whose names, at this writing, I cannot recall. (Only remember that at the time I knew that some of those were ex-players).

The experience for the fan has changed a bit over the years.  At some point the Open decided to sell many more tickets than they had previously. We get ours in April or May, but you can see people lining up for grounds passes on lines that stretch about fifty yards. The result is that the venue is crowded. In the early days it was easy to hop from one match to another. Now to do so means relinquishing a seat at one site when you don't know how long it will take you to get to another.

Not always, but nearly always, I bump into someone in New York who had been a tennis friend of mine at my club in Boston.  The chatter among tennis players can be distilled as oohing and aahing about the professionals we've watched.  Almost all of the spectators look like they pick up a racquet now and again, wearing duds that are after tennis garb.

Bring a sandwich if you go unless you want to take out a loan to grab a bite.  A bottle of water can run between 5 and 10 dollars, a soda about the same.  Sandwiches that are not particularly hefty can set you back close to 20.  The price of a ticket has gone up dramatically in the last two decades.

Still it is an experience live that is far different than the experience on tv.  I'm involved with some colleagues now examining sounds of sport and how that affects the viewing experience.   Now that I have this project in mind, I think I will have even greater appreciation of the value of attending a sporting event live--as opposed to watching the games at home.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot is a novel by Liane Moriarty.  It had been recommended to me somehow--either a friend had suggested it or I'd read a review that did.  I recall buying it on Amazon and beginning it about a year ago.  The first few pages then did not grab me and I put it down.  Earlier this summer I spotted it on my bookshelf. When I was in between reads recently, I tried it again.

I'm not sure what the acclaim is about. This is the kind of book that makes me wonder how it made its way past the many submissions a publisher rejects.  It is not especially well written, has a plot line that is Rip Van Winkle-ish, so not particularly original.  Also there are subplots that are not especially profound or even relevant to the story.

A woman, Alice, falls down in her gym in 2008 and temporarily loses consciousness.  When she regains consciousness she thinks it is 1998. She thinks she is pregnant with her first child.  She also thinks she is still married and in love with Nick--her husband--when in fact she and he are in the midst of a difficult divorce and custody battle for their three children.  Alice has forgotten that her relationship with her sister is strained and that she has made friends with some, enemies of others, and is dating her daughter's school principal.

The entire book is about this loss of memory and how the 1998 Alice navigates 2008 with no memory of the prior ten years.  The subplots involve her sister's struggle to become pregnant and Alice's sort of grandmother.  (She is sort of a grandmother because when Alice's father died suddenly a neighbor became like a mother to Alice's mother.)  The grandmother writes love letters to an absent Phil and these are interspersed throughout the novel.

This synopsis does not give away much. If one is inclined to enjoy a story with this frame, then you might want to read the book.  I did not find it particularly rewarding, enjoyable, or original.


I needed a haircut yesterday.  There is a woman who has been doing my hair now for about fifteen years. She works at a chain franchise and has been at the same spot in, nearly always, the same chair since Bush the younger's administration, maybe even Clinton's.

She is a very popular hair cutter.  I wonder if it is difficult for her co workers because often I go in there and the others are twiddling their thumbs while three or four hirsute customers are waiting for May.  Yesterday was such a day.  I got there at 1230 and my hair did not start cascading down the shmata they put over me until nearly 130.

Towards the end of my wait time a couple came into the shop with their adolescent son.  I'd put the kid at around 17, but he could have been a year or two older or younger.  It did not seem as if the dad or mom could speak. They signed when they interacted.  The boy was not paying attention and was difficult to control.  At one point the kid got up out of a chair and started walking around the shop.  This couple and their son must have come in at other times because the workers did not appear to be alarmed at how the young man meandered through the store as if he was the difficult child of the owner whose parent had given up disciplining him.

Soon it became apparent that the boy was not simply mischievous.  My unprofessional diagnosis was that he was a young Rain Man, an autistic youngster.  He did not speak but neither did his parents, so it took a few moments to realize that the kid was not responding normally.

These people were not waiting for May.  I was in her chair being shorn when the parents attempted to corral their youngster so that he could sit in someone else's chair.  They could not do it. They started yanking the boy out of one chair to get him into another.   The kid was very close by and I thought the situation could be dangerous if in the course of the tugging the kid bolted into May while she was using her scissors.

That did not happen, but I noticed when they finally got the boy into a chair that he would not sit still for the haircut. The woman doing the cutting was remarkably patient waiting for the kid to stop for a few seconds so she could snip.  When I went to the register to pay, I saw that the father now was sitting in the chair with his arms around the boy like a straitjacket holding him down on his lap so the barber could do her work.  It was like cutting a moving target.

At one point the we heard a loud smash as the kid had knocked away a mirror being held by someone--I think the mother.  I don't know how the haircut ended for him.  He was still being held down in the chair when I exited.

It had been a troubling week for me. Nothing insurmountable, just some foul matters taking up space in my head.  It should put things in perspective to imagine the hour by hour challenges of the parents of the young boy as well as the--to us-- incomprehensible world of the boy himself.  He and they would trade their lot with many of us. I imagine there is love in their family like there is in many families, but the turbulence of every day must create obstacles that block their journey in ways we cannot imagine.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Jimmy and Tom

I had a college roommate once who opined succinctly about the meaningfulness of preseason football games. "They don't mean excrement" he said--or something like that.

Well, he is right. In terms of wins and losses, that the Patriots are 3-0 in preseason is an absolutely meaningless stat.  Also, how players--particularly veterans--run, block, and tackle, in preseason is not significant.  How veterans perform in the regular season will reflect an energy, preparation, and attitude that is not present in the preseason.

So, not to make a whole lot of Jimmy Garropolo's preseason performance. He has, in my opinion, stunk up the joint in all three games. Garropolo has come to be an important figure in New England because with Tom Brady's unfounded four game suspension, Garropolo has become the starting quarterback for the most successful football franchise of the last decade.

During the regular season in the years when he was a backup, Garropolo did not play a meaningful minute.  He would come in when the game was a slaughter or out of reach just to park his knee on the turf in order to run out the clock.  This year when the season begins in Arizona on September 11th Garropolo will be the starting quarterback in a nationally televised night game.

Jimmy has started all three of the preseason games. Last night, Brady came in at the end of the first quarter and played for much of the remainder of the first half.  Garropolo completed his first pass and then was a notch below ordinary all other times he appeared. And the difference between Brady and Garropolo had little to do with passing skill or even choosing the correct receiver.  The difference was in reading the defense before the ball was put in play and making adjustments.

Brady saw what the defense was giving him and made decisions accordingly. Garropolo to date has not shown that he can do that.   This ability, this quarterback intelligence, to come to the line of scrimmage see what is what and adjust accordingly is really what separates the great players from the ones who have talent but never excel.

Brady can not throw nearly as well as some of his contemporaries.  In a pure passing drill with say Drew Bledsoe his predecessor on the Patriots, Bledsoe would be far more impressive. He could throw darts for forty yards.  My guess is that Jimmy Garropolo has as good an arm as Brady.

My college roommate's wisdom is indeed wise. The preseason is not a predictor of the regular season. It would not surprise me if Garropolo could lead the Patriots to a 4-0 record before Brady's return.  It would not even surprise me that the Patriots success under Jimmy may cause some murmurings about handing over the ball permanently to the apprentice.  However, unless Jimmy can prove he can read and adjust to defenses, the disparity between the two players will remain the great and significant divide.

Friday, August 19, 2016

One Good Turn

One Good Turn is the second novel in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series.  I had read the fourth one first, and then the first one second. Now I've finished the second one read third.

I don't recommend this haphazard approach. These are books that should be read in sequence.  In this second one, Brodie's romantic interest is a woman he met in the first novel who was central to one of the crimes he was investigating.  There are references in this second book to other characters in the first that you would miss if you had not read the initial story.  Also, I realized towards the end of this one that an allusion I vaguely recall from the fourth novel is based on events in this one.

So if you are going to read these I suggest reading them in order.  And if you like to read, I suggest you read them.  This, One Good Turn, is not as good as the preceding book, Case Histories.  Still it is well written. You have to pay attention right from the start because events that seem peripheral are often not, and events that you think occur in the order she reveals them may not be.  There is a surprise ending in this one that caught me off guard. Not worth reading the book for this reason alone, but still it was one of several positive aspects of the book.

If you want to know nothing about the story skip to the next paragraphs.  In this one, an automobile accident precipitates a series of events that involve a real estate king, his spouse, a policewoman, her kid, a detective writer, a cleaning company that doubles as an escort service, a lunatic bat swinging body guard, and of course Jackson Brodie.  Brodie coincidentally is present at the time of the accident as is the spouse of the real estate tycoon, the son of the policewoman, and the detective writer.

I feel when I read books by Atkinson as if I am boarding a roller coaster when I open the novel. The ride is wild and mostly enjoyable.  You have to keep going back to read sections when a clue implicates a character that appeared 50 pages previously.  But it really does force the reader to pay attention.

An indication of how good she is as a writer is that before I finished One Good Turn I went on Amazon and bought the next book in the series, When Will There Be Good News.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jack's Slacks

I'm wearing a sports jacket on this summery August day. Typically I wear one to work--often just to have a place to put my keys and glasses and wallet and phone.  When I get in to the office I hang the jacket up on a hook by my door.

So, in the summer--more often than not--my jacket is not on my back but on a hook.

I just returned from a meeting. The meeting, I thought, was from 1-230. When I arrived there was not a soul in the joint.  This is because the meeting is actually from 130-3.  So, I returned across the campus took off my jacket, hung it up, and saw that the label inside reads Jack's Slacks.

This, therefore--whether I realized it or not when I plucked it from the closet today--is one of my dad's jackets that I had tailored after he passed. Across the shoulders and arms, he and I were about the same. But Dad was broader than I south of the chest, muscular, but a wider girth.  So, I took it in to a tailor and zip zip the jacket looks like it was made for me.  How it fits, though, is beside the point.

Jack's Slacks. I thought the name of the store was not quite that, but that must be it.

We read often about how it is important to chase your dreams.  You want to be a lawyer, well go for it. Want to be a senator, work at it.  Etc.  I remember Jack's Slacks.

About a quarter mile from where we lived in suburban New York, there was a small strip mall. It is where I was sent to get various items when, at the last minute, my mother realized we needed something. In her younger years it was where she sent me--in a panic often--for a pack of cigarettes.  In the mall there was a pharmacy, a barber shop, a--what was called then--beauty parlor, an overpriced according to my mother grocery store, a--what was called then-candy store, a hardware store, a very overpriced deli which we only went to in desperation because it was always open, a bakery, and a bar that my father never went into except to pick up a pizza in thirty years living within an easy stroll of the joint.

At one point the hardware store went out of business.  Shortly thereafter a small clothing shop opened there. Jack's.

I went into Jack's a couple of times.  Jack was always there. Always cheery. Never real pushy but helpful with any inquiries.  I got the sense--and maybe it is because he told me--that this was his dream; to open up a clothing store.  He had been--and again I think he mentioned this to me when I was in there once-that he had been a public servant of some type, maybe a teacher--and had decided that look there is only one life to live, his dream was to own a clothing store, and he went for it.

Thing is, while the merchandise was fine, I don't think I ever was in there when there was more than one other customer. Often when I went in, I was there alone. It was Jack, his supportive but increasingly glum looking wife, and me.

At one point I went back home to visit and Jack's was no longer there.  I don't know what happened. Maybe he hit the lottery, or moved to another location, or just retired. But that is not my sense. My sense was that after giving it a real go, he realized he was not able to stay afloat.  And he had to go on and get another source of income.

All this is conjecture.  He might have made a fortune and the times that I visited were just aberrations.  Yet, seeing the label in the jacket today made me think that Jack's dream of Jack's turned out to be a deflating and devastating nightmare.

I do think you have to go after your dreams.  My sense is that you are better off when you do so even if you do not realize your dreams.  But I do believe there are times like Jack's when a life can become punctured perhaps irreparably when the dreams do not work out.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Notes

After Ted Cruz failed to endorse Donald Trump at the RNC in Cleveland, pundits commented that he had written--with his speech--nothing more than a long suicide note.

I don't agree.

I don't agree with Cruz on nearly everything except his stance on Israel which would have made my mother-the most staunch supporter of Israel there could be-nod in agreement.  Middle East aside though, Cruz's position on the Affordable Health Care Act, Planned Parenthood, Abortion, the Department of Education, the fakakta Tea Party--accrue and create an abomination.

However, Cruz gets cudos for not having endorsed Trump.  What is more, I think in the long run he will get cudos from Conservatives and whatever becomes of the Republican party.

As we watch the Republicans squirm deciding about whether to endorse Trump, I am reminded of Robert Bork.

If you are of my vintage you may remember the Saturday Night Massacre in 1974.  This was when Richard Nixon decided to fire Archibald Cox the Special Watergate prosecutor. Cox had been hired and told he would have free rein to explore Watergate and expose the truth. When Cox started to get close to the truth that would have (and eventually did) implicate Nixon, the president decided to axe the person who had been told his investigation would not be restricted.

So Nixon told Elliot Richardson, the then attorney general of the United States--and a Republican--to fire Cox. Cox reported to Richardson.  Richardson refused to fire Cox. He said he could not fire a person who was, after all, doing the job he had been hired to do. This left the job of firing Cox to William Ruckelshaus, Richardson's number 2. Ruckelshaus also refused to fire Cox for the same reason.

Next in line Was Robert Bork. Bork said he could fire Cox and did.

How does Bork's decision relate to Trump and Cruz?  Years after the Saturday Night Massacre Bork was nominated to be a Supreme Court Justice.  His credentials were no worse than others who have been endorsed by the Senate.  Yet Bork did not get Senate approval.  Whatever reasons that were cited were not the real reasons for the lack of support. People remembered what had happened on the Saturday Night Massacre.

And people will remember who stood up to Donald Trump.  The litany of offensive things he has done/said is jaw dropping if only for the sheer numbers of them.  And there is the stunning offensive nature of individual comments. Building a wall. Disparaging Muslims.  Mocking the handicapped. Deriding Megyn Kelly as he did.  Comments about the Hoosier judge not being dispassionate because of heritage. Etc.

I think the people who are writing suicide notes in 2016 are not the Cruzes and other Republicans who have stood up to Trump.  I think the Boehners and Ryans--not the Cruzes--will be forever tarnished because they decided to endorse someone so clearly unfit to lead the country.

Crow Lake

Crow Lake by Mary Larson is a good book that, for me, has gotten even richer in the day since I completed it.  Much of yesterday I found myself thinking about the story and its message.  After I finished, I read that the book has been translated into many languages. I'm not surprised.

The plot is not extraordinary as novels go.  Four children become orphans when an automobile accident takes their parents' lives.  There are two older boys in their late teens, and two young girls--one about 7 and the other not much more than a baby.  The family lives in rural Ontario a long day's drive from Toronto.

The book is told from the vantage point of the elder daughter. She recalls the year after their parents' death and intersperses the narrative with sections about her current job as an academic and her relationship with another professor, Daniel.  Throughout the novel Kate, the 7 year old, emphasizes how devastating the year after the accident was particularly for Matt, the younger of her two older brothers.  Matt--whom we are told, she adores--something happened to Matt as a result of the tragedy which itself, Kate suggests, was a tragedy.

What happened exactly is not revealed until the end.  We are fed pieces, but it is not until the last sections that we know fully what occurred.  And while what happened to Matt may not have been all that profound, the book's theme which is foreshadowed from the start is profound. It caught me unawares, and the message--while skillfully developed--does not become obvious until there are only fourteen pages left. I kept thinking yesterday that the book was like a pretty flower that suddenly blooms stunningly at its conclusion.

The novel is beautifully written. There might be a little too much about pond creatures for my liking although I wonder if there could have been some symbolism in there that would have made the story even better for me if I had paid more attention in high school.  The story of the Pyes might have been shortened some, though I think it does add to the book.  One definite flaw is that there is no way that Marie does not come out too scarred to be the person we meet at the end.

Still, all things considered, this is a book that readers will be glad they spent some time with.  It will hang in my head for a spell. The message is one that many--including me--would be wise to internalize.