Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31, 2013--The Weiners and the Clintons

In her Sunday New York Times column, Maureen Dowd was half right--Anthony Weiner is a "punk"; and she was also right to say that the Clintons want him out of the way since there is a connection between Weiner and them that is reminding voters about Bill's hanky-panky from 1995-97 with Monica Lewinski.

But she goes way too far when making an invidious comparison between Weiner's and Clinton's transgressions.

Somehow, Dowd feels that since Weiner is essentially a nobody (while in Congress for 12 years he managed to get just one piece of insignificant legislation passed) and Bill, to quote one of her sources, was and is "the greatest political and policy mind of a generation"; and thus what they did in private (and then was exposed publicly), to Dowd should be judged differently. "Bill," she writes, "was a roguish genus and Weiner's a creepy loser," and for these reasons we should not hold them to the same standard.

This is as if Dowd is saying that ubermensch Bill Clinton should be allowed to live and thrive in a Nietzschean world beyond good and evil, while Weiner should be required to crawl back into his hole and see if he can find a job selling life insurance.

But before we accept this analysis, let's take a moment to see what the two bad boys were up to--

On the Internet Wiener send out some creepy pictures of his appropriately-described "junk" and drew a few unsuspecting women into sex talk; whereas Bill Clinton, President William Jefferson Clinton got a 22 year-old intern to give him frequent BJs in the Oval Office and then lied about it to his family, the American public, and under oath to federal prosecutors.

There's not much equivalency there--Weiner by comparison is a small-time perv--and thus it is no wonder that the Clintons want Weiner to simply disappear and his wife, Huma Abedin, Hillary's former devoted assistant and body person, to dump Anthony so they can return to enhancing their brand and Hillary can focus on making millions while getting ready to run for president without everyone thinking about Bill and Monica and why the "feminist" Hillary stood by her man.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30, 2013--Preview

I will return tomorrow with a piece about the Weiners. Not a new sit-com, but thoughts about Anthony Weiner, his wife Huma Abedin, the Clintons, and Maureen Dowd, who has it about half right.

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29, 2013--Midcoast: Self Defense

Perhaps not since the 1995 O. J. Simpson trial has there been anything equivalent to expose the racal fault lines that still separate us. When George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, blacks and whites reacted in almost as divided a way as when Simpson was set free.

We attempted to have a conversation about this the other morning over coffee at the Bristol Diner.

Though all of us squeezed into the booth were white, Rona and I had a very different take on the outcome of the trial than our more conservative friends and so a version of that same divide opened across the table.

"There's more to what you're saying happened," Bob said to Rona.

"Well, since Trayvon Martin is dead and there were no eye witnesses," she said, "we'll never know what really happened."

"I suppose that's true," Henry said, "but one thing we do know is he was up to no good."

"Which he are you talking about?" I asked, knowing the answer, "Trayvon or Zimmerman?"

"Maybe we should change the subject," Bob suggested.

This often happens here. Most times when we are edging toward a subject that is certain to elicit heated ideological or political differences, someone artfully changes the subject. In small towns such as Bristol, everyone pretty much depends on everyone else and so there is tacit agreement to stay away from divisive subjects that will likely lead to ruptures in relations, relationships with people who plow your driveway in the winter, take your X-ray if you are brought to Miles Hospital's ER, or do your taxes.

But I decided to press on, seeing if we could talk civilly about a hot-button subject without risking our friendship.

"Maybe let's try to put aside the details of this case and talk about the legal issues involved. I know this is hard to do," Henry was nodding vigorously, but smiling. "As I understand it Zimmerman's defense did not depend upon Florida's stand-your-ground law."

"I thought we weren't going to talk about the details of this case," Bob winked, reminding me.

"I promise not to," I said. "I'm just trying to narrow the discussion to the issue of traditionally-defined self-defense. You know, when your life is being threatened, how you determine it is, and when you feel it is legally permissible for you to use force, including deadly force."

"Again," Rona jumped in, "we're not talking about Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin but about, say, a theoretical situation."

"Well," Henry was quick to interject, "there you go again talking about that case."

"You're right," Rona said, "I shouldn't have. All I wanted to do was say we're not talking about them but then there I was doing just that." Bob and Henry smiled broadly at her. There is a lot of friendship between us.

"Let me try out a few situations to see if we can agree about a couple of things." Everyone seemed OK with that and I continued, "So, you're walking down the street and someone you don't know approaches you and starts cursing you out. Using the N-word if your black or calls you a 'Kike' if you're a Jew or . . ."

"Or," Bob said, "calls you a 'Mick' if you're Irish like me or . . ."

"Or," Henry added, "a 'Frog' if you're French like my people."

"Right," I said. "You get angry, understandably and maybe even feel threatened. What are you supposed to do? Ignore the person? Walk on? Punch him in the face? Take out a weapon if you're carrying one? Use it?"

"I believe in the First Amendment. Free speech," Bob said, "and sticks-and-bones."

"Even if you're getting called the worst names in the book and the guy is looking real threatening?"

"I think, if we're speaking legally," Bob said, "and maybe moving into a discussion about self-defense, you're supposed to try to back off or break off a situation like this before you're legitimately allowed to use various kinds of force."

"Like punchin' 'em in the face?" Henry said.

"That's what I understand," Bob said. "You're not supposed to haul off on someone or, more, stab or shoot him for your just getting verbally abused."

"I think you're supposed to behave in a proportionate way," I said, feeling good about the way we were conducting ourselves. "But let's go to the next step and say the guy who confronts you on the street moves quickly from cursing you to jumping on you."

"Like what happened in Florida," Henry said.

"I thought we're trying not to talk about what happened there."

"You're right," Henry said, "I'm sorry. Please proceed."

"OK," I continued, "say he takes a swing at you or pushes you in the chest? What are you legally allowed to do in that circumstance?"

"If you hit 'em back," Bob said, "I'm sure no court in the land would convict you of anything. That's a clear case of self-defense."

"I'm not sure about that," Henry said with equal assurance. "There are all these cases where the guy who's attacked gets in more trouble than the person who does the attacking. Like in those liberal courts where the person who's the victim--depending on his color--is the one who winds up in trouble and the perpetrator gets off scot-free."

"I don't know if that's true," Rona said. "To convince me you'll have to give me some examples."

"Didn't an opposite version of this just happen in Florida?" I caught myself and apologized for breaking my own rule not to talk directly about that case. But still continued, "Meaning the black youngster is the one who wound up dead and the white guy, Zimmerman, got off?"

"If I have this right," Henry said, ignoring me, "I think whatever the response, it is supposed to be like you said, proportionate. Which to me means that if you get cursed, you can curse back. If you get shoved, you can shove back."

"There's a long tradition of that in the law that goes way back to Roman times," I said. I had been doing a little reading on the subject. "What you do to protect yourself also needs to be reasonable. The problem, obviously, if it comes to this, if you wind up in a courtroom, there are a lot of interpretations about what 'reasonable' means."

"And 'proportionate,'" Rona added, "And I think it gets more complicated if there's a robbery going on in your house, even if the robber is unarmed and attempting to run away. When it's clear he's no longer directly threatening you. I believe it's generally all right with the the courts to shoot the burglar even if he's fleeing."

"I think you're right," I said, "According to the law in most places running away from robbing a house means you're still engaged in the crime."

"I can't help myself," Henry said, all excited, "But I have to talk about the case we're not supposed to talk about."

"OK," I said.

"So let's say--as I'm sure you'd say--that the kid was walking along just minding his own business when Zimmerman approached him and maybe asked him what he was doing, or whatever."

"That's what I think most likely happened," I nodded.

"Then, from Zimmerman's injuries, it appears that maybe the kid jumped him or at the least knocked him down."

"Could be," I conceded.

"So what was the other guy supposed to do? Just lay there and take it?"

"No," Rona said, "to claim self-defense he was supposed to do something proportionate and reasonable. Isn't that what you were just saying?"

"Yes, I was," Henry said. "But how do you determine what's proportionate and reasonable if you've been knocked down to the sidewalk and someone is on top of you, banging your head on the cement?"

"And, to make matters worse," Bob said, "you have to think about this in real time, in the heat of the moment. I'll bet in this situation even you'd feel your life was being be threatened. No?"

"Could be," I again conceded.

"Let me make it more complicated," Rona said. "Since we're talking again about Zimmerman, if there is a stand-your-ground law in Florida . . ."

"There is," Bob said, cutting her off.

"If Trayvon Martin felt threatened by Zimmerman--as he surely could have been, being followed and confronted by Zimmerman--if Trayvon had been armed, citing stand-your-ground, what would have happened if, to defend himself, he had shot George Zimmerman? I think it's a bad and dangerous law, but it's on the books, so what would have happened to Trayvon if he had done that? Shot him?  Do you think he would have gotten away with it? Meaning, we're back to black-white issues."

"I have to admit it's all pretty complicated," Bob acknowledged while Henry nodded in agreement. "Why don't we have another cup of coffee? And let me buy you a donut."

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Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26, 2013--Miracles, These Days

With Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII cleared recently to become saints, I wanted to know more about the process.

I have limited experience with saints, knowing most about Saint Teresa of Avila, and was frankly surprised that these two recent popes had moved along toward sainthood so quickly. It took Teresa a full 40 years after her death to be canonized. But then again, everything these days moves along so quickly.

I thus did a little research about sainthood in today's world of Roman Catholicism.


For hundreds of years in the church's early history, saints were chosen by public acclaim. Pope John XV led the first canonization in 993, making Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg a saint. Ulrich qualified because he made daily visits to a hospital in Augsburg to wash the feet of poor people.

The Catholic church eventually developed a complicated and usually long process, sometimes spanning centuries, to determine who deserves to be honored as a saint. The Church first formalized its rules for naming saints after the 16th-century Council of Trent.


In 1983, however, Pope John Paul II, eager to give his church more role models, reformed and speeded up the process.

Nowadays the following steps are taken down the formal path to sainthood.

Servant of God describes someone at the start of the process.

Venerable is what a pope proclaims a candidate to be after a local church investigation of the potential saint's life and writings determines there were "heroic" virtues and sufficient "orthodoxy of doctrine." If a panel of theologians at the Vatican, and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, give their approval, the candidate becomes "venerable."

Blessed, a title bestowed upon beatification, requires evidence of one miracle, except for martyrs, who can get to this step after having been martyred for defending the Faith. At this stage, a miracle is required for non-martyrs and it must happen after the candidate has died and as a result of a specific plea to the candidate. Most typically, a cure from a serious medical condition after praying to the potential saint. 

Saint is the designation after reports of a second miracle (or a first miracle in the case of a martyr), are verified at various levels, including at the Vatican, and the pope signs off with his approval. The candidate is then "canonized," or made a saint.

In the case of Pope John XXIII earlier this month, Francis, the current pontiff, essentially issued a waiver, holding that it didn't matter that a second miracle hadn't been approved.


In the past, say St. Teresa's day, the road to sainthood was long and took almost forever. In her case, in spite of her numerous visions, ecstasies, writings, Church reform work, and verified miracles, as I noted, it took 40 years after her death before she became a saint. And her miracles including the "fact" that her unpreserved body, after she died, did not--how to put this--decompose or begin to smell. Actually, the opposite--her flesh remained fresh and gave off the scent of roses. This in itself suggests "incorruptibility" and is evidence of potential sainthood.

On the other hand, more recently, much less is expected.

For example, in 2004, the healing of varicose veins after a Brazilian nun who prayed to the late Austrian emperor, Karl I, enabled the monarch to fulfill the miracle requirement for his beatification.

At the same ceremony at the Vatican led by John Paul II, a German mystic, Sister Anna Katharina Emmerick, was also beatified. Her violent visions of Christ's suffering helped inspire Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. In her case, the Vatican concluded that a German nun's recovery from tuberculosis in 1860 miraculously occurred because of Emmerick's intercession.


Besides the successful santo subito (sainthood immediately) lobby for John Paul II, a populist call that rose up in the hours immediately following his death in 2005 and saw him beatified six years later, another first-track story along the path to sainthood is that of Mother Teresa.

A favorite of John Paul's who toiled in India for the poorest of the poor, he waived the normal waiting period after her death in 1997 for her beatification process to begin, and in 2003, in only five years, he beatified her.

Now John Paul II, passing muster for sainthood under the new Pope Francis will proceed her to sainthood--the Vatican said recently that he will be canonized by the end of this year while Mother Teresa's case still awaits another miracle to be certified for her to become a saint. 

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25, 2013--Un-Friending

A couple of years ago when the film Social Network was the rage, to keep up with what everyone else was up to, we drove to Rockland to catch a 2:00 PM show.

I came away confused. If Facebook was all about meeting girls, why had, by then, more than three-quarters of a billion people from all around the world signed up to be members? There must be, I thought, additional reasons.

Since I knew I would never figure out how to get with it, I was inclined to want to write about Facebook and social networking from a curmudgeonry perspective.

Rona said, "How can you write authoritatively about something you don't know or understand?"

"Simple," I said, "I do that all the time. If I don't know something, I make it up. If I know a little about something, I exaggerate. All, of course, to make a better story."

"That sounds irresponsible," Rona chided me, "If you want to write about Facebook, you should take the plunge and sign up. So you can report about it from a real, as opposed an imagined point of view."

"That sounds responsible," I said. And so I began the process of becoming a member.

As you undoubtedly know, one begins by making a list of all the people who you want to become your Facebook friends. And once you enter those names, while waiting to see which of the half dozen people I listed would agree to become a friend of this kind, up popped a much longer list of names of people I know, or about whom I have vague recollections, to see if I would agree to be their friends.

I raced down that list quickly, declining the proffered "friendship" in every instance.

Observing me at this, Rona said, "This is not the way Facebook is supposed to work. If you want to give it a fair test you have to agree to be friends with at least some people. That's what this is all about."

She had me there, and so I revisited the list that had popped up and agree to become friends with about 20 people. "That should be enough," I said to Rona, who by then was quite fed up with me, "to see how this kind of networking works."

After a week or so of checking my Facebook page at least once a day, I felt I had enough experience to do my thing. If you are interested in seeing what I had to say at the time, check my November 1, 2010 blog posting.

About half my "friends" proved to be reasonably amusing, reporting wittily and self-depricatingly about their various comings, goings, and occasional peccadilloes. I had expected that Facebook would bring out the worst of their narcissistic tendencies. Not mine, of course, but theirs. I feared I would be hearing about every jot and tittle of their lives and very little about what they were thinking, reading, experiencing, and struggling with. And thus I was pleasantly surprised.

S_____ keeps his friends up to date about what is happening in New York City. Here is a typical Facebook posting form him about the latest in men's hair styles--
Trending in NYC just now: top of the head pony tales. Let me be very clear about this--unless you are a famous samurai warrior or a remnant of the Manchu Empire from the 13th century, this has got to stop. Stop it now before it goes too far. Please.
Of all my real and virtual friends, S_____ is the only one I know who's up on the Manchu Empire. He also knows more about Hadrian's Wall than half the historians at Oxbridge.

If I need to know about fired chicken, I can always count on R_____ :
Trying to order fried chicken delivered to Soho, you'd think I was after the rarest caviar. BonChon won't come up from John Street or down from 35th Street. Dirty Bird (rudest of all) will come to Houston or up to Canal. I mean, honestly, I'm going up to Charles Fired Chicken in Harlem, which beats them all hands down anyway and costs a lot less.
R____'s right.--living downtown isn't easy.

And if I need to know about the geology of the coast of Maine, there is A____. And for what's best at the movies, L_____. For snarky political commentary, more fun than Politico's, there are the daily jabs from D____ , who lives up in Alaska.  Just the other morning, on his Facebook page, he said--
I was wandering around last week looking for Sarah Palin, hoping I'd run into her so I could get advice about some good summer reading or where to find a moose to shoot or skin. I couldn't locate her, but wandered into the place where she used to get her hair done. Lots of pictures of her on the walls. Everything teased real high. The woman who runs the place told me that as soon as Sarah made her millions she ran off to live some place down in Arizona. Where, she assumed, the Palins joined the militia and are patrolling the border looking for Mexicans. 
But about  year ago, less and less of what was being posted was interesting or entertaining. Just as I had expected when I joined, narcissism began to be unleashed.

Now I'm hearing about the death of pets (with accompanying cute photos); children's' bridal showers and weddings (with dozens of photos attached, including many of the haul of gifts); endless reports about trips here and there with pictures again but almost nothing about what may have been learned or the personal changes the travel and trekking may have engendered; and endless reports about the weather (stifling), undistinguished recipes from last night's dinner; pictures of grandchildren "graduating" in caps and gowns from pre-school; and much to do about Mad Men, which this year foe me became almost unendurable.

So, to retain positive feelings about my "friends" who are in fact friends, I am beginning to selectively un-friend them.

All along, Rona had been expecting this. "You're fundamentally too unsocial for a social network. You're happiest staying home alone with a book."

"I wonder what Sarah's reading these days. Wouldn't it . . . ?"

Before I could finish, Rona was back outside working in the garden.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24, 2013--Preview

I will be taking today off but will return on Thursday with thoughts about "unfriending."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23, 2013--501(c)(3)

Colleges and universities are exempt from virtually all federal and state taxes because they are deemed to serve a "public purpose." They provide undergraduate and graduate education services as well as sponsor research, both considered to contribute to the public good.

To gain tax exempt status higher education institutions have to convince the Internal Revenue Service that they are not-for-profit; do in fact serve a public purpose; and do not, under the guise of their not-for-profit status, operate as if they are profit-making corporations.

If they pass these threshold tests (and it is not difficult to do) they are granted 501(c)(3) status. After that  they are required to file a 990 tax statement at the end of each year so the IRS, if it wants too (though it rarely does), can closely examine their sources of income (tuition, grants, endowment earnings, and alumni gifts) and how they in turn spend this income--on faculty and administrative salaries and benefits and on various forms of non-personel overhead costs for classrooms, athletic facilities, staff office, and the like.

A basic understanding between the IRS and universities is that administrative and faculty salaries and benefits should not approach those of for-profit corporations. After all, to provide their public service they in effect receive taxpayer subsidies by the very fact that they are tax exempt. Every dollar of taxes colleges do not pay must be made up by ordinary taxpayers. So keeping control of expenses, especially salaries and benefits, should be serious business and colleges' and universities' fiscal behavior should be closely monitored by the IRS.

This very rarely occurs.

It is almost unheard of for the IRS to audit 501(c)(3) institutions and even rarer for the IRS to keep an eye on salaries and perks.

That is until recently.

It wasn't the sleepy IRS that began to raise questions about questionable fiscal practices at a number of universities but grizzled Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

He stumbled onto upsetting information about compensation practices at New York University during Secretary of the Treasury nominee Jack Lew's confirmation hearing.

Lew had briefly been a senior administrator at NYU and, when he left to make his millions on Wall Street, was given a $685,000 golden parachute. Grassley also turned up information that NYU has been attempting to obscure the fact that Lew and others, including NYU's president John Sexton, had been given an array of perks that are, to say the least, questionable at a legitimate 501(c)(3) institution.

Senior administrators as well as some "star" faculty where offered below-market-rate loans to help them buy apartments; senior faculty and staff are able to live in downtown Manhattan apartments at well below market rents; and a number of senior administrators, including the dean of the law school and president Sexton have been give hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies so they could buy weekend country houses. In addition to Jack Lew, Sexton and law school dean Richard Revesz have been guaranteed lifetime annual high-six-figure bonuses after they retire. In Sexton's case, it is reported he will receive annually at least $600K above his pension when he leaves. His current salary and benefits package is nearly $2.0 million a year.

To the vast majority of the faculty, Sexton's retirement could not come soon enough.

Almost all of the schools and colleges of the university have voted no-confidence in him and the chair of the board of trustees, mergers-and-aquisition fixer Martin Lipton.

Among the things the faculty claim is that these corporate-like perks are not only being paid for by taxpayers through NYU's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status but by faculty and staff who have not seen their salaries and benefits keep pace with inflation and by increases in student tuition and fees--NYU's primary source of income. Since Sexton became president and the perks began to flow, tuition has risen well above the rate of inflation and scholarships, as a percentage of tuition, have declined.

During the ten years Sexton and his royal staff have been at the trough, NYU's ranking in US News & World Report has consistently fallen. Even the law school declined from 4th to 6th place and its once-esteemed Institute of Fine Arts is no longer number one. And, perhaps most significant, the undergraduate college has been slipping in standing during Sexton's tenure.

NYU and Columbia and many other elite institutions that are behaving in versions of the same manner are doing whatever they can to avoid giving Senator Grassley the information he is demanding.

We will see where this goes. From my experience as a dean at NYU and other institutions, what has been revealed about elite universities' financial practices is the tip of the iceberg.

But there is a simple solution--just as academic accrediting agencies from time-to-time place colleges on probation because they violate academic freedom or replace too many full-time faculty with less expensive and qualified part-timers (at NYU nearly 40 percent of undergrad courses are taught by adjuncts or graduate assistants), Senator Grassley could press the IRS to take a close look at NYU's books; and, if they find what the faculty is alleging, consider revoking NYU's tax-exempt status.

That would get their attention and quickly cause NYU and others engaged in similar practices to begin to reverse the decades-long trend to corporatize American higher education at taxpayers' and their students' expense.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

July 22, 2013--"No Jews. No Dogs"

When I applied to Columbia University, I had no idea. When I became a faulty member at the City University of New York, I had no idea. And years later when I became a dean at New York University, I had no idea.

I did know that by some NYU was called New York Jew, but I naively had no idea what that fully meant. Just that during the 1970s it felt as if there was a disproportionate percentage of Jewish students enrolled. But NYU, after all, is in New York City and at the time there were more Jews living in New York than in all of Israel.

But later I began to understand why NYU was very Jewish at its downtown location but more gentile at its University Heights campus and why Columbia College on its application required a passport-style photograph. When I asked my parents about this they said it was probably to see if I was a Negro. Having lived through the Holocaust and having seen No Jews. No Dogs signs at hotels in upstate New York, they knew discrimination when they saw it.

Once I arrived on campus on Morningside Heights I saw that by requiring a headshot Columbia was doing a pretty good job of screening some of us in and keeping others out--in my undergraduate class of about 600 there was only one Negro. And he was the star of our otherwise pathetic football team.

I was beginning to figure things out. But I thought these practices were all about people of color, not that Columbia's screening policy also very much pertained to me.

Then some years later, reading Thomas Bender's University and the City, I began to see the extent of the quota system colleges and universities were implementing to keep the number of Jewish students down to as bare a minimum as they could get away with.

And just this week, reading Leonard Dinnerstein's definitive Antisemitism In America many more details of this virulent system became even clearer.

As with so much in regard to higher education, in this too Harvard took the lead.

In the 1920s, Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell (a Lawrence and a Lowell), declared that his college had a "Jewish problem." He noted that Jewish enrollments had more than tripled from 6 percent in 1908 to 22 percent in 1922. To assure that students developed into "true Christians" (to Lowell, this was at the heart of Harvard's mission) one had to limit the number of Jewish students for fear that the institution would lose its "character."

The Board of Overseers agreed. One member, Jack Morgan (of J.P. Morgan) wrote to his colleagues--
I think I ought to say that I believe there is a strong feeling that [a potential new member of the Board] . . . should by no means be a Jew or a Roman Catholic, although, naturally, the feeling in regard to the latter is less than in regard to the former. I'm afraid you will think we are a narrow-minded lot, but I would base my personal objection to each of these two . . . on the fact that in both cases there is acknowledgement of interests of political control beyond, and in the minds of these people, superior to the Government of this country--a Jew is always a Jew first and an American second . . .
Other colleges seeking elite status rushed to follow Harvard's lead. In addition to establishing strict admission quotas for those Jewish students they felt compelled to admit, they established rules to socially restrict and even segregate "Hebrew" undergraduates.

At Syracuse University, where a Ku Klux Klan chapter existed, Jews were excluded from almost all campus organizations, including fraternities. Their Jewish students were also housed separately from Christians. At the Universities of Michigan and Nebraska, gentile students were advised against associating with Jewish males. And Harvard cleverly came up with the idea of geographic diversity in order not to have to handle too many Jewish applicants since most lived in a few big cities and states.

Ernest Hopkins, president of Dartmouth, summed up the reasons for these application procedures and quotas--
Any college which is going to base its admissions wholly on scholastic standing will find itself with an infinitesimal proportion of anything else than Jews eventually.
Beside the illiteracy of President Hopkins' statement (if he were a high school senior and had included it in his application to Dartmouth, if he had been accepted, he would have been placed in remedial English), in his statement he was unfortunately telling it like it was.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19, 2013--Jay Z?

I was on line browzing among weather forecasting Websites to find one that said that the heat and humidity were about to break.

No such luck. They were unanimous--no relief in sight until at best Saturday and only after thunderstorms that threaten to be "dangerous." It's even hot here on the Midcoast of Maine. Maybe 90 in the shade.

And then between the Weather Channel and the Weather Underground up popped the headline--

Jay-Z Changing His Name.

For relief from the heat and depressing news from all over, and as someone who has an ongoing interest in the doings of Beyonce's husband, I clicked on that to see what's going down.

Here's the scoop--

His new name appears to be Jay Z, changed from Jay-Z.

He was born in Brooklyn and named Shawn Carter and I understand that in the hip-hop world adopting a name like Jay-Z makes a lot of sense.

In Shawn's case, Jay-Z was derived from two sources--his musical mentor, Jaz-O, and the fact that both the J and Z trains stop at the Marcy Avenue subway station near the projects in which he grew up.

I don't get the dropping of the hyphen. I sort of liked it. But he does have a new album, "Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail," that he's promoting so I guess anything for a headline and a few more bucks.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18, 2013--Affordable Health Care in NY

There was a report in yesterday's New York Times about the rollout in early 2014 of the Affordable Care Act in New York State.

One might expect that since New York is about the highest-cost state in the United States the cost of mandatory insurance to New Yorkers would be in line with what one needs to come up with to buy a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. In other words, a ridiculous fortune.

But in spite of all the alarmist ranting about how Obamacare is socialized medicine and that people will have their health care rationed with end-of-life decisions taken aways from patients and their families and be assigned to government "death panels," when all is said and done, tens of millions will for the first time have health insurance, hundreds of thousands of lives will be better and even saved, and the cost, it appears, if administered correctly, will go down. Actually plummet.

In New York, for example, because of the competition engendered by having various health care insurers compete for new clients, to quote state regulators, because of the on-line purchasing exchanges, the rates they have approved for insurers are "at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York."

For those now paying $1,000 or more a month, as early as October, they will be able to purchase comparable insurance for as little as $300 a month. If one cannot afford that, with federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.

I suspect that politically we will see a situation similar to the mid-1960s when Medicare was rolled out. It was condemned by organized medicine (the AMA in the lead) as socialized medicine and this was echoed and worse by most Republicans. But now, even Tea Party members though wanting to eliminate much of what government provides, make an exception for Medicare.

When I have at times confronted some who have nothing good to say about any government program, pointing out to them that Medicare is a government program, and in fact is socialized medicine, still they say, poking a finger in my chest, "Don't you touch my Medicare."

Five years from now people will be saying the same thing about the Affordable Care Act--though it is far from socialized medicine (it is after all based on a Republican model), they will be poking fingers in chests and warning, "Don't you touch my Obamacare."

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17, 2013--Adjunct Professor General David Patraeus

Until the 1970s, the City University of New York was tuition free.

And for free, New Yorkers were able to avail themselves of about the finest college education available in America. One of CUNY's units, the City College of New York (CCNY) rightly boasted that it had graduated more Nobel Prize winners than Harvard, Yale, or Berkeley.

But then CUNY began to lose it's way. The city's finances plummeted and inexorably CUNY began to charge tuition. At the moment, full-time students are required to pay $4,200 a year at CUNY community colleges and $5,730 at four-year units. Still, admittedly a good deal, but far from free.

And as tuition and fees phased in, at the same time the 18 individual colleges that form CUNY (Brooklyn, Queens, John Jay, Hunter, Borough of Manhattan Community College, etc.) began to water down expectations for students. With few campus exceptions, very little remains that is academically noteworthy. There are pockets of quality but most of what is offered is second-rate. And there hasn't been a CUNY Nobelist since 1985 when a team of  chemists who graduated from CCNY in 1937 shared the prize.

While all this has been going on, CUNY, in certain ways, has been behaving like some of its local colleague institutions--Columbia and NYU.

Desperate to attract so-called "star" faculty, NYU and Columbia have been dangling some not-to-be-refused offers before current and potential faculty members and administrators--mega-million dollar lifetime golden parachutes, subsidies to buy penthouse apartments in Manhattan and summer homes on Fire Island and Connecticut, release from almost all teaching responsibilities, and extra-frequent sabbaticals.

As a public institution, CUNY hasn't yet gone this far, but they are getting close. For example, take the case of General David Patraeus. Yes, that General Patraeus.

He was recently hired, rather engaged by CUNY to teach one course, "Are We On the Threshold of the North American Decade," a course that was designed for him by three Harvard graduate students who were paid to do so by CUNY. In addition, the general was allowed to hire two graduate assistants, also paid by the City University, presumably to read and grade term papers from the 16, sixteen, students who enrolled.

And, I almost forgot, Patraeus was paid $200,000 a year.

For $200 I could teach that course.

It would need to meet only once for just half an hour, during which time I would offer a quick and certain answer to the question posed by the course title--


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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16, 2013--Irresistible Attraction

There have been many law suits brought by female reporters and anchorwomen contesting that they lost their jobs because station managers discriminated against them because they had gained weight or simply aged and no longer looked cute and perky.

Now there is a related case with an unusual twist.

This one was brought by a male dentist's female assistant who claimed her boss fired her because she is a woman. So far familiar ground. Nothing new about that.

But last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that the firing was not sex discrimination because it was motivated by feeling and not gender.

From the New York Times, here is some background--

The dentist's defense was that he let her go not because he discriminates against women but rather because she was too attractive.

Dr. James Knight (no age reported) said that because of her charms he was becoming smitten by her and worried he would start an affair. There is, however, nothing in the court record that would suggest the assistant, 33-year-old Melissa Nelson, would consent to an affair with him.

The court found that it is permissible for employers to fire someone "that they and their spouses see as threats to their marriages."

During the appeal, Nelson's lawyer asked the court to reconsider a December decision of the lower court in which the justices said that the issue was "whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction." The answer clearly is yes.

And this was affirmed by the state's highest court, though the irresistible attraction language was struck from the ruling. It now reads that Ms. Nelson was fired "because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship." Which from what I have been able to determine was nonexistent.

So, if this case gets to the Supreme Court, perhaps Justice Scalia will help us figure out whatever all of this means.

In the meantime, from Yelp, not reported in the New York Times, here is a sampling of typical comments from patients of Dr. Knight's:
I was visiting here [Fort Dodge] while on winter break. One of my molars had broken so I made an appointment. I figured I would need a crown or something. Instead I felt like I was in that movie "The Dentist." Glad I didn't get the procedure under "twilight." Creepy, rude and a bit handsy.
                                                         *    *    *
Awful, horrible service. The dentist is a bit of a creep too. Don't go there unless you want inappropriate, misogynistic comments about women. Likes to present himself as Christian and moral, but is actually the complete opposite.
                                                        *    *    *
Yikes, this guy seriously has urges he can barely control. I am married, a mother of 3, honestly not very attractive, and he kept telling me how he could barely stand being in the same room as me, that I could not be his patient even though I desperately need my root canal, because I was "making" him sin in his mind.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15, 2013--Midcoast: Pumpkin Cove

"If you pass Pumpkin Cove Road you've gone to far." We were invited for drinks and a new friend was giving me directions to his house.

"If you do, make a U-turn and drive back in the direction you were traveling, being sure to go slowly because the road to our house, which is marked Private, is easy to miss."

"I think I know where it is. I mean, I know where Pumpkin Cove Road is; and before we get to it I'll be sure to drive slowly."

"Good," he continued. "So when you get to our road, turn left if you haven't gone too far or right if you had to make a U-turn. I hope the left and right directions aren't confusing."

"No," I said. "I'm good at directions and know if I don't pass your road I have to turn left, but if I do, I have to do the reverse--turn right."

"You sure sound like you know your directions," Martin said, "So I don't think you'll have any trouble once you're headed down our road. That is, if you don't miss it. It's a narrow gravel road, so my advice is that you should proceed slowly. You aren't in New York anymore where everything's paved and well lit."

"I'm used to these kinds of roads," I said. "Half the roads in Maine are narrow gravel roads."

"So, let's assume to don't pass our road and wind up at Pumpkin Cove, you'll be turing left."

"I got that already," I said, feeling a bit as if Martin was feeling doubt about my ability to know my left from my right.

"I'm just trying to make sure you don't get lost." He clearly had picked up on my building frustration.

"I appreciate that. I hate to get lost, especially when I don't know where I am."

He laughed at that, "Isn't that the definition of being lost?"


"Not knowing where you are?"

"I suppose so."

"OK. So you managed to find our road and turned left or right onto it." I decided to just listen and take notes. "You go about half a mile, no, maybe two-thrids of a mile down our road."

I wrote down--Avoid Pumpkin CoveGravel road. Half mile. Maybe 2/3s.

"Then on your right, after you've passed a few roads that lead to other people's houses, you'll see a wheelbarrow lying on its side. On the right side. Of the road I mean. It's painted blue."

"Not William Carlos William's 'red wheelbarrow beside the white chickens'?"

"I like that poem too. About depending on it and how it's 'wet with rain water.' But, no, this one, I'm afraid, is blue."

"I'm a little colorblind and so it may not look blue to me."

Missing my sense of humor, he plowed on, saying, "I'm afraid it's the only one along the road, which is a good thing because it's there as a sort of road sign. We don't want any actual road signs. The people along our road like to keep things pristine and rural. But maybe like many colorblind people you are good with shapes."

"In fact I am."

"Good. So just look for something on your right side after half a mile--actually, more like two-thrids of a mile--that has the shape of a wheelbarrow. As I said, there's only one."

"And what do I do?"

"Turn right. That is unless you pass it and have to make another U-turn. Then you'll be turning left."

"It won't be another U-turn because I intend not to miss your road in the first place and wind up in Pumpkin Cove."

"That's good to hear, but you'd be surprised to learn how many of our first-time visitors get lost even though I give them very specific directions."

"Don't mishear me, you're doing an excellent job with the directions. I'm just being a little playful."

"All right then. So at the blue wheelbarrow you've turned right, hopefully, or, if necessary, you've come about and will be turning left."

I liked the nautical reference about coming about. Their house was, he said, right on the bay. In my notes I wrote--Blue wheelbarrow (look for one of any color). Turn right. Or, come about and turn left.

"Slow down then, not that you can go very fast because the road at that point has narrowed even further. But slow down anyway since you need to go just 50 feet more. Any more than that and you'll be on our neighbor's lawn." He chuckled. "Theirs is a red house. Oh, I forget," he paused, "you're colorblind. OK, it's the first house you come to. The only one. It's red, but you'll know it's a house by its shape." He laughed again. He was enjoying having a little goodnatured fun at my expense. I was totally enjoying all of it and sensed we were going to become good friends.

"Avoiding the lawn, make a sharp left. If you've made it this far." He assured me, "There'll be no need for any more U-turns. There's only one way to go. Actually," he corrected himself, "there are two: the first is up on their lawn, which you want to avoid; the second is to find the last 50 yards of the road that leads to our house. Got it?"

"Got it," I said. and wrote--50 feet. Red house. Avoid lawn. Go left. 50 yards. Arrive. Drinks!

"To me," I added, "if there isn't much light, red can look like black. The good news, though, is that Rona will be with me and she knows her blue and red is one of her favorite colors."

"Sounds perfect," he said. "See you at about 6:00. If you run into trouble or get lost, just give us a call and we'll get you here."

"No need for that," I said with self-confidence.

                                                            *    *    *

For the record--

On my first attempt, I did miss their road and made a U-turn at Pumpkin Cove Road. I remembered, then, to turn right onto their private lane.

And even though Rona has a good eye for color and I know my shapes, we missed the wheelbarrow. ("Should have been red," Rona said, "and wet with rainwater.") We did come about successfully and turned left.

I did not go up on their neighbor's lawn--I was going about two-miles-an-hour at the time--but because the left turn there is very tight and narrow, I did nip it a bit, which set his German shepherd to barking.

"Keep going," Rona said, "I don't like the sound of that dog."

And after another half minute we arrived at their front door. By then it was almost 6:30.

"I'll bet you can use a drink," Martin said, with a broad smile.

"Indeed I do," I said, "A double of whatever you have would be ideal."

He does make a mean martini.

An enduring friendship is certain.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013--Matzo Wars

Been to Yuma, Arizona? Not much there but the heat. And the matzo-makers of one group of ultra-orthodox Hasidim from Borough Park, Brooklyn.

What brings them to this desolate piece of desert just five miles north of the Mexican border? Access to a few acres of a gentile's wheat farm where they are growing the most-kosher-for-Passover grain that will be used to make the most-kosher matzo for next spring's Passover celebration.

The Hasids are not leaving it to Christian Tim Dunn to grow the wheat for their matzo. Rather, two rabbis from their Satmar sect are spending the next seven weeks in Yuma overseeing every aspect of the cultivation and harvesting so that they can assure their fellow worshipers back in Brooklyn that the matzo they bake next April will not contain even one tiny speck of traif or leavening.

And, equally important, they will be able to tell their Hasidim rivals, other Satmars, those who live and grow their wheat in Kiryas Joel in Orange County, New York, that their not theirs is the holiest of matzo. This counts as a big deal among the Satmar Hasidim.

Each sect is led by one of two rabbi brothers and this of course complexifies things. Sibling rivalry between brother Hasids is of, well, biblical proportions. It is one thing to compete for parents' attention, it's another when God Himself is the ultimate dispenser of favor.

So out in a trailer beside the sweltering field reside lesser rabbis who have been sent there to oversee every aspect of the wheat growing. For example, once the wheat matures, to the Satmar it cannot be allowed to become wet and thus run the danger of beginning to ferment. Thus the appeal of the dry desert air as opposed to the more temperate, rainier climate up in Kiryas Joel.

Quoted in the New York Times, Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College, whose research is about the ethnography of Jewish orthodox groups, knows the rivalrous Satmars well--"One is always looking to be more authoritative than the other and one of the ways they're making this happen is over matzo--our matzo is more kosher than yours, we're more scrupulous and careful over matzo baking than you are."

And, by implication, we're better Jews than you.

The rabbis in Yuma obsess more about keeping the maturing wheat dry than anything else, including insisting that workers not take any water bottles into the sweltering 108-degree fields. And when the farm equipment needs cleaning, the rabbis take charge of that too, blowing air into even the tiniest crevices to make sure than not one bit of dirt remains clinging to the tractors and cultivators.

None of this comes cheap--back in Borough Park, the street price of a one-pound box of Satmar-Yuma matzo is $25. In the supermarket, a one-pound box of Striet's goes for $5.99.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11, 2013--I Lied

I will return on Friday with a report from the Matzoh War.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10, 2012--Day Off

I will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

July 9, 2013--Midcoast: Little Old Ladies

The morning had not gotten off to a good start and the highlight, by 11:00, was finding a parking place right in front of the Maine Coast Bookstore where we had gone to buy a copy of the New York Times.

When we emerged, grumbling that we had arrived too late and all the copies had been sold, a woman approached us with brochures in hand, looking as if she wanted to sell us tickets for a Puffin cruise or a half-off special for a twin lobster dinner.

"Do you know about Frances Perkins?" she asked. We tried to ignore her. She persisted, "There's an exhibit about her inside." She pointed toward a path through a lush garden that led to what looked like a small store adjacent to Maine Coast.

She smiled at us, undoubtedly picking up our out-or-sortness. "It's free and will only take a few minutes. You have the perfect parking spot for both the bookstore and the Frances Perkins exhibit."

"Maybe we should," I mumbled to Rona. "Lately, I've been reading a lot about the New Deal and Frances Perkins played a big part in it. Especially when it came to figuring out how to conceptualize the Social Security program."

"Wasn't she the first female cabinet member?" Rona recalled.

"Indeed she was," the woman with the brochures bubbled. "And do you know, she summered in Newcastle, at her grandmother's place right across the bridge from here." She gestured up Main Street. "She's buried there. Frances. At the old Glidden Cemetery. Between her husband and grandmother, Cynthia Otis." She looked around and whispered conspiratorially, "They say it's haunted."

"This is right down your alley," Rona said to me, still smarting about not being able to get the Times, especially its crossword puzzle. "You love old cemeteries. You never seem to get enough of them. So maybe we should go inside and learn a little more about Frances Perkins so when we visit the cemetery you'll know who's who."

The docent, that is what she turned out to be, was enjoying our spatting. "Come inside with me. It's cool and I have ice water for visitors."

We followed her and she directed us toward the corner of the room where the exhibit started with information about Fannie's childhood. "She was named Fannie Perkins but later, after college--she went to Mount Holyoke--she became Frances Perkins, thinking it would be a more fitting name for someone wanting a career. She felt there were enough barriers at the time to women's advancement that she didn't want to be stuck with, to her, an unserious-sounding name such as Fannie."

"Just like your Aunt Fannie," Rona remembered, "who worked in a sweatshop, became a suffragette, was about as old as Frances Perkins, and wanted us to call her Fay."

"Which my father, to needle her, always refused to do."

Being surrounded by history, the aura of the remarkable Frances Perkins, and recalling my Aunt Fay begin to pull us out of our funk. The ice water on the very hot and humid morning also helped.

It was indeed a small exhibit and we had worked our way through it in less than half an hour, though we enjoyed the docent's chattering.

As we turned to leave, a group of four clearly very elderly women walked haltingly up the garden path. When they finally made it to the door I held it open for them and Rona rushed over to help one, who was using a walker, up the single step into the room.

After they caught their breath and soaked up some of the air-conditioned air, the docent welcomed them and, as with us, told them where it was best to begin. Rather than follow that suggestion they shuffled toward that part of the exhibit that had information about Secretary of Labor Perkins' role in 1935 in establishing Social Security.

Though the docent, Alice, continued to point to other parts of the exhibit, the women seemed only interested in Social Security. I assumed that was because all of them must receive it. Perhaps depend on it. Also, I confess, I thought maybe they were a little past their prime and not following what Alice was suggesting. So I drifted over to them to see if I too might be able to help orient them to where they were and what surrounded them. It could easily be that at their age they could be quite confused.

"You know if it weren't for that," the woman who seemed oldest said, pointed with a trembling hand toward the section of the exhibit devoted to Social Security, "it would be so difficult for Henry and me. He's gone, wouldn't you know," she said wistfully to no in particular, "I don't know how we'd get by. Even heat our house. It gets so cold here." She shivered as if to demonstrate how frigid it gets during Maine winters.

"Do you remember the time," I asked, "before there was Social Security?"

"What did you say, son?" She cupped her ear toward me.

"I was asking about Social Security."

"Oh, that. Social Security." I waited for her to continue, which she didn't. She appeared to stare blankly ahead.

But she continued, "I remember back in, what was it, 1930 or so when it was approved." I didn't correct her recollection of the actual date. "How old was I then? About your age," she said with a full smile. When I shrugged, with a twinkle, she said, "I'm just having some fun with you, dear."

"I too am old enough to collect it," I said, returning her smile, "For a number of years now. Though I appreciate your flattering me. On these days when I'm all aches and pains I can use whatever encouragement comes my way."

"Did you know my father knew Eleanor Roosevelt?"

"No, I didn't." This seemed like a non sequitur.

"You know about My Day?"

"I sure do. It was the newspaper column she wrote, I think, six days a week. For many years."

"For more than 25 years. It was published in 90 papers around the country. She wrote about family matters but also about workers and women and how badly Negros were treated. To some, it was very controversial. Well, my father worked for United Press, actually United Features, and he was her editor and responsible for syndicating it."

"That's amazing," I said, truly amazed at who one from time-to-time encounters.

"They were so close that my family, including me, spent a weekend in the White House and then many times we went to Hyde Park and stayed in Mrs. Roosevelt's cottage. I forget the name. It's something like Overkill."

"Val-kill," I said. "I think that was its name."

"That's right. It so frustrating when you get to be my age how much you forget."

"You're doing just fine," I said, meaning every word of it.

"And Ernie Pyle as well."

"Who?" Rona asked.

"You're not old enough, darling, to remember; but I'm sure your uncle does." I held back from telling her that we are married. This happens all the time.

"Wasn't he," I said, "the war correspondent? During the Second World War? As we would describe it today, he was embedded with the troops, even on D Day."

"The very same. It was my father, also, who suggested to him that he become a war correspondent. I remember him too. He asked me to call him 'Ernie.' Such a sweet man. But he was killed in the pacific after the German's surrendered. My father was so upset, believing it was his fault that he died in combat."

She sighed deeply, thinking back over all those years and the events of her life.

The docent, Alice, was hovering in the background and to lift everyone's spirits and bring us back to Frances Perkins, said, "Do you know about her contributions to the Social Security Act? How, if it weren't for her, after it was passed by Congress, it likely would have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?"

"Indeed I do," one of the other women said. "At the time they were overturning all sorts of programs. The National Recovery Act and many of the minimum wage laws. I remember that as if it were yesterday. So when they were working on Social Security, Frances Perkins said it was important that they think about how to protect it from the Court. She came up with the idea not to call it insurance, thinking it would be found to be unconstitutional if it was presented that way. She suggested--and this is what they did--that it be considered a tax program. And she was right--the Supreme Court upheld it."

"Not unlike what just happened with Obamacare," one of the other women added with a wink.

"Time for us to go," the first woman announced. "We have to get home before the temperature hits 100. We all have weak hearts," she whispered to me.

"I don't know what your doctors think," I leaned close to her, "but your hearts seem pretty strong to me."

After they left, Rona said, "Who needs the newspaper anyway when were surrounded by so much richness. The crossword puzzle, on the other hand . . ."

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Monday, July 08, 2013

July 8, 2013--Obama Agonistes

Sad to say, but the Obama presidency is over.

Yes, he may get us involved in knocking out Iran's nuclear facilities and this could lead to another ground war in the Middle East. That would be both perversely presidential and dangerously consequential. But unless a crisis is presented to us, or there is one we ourselves engender, Obama no longer matters.

The cascade of events and his behavior that rendered him ineffective began in Benghazi last September when our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. It wasn't the tragic murders that began to bring down Obama, but his administration's and his careless and perhaps deceitful handling of the narrative about what happened.

Then for at least a year, Obama's back-and-forth fumbling about what to do about the unraveling in Syria is a further example of his inability to have America exert influence or, more important, contribute to solving global problems. Admittedly, the situation there is likely intractable. The colonial and big-oil history of Western involvement in the region for more than 100 years, which included ignoring tribal and ethnic issues, is a classic case of proverbial geopolitical chickens coming home to roost.

Closer to home was and is the Internal Revenue scandal. "Scandal" is not too strong a term to describe the situation where the IRS, the most hated of the federal government's agencies, apparently targeted Tea-Party-related organizations seeking tax-exempt status. Once again, as serious as the deeds themselves was the ham-handed way in which the Obama administration handled the excuse-making and eventual staff changes.

Of course, perhaps worst of all, were the disclosures about the unfettered N.S.A. spying on American citizens at home and abroad. Yes, much or most of this may have been, is strictly-speaking "legal" and needs to be secret; but the casual way in which constitutional-scholar Barack Obama attempted to shrug off the facts that were emerging and the out-and-out dissembling, OK, lying by his national security team is beyond disappointing. And this gave his opponents, and the rest of us, further reason to be concerned about his ability to lead.

Speaking of his opponents, his domestic ones have effectively shut down any hope of legislative fixes to any of our daunting closer-to-home problems.

Because Barack Obama is inherently incapable of establishing personal relationships with congressional leaders of both parties--it is obvious that he even hates to have any of them over for a drink--do not expect comprehensive immigration reform. Tea-Party members in the House will assure that nothing comprehensive occurs.

Forget dealing with tax reform and sensible deficit reduction. Again Tea-Party Republicans are happy to do nothing and in that passive way see, to them, hated programs such as subsidized college loans and food stamps wither for lack of funding.

Forget doing much about climate change. Obama can make all the speeches he desires about this and other critical issues, but Republican opponents will continue to shrug him off.

Further, President Obama does not appear to have any international friends or partners. At the recent G-8 summit, when he attempted to sit down with Russian President Putin to talk about Libya and Iran, the pictures of them not relating to each other were worth many more than a thousand words.

And when the N.S.A. leaker revealed that the U.S. has been massively spying on our European allies, not one Western leader came to Obama's or America's defense. In fact, the head of the E.U. compared this outrageous behavior to what the Stasi did in East Germany during the Cold War.  To have the U.S. government compared publicly and angrily to the oppressive and barbaric East German communist regime may be hyperbole, but it is hyperbole engendered by Obama's passive behavior.

Then as a kind of piece de resistance, there was the announcement late last week, via a staffer, that the roll-out of Obama's signature, perhaps historic health care program's, Obamacare's implementation will be delayed for at least a year. This brought glee to Republicans who claimed, rightly, that the Obama administration is incapable of running even its most-favored initiative.

Lastly, at a very different level of concern, when my mother turned 105 last week, Rona attempted to get the White House to send her a letter of congratulations. She was able to get such letters from hapless George W. Bush when my mother's sisters Gussie and Fay turned 100; but my mom is still waiting for her letter from the current president.

Barack Obama may be gifted at delivering speeches and getting elected and reelected, but for running his administration, for leading the country, to acting effectively as the "leader of the free world," not so much.

So, it's on to 2016.

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Friday, July 05, 2013

July 5, 2013--Canadian Pharmacy

I have an Apple laptop. I bought it in part because it is supposed to have an excellent spam filter built right into it. I suppose it is effective as I get just a half dozen spam e-mails a day.

Almost all of them from the clearly tenacious Canadian Pharmacy.

I never open any of these much less order anything from them. I'm sure if I did, I'd subsequently be inundated by hundreds of e-mails from them.

At first I thought they were targeting me for their spam ads since they assumed, because of my age and thus potential need for drugs, knowing as we all do that prescription medications from Canada are much cheaper than in the U.S., that I would thus want to buy my Prilosec, Zocor, and Lisinopril from them.

They were wrong about that. Though I am getting on in years, I fortunately do not yet have to take any medications. Half an aspirin a day is about it for me. And they are inexpensive enough at my neighborhood CVS that I do not have to import them from Canada.

But the other day I got a flurry of a dozen spam messages from the Pharmacy, and in the spirit of investigative journalism, decided to open one so that I could report my findings. Yes, I know this means I will soon be drowning in unwanted messages, but I take being part of the Fourth Estate very seriously.

So, as carefully as I could, in order to avoid releasing viruses, I opened one of the e-mails and was immediately confronted by a blazing headline--

180 Pills (Viagra, Cialis) only 174$

Though I wondered about the placement of the dollar sign, thinking perhaps this is the way they indicate it's 174 Canadian Dollars, still, this felt pretty inexpensive to me. I haven't bought any Viagra in years, but recall when I did I needed a doctor's prescription and each pill cost about $10.

Since the Canadian Pharmacy claimed, 350,000 Satisfied Customers, continuing in the spirit of enquiry, I called the telephone number listed on the Website (one is required to place orders on the phone) to see what I could learn.

Yes, I was told, I did need a doctor's prescription but could get one from them. I was put on hold for a moment and then a "Dr. Mackenzie" got on the line.

I asked if he was related to Alexander Mackenzie, the legendary Canadian explorer, who in 1793 crossed Canada from east to west, fully ten years before Lewis and Clark set out.

Though the telephone "Dr. Mckenzie" had a decidedly South Asian accent, I decided to set aside my suspicions and press on.

"How old are you?" he asked.

I lied and said, "62."

"Do you have any heart problems?"

"Thankfully, no."

"Any difficulty breathing?"


"High blood pressure?"


"Chest pains?"


"Have you ever taken Viagra previously?"

"No," again I lied.

"How many pills do you want?" I didn't respond.

He asked, "180?"

"I thought maybe four or five."


"No, four or five pills. To try them."

Sounding annoyed, he said, "We only sell in multiples of 180. So, do you want 180 or 360? If you want 360, you have to call back and place a second order."

"Do I have to be 'examined' by another 'doctor'?"

"No by me."

"Will you still be 'Dr. Mackenzie,'" I knew I was heading in an unfriendly direction, "or when I call to place the second order will you then be 'Dr.Trudeau?'"

"I'm not sure I'm following you."

"Well, you sound to me like you're in Mumbai, not Toronto; and to tell the truth, I'm skeptical about this 'Canadian Pharmacy' business. How do I know you're legitimate and the pills you send me--by the way, how much is shipping and handling?"

"$19.95 for the 180."

"U.S. or Canadian?"

"American dollars. Credit card only."

 "And how do I know I won't be getting counterfeit pills that are made from blue-dyed sawdust?"

Ignoring me, he said, "I don't have all day, sir. There are a dozen patients on hold waiting for me to examine them. Do you want the pills or not?"

"I don't. And please do not send me any more spam."

Before I could finish the sentence he had hung up.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

July 4, 2013--Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People

On Monday, the Chinese government enacted a law that requires young people to tend to the "spiritual needs of the elderly." The Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People statute.

Who would have thought that a country that so reveres the elderly would feel the need to pass such a law. Aren't the young already culturally oriented enough to do this without compulsion?

Apparently not.

In the law's fine print, children are required to go home "often" (this suggests that traditional families are breaking down with youth migrating to the coastal cities) and to occasionally "send them greetings" (I assume via the social media).

Unusually, the law does not proscribe any punishments or penalties if its injunctions are not followed. I suppose they will see how it works; and if children continue to ignore their parents and grandparents, who knows, maybe the young will be sent away to the countryside to be "reeducated."

Having said this, according to a report in the New York Times, parents feeling abandoned by their children have been suing them for "neglect," and winning!

Having just spent a week in South Florida, mainly among the elderly, it is clear that Florida even more than China needs this kind of legislation.

Over one dinner, for example, we heard about Sara, who lives in New York with her third husband and four children but "is so busy with her fancy friends and shopping that she never comes for a visit. And when she does, she can't wait to go home. She stays in a hotel on the beach--not with me--and can't wait to get back to the city after spending only two night in Florida."

Another dinner companion had nothing but complaints about her "good-for-nothing son."

"We scrimped and saved so Alfred could go to Cornell and then to medical school, but now what do we get in return? When I call I talk to his answering machine or when he finds a little time to work his mother into his busy schedule he puts me on the speaker phone. In the background I can hear him talking to one of his salesmen. He's not the son I raised."

When I told an 85-year-old, who had very little good to say about his grandchildren--"If they walked in the room now they wouldn't recognize me. That's how often they come to see me"--about the new law in China, even though he had spent the previous half hour complaining about Obamacare and all the money he is spending to "bring socialism to America," he very much approved of what the Chinese government had done to take care of their elderly.

"We could use some of that here," he said. "These young people have no values. All they care about is their friends, sleeping all day, and staring at their smarty phones."

When I said that the Chinese law is an example of the sort of big government he was just criticizing, telling people how to live what should be their private lives, he dismissed me with a wave. "Nothing's perfect," he said. "But I do like Chinese food."

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

July 3, 2013--Down Day

Too much to catch up with after the 12 hour return trip from Florida. I will be back tomorrow on the 4th.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

July 2, 2103--The Big Boys & the Little Guy

We have a friend in Delray who for years has worked seven days a week cheffing at a local restaurant. As he puts it, "The first five days are for me and the other two for my family. Especially for my mother who lives in Honduras and for my children so they can go to college and not have to work on their feet all day like their father."

When we saw him in April just before heading north, he told us he was looking for a house or condo to buy. That the market was still soft and he had saved up enough for a downpayment. I asked him the other day what had happened with his search.

He made a face and said, "It's my luck that just when I had enough to make a downpayment, the big boys, sensing that the market was picking up, moved in with cash and began to buy up all the places I had been looking at. So, if you were a bank holding property, who would you rather sell to--me, who needs a mortgage, or those who are paying with cash?"

This hardly required an answer. "So what should I tell my children who are in high school? One is in her second year, the other will be a senior in August. What should I tell them about college? That they need a degree so they can have a career rather than, like me, a job? But with all the young college graduates without jobs what real difference will it make for them? Is it worth it to borrow thousands of dollars to get a degree that no longer guarantees that there'll be jobs waiting for graduates?"

I couldn't think of what to say to offer any assurance.

"You know," he continued, if you graduate with $75,000 of debt, it's almost the same thing as having a mortgage."

"I hadn't thought of it that way," I said, "But that's a good way to think about it. And then, if a young person with so much debt thinks about getting married and buying a house, that debt burden affects his credit rating and makes it hard to get a mortgage, forgetting for the moment, how realistic is it for a young couple to be able to pay off maybe two student loans plus an actual mortgage."

"Now you know my problem," our friend said, drifting back to the kitchen.

When we got home, reading the New York Times, Rona said there was an article about how interest rates on student loans on July 1st doubled from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Nearly twice as much as the average rate on mortgages.

"This is," I said, "because Republicans in Congress want these rates to be set by market conditions, not governmental action."

"In fact, refusing to deal with the problem," Rona chimed in, "they took off for yet another week of vacation at taxpayer expense."

"I remember back in 1965 when guaranteed student loans became available. The idea was to offer low-interest loans to college students that they wouldn't have to begin to repay until after graduation."

"To make things affordable at the time meant that if tuition was $15,000 a year, with, say, a $5,000 loan, the out-of-pocket cost would be only $10,000."

"Yeah," I said, "that was the idea; but what happened? While we were working at NYU, what did they do?"

"Instead of keeping tuition at about the same level as it was when loans became more available, they raised tuition by at least as much as the maximum possible loan. If NYU at the time cost $25,000 a year and students could borrow $5,000, they raised tuition to $30,000 and students and their families still had to come up with the same $25,000."

"What a scam," I said. "And what did they do with the extra money?"

"It made it possible to raise faculty salaries, cut back on the number of classes they were required to teach, and made it possible to expand the number of sabbaticals so that professors could every few years get a semester or two off at full pay."

"What a scandal," Rona said. "A scandal no one talks about."

"And all the while J___ is working seven days a week just to make ends meet and maybe to be able to put aside some money to help pay for his children's college."

"As he put it the other day, it's another example of the big guys taking advantage of the little guy."

"Including the banks," I said, "which for years made the loans, were paid by the government to do so. And the interest was guaranteed, also by the government. So, in effect, there were billions of dollars of automatic, guaranteed profit for the banks."

"No wonder J___ is fed up."

"As am I."

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Monday, July 01, 2013

July 1, 2013--Ladies of Forest Trace: Do Unto Henry Cross

When visiting with my mother on Friday to celebrate her 105th birthday, I did one of those silly things one is inclined to do on such occasions.

Rather than asking her which invention or technological development that occurred during her lifetime was, in her view, most consequential--electric lighting, radio, TV, airplanes, the Internet--instead, I asked what single lesson she learned that she felt was most important in guiding her.

Without missing a beat, she said, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."

"I totally agree," I said, once again amazed by her mental acuity and what she chose to offer as her guiding principle.

"I think, without your preaching it to me, that by your example, I learned that Golden Rule and hope I also have been at least partially inspired by it."

She smiled at me as if to say, as I hoped she would say, that she feels I for the most part have been a good person.

To test that, I asked if I could tell her a story about something I had never before revealed to her that has been troubling me for more than 60 years.

She continued to smile at me.

"A few years after I was born, you returned to teaching and needed someone to care for me during the day. You hired Bessie Cross to do that. You remember her, don't you?"

She nodded and said, "Of course I do. She was wonderful. And do you remember she had a son, Henry, who was about two years older than you?"

"Yes. Of course I do. In fact, my story is about him. Henry Cross. And it is relevant to mention that he was black.

"One summer," I continued, "because Bessie Cross had to return to South Carolina to take care of her mother, who still lived on a plantation where she and Bessie as a young girl had picked cotton, Henry came to live with us.

"And since at that time I was an only child and our apartment had only two bedrooms, he slept on the daybed in my room. At night, lying side-by-side, we shared stories while waiting to fall asleep. He became like a brother to me. I liked to hear about his family, especially his Aunt Sis and Uncle Homer who tended the coal-fired boiler and steam heat system in the basement of an apartment house not far from where we lived. They lived in that basement too, and I loved to visit them with Henry. Aunt Sis would make us chocolate milk and pecan cookies that I can to this day still taste. They were that good."

"I remember your bringing some home for me one day. I had them with a cup of tea."

"After his mother returned from South Carolina, for years Henry continued to stay with us on weekends and the two of us would join our friends in street games. Since he and I were good athletes we were among the first to be chosen when it came time to choose up sides.

"When we were done playing the whole gang of us would go to one of our mother's houses for milk and cookies. This went on for some years. But then a terrible thing happened."

"What was that darling?"

"What I never told you about." I took a deep breath. "One Saturday, after a stickball game, we were invited to Stanley Shapiro's house for milk and cookies."

"I remember his mother. She was such a nice woman. I wonder if she is still alive."

"That was about 60 years ago. Well, all of us, including Henry, walked over to her porch where she had set up a card table with pitchers of cold milk and stacks of oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies.  As we were passing these around, Mrs. Shapiro came over to me and to say she had something to tell me.

"'In the house,' she said.

"Puzzled, I followed her inside where her 14 year-old daughter, Rosalie, was hovering. Mrs. Shapiro leaned close to me and said, 'It is of course all right for you to stay. You are always welcome in my house; but your friend, he has to leave.' Protectively, she glanced over at her unhappy-looking daughter."

"That sounds terrible," my mother said.

"That's only half of it," I said. "I went outside again and saw Henry waiting his turn to get a glass of milk. I took him aside and told him what Mrs. Shapiro had said.

"Henry did not look back at me nor did he say a word in response. Rather, he turned and raced down the steps and then down East 56th Street toward Church Avenue."

I heard my mother sigh.

"I never saw him again," I said, tearing up. The memory of that sweltering summer day rushed over me as if it were yesterday.

When I gained control of my emotions, I confessed that I did not follow after him because I chose to stay behind with my neighborhood friends. I had trouble continuing the story.

"Here's what I've wanted to ask you about," I managed to say to me 105-year-old mother. "If I had asked you later that day what I should have done after what Mrs. Shapiro told me to do, what would you have said?"

Again without hesitating, this time in her most loving voice, my mother said, "You should have gone with Henry."

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