Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Today in the Senate

Today in the United States Senate the American People were sold down the river. In a 15-8 committee vote the Public Option of the health care bill was shot down. A second version of the vote proposed by Senator Charles Schumer was also killed by a 13-10 vote.

Two-thirds of Americans want drastic health insurance change, but not the U.S. Senate. The leaders of the selling out of the American People are as follows: Orrin Hatch of Utah,who stated that the bill was "a Trojan Horse for a single-payer system..." Charles Grassley of Iowa called the government that pays his salary, his pension and his health care for life "a predator" that will "ultimately force private insurers out of business" as though the profit off of human illness was an upstanding moral pursuit.

Another big mouth for big health care companies was the highly trustworthy John Ensign of Nevada, best known for allegedly boffing a campaign staffer, the wife of his close friend and golfing buddy. Senator Ensign then doubled the salary of the staffer he was schtupping, and hired her husband to an 'administrative assistant' post, paying him $150,000 per year, apparently because he knows Microsoft Office Suite as well as anyone and can put together a damn fine PowerPoint presentation. Senator Ensign, ironically, seemed to liken the Public Option to a chronic illness: "Once it's started, you'll never get rid of it!" He led into this statement complaining that the program would be so popular it could never be uprooted.

These Republican Senators went on and on like the Public Option would be a bad thing: a government program that serves the people and is appreciated. If by chance the bill eventually passes, and at some future point the Public Option is reintroduced successfully, the Republicans can add this horrifying success to such terrible government programs like Medicare and the Interstate Highway System.

They were not alone. In this majority Democratic Senate it took some fifth column turncoats to aid in standing against the majority of those who voted for them. Leading the fifth column charge was Max Baucus of Montana. Apparently his chief reservation against the Public Option was that he might have to endure a filibuster. Gee. Having to listen to Republicans drone on for hours on end. Isn't that part of your job, Senator?

Kent Conrad of North Dakota is a mystery. He has been elected in a state with heavy Republican leanings, however he frequently bucks the conservative line of his constituents (far from always, but often enough to piss them off).

Blanche Lincoln is not a mystery. She is a Democrat in name only. She is against equal rights of gays. She is in favor of banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers. She is in favor of restricting class action lawsuits. Apparently large corporations need to be protected from ordinary citizens.

These three Senators voted with Republicans against both versions of the bill. Voting against the first but not the second were Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Bill Nelson of Florida. Delaware is the state of choice for many banks and credit card companies. Florida is Florida. I don't wish to make a "Red State" generalization, because the "Red States" are not 100% "Red." They just seem that way.

Once again I propose the full analysis of all Senators and Congressmen's financial supporters. As I wrote about last week regarding the New Jersey Democratic delegation members and their support of a substandard health care product manufactured by a company based in New Jersey that had made large contributions to the Senators and Representatives' campaigns, open air is needed, and needed badly.

I have to wonder if the Democratic Senators who voted today against the Public Option have ulterior motives in their voting. It does not seem likely that their motive is to protect the people who walked into the voting booths and selected them.

Monday, September 28, 2009


The Difference Between Willful Distortion and Damn Lies

It has come to my attention that a group of loud so-called Social Conservatives have been using their shrill tones to blast presidential appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency. The reason? They have accused E.P.A. officials of suppressing an internal report that dismisses global warming, and that these officials have done this for political reasons.

Here are the real reasons. The E.P.A. employee who wrote the contrary report is not a scientist and he did not use scientific method or reasoning in the writing of his report. Not only that, but the writer, Dr. Alan Carlin, an economist, has admitted that the paper in question is not scientific research and not suitable for publication.

The above reasons have had no bearing on Rush Limbaugh. He is only too happy to have an additional excuse for blasting President Obama and his advisers. In an all too common tirade from the widely syndicated hot air balloon, Mr. Limbaugh failed to mention that Dr. Carlin has no scientific background to write such a dissenting paper.

Glenn Beck has also joined Mr. Limbaugh in this effort, which should come as no surprise. The Heritage Foundation also published a piece with no specific author attributed, stating that Dr. Carlin's duties were tied to climate change issues, leaving out that Dr. Carlin is an economist and not a climatologist, and that climate change and/or global warming was never one of his assigned subjects to research.

On September 24th the New York Times published an evaluation of the paper, finding that the paper has been branded shoddy work by several analysts who have pointed out that it contains unverified information from blog posts, failed to acknowledge contradictory information, and included whole passages verbatim from the blog of a well known climate change doubter. The Times article went on to report that Dr. Carlin himself has admitted to the shoddy work and that the paper was rushed and never intended for publication in a scientific journal.

Spokespeople and top executives at the E.P.A. have stated numerous times that Dr. Carlin is not being muzzled, a charge that the conservative screamers have been repeating, ad nauseum.

In short, in spite of evidence to the contrary, the conservative press have put Dr. Carlin on a pedestal, stating he has been muzzled by the liberal power base because he possesses facts that are inconvenient to the Obama Administration. They also know that this is not true, which is inconvenient to their point of view. But with this group facts have never been allowed to get in the way of a good smear.

I want to call them a pack of damn liars, but legal concerns force me to refer to these people instead as "those who routinely engage in willful distortion." Sure, it's the same thing, except in a courtroom.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The Sanctity of Motherhood

Everywhere I look I am told that our most important resource is our children, and everything should be done to ensure their care. I am also told that motherhood is sacred, and as a society we need to do all in our power to preserve the rights of all mothers everywhere.

I'm supposing this statement includes such wonderful mothers as Susan Smith. Ma Barker is another that comes to mind.

This afternoon while walking from one of my jobs to another I witnessed an incident that I would call child abuse. This abuse was perpetrated by what I have come to call the Angry Mommie Brigade. The Angry Mommie Brigade takes over the streets of Manhattan by ramming strollers into the ankles of pedestrians who are walking slower than the Angry Mommie wants to move, because the Angry Mommie happens to suck at time management and needs everyone else to pay the price for it.

This Angry Mommie was coming out of a storefront that may have been a store or a restaurant- I didn't notice, because I myself was in a bit of a hurry. The Angry Mommie was accompanied by her husband and three small children. The youngest was dutifully strapped into the right-hand seat of a twin stroller, while the other two children were on foot. The oldest, who could not have been more than four years old, sat in the open seat. He was a little too big to fit and was trying to settle in. The middle child, a girl, made no protest that this should have been her seat. She stood nearby, holding the hand of her father. The boy, still trying to squeeze himself into the seat was smiling, but only for a moment.

Angry Mommie suddenly and without any verbal warning, jerked the stroller sharply to the right, dumping the boy out of the seat onto the sidewalk.

"Why did you do that?" The startled boy asked.
"Because I told you not to sit there." Angry Mommie barked in reply.

The husband said and did nothing. It was another average day.

The boy did not cry and did not seem to be visibly bruised. Should I have called 911? I was unsure. One thing I was sure of- I was appalled. The parents were well dressed and walking in a very expensive part of Manhattan. These are the children that will grow up attending the best schools and getting the best opportunity to become pillars of the community. I shudder to think of what jobs they will get and who they will be affecting.

The saddest part of this story is that this is not a unique sighting. Far from the first and certainly not the last time I will witness such behavior. When I tell people about these incidents I am told it is best to mind my own business and not get involved.

It is unfortunate that there is no such thing as a parental license. Anyone can have a kid if they are biologically able, and the rich can have kids even if they're not biologically able. Because it's the most important thing one can do. To populate the planet with angry abused damaged souls.

Friday, September 25, 2009


As the Season Draws to a Close

I spent the night tonight at Yankee Stadium seeing the Yankees send their rivals to the northeast, the dreaded Boston Red Sox, to a 9-5 defeat. Baseball is a near religious experience to me. My first home was walking distance to Wrigley Field, and I attended my first Major League Baseball game in my mother's arms in diapers.

Tonight was the last game of the season that I had tickets to. I was looking forward to this game. I saw great defensive plays, timely hitting, and lots of stolen bases. Jayne and I were under-dressed. The temperature plunged by around fifteen degrees since yesterday in a trumpeting of autumn's arrival. Our tickets were, what is often referred to as "nosebleed seats." They were almost directly behind the plate, the back of the horseshoe, facing directly into a 20 mile per hour wind. They were more like nose-freeze seats.

By the fourth inning we were miserable, and elected to get out of the wind. We walked around the upper reaches of the park, seeking a spot to watch the game out of the wind. We settled into a location out of the wind with a decent view, and shortly thereafter our religious experience was shattered by a man screaming into his cell phone.

This guy was screaming first at his wife, then his daughter. He stood directly behind us, about ten or fifteen feet away, in what I can only describe as a three inning rant. He was louder than the public address system at points. Several people around me found themselves staring at this guy as his voice raised louder than the Irish tenor that sings "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch. I exchanged looks with a half-dozen fans who were unable to watch the game as this man verbally abused his family in the most public of places. I wanted to say something to him, but I was sure that whatever I said would have invited physical abuse. He nearly ruined the game. He screamed into his cell phone the same tirade over and over agin. "You're grounded. you're grounded for calling your mother a liar." He must have screamed this fifteen times.

But he did not ruin the game. He could not. A baseball game cannot be ruined by one creep, unless, of course, the person was a fan for an opposition team seated directly behind you and is constantly screaming directly into your ear. Even then, you can have the offender arrested, or take the more direct response of punching his lights out.

This has been a season of disappointment for me. My Cubs underperformed and are currently making their fishing plans. The Yankees, however, will likely clinch the the championship of the American League Eastern Division, if not this weekend, then by Tuesday. The Yankees are a team that I married into. I root for them, but I root for the Cubs louder and more enthusiastically. No matter the annual futility, the Cubs own the baseball area of my heart. It is an unexplainable faith, just like religion.

Monday I will spend much of the day in shul, observing the true religion of my birth. I will be atoning for the sins of the year. My biggest sin is probably wishing harm on members the St. Louis Cardinals, along with Cubs' general manager Jim Hendry for not resigning Mark DeRosa and instead signing Milton Bradley.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


A United Front for Health Care

For some weeks, many Americans, including this writer, have been wondering why the Democrats don't just tell the Republicans to shut the hell up and pass health care reform without them. The American people, well aware that the Democrats occupy the Executive branch and hold a clear majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, can't imagine what's taking so long.

Today I went shopping at a store that I highly recommend, The Clue Warehouse. This place was originated by friend and former Second City cast member Dave Razowsky. We did three revues and hundreds of performances together. The Clue Warehouse should be the most successful shop in America, since tens of millions of Americans need to go buy a few of them, and buy them now. Maybe The American People could negotiate a volume discount, so many clues need to be bought.

I bought my clue through the New York Times online. There I read a story about how the F.D.A. has admitted an error in approving a controversial health care item. The article also went into detail how two Senators and two U.S. Representatives, all from New Jersey and all Democrats, pressured the F.D.A. to approve this item, and how a former executive of the F.D.A. improperly assisted in this effort.

It seems that these four men received campaign contributions from ReGen Bilologics, Inc., a New Jersey based multinational health care company. Not long after that, they pressured the F.D.A. to approve a device named Menaflex, a patch for injured knees. This device was approved in spite of unanimous statements of F.D.A. scientists that the device was unsafe, primarily because it doesn't work, and that the device fails, causing the patient using the device to need additional knee surgery.

Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, along with Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. and Steven R. Rothman all swear that the campaign contributions had absolutely no bearing on their lobbying the F.D.A. to approve Menaflex. Sure, guys. I believe you. I also believe that the Cubs could still take the Wild Card this season because they have yet to be mathematically eliminated. I think I just saw a leprechaun walking up Third Avenue and ordering a pint of Guinness in Fitzgerald's. I believe you.

Americans who want health care reform should start looking deeply at their representatives, find out who is donating to their campaigns, and how the representatives are voting, or not voting, in the health care debate. I think we'll find more than a few wolves in sheep's clothing. While the Democrats are screaming about health care in front of the TV cameras, why hasn't the bill, and a strong version of the bill, passed yet? The reason lies in campaign contributions and that the legislature is for sale to the highest bidder. The American People, the Constitution and sacred oaths are all being wildly outbid.

While my fellow Americans go to their computer screens, instead of downloading porn and spouting hate speech in sports chat rooms, they should spend some time looking into their elected officials. But not me. I'm confident that all my representatives are completely honest, pure as the driven snow. I've got to go now. I have to make sure my unicorn has a full bag of magic oats.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


What Constitutes a Capaign Contribution

Many people I know, including myself, find that when a they take a vacation, they miss things. Even when they just take a day or two, the whole world seems to change.

Since last Thursday I worked at my two jobs roughly sixty hours, walked my large hound another ten or twelve hours, and even slept a little bit here and there. I was unable to write, and I only glanced at the paper. Among the things I missed was the beginning of a new debate around what can be constituted a campaign contribution.

People who know me and people who read my writings know that politically I tilt to the left. I can't pass up an opportunity to drop-kick a Republican who says or does something stupid. I salivate when a right-winger is found in the address book of a prostitute (of either sex) just after making a loud family values speech. When Rush Limbaugh was caught with multiple prescriptions of a controlled substance I practically creamed my jeans.

People who know me well know that politicos on the left who make boneheaded moves are subject to the same treatment from me. Left wing, right wing, a schmendrik is a schmendrik, as my grandparents would say to me. Of course, my grandparents would not define schmendrik, because now that we're in America we speak English (and they needed to speak Yiddish when they didn't want me to know what they were talking about).

This brings me to John Edwards, a man I considered voting for in 2004. It seems that the dashing and handsome one term senator had a girlfriend. I don't care about that part. Lots of politicians have girlfriends on the side. It's none of my business. The sticky side is that he was boning this woman while his wife was getting chemo treatments. The really sticky side of this is that he was apparently using campaign money to pay her rent.

This woman bore John Edwards' child. Again, this is none of my business. Mr. Edwards personal doings have no bearing on my life. But he did run for president, and he did put himself out there as a good family man with a wife of over twenty-five years (at the time of his presidential campaign in 2004, and over 30 years during his last presidential run).

Ok, so John Edwards is not a schmendrik (roughly a knucklehead). He's an outright slime. How do I know this? According to sources, he promised his girlfriend that after his cancer-stricken wife died, he would marry the girlfriend in a rooftop ceremony in New York City with a guest appearance by the Dave Matthews Band. I'm guessing Ben & Jerry's "Magic Brownies" would be the dessert.

Mr. Edwards is now under investigation for financial irregularities in his campaign fund. I think every politician should be investigated for this, whether or not anything untoward is suspected. I put forth this idea strictly for my own personal entertainment.

Mr. Edwards, it seems, has two very good friends with money. They were the ones paying the hush money to the future Mrs. Edwards; money that came in the form of rent and a BMW automobile. This money was paid to her with the understanding of a quid pro quo which meant keeping a low profile for the length of Mr. Edwards' campaign. Now comes the best part. There is a legal debate in progress. Does the hush money constitute a campaign contribution? I am not kidding here. This is the actual question being debated in a courtroom.

If hush money is accepted as a campaign contribution, maybe we should go to the next logical step. Like paying politicians to shut the hell up. But then they'd just talk more, flapping their lips to extort the public. I'd suggest putting them in an outfit favored by some S&M freaks, the leather hood with the rubber ball gag. But again, this is probably what some of them secretly desire.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Days Off

I am taking a few days off, due to my work schedule. Please come back soon. Tuesday, for instance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009



Just after pushing back from the table, I went online to look for something to write about. With the taste of a honey-dijon chicken salad sandwich still on my tongue I went to today's New York Times website to discover a piece about factory farming and runoff.

It seems that there is a community in northern Wisconsin, not far from where I went fishing with my father in my youth, where the townspeople are turning on the faucet, filling a glass, and sipping a poop cocktail.

The story went on to reveal that a child of this community had such horrible ear infections he nearly needed surgery, and doctors determined that he had acquired this condition by bathing in polluted tap water. The story also stated that this is a national problem, happening throughout rural America. Chicken farms, hog farms, and dairy farms are producing mountains of animal waste, not just from the back end, but also entrails from slaughter for pulled pork sandwiches, burgers and buckets of chicken.

It gets worse. Ranchers eager to sell the fecal by-products for fertilizer have changed the animals' feed to increase the liquidity of the cow-pie to make it into something more like cow-shake so that it can be sprayed onto fields more evenly for fertilizer. The farmers are so enthusiastically fertilizing their crops - they're overdoing it and creating more runoff.

According to the E.P.A., agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the U.S., and it is estimated that 19.5 million American residents are made ill by waterborne parasites, viruses, or bacteria. The Clean Water Act was passed largely to guard lakes and streams from chemical dumping and ignored agricultural pollution. The E.P.A. set out to right this wrong and set rules to make large farms (minimum of 700 head of cattle) abide by tougher standards than small family farms. These rules are not enforced because the owners of the large farms are not filing their paperwork, and simply ignoring the regulations.

In its efforts to weaken all ideas from the bleeding heart liberal set, the previous administration passed legislation allowing farmers to self-police, making it even easier for the worst polluters to continue on with business as usual. I believe the legislation might be titled the "fox-in-the-hen-house act." It seems that the former Governor of Texas likes it when his contributors are allowed to do whatever they want in the name of less regulation and more profit. Regulations cost businesses money. If businesses have to abide by regulations their C.E.O.s won't be able to buy country clubs and hire laid-off formerly middle-class people to wash the dishes and polish the shoes of the rich. Job growth will slow, forcing the C.E.O.s to polish their own Bentleys. Horrors.

The E.P.A. needs help. I know this first hand. On a recent trip to our nation's capital I visited the E.P.A. Headquarters. It is an agency in decay. I present photographic evidence here. This is an actual photo my wife took. It is not retouched in any way. Seriously.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Under the supervision of the former Governor of Texas, the E.P.A. was not even able to pick up its own garbage. The E.P.A. needs our help, people, and they need it NOW!!!

Writing this built up one hell of a thirst. I'm going to have a beer. You expect me to pour a glass of water?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


In Need of an Editor

I've been told more than once that I need an editor. The first time was by a literary agent who read a draft of my first book. She also was quick to say that there were passages that made her laugh out loud, and that she almost never laughed out loud. She paid me this compliment just before telling me she would not represent me.

The most recent bearer of this information happens to be my wife. She should know. She has a degree in journalism from N.Y.U.

And so, I must admit- there will be those who read my humble column, sometimes written in a big hurry to make a self-imposed deadline, that will find typos and grammatical flubs. I did not do well in English class. I was always bored. I cannot diagram a sentence to save my life. I can't remember what a dangling participle is, probably because my English teachers were speaking in knockout drops, slipping me verbal mickeys, sending me to dreamland.

This was most recently brought to my attention by Jayne when she read several pieces that I had written and hit the 'publish post' button before she had a chance to make some blue pencil corrections. I received a finger wagging tonight about being in such a hurry, which initially irritated me. She laughed at my anger, which was primarily focused on myself, due to my lack of paying attention in English class and its toll on my writing.

"This is our 'scrunchy episode'!" I exclaimed, uttering a "Sex and the City" reference. Our relationship and conversations are filled with pop culture references from television not found on the Disney channel, film, and Rock & Roll.

And now if readers take a second look, they may notice some changes. There will be a few more changes still.

I don't need to run an ad for an editor. I'm already married to one. I just have to hold back before hitting the 'publish post' button and let her have a look first.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009



Today is the Democratic primary for the upcoming general elections for New York City's elected posts. I am a registered Democrat, and I voted.

I am far in the minority. Normally I vote early. It's in my make-up. I grew up in Chicago, where we are told to 'vote early and often.' Today after the morning dog walk I had to rush to work and nearly forgot to vote, until I was on the evening dog walk and was reminded by someone passing out fliers, dutifully a respectful distance from a polling place.

I had until 9:00pm to get to the public school that houses my neighborhood polling place. Although there was only a half-hour to go when I arrived, there was no line. No latecomers clamoring to make it on time before the polls closed.

I stopped at the check-in desk. I was ballot number 61. There are six names and addresses to each page of sign-ins. There are 71 pages of registered Democrats in my precinct. Less than one sixth would show up to vote in the primary in my precinct. That is beyond appalling.

I know it's a virtual slam-dunk that Mayor Bloomberg will be re-elcted unless he has a colossal crash and burn in the next month and a half, but there are other races to be decided.

So now the newsies will bleat on about the great wheel of democracy. Is it really a democracy when the winner gets half of one sixth of the registered vote? I can hear the cheers now-


And the broadcasters will debate if one twelfth is a mandate for change. There will be a different list of names that get to award no-bid contracts to their relatives and friends.

I know that the general election will get a bigger turnout, but by how much more? When it's just the city elections and the top spot is practically unopposed? Nobody cares who the District Attorney is, or the city Comptroller, or the Public Advocate, and truly how many care who their councilman is? It's a short list.

It is said in many places that democracy and government is decided by those who show up. I show up. Me and maybe a hundred others. Do you trust me to make all your decisions for you? For the future of your community and how it will be run? Of course you do. You already did.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The Day After

On September 12th, the second day of our honeymoon, Jayne and I went downstairs to the inn's dining room. We had signed up for the early breakfast, wanting to have a full day in Healdsburg and some of the nearby vineyards.

The two couples from Augusta had signed up for the same breakfast time. The wives were pleasant enough, and the man who was not in the lobby complaining about his stocks had little to say. The prick, however, had no idea when to shut the fuck up. His wife finally got him to change the subject.

With breakfast ruined we went out to the pool and met some of the other guests. We did go on a couple of tours that day. The setting was beautiful, but we couldn't enjoy it. We were able to reach someone in New York that had spoken to our friend Katie, the one who worked in Tower One.

She didn't have to be at work that day until 10:00am and was in the health club across the street. After spending some time on the treadmill she went to the locker room and got in the shower. While in the shower someone ran in and yelled that the building was being evacuated and she had to get out 'now!' Katie hurriedly dried off and pulled on her clothes as fast as she could, grabbed her purse and ran out of the building to see the chaos. Paper and metal shards were everywhere. She ran north and had safely gotten away.

Jayne called Mark, her co-worker, again, who still hadn't heard from his father. Mark's father would eventually resurface a couple of days later. We knew no one who died.

My sister worked for a time at Marsh & McLennen in Chicago and one of her closest friends had been transferred to New York and was still with the company. Marsh was one of the companies hardest hit, over 300 employees killed, their offices on an impact floor. Those in the Trade Center offices didn't have a chance. The survivors were either people who happened to call in sick, ran late, or dallied at a coffee shop, putting off going in to enjoy the beautiful weather of that morning for five more minutes.

My sister's friend worked at Marsh's mid-town office, but the thirteen people from her department that reported to her were all killed, if lucky, instantly.

We called another close friend of Jayne's who's brother was a crane operator. We found out that he had gone down at sunrise on the 12th to offer his services to help in the rescue and recovery.

At around dinner time we were asked by the innkeeper to sign up for breakfast. I looked at the sign up sheet and chose the later time, seeing that the four from Georgia were again signed up for the early time. We had decided to avoid this guy for the rest of our time there. We were only in that in for two days, but I can remember every detail of the building, the koi pond, the pool, the lobby with the television.

Everywhere we went on our honeymoon people would ask us where we were from. When we said New York their faces fell, and offered sympathy and support. Playing the honeymoon card got us a lot of free coffee and desserts.

Jayne was terrified to fly now. We couldn't enjoy ourselves all that much. After a week of inn hopping and two lane scenic highway driving we decided to cut our trip short. We returned to San Francisco, on schedule. We were originally supposed to go to Monterey for another three days, but we had enough of worrying about New York and felt separated from home. Our return flight kept getting canceled. The car rental company told us that they'd waive the drop fee if we drove back. We thanked them and said we'd check in with them daily.

We would eventually drive the whole way, five days on Interstate 80, the worst way to go. We do want to return to wine country so that we can enjoy it, and we would like to drive across the country again, but not on interstates and not under any such circumstances. The trip on I-80 was an odyssey in itself.

When we drove across the George Washington Bridge late morning of the fifth day of driving, it was Sunday the 23rd. Ground Zero was smoking, as it would for months. We live an hour's walk from it. When the wind was right we could smell a smoke that had many layers of different smells, none of them good.

Pulling up to the rental car place there were six people sitting on the sidewalk outside the office door. When I drove up a couple waiting for a car jumped up. One of the rental car workers helped me get the bags out of the car. We had been practically living in it for nearly two weeks. Jayne took out two plastic shopping bags of trash, coffee cups, empty bags of chips, apple cores, the remains of road food. I told the car rental guy that I had driven the car over 3000 miles and that it would need an oil change. He grunted an affirmative and before I was two feet away from the trunk the couple was loading their stuff in. There were no rental cars to be found anywhere in New York. People just wanted to get out in any way they could.

Jayne wanted to go to the Trade Center, and it was the first day that anyone would be let anywhere near it. We walked down to City Hall among a throng of people, all walking in silence. There was a road block at Broadway and Ann, the closest we could get. We walked around to Vescey and looked south at the devastation. The pile of rubble was at least ten stories high. The scene on television could not possibly relate the scope of the atrocity.

We walked back in silence to Union Square, where we heard that an impromptu memorial was taking place. There were fliers everywhere with pictures of missing people, all likely dead. In the plaza just above fourteenth street people were gathered, a string quartet played funeral music. I was suddenly overcome with grief at the sound of the music.

A woman that I never saw before or since came to me with a puppy.
"Do you want to pet him?"
All I could do was nod. I held the puppy while I cried for the lost, still thought to be over 5000 at that point.
"I named him Rudy," she continued.

I held the puppy for several minutes. He licked my face, which made me cry some more. Once I was able to collect myself I gave him back to his owner and thanked her.

Jayne and I walked around and read the fliers and looked at the pictures of the missing. The pictures were all of smiling, happy moments from vacations, family dinners, graduations and weddings. Moments of beauty without a trace of care. The way these people should be remembered. Not for a sudden, senseless, brutal ending.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Memories of 9/11

On September 9, 2001, Jayne and I married in a small ceremony in the outer garden of a restaurant on Cooper Square. The Village Voice offices are across the street, as is the Cooper Union. A walk to the World Trade Center would take the average person around 20 or 30 minutes.

The Trade Center was the site of our first date. We liked walking around Battery Park and along the river. The night of our marriage we stayed at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, and our room looked at the towers. The morning of Monday the tenth, we went out to breakfast and laughed at all the people who had to work that day, savoring the beginning of a honeymoon vacation. We talked about going to the Trade Center, but decided to put it off until we came back from our trip. We had reservations in wine country in northern California, and we had packed on the previous Saturday, so we would be ready to just pick up our suitcases and go.

As Monday the tenth went on, clouds started moving in and in the mid-afternoon it began to rain. We took a cab to JFK and checked in. By the time we got to JFK it was raining pretty hard and lightening was lighting up the sky. We boarded the plane.

Jayne used to fly quite a bit, but over the years she started to develop a fear of flying, and the lightening was really bothering her. Our flight to San Francisco was scheduled for a 5:20pm take off. we pushed back from the gate on time, but once we were on the tarmac and in line for takeoff the plane stopped. The pilot spoke to us over the intercom, informing us that because of the weather we would be delayed. Lightening was all over the place. Jayne was relieved we were not taking off.

We talked about how her brother and nephew had Yankees tickets and the game would certainly be rained out. They came to town for our wedding from Atlanta. We sat on the tarmac for five hours. The crew were wonderful to us. They fed us, they brought the drinks cart down the aisle, the pilot turned off the seat belt sign and we were allowed to use our cell phones.

We finally took off around 10:30p and landed in San Francisco at around 1:30am Pacific time. Our rental car had been given to someone else. We protested to the night clerk that we had a reservation. He apologized. Jayne said to him that we were on our honeymoon. The magic words. He upgraded us to a luxury car, a huge Chrysler with leather seats and a terrific sound system.

We knew when planning the trip that we would be landing late at night and we didn't want to drive to wine country in the dark, so we had reservations that night at the Airport Best Western. We got to our hotel room at around 2:00am Pacific time on Tuesday September 11th. Our body clocks were still on Eastern time, so to us it was about 5:00am.

We got into bed and fell asleep quickly, tired from the long day. After only a few hours, we woke up, a little after 6:00am Pacific time. The towers had already been hit, but we were unaware. We were in San Francisco, we were about to drive to wine country, it was the first real day of our honeymoon. A little honeymooning, and then a shower. Jayne had a habit of turning on the TV and the Today Show almost as soon as she got out of bed, but not that day.

After we got out of the shower and dried off, we talked about going out to breakfast. I started to shave and she turned on the TV. The smoking towers were on the screen, but the sound hadn't kicked in. She began to change the channels, looking for the NBC logo in the corner. It seemed the same program was on every station. As I shaved, Jayne was talking to me about what was on the screen.

"I can't find NBC- Oh, wait a minute." She saw the NBC logo, but the programming was the same. The sound kicked in once she stopped flipping channels. A solemn voice said 'and the World Trade Center is no more.' Jayne started to scream. "Oh my God it's real!"

We stood in front of the hotel TV for several minutes completely dumbfounded. The crawl at the bottom of the screen was talking about the Pentagon explosion and the evacuation of the White House and the houses of Congress. The San Francisco local NBC affiliate news team broke into the broadcast, and it was showing picture in picture downtown Manhattan and telling us that the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge were closed, that all American airspace was frozen, and that for security reasons the police were quarantining the airport area. They put up a map of the airport area with marks as to where the roadblocks were being set up. We were just inside the quarantine area. Jayne started to panic.

"What are we going to do?" She asked.
"Let's get the hell out of here. We've got reservations. Whatever is going on we're way better off in a small town inland than in a big city on the coast."

We hustled our baggage out to the car. Jayne went to settle the bill while I finished loading the trunk. Stunned people were milling about the parking lot. An airport shuttle pulled up, filled with people whose flights were suddenly canceled - they all needed rooms. Jayne came out to the car and we drove off. I turned on the radio, and we found a morning news broadcast. Local authorities had decided not to close the bridges, but I didn't want to drive across either one of them that day. I decided to drive south to San Jose and go around San Francisco Bay.

Just as we were about to get on the freeway, a Korean Air Lines 747 flew, very low, over the car. I figured they must not have had enough fuel to divert to Canada and must have been the last plane to have clearance to land. By now it was about 8:00am, maybe a little later. I drove for a while, and once we were on the eastern side of the bay we stopped for breakfast at a roadside diner. We started calling people on our cell phones. Jayne got hold of a friend who lived on First Avenue and Fourth Street. I called some family members, who didn't remember that we were flying the night before and thought we may have been on the flight from Newark that crashed in Pennsylvania.

It turned out that several people tried to call us, but because we had 917 area codes on our cell phones they couldn't get through to us. We could not receive calls, but since we were in the bay area we could dial out. There were some restaurant patrons at the next table, laughing about something or other, then became silent when they heard us talking to our loved ones, telling them that we were OK, that we had flown the night before.

Arriving in wine country was surreal. The wine train chugged past with people inside sipping and having a nice lunch. We made our way to the inn where Jayne had made our reservations. They had a 4:00pm check in time, and we arrived there around noon. The innkeepers were pleasantly surprised at our arrival, knowing we were coming in from New York and unsure as to when we were flying, whether we could make it, whether or not we were alive. Our room wasn't ready. Our hostess suggested a winery where we could go on a tour while our room was prepared. Not knowing what else to do, we went on the wine tour.

This was one of those inns with no TVs in the rooms, only one in the lobby. There was a guest in the lobby watching the TV. There were two couples from Augusta, Georgia. The right wing Republican husband of one of the two couples sat in the lobby, holding the remote. This guy was going on and on about how his stocks were going down the toilet. I wanted to punch his lights out. The subtext of the shit this guy was spewing as he continued was that New York was a necessary evil because the banks and the stock market were there. I knew that this guy saw my adopted home as a cesspool of niggers and spics and kikes and fags. I thought of the words of a friend of ours: "Lincoln was wrong. The south should have been allowed to secede from the union."

Jayne and I talked for a moment about who we knew at the Trade Center- there were two, a close friend who worked on the 44th floor of Tower One and the father of one of Jayne's co-workers. The prick from Augusta said in the most snide tone-

"Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but there are 50,000 people in there and they're all dead."

I looked at him thinking 'I'll bet you like to be the bearer of bad tidings' but I said nothing. We left the lobby and went outside to look at a koi pond, the huge goldfish helped bring on some needed tranquility.

The rest of the day is now a distant blur.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Unions and Usefulness

For many years now, I have been hearing people say that unions have outlived their usefulness. That they're corrupt, run by The Mob, The Outfit, The Organization, The Family, and The Other Obscure Euphemism for Organized Crime to be Named Later. This statement is almost always delivered by conservatives.

Yeah, right. Like Enron, Tyco, Wal-Mart and others too numerous to mention have their employees as their first priority. Especially their pensions, their health benefits and the eight hour workday.

I don't know a single person that works full-time that has an eight hour workday. Employee contributions to health plans have ballooned while benefits have shrunk. The U.S.A. is the only industrialized country without a health plan for its citizens. It is the country with the least vacation and sick pay. We have among the highest rates of drug addiction, teen pregnancy, infant mortality and clinical depression.

I attribute much of this to the weakening of the labor movement. This weakening has been a high-level priority of the Republican Party for years, and they have nearly succeeded at it. This goal made great strides in the 1980s under a president that had once been a president of a labor union who conservatives want to put on Mount Rushmore and on coins. One of his first acts as president was to break a union critical to the nation's transportation system. Another highlight of his administration was emptying public mental hospitals, causing homelessness to skyrocket. This president extolled the virtues of the military services while cutting funds to the Veterans Administration.

They tell us that American companies must operate this way in order to remain competitive, while the other nations seem to be doing quite well with their labor force working 8 hour workdays and getting month-long vacations.

People, and I am including me here, are working longer hours for less and less compensation.

I've got nothing funny here, because I can barely lift my eyelids just now. I am working two jobs at more than 50 hours per week and making less than what I made in one full time job. I know I'm not alone here. As I have heard, the economy is starting to go on the upswing and more jobs are starting to be created again. I know about this first hand. I have two of them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Things Republicans Taught Me

Today was the first day of school in many parts of the country. Others have already been back to school for a week or two, and here in New York City the first day of school is tomorrow.

Over the past seven years I have worked as a teaching artist in the New York City schools, teaching theater skills and using theatrical techniques in cross curriculum programs. I have developed design based programs that employ drawing and painting that are secretly math lessons. I have taught painting techniques that can be used in high end restaurants and hotels, creating faux finishes. Most of the schools that I have worked in are on the "impact list," a euphemism for places that require more police presence.

In my elementary school years we were told in school to fear and suspect people from other countries, that they were up to no good, that they hated America and Americans for their freedom. I was told by family members that I should never tell anyone that our grandparents were Russian, even though they came here to make a better life and provide us with a better life than they had growing up. People would say that our family were a bunch of pinko commies.

Today, President Obama made a much anticipated speech. This speech upset some people. There were people in many parts of the country that took exception to the President of the United States telling school children lessons of responsibility. They felt that his message was propaganda. They said that President Obama is a pinko commie. That his speech is some skewed opinion to stay in school, value their education and study hard. I know this must be a terrible thing for these people to hear. All their lived they were told things like 'too smart for your own good' and 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.' Now, they have a fear of knowledge.

I don't believe he is a pinko commie. Actually he's pretty much in the middle of the road, now that he's in the White House. Even if he were a pinko commie, he was elected quite handily by a clear majority of voting citizens.

The Republican party has gone from being a thoughtful bunch lead by intelligent people like Everett Dirksen, to being dominated by a shrill pack of hate mongers who believe that it is an expression of patriotism to bring an assault weapon to a town hall meeting. They believe that intimidation of law abiding citizens is a perfectly reasonable method of getting one's point across. They say our President is a pinko commie, and our country is sliding toward a terrible finish. They are telling these things to our young, impressionable school children. I know this, because I received a call from a young, impressionable child. My cousin has school-aged children, and her daughter came home from school crying.

"What's wrong, sweetie?"
"Mrs. Jones told me that President Obama is a pinko commie, and anyone who voted for him was duped, and that America is coming to an end!"
"Mrs. Jones is wrong, and I can prove it. We'll call cousin Rob. He knows about all things pinko commie. He was a pinko himself back in the sixties."

I picked up the phone to a crying child. I knew that it was my mission to put this poor child right. I explained to her that Mrs. Jones was all wet.

"You know that people can say just about anything, and it's not always true. I think that President Obama is right. You should learn as much as you can and evaluate things based on your knowledge. Have you ever heard the expression 'take it with a grain of salt?'"
"Yes, but I don't know what it means."
"Well, how much does a grain of salt weigh?"
"Hardly anything."
"Right. Less than a fly. Well, that's how much weight you should give the opinion of some people."
She brightened immediately. "You're right!"

I went on to drive my point home.

"And isn't that what President Obama's message was? Learn as much as you can so that you can make good decisions based on knowledge and truth? Do you think that's a message of someone who's un-American?"
"Of course not."

I went further, knowing the child needed to be comforted.

"You know, people like Mrs. Jones are the real enemy."
"I think she should be reported to the F.B.I. and that she should have her taxes audited."
"Oh, yes. Mrs. Jones might even be a deep cover terrorist."

Her eyes grew wide. I could tell this, even on the phone. "Do you really think so?"
"She's dangerous?"
"No question."
"What do you think she might do?"
"Oh, just about anything! I'll bet she's selling nuclear secrets to the North Koreans!"

Let no one say I don't know how to comfort children. I learned it in school from Republicans.

Monday, September 07, 2009


Feeding the Beast

In my life I have frequently been in close proximity with well known figures. Some friends, some coworkers, some employers. I have seen some of these people portrayed in the tabloid press, some favorable, some not so much.

I don't read the tabloids, and I am unable to understand why anyone does. I don't care about the private lives of public people. Why should I care about Lindsay and Britney and Paris? To do so would be taking too much time and brain power away from things that actually matter, like the dessert topping choices of Eliot Spitzer's favorite hooker...

The first time I met a celebrity I was with my parents at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. I was looking at the Foucault Pendulum and Dr. Posen was there, explaining the significance of the pendulum and how it proved the earth rotated. Dr. Posen had a science show on WTTW, the educational channel in Chicago, and he was my favorite TV personality at the time. I thought he was the smartest man on earth, and to be in his presence was moving. My other favorite TV personality at that time was P.J. Hoff, the channel two weather guy who drew cartoons on the weather map during his segment while explaining the next incoming cold front. As you can see, even at the age of six or seven my geekdom was already fully developed.

I can remember wondering, when Jennifer Aniston's topless pictures were released why the photographer wasn't arrested as a peeping tom. To get the photographs he had to climb a tree and lay in wait for her to sunbathe in her back yard, surrounded by very high hedges to give her privacy. I have never cared for celebrity photographers, especially the so-called stalkarazzi. I was always amazed by how they could get pictures of celebrities with angry looks on their faces, until I found out that there is a list of celebrities that they want to show in a negative light, and they photograph those on the list in teams- one who screams horrible things at them, and another who takes the picture of the response.

A few years back, my wife worked on the soundtrack for "I Am Sam" and we were invited to the film's premier. It was a red carpet event that had dozens of celebrity photographers. While we were on the red carpet, several of them started yelling "Rob! Rob! Over here!" I smiled and waved, not knowing why they were calling me. I have never thought of myself as a celebrity. For good reason. I'm not one. We were both mystified, until I turned around and saw that Rob Thomas was walking in behind me.

I bring this up, because over the past few days I have been thinking about the cult of celebrity. It's very big business. Magazines and television shows dedicated to celebrity gossip are everywhere.

My current interest was spurred by the story of two chiefs of police in Ohio under indictment for breaking and entering a woman's home, and stealing personal items. This woman had agreed to be a surrogate mother for Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. The police chiefs then tried to sell the items to a photographer employed by a tabloid. The items included the surrogacy agreement, pictures of pregnancy ultrasounds and other things related to the surrogacy story. The police chiefs were angered by the price offered for the stolen items. The photographers stated that they just wanted to know the whereabouts of the woman so that they could take her picture.

The two police chiefs, former partners in a small town police department, invented the excuse that they were in her home because they found the door open and decided to investigate. If that were true, then why did they take items from the woman's home, and why were they trying to sell the items?

The trial is about to begin. It will soon come out what forces were at work to motivate two chiefs of police to allegedly commit a robbery. Was it just as simple as desire for money? Was it because some feeling about celebrity and fame? We may never know. But one thing is sure: The crime has made the two police chiefs the fodder of celebrity press.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Food for Thought

I'm torn. I can't choose between a couple of items that caught my interest in today's New York Times. Should I write about two chiefs of police that broke into a woman's home to steal items that they thought would bring a nice price from supermarket tabloids? Should I write about a group of the nations largest food food manufacturers pushing the Food and Drug Administration to approve a program to "help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices" that would suggest that Coco Krispies and Froot Loops constitute a healthy breakfast? Decisions, decisions.

At times in my past, I have subscribed to a list of conspiracy theories, some of them plausible, some pretty much out of left field. Sometimes theories out of left field turned out to be fact.

I know that, just like all other everyday Americans, the food industry is just trying to make a few hundred billion. That said, I have to wonder if the foodies are now in league with the druggies and the health insurance executives in pushing unhealthy food to complete the cycle. First unhealthy food, making people need to go to the doctor, making doctors prescribe drugs, giving insurance companies the opportunity to overcharge the public.

Is this a conspiracy to completely transform the American people into sheep to be lined up to shear and then slaughter? Wait a minute- could the funeral industry be involved as well?

Look at the nice, bright green check marks on the labels telling us that the mayonnaise that is the highest in fat content is the best to spread on processed white flour based bread to hold processed baloney and American cheese and iceberg lettuce is an excellent lunch. Keep eating it, it's healthy. Just don't look in the mirror or worry about needing a new wardrobe of ever increasing size garments.

Are we just thinking meat to these people? Of course we are. That is what we are in just about every facet of the American economy. We are here to provide for industry, both as tool of manufacture and mouth for consumption of what's produced. Wake up. Look around. The evidence is everywhere.

Tomorrow- celebrity obsession and two chiefs of police.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


A New Think Tank for Compassion and Responsibility

In the electronic pages of today's New York Times I found the following gem. George W. Bush is starting a think tank. This organization will "promote policies and programs rooted in the core ideals of freedom, opportunity, responsibility and compassion."

The former Governor of Texas often talks about compassion. His actions belie his words. During the campaign for the presidency in 2000, the Texas Governor was questioned about his state's incredible efficiency in the use of the death penalty. Since 1976 the state of Texas has had 37.5% of all executions in the United States. The state of Texas by itself has had more executions than most nations. The only places on earth that execute more prisoners than the United States are The People's Republic of China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. After the U.S. is Pakistan and following Pakistan is everyone else.

The People's Republic of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Great company to be in. What a gentleman's club. And yet it is our government, especially while occupied by the former Governor of Texas, that somehow finds the strength to finger-wag our fellow club members about human rights. We have the strength to do this because we use lethal injection instead of beheading. Beheading takes much more physical effort. We are, after all, largely flabby and out of shape.

During the election of 2000 the death penalty was a hot topic. The Innocence Project had uncovered a number prisoners on death row who had not had fair trails, and several of these prisoners turned out to be innocent. When questioned about Texas' death row, Governor Bush stated that all prisoners on death row in Texas were guilty. A reporter suggested that prisoners undergo DNA tests to prove this once and for all. His response was to reiterate that they were all guilty, and that DNA tests were an unnecessary burden and expense. According to the former Governor of Texas DNA tests were too expensive.

State after state that has had studies commissioned on the relative cost of the death penalty has found that the death penalty costs ten to twenty times that of life imprisonment without parole. The added costs are in trials, appeals, and special high security housing of death row inmates.

Let me point out a fact to Mr. Think Tank. If someone is mistakenly executed, that's all, folks. If someone is imprisoned for life and it is later discovered that a flawed justice system made an error, you can let the guy go. That would be something called compassionate. It would also be called the responsible thing to do.

Let me further point out to Mr. Think Tank that in our time of financial need, death row costs the death penalty states a great deal of needed capital that could be better spent on its free, law abiding citizens. That would also be both compassionate and responsible.

This year in the United States there has been an average of one execution per week. Texas, as usual, leads all states in numbers of prisoners executed. It has been recently proven that at least two men executed in Texas were innocent. One of these two were executed while the former Governor of Texas was sitting in the Texas State House in Austin.

He ran on a law and order tough cowboy image to gain the governorship. He had no interest in proving innocence of anyone on Texas' death row because he believed it would have tarnished his image, and imperfection of the legal system is an uncomfortable subject. This is his idea of responsibility. The bottom line is the former Governor of Texas effectively had an innocent man put to death for political gain. This is his idea of compassion.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


More on Biblical Revisions

Yesterday's story has nagged at me all day. I recall from my core curriculum at Loyola University of Chicago my first required theology class.

I had to take three theology classes. Looking at the list of choices, I spotted "Old Testament" and leaped at it. I was the only Jew in the class. My professor had a PhD. in scripture and could speak several ancient languages. He had written his thesis about ancient scriptures, and had done his research by reading the actual scrolls in their original languages. The man was truly fascinating.

It was in his class that I was informed that the Old Testament was written over a thousand year period, from roughly 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C., and had most likely been written in three different locations and compiled. He was able to determine this by the use of words for the Deity. At different points, he informed me, the Deity was referred to as The Lord, at others God and at still others as Lord God. He also told me (and I have no reason to doubt him) that the Old Testament was handed down through memorization from father to son for hundreds of years before it was written down, the advent of written language being long after the origination of most of the text. In the beginning, much of the Old Testament was composed in the days of hieroglyphics.

He also informed our class that the early versions of the New Testament were translated by people who did not necessarily have full command of the language that they were translating the text into.

I bring this up because the Bible has been translated several times. The Old Testament was passed down by word of mouth for hundreds of years, the New Testament translated and re-translated several times. Now we see that Evangelicals have been tinkering with the text for whatever reason, more than once. This time they say it's to make the text more gender-neutral.

Since the Word of God has been thoroughly messed with by imperfect humans several times, I am left with the feeling that nobody in today's world has the first clue as to what the original text is. I have also been told too many times to calculate that humans are not capable of understanding the true Word of God or God's plan.

In this light, I must state in print what I have stated in person to whomever would listen. Anyone who states that they know or understand the Word of God is either a charlatan or needs to seek professional mental help. This is why I am basically an agnostic. No priest, reverend, rabbi or mullah has any business of telling anyone what is on God's mind. And yet they do. Someone without a divinity degree from a respected institution that does the same is usually put in an insane asylum for the good of society.

And so I must go back to the fact that the elders of the Evangelical movement feel they are capable of writing revisions in the Bible, and that they have done this more than once. I should add that the elders are far from united in this effort, and that there is a group that are against doing any tinkering. Why not? The New Testament has been tinkered with for at least 1700 years and the Old Testament that has been in existence since it has been written down is very likely inaccurate.

Finally, the first part of the headline of the news story stated "Best Selling." The Bible is the best selling book in human history. Someone with a jaded eye may surmise that this is the bottom line. A best seller that has had revisions will likely be just as big a seller as the original version, the true believers would be wanting to make comparisons and evaluate the differences.

With that in mind, I must ask the Evangelicals involved in this effort- how many of God's trees are you going to kill for this?


Words can't describe the thousands of thoughts that rush by when seeing the headline:

Best Selling Bible for Conservative Evangelists to Undergo Revisions

The people who say that the Bible is God's word have decided to rewrite it. Because they know better. Because the revisions that they wrote twenty-five years ago were wrong.

I don't even know where to start. What can one say?

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