Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hawaiian Salad

Two weeks back I was in a cafe and saw a waitress coming out with a salad plate for another diner.  It looked very appetizing. Immediately the words, "Hawaiian Salad" rocketed to my consciousness.

In 1968 I worked in the Borscht belt in South Fallsburg, New York as a bus boy. At the time, the Catskill mountains were dotted with hundreds of hotels that catered to New York summer vacationers.  These resorts were only a few hours drive from the city and its suburbs.  They attracted middle to upper class first generation Jews--the sons and daughters of European immigrants, many of whom who'd had the good fortune to get to America before Hitler took control of Germany.

The Borscht belt was so called because a favorite drink among the vacationers was borscht.  I am an easy eater. There are few things I do not like to eat or drink.  However, I cannot go near borscht and not because the drink brings back recollections of my experience in South Fallsburg.  Borscht is a concoction derived from beets and, well, it just does not send me. However, borscht was a favorite cold drink in summertime for those of my parents' generation.You did not operate a hotel in the Catskills unless you served up borscht.   Hence the region with all the hotels was called the Borscht belt.

The Borscht belt hotels all had pools, athletic fields, night clubs, and cool air that was attractive to people who did not want to dissolve in the humidity that could pulverize New York City in the summer. Beyond the cool air, and pools, and volleyball, and simon sez, and truly top shelf entertainers in the night clubs--the Borscht belt had food. Lots of food. All the time.

If you are not a member of the tribe, you may not know this. But if you are a member of the tribe you know that Jews like to eat.  The dining hall at these hotels was like a horn of plenty.  From 7-11 you could have breakfast. What could you have? Anything you wanted. Eggs, french toast, pancakes, bagels, white fish--whatever.  Then from 11-1 you took a break from eating. At 1, just two or so hours later, lunch was served.  And it was not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What could you have?anything you wanted. There were typically five hot entries and five cold ones.  Fish dishes, omelettes, blintzes, pasta, tuna, chicken salad, salad salad, whatever you wanted, and of course, borscht.  When I tell you that there were no fewer than one hundred glasses of borscht pre-poured for a lunch meal, I am not exaggerating. And the borscht glasses evaporated.  After lunch you took four hours off.  Then there was dinner which started at 7 and again was whatever you wanted--ribs, steak, chicken, veal, whatever.

Not only was there whatever you wanted, there was as much as you wanted.  The deal with the Borscht belt hotels was that you paid one price. That price included the room, the facilities, the shows, and all you could eat.  As it relates to the latter, someone could order a steak, and then decide that she wanted the chicken, and then decide that they felt like a pasta dish.  There was no limit on how many main dishes you could have, or how many desserts, or how many salads, or how many anythings.  You would be startled at how much people packed away during a single day in the Borscht belt. (The killer was that after eating thousands of calories, invariably someone not running marathons, would request a dietetic cake with coffee to complete the assault on their intestines),

This all you could eat component was the biggest challenge for those who worked as waiters or bus boys in the mountains.  For those of you who work in conventional restaurants, there is no comparison.  In a restaurant a person orders a meal, maybe a drink, maybe an appetizer, but that is it.  In the borscht belt, you could have five appetizers, seven meals, twelve desserts.

There were a few things that you never wanted diners to ask for in the Borscht belt. One was toasted bagels. I am sure things improved, but at that time there were no dedicated toasters for bagels in the kitchen. If you wanted a bagel toasted you had to put it in an oven and wait for it. If you left it to get something else, a rival waiter would snatch it and you would have to start from scratch. The second was a medium boiled egg. Why? Because if you did not sit there for the x minutes necessary, someone in a hurry could take your egg, or you might misjudge the time and serve up a soft boiled or hard boiled egg, and have to hear a complaint from an entitled patron.

But the worst thing you wanted someone to order was a Hawaiian Salad.

Say ten people are at a table and they order fish, chicken salad, lasagna whatever.  Then someone orders an Hawaiian salad. You were cooked.

You were cooked because these looked so attractive, that you knew, just knew, as soon as you brought out one Hawaiian salad, four diners already busting a gut on whatever they had ordered would ask for one as well. So then you had to go back into the kitchen and get more Hawaiian salads.

It got to the point that if someone asked for a Hawaiian salad, I would get three of them, just because  I knew what would happen.  And bringing back food that had not been ordered was not protocol. You were not supposed to bring out food that had not been ordered. There could be major repercussions if you got caught hauling out extra meals and storing it next to the ajax beneath your server.

So, when I was in the cafe a week back, and saw the salad come out, I smiled at the recollection of what never brought a smile to my face when I was a lad of 18.  And then I heard the diner's table mate say, "Hey that looks nice. I should have ordered that."  I just looked at the waiter and thought, you are damn lucky you never worked in South Fallsburg.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Since We Fell

Every so often I read a book and feel that the authors either (a) changed their mind at some point about what they had set out to write or (b) never had a clear plan in the first place. Dennis Lehane's latest novel Since We Fell, is in this category.

We learn in the first pages that Rachel Childs has shot her husband on a boat.  We then flash back to Rachel's childhood.  Rachel is the daughter of a professor who has become famous for writing a book about marriage. The irony is that Rachel's mother has never married and refuses to tell her daughter who fathered her.  The first 100 pages are a gripping story of Rachel's search to find her father.

Then the book veers off slightly. It is again gripping and well written. We learn of Rachel's career and a marriage and divorce. We meet a character who returns after having appeared in the first section when Rachel was searching for father.  For the next 100 pages again the reader is engaged trying to discover the truth about something.  Very suspenseful. Terrifically relayed.  Only problem is that this part is only tangentially related to the first 100 unless...(I will get to the "unless" at the end of this blog).

The third part of the book is so unrelated to the first part that I feel that the author must have decided to hang a left at an intersection and go in a different direction.  And it is in this part that the book, while still a page turner, does not pass the sniff test for plausibility.  I can buy the search for paternity and think the characters are very well drawn. I can buy the search for truth in the second 100 pages though we start to get a little unrealistic.  But the rest-even though I darted through it and wanted to see how it turned out--just is ridickalus. Could not happen. Could not. Would not.  Harlan Coben-esque adventure like.  And I think this is unfortunate because the book had previously been so well drawn and realistic.

The unless part.  A theme of a number of books I have read of late relates to identity and how who we are is not only not monolithic, but not static. Of course who we are is a composite, but how we morph is something a little different. In this book and others, the message--as best as I can tell--is that knowing who we are is a trick made difficult by the fact that who we were may not be who we are, and who we think we and others are is likely to be illusory and/or elusive.

Do I recommend the book? Yes for the first 230 pages or so. But really the search for paternity has almost nothing to do with the last part.  Still, the last 200 are fun to read even if you have to suspend belief while finishing up.  And if you are intrigued by the idea of transforming, evolving, and multiple identity, you might find Since We Fell to be food for musing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To hell with the hat

Gloomy day here in Boston.  Rainy, cloudy, and I have tickets to the Red Sox tonight. Go figure.  Probably no more than 55 degrees outside.    

Besides I still feel lousy.  I am out of the boot nearly 100 percent, but at most moments I walk a little like a wobbly drunk.  If I get up a head of steam I can appear almost normal, but I am still a long ways away from being able to square dance.  I am more bemused than amused by the disparate projections of my recovery time. Since March 17th, the day of the deed, I have heard everything from four weeks to eighteen months.  Just this week a physician's assistant said 6 months--(his boss had thought 3-4)--and a chiropractor a day later suggested it would be more like 8 months to a year.  Yet everyone says "I'm doing great."  Does not feel so great.

But the fact--and great news--is I'm still here on planet earth which is a lot more I can say for the millions permanently parked in a cemetery.  I visited my parents' grave last week. They are buried up a slight incline near the end of the berm. So to get to their site I have to pass dozens of others.  Every single one of them would be screaming that they would take my limp, and the essentially useless Red Sox tickets and the gray sky, and the extra poundage that comes from being sedentary, and the fluctuating predictions, and the cost of a flight to St Louis where a buddy is having a 70th shindig next week, and bobbing heartbreak, and friends who are hurting or dead, and whatever else one could glom onto when feeling blue. The guys in the cemetery would be screaming for a shot at life.

Life is a horn of plenty.  It is the ultimate amusement park. All the rides are available. I had a sweetheart once whose uncle ran the roller coaster ride, the Cyclone, at Coney Island. She could go anytime she wanted on the roller coaster.  And that is what life is for all of us, a free ride on a roller coaster.   Sure there are ups and downs. Yes, there are times when we limp and it would sure be good to eat all the pizza we want,--but there is so much opportunity to do what the various people beneath the headstones at the cemetery cannot.  As Andrew Marvel wrote in his poem, "To His Coy Mistress", "The grave's a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace."

The inspiration for this blog came to me about a half hour ago.  I was looking through some old books and came across one that is really just a compilation of jokes. It is called Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar.  I read it a few years back and it still kills me to pick it up and see the jokes therein.  (A real benefit of losing my short term memory is I forget jokes and get to laugh a second and third time.)  I came across the joke below and, once again, got a good laugh from it.   

A Jewish grandmother is watching her grandchild playing on the beach when a huge wave comes and takes him out to sea. She pleads, “Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back.”

And a big wave comes and washes the boy back onto the beach, good as new.

She looks up to heaven and says, “He had a hat!”

As one of my uncles would have said, "To hell with the hat."  We're alive. Ride that roller coaster.  Every day. It is free.

Another joke from the book goes like this.

Three friends are killed in a car accident and meet up in an orientation session in Heaven.  The celestial facilitator asks them what they would most like to hear said about themselves as their friends and relatives view them in the casket.

The first man says, "I hope people will say that I was a wonderful doctor and a good family man."

The second man says, "I hope people will say that as a schoolteacher I made a big difference in the lives of kids."

The third person says, "I'd like to hear someone say, 'Look, he's moving.'"

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A verb not a noun

When I was a kid the word "friend" was a noun.  Then there was Facebook and friend (as well as Facebook itself) became a verb as well as a noun.  We friend (verb) others on Facebook and they become our Facebook friends (noun).  I have heard students shout to another "facebook me". This assumes of course that the two acquaintances have already been friended.

But maybe it wasn't Zuckerberg who made friend a verb.  Maybe friend was both a noun and a verb from the start.

I have been reading quite a bit this last week or so.  I took two days off at the end of last week, had a couple of relatively long plane rides, and just got into some books.

A couple of weeks back I read an article about an author I'd never heard of previously.  The author, Penelope Lively, is in her 80s and has been--and is still--churning them out.  According to the piece I read, her books are often about how a single event that may seem insignificant can alter many lives.  A regular reader of this blog (and one with a good memory) might remember one I wrote called "Here There and Anywhere" about how a decision I made to get on a line at a certain time had an effect on several lives.  How it All Began is a book I bought by Lively after reading the article about her. It is, absolutely, a book about how a single event can have dramatic effects. In the novel a sixty something year old former teacher is mugged in London.  Her daughter has to take time off from her work as a personal assistant to an academic in order to tend to the mother. The academic's niece has to take the place of the daughter on a professional trip. Because of this all sorts of things happen.  An affair is revealed, a business takes off and then doesn't, an immigrant falls in love with a married woman, a television series begins and then is aborted--other things as well.  It is a fun read--many laughs along the way.  The point of the novel though is simple.  One's life can take significant turns because of seemingly insignificant events.  A downside of the novel is that if you are not familiar with British slang and just not a fan of British writing, you might find the book tough sledding.

Touch and Go is a classic beach read.  I'd not read anything by the author, Lisa Gardner, previously but she has written a bunch of novels. This one was recommended as a fast read and it is that. It is more substantive than some of its competitors but still on the ridickalus side.  A wealthy man, his wife, and their daughter are kidnapped.  The book is about the kidnapping and how sleuths find out who did the deed.  It really is a page turner.  Can you put it down? Yes.  But you don't mind picking it up.  I'm not sure there are enough clues to allow a reader to figure out who did it or how it was done, but there are a number of interesting suspects.  This is nothing like a good Scott Turow novel or Richard Price.  But if you are going to the beach and want something to zip through, you might enjoy it.

I just finished Trajectory a collection of four short stories by Richard Russo. I will read anything Russo writes.  I bought this, in fact, well before it was published putting in my order with Amazon  so that they would send it to me when it came out. I am not a big fan of short stories in general, but I liked Russo's last collection The Whore's Child.  So, I was looking forward to reading these.  The short stories in Trajectory are really not that short. The two briefer ones are about 35 pages each.  The second longest about 70, and the long one is close to 100 pages--more like a novella than a short story.  One of the four seems to be about Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  Newman was the lead character when Russo's Nobody's Fool came out as a movie.  He also had a role in the tv series based on another of Russo's novels, Empire Falls.  I liked the story about Newman and two of the others, but these three pale compared to the story called  "Interventions."  This 35 pager will stay with me a while. "Interventions" is about a realtor who has cancer who's trying to sell the house of a woman who is a hoarder.  The woman will not listen to the realtor when he suggests that in order to sell the house some of the many boxes that litter the house have to go.  And the realtor seems reluctant to take the advice of his wife and an old buddy who give him the name of a specialist in Boston who may be able to address the cancer.  What happens is that the realtor intervenes and gets the clutter-a metaphor if there ever was one--out of the woman's home.  And the realtor's wife and the friend intervene and make the realtor see a specialist for the cancer.  My synopsis doesn't make the story sound like a lot of laughs but there are a lot of laughs in "Interventions" and the message is important. We all need interventionists.

In "Interventions" particularly, but in How it all Began and Touch and Go the stories involve friendship and love. I remember reading a quote a while back that, in essence, suggested we need strong ears to hear criticism and those who are willing to be critical perform an act of friendship.

Those who notice when we are going down a path that is self destructive and are willing to intervene are friends because they friend us. They tell us what we do not want to hear, and may redirect us to another avenue that is in our best interests.   These people's interventions reflect what was the case before Zuckerberg came on the scene. Sure friend as in "to be a friend" can be a noun, but in order to be a friend you have to friend as well.   Similarly, we all know what it feels like to be in love (noun) but a lover--discounting the connotation of sex that comes along with that word--is one whose behavior reflects an awareness that love, the noun, needs love, the verb.

So What

In Bonding and Betting with the Boys I write that nearly all of the avocational gamblers I met while in Las Vegas were essentially sports fans.   I make the point that unless you were atypically successful, wagerers were likely to lose money given the flight, lodging, and assorted vacationing expenses.

I also point out that while nearly all will place bets based on their "wisdom" and most of the bets are made against the spread, a number of people told me that they did not like to bet the spread on "their team."   The reason was that they wanted to be happy if their team won regardless of the spread and they would be disappointed if the team lost even if they covered the spread.

Such are my sentiments today.  If you read my short blog entry last night you know that I picked correctly that the Celtics would get within 16 points of the Cavs and beat the spread. Also I felt that the under was the way to bet as I did not think that both teams would get beyond 217 points.  The Celts did indeed get within 16 losing by 13.  And the total points for the game was 211.  I would have been a winner had I been in the great state of Nevada yesterday evening.

However, I am disappointed today.  There is a small sense of satisfaction regarding my sports betting acumen, but since I am by far and away predominantly a fan of sport as opposed to a wagerer, I wanted the Celts to win.

And they almost did. The Celtics played a great first half. For the first time in a long time I was impressed with their rebounding. I am not a big fan of Kelly Olynyk, but he played very well as did nearly everyone on the team.

The problem was that Kyrie Irving was remarkable.  With the exception of a game that Eric "Sleepy" Floyd played in 1987 (that I still remember) in which Floyd scored 29 points in a quarter, Irving's play was the best example of one on one basketball I have ever seen.  Not only did he hit very long distance threes, his drives to the hoop were stunning. And everyone knew he was going to get the ball.  He drove past anyone who attempted to guard him and was dazzling.  Once in 1971 ( I do have a great long term memory, which is as good as my short term memory--frighteningly--is bad) I saw Earl the Pearl Monroe have a game where he hit such remarkable shots, but in a single quarter...?

Had Irving not had such an outstanding game, the Celtics would have won.  True, Kevin Love continued to make me a liar as he played very well ( I do not think he is so extra) and LeBron in the fourth quarter was LeBron--but the difference was Irving.

So, had I been in Vegas I would have some shekels in my pocket, but so what. My team lost even if it covered the spread.

Another point, that is also in the book:  Over the years I have watched carefully to see if a coach or player has any awareness of the game spread and, in fact, plays in a way that reflects that awareness. It would seem to me to be a difficult thing NOT to be aware of the spread and not be tempted to make decisions based on the spread or the over/under.

However, it almost never does seems to me that players or coaches are so tempted. Last night was an example.  With thirty seconds left and the Cavs holding a thirteen point lead, LeBron had the ball.  He did the classy thing and just dribbled out the 24 second clock without taking a shot.  Trust me, I wasn't there, but I just know that guys in Las Vegas were plotzing because had LeBron hoisted a three and hit it the game, in the parlance of sports betting, would have been a push.  (A tie) And had the Celtics responded after such a three by making a meaningless and consequently uncontested  basket, those who bet on the over would have been victorious. But neither James, or the Celtics did anything that suggested an awareness of the spread, or the over/under.  And this is a very good thing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Take the points

The spread tonight is Cleveland minus 16 and the over/under is 217.5.

I like the Celtics with the 16 and if I was now in the great state of Nevada I would take the points and run. Sixteen points is a lot of lumber.  The Celtics got clobbered in the first game and came within 16.

 I would not bet the Celtics on the money line, but I would not bet the Cavs either. I think the Celtics have a decent chance of winning the game.

I like the under.

Tip off in nine minutes.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Uh, what was the score tonight.

In case you missed it, the Cavaliers proved that they were mortal and the Celtics took a game in Cleveland.

Who would have predicted such a thing?

Someone wrote the following yesterday.

"Despite my dubious wisdom revealed in yesterday's blog, I do not think the Cavs are that good. If heaven has a team, it would not be that good.  And the Celtics are not that bad. The Celtics can hit threes, they can play defense, it is just difficult when everything your opponent throws up is a three and is going in.  And even LeBron cannot play at this level every night. He has been ridickalus.

I still like the Celtics to win two games in this series--one in Cleveland, and one in Boston"

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Last night provides another example of why I should not move to Nevada. If you read my blog yesterday you know that I predicted that the Celtics would not only get within the five point spread, but win outright. The Cavaliers defeated the Celtics like a professional team might defeat five kids who were hanging out in the park.  I did, in fact, pick the under correctly but that was the least certain of my forecasts and besides, I picked the under for the wrong reason. I thought the Cavaliers would be cold.

On the contrary I have never seen a team be so hot, or an opponent be so outclassed.  This was a stunning beat down.  The Celtics looked like they were trying but it was the big kids against the little kids. LeBron James proved once again that he is the best player on planet earth, but everyone else on the Cavs looked like all pros as well.  And all the Celtics except maybe the kid Jaylen Brown, stunk up the court. Particularly noteworthy stinkers put in by Horford, Olynyk, and Thomas who figured the ignominy from the first half was such that he did not show his face in the second.

Question du jour from all who follow sports is simply this: Are the Cavs that good, or the Celtics that bad.

Despite my dubious wisdom revealed in yesterday's blog, I do not think the Cavs are that good. If heaven has a team, it would not be that good.  And the Celtics are not that bad. The Celtics can hit threes, they can play defense, it is just difficult when everything your opponent throws up is a three and is going in.  And even LeBron cannot play at this level every night. He has been ridickalus.

I still like the Celtics to win two games in this series--one in Cleveland, and one in Boston before Cleveland closes it out in game 6. Last night, however, was humbling.

But I did pick the under.

Friday, May 19, 2017

pundits not

I was watching a panel of sports pundits last night all opining on how the Cleveland Cavaliers are superior to the Celtics.  Not one of the experts thought the Celtics will come close to winning the series. One, a Boston commentator, said flatly as if a contrary notion was absurd: The Celtics will. of course, not win the series, but she thought that it was possible that the Celtics will win one game of the best of seven.

Okay, I think the Cavaliers will also win the series, but to dismiss categorically the Celtics is just foolish and reflects no awareness of history.  Yes, the Cavaliers butchered the Celtics on Wednesday night. They hit everything, nobody could stop James, and the Celtics could not drop the ball in the ocean. However, haven't these experts seen in the past how a team that is cold one night can be hot the next and vice versa.

You read it here first. The Celtics will win tonight in game 2. They will also win one of the two games in Cleveland.  Here's why.

The Cavaliers have played great in their last seven games.  The only stinker that they have had is in the very first game in their first series, when they came within a missed shot at the buzzer from losing to the Pacers. The Cavaliers have not been consistent like this all year.  LeBron James may be able to turn it on and off and maybe Kyrie Irving, but the rest of the players are not always that good. They are due for an off night.

Tonight the Cavs will come out flat, not shoot a high percentage, and see a better brand of defense. The Celtics will not be as good as they can be, but will be good enough to win.  The spread is Cleveland minus 5.5. The Over Under is 219.  I like the Celtics on the money line and then of course against the spread, and to a lesser extent I like the under.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Second Level Effects

In the early nineties, as the various capabilities of new technology rapidly became commonplace, two authors wrote a book that in part addressed what they called Second Level Effects of new technology.  The book Connections by Sara Kiesler and Lee Sproull argued that there were efficiency effects of new technology and derivative effects.

For example, an efficiency, or first level, effect of a spell check software program is that people can create documents with fewer embarrassing errors.  The efficiency effects of e-mail allow for someone in an organization to send messages instantly to a nearly limitless number of people regardless of geographic location. The first level effects of social networks like facebook allow people to connect and reconnect expanding our circle of acquaintances.

Second level effects are also important to consider.  A second level effect of spell check is that some people do not study spelling or that homophones like their, there, and they're can be inserted incorrectly since the spell checker might not be sufficiently sophisticated to realize that, in context, a spelling is inappropriate.  E-mail indeed allows for rapid communication, but a second level effect is that some people avoid necessary face to face interaction.  Facebook does allow us to connect with others but privacy may be compromised.  A few months back a visitor was aghast when we informed her that photographs were displayed on Facebook when she had no idea that these dear personal memories had been shared with, or at least available to, strangers.

I am mostly bemused when technology reflects a person's inconsiderate tendencies. On a bus a while back a fellow was on his phone speaking loudly for 45 minutes conveniently oblivious to those who had to endure his conversation.  I am startled when I am in a public restroom and someone in a stall feels there is nothing wrong with engaging in a cell phone chat that can be heard by anyone else using the facilities.

I think we can extend the idea of second level effects of technology to second level effects of behavior.  It is obvious to many but not all that our behavior has efficiency effects as well as second level effects.  Anyone who has read this blog regularly is familiar with the distinction I make between communication as a transmission phenomenon and communication as a constitutive phenomenon. From a transmission perspective the goal of communication is to make sure that a message gets from sender to receiver.  We evaluate communicators on the basis of how adept they are at reaching their receivers.  The transmission perspective applies to public speaking as well as interpersonal communication to group interaction--to any communication context. The person who gives the commencement address at graduation should get her or his message across to the graduates.  When you speak to your spouse in the morning you want to make sure she or he understands what you are saying to ensure there will be no confusion about whatever issue you wanted to convey.  The newscaster needs listeners to receive what is passing for news that day.

But the constitutive perspective is also important. Communication shapes and forms our organizational, family, and interpersonal relationships. We have all heard the cliche "there is no harm in asking"?    According to it, if you ask someone if they will do you a favor, there is no harm.  But there could be.   Ask a peripheral acquaintance, "Can I borrow your pen" and it is innocuous. But consider asking the acquaintance for a lift home when you live 20 miles out of the way.  Sure, the acquaintance can say, no, and according to the transmission notion of communication there has been no harm.  Message sent and received. Response sent and received.

It is not that simple.  The second level effect of the message may leave an impression that can affect subsequent interactions and even make the receiver want to--for evermore-dodge the person who asked.

Long way to get to where I am going here.  Our communications and behaviors are not straight lines with only immediate effects.  You tell your colleague that he is an idiot, when the colleague has indeed messed up--even though you may be correct and the comment, at the time, warranted--the residual effect of the interaction will linger and infect the future.

Run for office and tacitly accept the endorsements of fringe groups, and there can be second level effects.

In Charlottesville Virginia, the home of the University of Virginia--one of the great universities in the United States--there was a Ku Klux Klan type meeting. In May of 2017.  A white supremacist group apparently felt enabled to congregate with torches in a public park.

The second level effects of technology and residual effects of communicative behavior are not always problematic.  A second level effect of e-mail is that more people can type now than ever before.  A second level effect of Facebook is I am now acquainted with people who might as well have been on another planet previously.  But we must be concerned with the second level effects that can have deleterious effects. Responsible citizens cannot ignore the likely second level effects of behavior that superficially may be benign, but is likely to have corrosive ramifications.  Contending that you had no idea that there are residual effects of communicative behavior is either conveniently short sighted,  or the drivel of a fool.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lamont Cranston

I've watched many playoff basketball games.  And I have listened to many others before all playoff games were televised. This may seem odd to a 20, 30, or even 40 something, but there was a time when all playoff games were not televised.  I can recall, for example, listening to Knick games in the late 60s when the Knicks--abysmal in the 50s and much of the 60s--started to get good and made the playoffs.

Over time I've seen players have amazing games one night, and just okay games the very next day. There are times when someone who rarely plays, shines, and then disappears for the rest of a series. And there have been superstars who are not themselves consistently.

However, I have never seen a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, alpha to omega performance, like what transpired with James Harden this past week.  Harden was his usual jaw dropping self throughout games one through four of the Spurs-Rockets series. This continued in the fifth game until the overtime.  In the extra period, Harden was awful.  

Okay, anyone can have five bad minutes--though the performance was such that you thought an unathletic twin somehow got on the floor.  Still, it was only five minutes.

But what happened last night in game 6 is almost not to be believed. Harden played as if someone dropped a quaalude in his water.  He was worse than terrible.  Harden usually has the ball on every possession and often takes the shot or drives to the hoop himself.  Harden did not attempt a field goal in the first quarter last night.  Did not take a shot.  I just reviewed the play by play for the game.  The first quarter is riddled with James Harden made bad pass. James Harden turn over. The only shots he took were from the foul line. It is one thing to miss shots, but another not to take any.

As far fetched as it seems, the first thought I had was that some gangster had him in his pocket.  Some pundit thought that perhaps he had suffered a concussion at the end of regulation in game 5--that is how bad he played.

Forget the NBA, even in college or high school games, I have not seen someone-who is typically in control and sometimes unstoppable- not take a shot in an entire quarter or throw the ball away so many times.  Could he have run out of gas after playing so many minutes in the regular season?  I guess it is possible, but the abrupt transformation is tough to accept.

 I recall in the mid 90s, the Knicks played the Rockets in game 7 and a guy named John Starks for the Knicks could not throw the ball in the ocean. He missed nearly all his shots. I just looked it up and he was 2 for 18.  I remember watching that game and my thinking then was that they got to take him out--because he was so cold.   But the difference between that game and yesterday was that Starks was clearly trying to make baskets.  Harden last night was not.

It will be interesting in the next several days to hear the conjecture, and maybe some definitive explanations for what took place.


One can never be certain if the public persona generated by assorted media reports accurately reflects the person.

We can actually say this about people who have no media presence as well, to some extent. When we think about work colleagues or anybody with whom we have only sporadic interaction, we can't be sure we know these people well enough to really know them..  Their individual personae is what we construct on the basis of superficial encounters--and these notions may be way off.  You might be able to make the case that even in some intimate relationships, partners engage on the basis of perceived or projected images of the other--which can be unrelated to who the persons actually may be.

With that as a disclaimer, let me make some comments about the way I see LaVar Ball, emphasizing that the way I see him has been constructed from media exposure and nothing else.

LaVar Ball is an irresponsible and inconsiderate parent.  He is hurting and not helping his son.  Finally he is incredibly foolish in his assessment of basketball talent.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Ball, he is the father of Lonzo Ball, a college basketball player who played for UCLA during his freshman year. Lonzo Ball has decided to skip the remaining three years of college eligibility and begin to play professionally.  His dad is, outrageously, promoting his son.  Mr. Ball has said that Lonzo is better than Michael Jordan and needs to seek no council from Kobe Bryant.  He also made the comment that there was no way UCLA would be able to be successful in the NCAA tournament because there were too many white players on the team. (This is a particularly strange comment given that his son is biracial).

Let's start with this.  Please remember this.  I am promising you this.  Lonzo Ball will not be a change maker in the pros. He is very good, but so is every player in the NBA.  Lonzo Ball will not be that good. If you are an NBA executive and are looking for someone who can catapult your team into a championship contender, don't sell the farm for Lonzo Ball.  Lonzo is a kid. He is 6' 6" and 190 pounds.  Just for comparison, Jae Crowder on the Celtics is 6 6 and 235 pounds and not the Pillsbury Doughboy. Lonzo Ball is going to get bounced around like a pin ball when he drives to the basket. He has great court vision, but he is nothing extraordinary in terms of shooting or passing.  Claiming that Lonzo Ball is better than Michael Jordan is just beyond belief.  Jordan is probably collecting social security now and could defeat Ball in a one on one game ten times out of ten.

Even if I am wrong about his talent, what kind of father puts pressure on his son, like LaVar Ball is putting on Lonzo.  You compare him to Michael Jordan, say he is good enough so that he does not have to listen to Kobe Bryant.  What if Lonzo, as I predict, looks outclassed when he comes to the pros.  Let's say Lonzo is better than I think he is, but gets off to a slow start, how will the enormous pressure his father has put on him, affect his basketball potential?

LaVar Ball played in college and also played professional (American) football in Europe.  He was not a special player in either sport.  It seems to me that his antics regarding his son reflect an attempt to obtain the attention he did not secure as a professional athlete.  His behavior is remarkably short sighted and unfair to his offspring.  Mr. Ball has become a cartoon character. If he wants to land in the funny papers as a caricature nobody can stop him, but he has the responsibility not to drag his kid down with him.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

There is such tsuris

Yesterday the bad news was that despite wearing a decent suit I had neglected to put on my belt before I left home. When I got out of the car I realized I was belt-less.  The worse news was that my pants had no trouble remaining up--reflecting the recent expansion of my girth.

This should be the most terrible thing that happens to me--an increase in circumference.

My mother's refrain when she heard stories of woe from and about others was, "There is such tsuris in the world."  She would shake her head and say again, "Such tsuris."

Tsuris is a Yiddish word that means, roughly, heartache or sadness. It is the opposite of nachas which means joy.  The birth of a grandchild brings the grandparent nachas.  (If the grandchild grows up to be a Republican there is tsuris).

Anything is Possible is a sequel to Elizabeth Strout's novel, My Name is Lucy Barton. Strout is the author of the brilliant Olive Kitteridge.  Anything is Possible is not as good as that novel, but not many books are.  It is also not as good as Lucy Barton.  That said, it is still a good read.

The novel is essentially a collection of stories about people who are somehow connected to Lucy Barton. In the earlier novel Lucy is in a New York hospital after some complications from an appendectomy.  Her mother from the midwest comes to visit her. During her visits and flashbacks to childhood, we learn how poor the Barton family had been and how, in addition to the actual hunger, the family was emotionally malnourished.

In Anything is Possible the reader is taken to the area where Lucy grew up.  We meet her brother, sister, cousins--who had been even poorer, some classmates, the janitor from her high school and assorted others.   The characters in these stories have tsuris.  They have, in fact, "gehoketh" tsuris, which means real bad tsuris. (Literally "chopped up" tsuris).

The brother and sister have holes in their hearts from the upbringing.  A classmate, now a guidance counselor and widow, is hauling around the memory of coming home one day from school as a child and discovering her mother "in flagrante delicto" with one of her teachers.   A man who had been relatively affluent loses his livelihood in a fire and becomes the janitor in the public schools. We learn of an actress whose childhood was affected by her mother and father's unnatural marriage, and yet another woman who has made peace with a marriage to a man who rents out rooms to women where cameras are installed so that he can stare at these renters as they use the toilet and shower.   A Vietnam vet has an affair which, if the war did not do this already, all but destroys him.  The cousins can recall a childhood where they frequented dumpsters in order to find something to eat.

Lots of tsuris.   Lucy has gotten out. She is a successful writer in New York.  When she returns to visit with her siblings we see clearly that she is still scarred but apparently has been able to function. The janitor also is living happily despite the financial disaster.  The cousins have carved out a piece of this life that has allowed them a degree of happiness.

The point of the novel is in the title.  Anything is Possible.  Despite tsuris. Even gehoketh tsuris.