A REMEMBRANCE OF 9/11

 It has been 17 years since that fateful day. To a growing number of young people, 17 years is a lifetime, and the day itself no more than a history lesson, or a museum exhibit. But for those old enough to have experienced it, 9/11 is a day etched into our collective consciousness never to be forgotten.  

Today, as memorial services take place in Lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia and an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I offer one from the world of running first posted in September 2011. 

Continue reading “A REMEMBRANCE OF 9/11”

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ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA

How’s this for being on the horns of a dilemma? (September 6, 2018)  Either stay with a duly elected but “amoral” president who “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”, or go with an unelected cabal made up of “many of the senior officials in (the president’s) own administration (who) are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations”?  

Oh, my!

The blame, dear friends, lies not with the one called Trump, though he is the locus of the dilemma.  No, he is who he is, as he has been for many, many decades. There are no surprises there. Nor can blame be apportioned to the swath of America who voted for him in November 2016. 

They didn’t love him (OK, some did), they just hated you, the Washington establishment, for your mindless disregard that left them without a sense of their traditional homes, jobs, infrastructure, affordable education, etc. Trump wasn’t their guy so much as he just wasn’t yours. He was  the cudgel you gave them to say NO with and they swung it enthusiastically.

No, this erratic, unfit executive belongs to the Republican Party and its leaders who cynically sought to ride the raging bull long enough to pass tax cuts, strip away regulations, and pack the judiciary before the beast would need to be put down.

“Why are we putting so many resources in South Korea?” he wonders. 

“To avoid WW3!” says SecDef James Mattis in utter disbelief. 

Amorality aside, he just doesn’t know any better. Studying was never his thing. Making stuff up on the fly is what got him this far in the family business. Do not expect him to change now because the responsibilities are exponentially greater.

Unfortunately for us, that leaves him particularly unprepared for the task at hand, like a TV actor after the writers have left. This is a president without Mark Burnett to produce the show.

But as Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told Brett Baier on Fox News, “In the last 100 years, the Republican party has held the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives in only 20 of those years. And we are not going to squander that opportunity.”

That’s the key understanding. “We are not going to have this very long, so let’s make the most of it.”

This is purely a transactional relationship. Regardless of his qualifications, ride this guy until he implodes, gambling that you can get what you want before the country gets what it deserves. In a binary world of Trump-Clinton where one choice will impact the Supreme Court for a generation in your favor, the choice is a no-brainer (just like their president). So hold your nose, say your prayers,  and pull that voting lever.

Of course, in for a dime, in for a dollar. So when insiders lay open the sucking chest-wound of an administration led by a virtual child, McConnell has nothing to say about the scathing New York Times Op-Ed from a senior White House official talking about resistance within the administration to many of the dangerous inclinations of the amoral president. This is realpolitik in its purest form. Continue reading “ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA”

SUMMER IN THE CITY

Earlier this month it was the far west dealing with unrelenting heat that fueled devastating wild fires up and down the coast. This week it’s the east coast that’s broiling. Pity the poor players having to deal with the conditions at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.

And while it may seem we are experiencing yet another indicator of that oft mentioned bugaboo Climate Change, these spells do come around every now and again on their own. I found the following recollection in one of my old journals that brought back a particularly wild ride one hot summer’s night in the city.

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Reeking tendrils of humidity stewed street stench wafted through the city like a hangover from the 1968 sanitation worker’s walkout.  The city sucked.  So off I headed to Boston to ride it out. Not that Boston was any bargain, but at least the beaches were proximate and, at the moment, free of medical waste.

The train, I figured – five hours from Penn Central to Boston’s Back Bay – a tranquil change from the jet whine life I was leading at the time. Plus, traveling by train felt like riding through New England’s backyard.

There was no real hurry, though no understanding, either, of how often the trains ran.  This was still pre-internet, pre-smartphone, but if the airline shuttles worked every half-hour, then the trains would probably go on a similar schedule, right?

I arrived at Penn Station at 6:40 p.m. as the last of the day’s commuters battled for already fouled air space.  Fixed-wing floor fans attempted to do what only an advancing ice age had a prayer to accomplish, cool the joint.  Instead, the fans fueled the street reek and knocked the walking weak off balance as they neared the piles of uncollected trash.  But I was already in a weekend state, oblivious to all the ill winds and foul moods, as well as one step ahead of the medical waste that was reportedly still bobbing off the Rhode Island coast.

When I got to the ticket counter, the Amtrak attendant informed me that the last train – the 6:50 p.m. – had just departed, making tomorrow morning the next best opportunity. So much for flying by the seat of my pants, or moving by rail.

Hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing could well have won me over, but instead I wandered back out onto 34th street looking for a taxi to take me to the Marine Air Terminal, maybe even in time to catch the preferred 7:30 Pan Am shuttle.

The Wednesday night rush was just about over, but Midtown to the Marine Air Terminal in 20 minutes or so?  Odds were I’d have to make the less attractive 8 o’clock Eastern flight out of Laguardia instead.

The first cab in line along the curb was taking on a passenger with the listless spirit that such heat and humdity reduces most people to over time.  But as I approached cab number two, the muted sound of steel-drum music leaked out before the driver leaned over the seat and flung open the back door, releasing the full sound of the steel band tape.

“Hi, need to go to the Marine Air Terminal,” I said in something just shy of a shout to be heard over the music. “The Pan Am shuttle takes off at 7:30. Any chance?”

Turning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, the rasta mon driver informed me with a smile as wide as the car grill that “dere ah nuh problem, mon.  I be da champ.”

Pulling out with a squeal of soft rubber on the hard roadway began a journey into the cauldron of New York City Streets.  From behind, a chorus of honks flared as the driver hung one arm out the window and began using it as both a traffic signaler and speech punctuator.

“Hey, yuh nuffi be gettin’ yuhself in a jahm, mon,” he lilted in his Jamaican patois as another cab honked angrily at his brusque entry into the flow.

“You actually think we can make it?” I asked. “I can always take the eight o’clock out of Laguardia.”

“Dat’s so, mon.  But weh yuh a do?   No betta ride dere is. But mi tell yuh da troot.  Hope him ah nah too pissed off.”

And with that, he cranked the steel band tape even louder and lurched into the next lane with enough g-forces to pin his passenger against the far door. Settling for a second, he turned from the wheel, and over the seat offered a joint he had pinched between his thumb and forefinger. “And dis for yuh,” he said, holding his own inhalation deep in his lungs.

Like a sump pump dredging old bowels, the streets of New York City had become a global warming performance lab.  Not that it slowed my driver one iota.

“Woooooo, momma,” he crowed as he hung half way out the window, banging on the door, and honking wildly at a passing lovely.  “Just yuh pon dat bit a fine stuff.  Mi be bock, sweedeart, so yuh can ride wid mi.”

Like mi told yuh, me am da champ, mi ago get yuh to dat plane, what yuh tink?”

In our curb-to-curb wake, even the most seasoned New Yorkers leapt clear, mouths agape. On we rushed in a blur of yellow, aimed as much as driven by the rasta man in an open-neck cranberry polo shirt. Traffic lines and red lights seemed more like suggestions as we took turns on what seemed nearly two wheels.  The rasta man was loosening the lug nuts on his ride, and that of his passenger, too.

“Be careful up there,” I requested meakly.

“Ah, mon, please nuh worries.  Wi gat it so. Yuh be wit da champ.”

And with that he leaned over and covered the first syllable of his name on his taxi license to the right of the meter, revealing only the letters C-H-A-M-P, as is last name was Longchamp.

“He may well have been “Da Champ” alright,” I thought, “but let’s hope I live long enough for him to collect his belt.”

The Caribbean beat poured out onto 8th Avenue through the fully opened windows and swept into the 90+ degree heat. Fatality seemed but moments away. But, then again, so did the Marine Air Terminal.

As we continued, Mr. Longchamp produced some of the finest upper body car dancing seen in years. I squeezed my arm rests a little tighter even as the driver’s hands left the steering wheel to dance and wave at the frightened citizenry outside.

“I know dis town like I know da lines of mi hands,” he declared taking a turn onto FDR Drive at 62nd Street.

It had become obvious that flowing along with Monsieur Longchamp was the only road to deliverance. Negative vibing would’ve proven counterproductive at this point.  So I began to shoulder-roll in the backseat as the beat suggested.

By this time, I felt like I was reliving the chase scene out of the Gene Hackman movie The French Connectionas the Triborough Bridge toll booth blew past on the left, while to the right a light haze clung steamily to the Manhattan skyline.

Honk and laugh and dance and roll, Mr. Longchamp’s party wagon rocked on, a mini-Martinique carnival of two. It seemed getting to the Marine Air Terminal in under half an hour had been picked up as a challenge by Mr. Longchamp back on 34th Street. Who cared if the traffic never made the Pan Am shuttle at 7:30 a viable target as we roared by the Marine terminal exit, hopping lanes like drivers didn’t get shot for doing one-tenth of this in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, three long tokes of his island pot had the daring driver in a blissful state and me in a more tolerant one. Which made his missing of the exit to the Eastern Shuttle Terminal not wholly unexpected or upsetting .  A few retraced turns, though, and “nous arrivee”, and with more than enough time to crawl aboard the 8 p.m. flight north.

I thanked my host almost as much as he thanked me.  Then, only after graciously declining his offer to drive me all the way to Boston, did we complete what had been a 21:35 ride.

A big tip to go with the $17.80 fare, an exchange of addresses – cause Monsieur Longchamp was going to send me  a copy of his steel band mix tape – and I was once again on foot, a tad awash in an adrenalin rush and marijuana haze, but still with my New York Times and a lasting memory firmly in hand.

END

RIP JOHN MCCAIN

With the passing of Senator John McCain at his home in Sedona, Arizona on August 25, 2018, we find ourselves both a greater nation for having had him amongst us, but now a lesser one for having lost him. Today, the enduring qualities of duty, honor, and country that animated his life, and helped guide the nation through his six decades of public service have lost one of their great champions. This is especially so when compared to the qualities exhibited by the man who currently sits in the Oval Office, or rather, is next up on the 10th tee. 

Perhaps only tangentially apropos, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden penned an article this past week regarding what he called the mythologizing of football and its over importance in the American psyche. Three things, wrote Layden, led him to his keyboard.

…a young athlete’s death (in Maryland), football fans’ frustration with rule changes designed to damage fewer brains, and a millionaire coach (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer) getting wrist-slapped for apparently ignoring an assistant coach’s repeated abuse against a woman…Each case is part of a football ecosystem in which the game itself is propped up as bigger and more important than anything that stands in its way. 

And since disquieting news comes in threes, last week also saw the Dayton, Ohio school board announce a new academic standard for athletic eligibility, whereby students must now maintain a minimum 1.0 GPA on a scale of 0 to 4 in order to play sports. That’s right, students must achieve a grade level of D to remain eligible, a standard which suggests that athletic eligibility is more important than the education it was once meant to support. 

The passing of Senator McCain with his old-world sense of duty, honor, and country; Tim Layden’s observations about the inflated role of football in today’s America; and Dayton’s new scholastic eligibility regulations are not isolated indicators (Going Soft).  Instead they represent the latest reminders of a troubling erosion in the standards that designed, built, and fortified this nation over the course of two-plus centuries.

As ever, the road before us is twisting and beyond our GPS ability to ascertain. Yet if we come together and remain true to the principles embodied in John McCain, those challenges will be ours to manage and control.  Conversely, if we continue in our headlong rush to split apart, we risk careening off the righteous path bestowed to us by our forefathers while reengineering society’s basic underpinnings and values, values which today already proclaim “I like people who weren’t captured”, “truth is not truth”, and “crime is not crime”.

RIP, John McCain. May your memory continue to light our path and strengthen our resolve in what promise to be troubled times ahead.

END

AMERICUH 2018

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We come to wonder in times like these,

Whether the founders’ vision as first conceived,

Was a light for the ages from Enlightenment’s steeple,

Or a just votive candle for the lesser-blessed people.

*

For Founding Fathers like Madison and Hamilton,

Though men of good will were inarguably masculine,

Whose unalienable rights attended the fortunes of birth,

Where color and land were measures of worth.

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Yet believing in full,

’Twas the way God designed it,

The true order of man,

Who were they to unwind it?

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Still, there was more to their vision,

Than even they ever saw,

As the breadth of their wisdom,

Slowly codified into law.

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Ever-widening the definition,

Of all men being equal,

Whether by gender or race,

Eventually all became legal.

*

And though the union isn’t perfect,

Nor ever likely to be,

The struggle for inclusion,

Stretches sea to shining sea.

*

Continue reading “AMERICUH 2018”

DEBATE: BROTHERS ON ARMS

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentines Day 2018, I decided to resurrect the following exchange between my brother Marek and me as we join families around the country searching for answers to truly vexing questions.  Our sister, Teresa, added her view while on holiday in Melbourne, Australia. Continue reading “DEBATE: BROTHERS ON ARMS”

BELICHICK, BRADY & KRAFT

Starship Enterprise

Star date 18:20-1 – Maybe in the VFL, the Vulcan Football League, Coach Spock (Bill Belichick) would have traded 40 year-old quarterback Tom Brady and kept 20-something Jimmy Garoppolo without any questions or concerns. Black and white, Xs and Os, all very logical. But Mr. Spock is not the captain of this good ship Enterprise, the New England Patriots. The overly emotional James T. Kirk is. And that’s Robert Kraft, the team owner.

So logic notwithstanding, the owner made an emotional decision to keep his surrogate son Tom Brady, irrespective of his age and the wisdom of his HOF coach. Yes, Kraft seems to be saying, we may take a long term hit by keeping Brady and getting rid of Garoppolo – like the Lakers did signing Kobe Bryant to his final two-year contract. But I’m willing to take that hit for the service that Brady has given to the organization.

Not just the five Super Bowl titles, but the 13-3, potential MVP, season he’s currently having, but for all the times he has taken less than market-value money in order to give general manager Belichick more to work with to improve the team and keep the winning tradition going.

There is something beyond Xs and Os involved here. With his fifth Super Bowl title last year, and in the manner in which it was done, Brady didn’t just confirm his G.O.A.T. status on the field, he transcended the game. Kraft understands that, embraces that, while Belichick isn’t paid to think in such emotional terms.

He might not like Kraft getting involved in player decisions, but if he can’t see the logic in this one case, then he isn’t the Spock we all know him to be.

This may be the one case where both men are right  Now it is up to Brady to make Captain Kraft’s decision look just slightly better.

END

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

While the big ball of Waterford crystals will be shining tonight as it drops in New York’s frigid Times Square, the crystal ball predicting what 2018 will bring remains decidedly clouded.  But as 2017 comes clanking to a close, we are again reminded how societies work, in a series of open-ended recalibrations that determine how traditions that at one time may have been considered sketchy, but acceptable – you know, like slavery – or that may have once been thought of as boyishly charming – you know, sexual harassment – suddenly change to being legally actionable.

America fought a Civil War that ended slavery, if not the malice in men’s hearts. Men chasing women, on the other hand, is at one very basic level a Darwinian predicate. But in our modern society where the roles of the sexes have blurred and more categories along the male-female continuum open every day than new Starbucks locations – Forget ‘LBGT’… Canadian teachers now asked to learn ‘LGGBDTTTIQQAAP’ – the line that separates playful courtship from sanctionable behavior never fully settles. Just consider this one Biblical proscription as an example, remembering there are many who read such admonitions as timelessly applicable.

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent.” 1 Timothy 2: 11-12.

The rush of #MeToo stories that have spilled out across the media landscape like a dam-busted flood in 2017 testify to the long building pressure behind the allegations. But rather than question why it took so long for these women to come forward, understand, instead, the feelings of isolation and illogical self-recriminations (“what did I do?”) that attended those incidents when they first happened, and therefore maintained their sheltered silence over the long dark years. Not so different than how the actions of predatory Catholic priests preying on young boys came to the surface only after decades of omertà.

So from Judge Roy Moore to Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Russell Simmons to the Big P-Grabber himself in the White House, what we see is that even the hard lines of political dogma that have split this country into primary political palettes of reds and blues bleed away in this even more definitional construct of human sexual interaction.

Yes, sisterhood is once again on the rise. But I wonder, is it fifth-wave feminism, or just another in the endless reactions to the aberration that is the Donald Trump presidency? Because what doesn’t revolve around that tangerine sun these days? Continue reading “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?”

MEASURING PRIVILEGE AT UCLA

Let’s not kid ourselves, the cost of labor in any industry is tied to scarcity.  And in the world of sports, talent is rare and accordingly, often accommodated with positions of wealth and privilege. We are about to witness how far that privilege stretches in Westwood, California.

According to ESPN, there’s a big internal debate within the UCLA community about what sanctions to levy against the three freshman basketball players caught shoplifting in China on a recent “goodwill tour”.

UCLA freshman accused of shoplifting in China address the press upon returning home. (l-r) Cody Riley, DiAngelo Ball, and Jalen Hill. (photo NY Daily News)

Some in the Bruin community believe that Cody RileyLiAngelo Ball, and Jalen Hill,  should be suspended for the entire season, if not expelled from school. Others say that a half-a-year suspension would be sufficient punishment. Interestingly, we note that half a season would coincide with the start of Pac-12 conference play.

All three players were confined to the team hotel in Hangzhou, China after being arrested for shoplifting at three high-end stores nearby.  They were not permitted to leave the country with the rest of the team until their legal process was completed.  Fortunately for them, President Trump had recently completed his 12-day Far East trip, and was able to prevail upon Chinese President Xi Jinping to intercede on behalf of the young men.

Upon their release and return to the U.S., the players were contrite at their first press conference, thanking President Trump and the State Department. They all “feel terrible” and “take full responsibility” and “have learned my lesson from this big mistake”, promising “not to make a bad decision like this one again.” LiAngelo Ball’s father, the outspoken LaVar Ball, called the incident, “no big deal” while he was in China with his son. Others believe differently. Continue reading “MEASURING PRIVILEGE AT UCLA”

MANDATING PATRIOTISM

With the advent of free agency, the day when players would stay with one team for the majority of their careers has gone the way of leather helmets and high top cleats. Today, pro athletes move from team to team with the speed of a pre-game wind sprint. Increasingly, stars notwithstanding, fans are rooting for team colors as much as for the players wearing them.

But with NFL players continuing their protests against police brutality during the national anthem, NFL TV ratings, game attendance, and merchandise sales have also continued to decline as fans pull back in their own counter-protest. The situation has left NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a delicate no man’s land.

On one side are the players, 70% of whom are African-American, men with real-life attachments to the disorders and denials of daily black existence in America that their athletic prowess has afforded them fiscal and physical, if not emotional, separation from. On the other side are the fans, 90% of whom are not African-American, because that is the racial makeup of the nation. And that 90% watches the 70% on Sundays to escape the news that has brought the players to their knees. Continue reading “MANDATING PATRIOTISM”