Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31, 2013--Thanksgivukah

In an unusual coincidence, this year two movable feasts will occur at the same time. Thanksgiving and Hanukah.

Thanksgiving is "movable" because it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November and Hanukah occurs on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Though the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars do not overlap, Hanukah is usually celebrated in early December but occasionally, including this year, it occurs in late November. Thus the confluence of Hanukah and Thanksgiving. The last time that happened was 1888.

Taking advantage of the early arrival of Hanukah, Manischewitz is launching a major ad campaign to encourage their customers to celebrate "Thanksgivukah."

To give you a flavor for this, check out Manischewitz's special Thansgivukah website where the familiar Hanukah menorah, or candelabra, is shown topped with a turkey; or better, look carefully at another image of a turkey where its tail feathers are mashed-up with a menorah so that each feather becomes one of the traditional nine Hanukah candles. Sort of clever.

Then if you have the time, take a look at how Manischewitz suggests using its food products as part of one's Thanksgiving meal.

How, for example, they claim their famous chicken soup ("Jewish penicillin") is ideal for making turkey stuffing. And how their Tam Tams (matzoh-like crackers) "are here for all your Thankgivukah schmears."

For the younger, computer-oriented set, Manischewitz has a line of e-cards. One shows a man with a pipe who says, "When it comes to Thanksgivukah, I rock it old schul." With "shul" being the Yiddish word for "synagogue" or, if your prefer, "temple."

According to the New York Times, which keeps track of these kinds of cultural trends, another e-card shows an all-American family from the Dick and Jane era (well, maybe this pitch isn't after all focused on the youthful) with a groaner of a pun, "There's no place like home for the Challahdays." (Challah being the egg bread served during many Jewish holidays.)

While a third shows two couples at a table in front of a turkey. "Mmm . . . ," the caption reads, "Do I smell latkas?" (Potato pancakes, for the uninitiated.)

One thing I am thankful for--there won't be another confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukah for about 225 years. In the meantime, I won't be celebrating Thanksgivukah.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 30, 2013--Garrison State

I've been reading about President Eisenhower--a more interesting and complex man than popularly remembered. He was not just an overachiever--supreme commander of allied forces during the Second World War or the bumbling political amateur who in 1952, mainly through his open smile, was elected to the first of two terms as president.
He may have seemed more interested in playing bridge than governing and may have appeared to be more focused on his putting than foreign affairs, but that is a self-deprecating image he carefully cultivated. He famously said to an aide just before a critical press conference, "Don't worry, I'll confuse them." And he did!
By pretending to be less than he in fact was, he enhanced his power to steer the country through perilous times. Recall, he served during the height of the Cold War when there was the real possibility that America and the Soviets would become involved in a civilization-ending nuclear war.
He is best known and most highly regarded by liberals for his farewell address in which he warned about the spreading power of the "military-industrial complex." But there is more in that speech, largely overlooked, that offers additional lessons for our own time--Eisenhower's concern that in our fear of an atomic attack by the Soviets we would become what he called a "garrison state"; and in so becoming, run the danger of losing basic civil liberties and irrevocably altering the democratic character of our country.
At the time, policymakers and the public had little reliable information about the nature of the Soviet threat and this uncertainty added to the fear citizens felt. This fear, among some, turned into paranoia, Red-baiting witch-hunts, and calls for unbridled military spending to meet the unknown and therefore menacing nature of Soviet military power.
Eisenhower was concerned that fear-driven loose talk about the nature of Soviet intentions could in itself be dangerous to U.S. security. He felt that Soviet capacity for war was being overstated by self-interested military leaders and demagogues such as Senator Joseph McCarthy. 

Additionally, he contended, there was a high price to pay for exaggerating Soviet motivations. That paying too much attention to the alleged military potential of the Soviet Union would turn the United States into a state armed beyond our needs; deeply in debt because of all the military spending; with the economy, as a result, dominated by the arms race. And, because of the fear of external, and more significant, purported internal enemies, we were in danger of seeing our civil liberties eroded.

As, during the Red scare, they were.

From his farewell address, in Eisenhower's words—
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. 
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
We would do well today to heed these words. 

We are becoming a national security state in which most of our resources are being diverted to defense spending. Fearing terrorism--as Americans in the 50s feared communism and Soviet threats--the public is passive as we spend most of our national treasure on weapon systems we do not in fact need; run up massive debts to pay for them; and, most distressing, overwhelmed by fear, seem complacent when an every-expanding government tramples on constitutional rights to privacy and free expression. 

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29, 2013--A Pigeon Named Lance

Pigeon racing, apparently, is a big deal. Lots of money is involved. There is big money awarded to winners but much more to those involved in betting. It is literally a multi-million dollar illegal gambling industry.

So is it any surprise that there is a lot of cheating? Cheating that involves doping?

Sound familiar?

According to the New York Times, at least six Belgian racing birds are suspected of doping. Actually of being doped by their owners.

PETA is on the case. Last year they published a harrowing report about pigeon racing in the United States. PETA claimed that more than 60 percent of pigeons that race become lost (races can be as long as 600 miles!) or die because they fly into dangerous storms or power lines. Others don't make it because of predators and exhaustion. Pigeon's who are not fast enough are in mortal danger. Their owners "cull" them through drowning, gassing, or decapitation.

One pigeon owner told PETA investigators that the first thing any new pigeon racing fancier needs to learn is how to drown pigeons.

From a pigeon's perspective, as Vince Lombardi used to say, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

On the other hand, those who win races are highly prized. Last May one was sold to a Chinese businessman for $430,000. The pigeon was named after Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who is the world's current "fastest human."

Other champion pigeons, again according to the Times, are named for Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, and Lance Armstrong.

Actually, this is not true but rather the Times having a little fun at Lance's expense.

But what is factual is the kind of drugs found in suspect pigeons--a human painkiller that combats inflammation and cocaine. Yes, cocaine.

I think that now I've heard about everything.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

October 28, 2013--Tomorrow

I will return tomorrow with a story about a pigeon named Lance.

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25, 2013--Big Government

One claim about Barack Obama can be put to rest with a few facts.

Most Republicans contend that he is a proponent of big government.  

The facts are these--

Back in 1966 when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, excluding members of the military (who are also federal employees), there were 2,721,000 government workers.

Last month, before the government shutdown, the federal government had 2,723,000 on the payroll. The lowest figure since 1966.

As a percentage of the workforce, the Obama administration is the picture of fiscal rectitude--In 1966, 4.3 percent of all workers were federal employees. Now the government employs only 2 percent of the nation's workers.

If one takes a look at the military, back in 1966 there were 2.6 million on active duty. Today the figure is just 1.4 million.

In contrast, during Ronald Reagan's eight years in office, the number of non-military employees ranged from 2.77 to 3.05 million the year he left office.

I know you won't hear this on Fox News or from Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party. You won't even hear this from the remaining mainstream Republicans. But these are the facts.

There is a lot of fault to be found with Barack Obama and his administration, but being advocates of big government is not one of them.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

October 24, 2013--"You're Fired!"

As The Donald likes to say, "You're fired!" But in Washington, in this White House, those words are rarely spoken.

No one was fired for the killings at our consulate in Benghazi. No one was terminated for the Wikileaks leaks. No one for the Edward Snowdon N.S.A. disclosures. And no one from the Justice Department for likely illegally obtaining private telephone records for Associate Press reporters.

Basically, no one is ever fired for anything.

This, by-the-way, has been true for all recent presidents--who did Ronald Reagan fire? George H.W. Bush? Bill Clinton? George W. Bush? Pretty much no one.

A few were asked to resign, which is very different than being fired for good cause, and those who did invariably claimed it was so that they could spend more time with their families.

General Stanley McChrystal is the only Obama person I can think of who was out-and-out fired. For indiscreetly criticizing President Obama to a Rolling Stone writer. Compare that to President Truman very publicly firing General Douglas MacArthur in the middle of the Korean War.

But now we have another who was fired by the Obama White House. According to the Daily Beast, a national security official was fired last week for issuing two-year's worth of tweets in which he made insulting comments about Obama administration officials.

He is Jofi Joseph, who has been secretly tweeting under the moniker @natsewonk. Up until last week he was part of the team working on negotiations with Iran.

For the past two years he posted insults about the intelligence and appearance of top White House and State Department officials.

"I'm a fan of Obama," he tweeted, "but his continued reliance and dependence upon a vacuous cipher like Valerie Jarrett concerns me."

On another occasion, he wrote, "Was Huma Abedin wearing beer goggles the night she met Anthony Weiner? Almost as bad a pairing as Samantha Powers [U.S. Ambassador to the UN] and Cass Sunstein [Power's husband and former Obama aide]."

General McChrystal and Jofi Joseph. A short and not very impressive list.

Americans understandable frustrated with our government would like to see officials held accountable. And fired if they foul up in big ways.

Case in point--while Jofi Joseph is looking for a new job (which I assume he is unlikely ever to secure), Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius still has hers.

Considering the importance of the rollout of Obamcare and the political capital Obama has expended to get it approved, funded, and defended, considering the software disaster that is making it almost impossible for people seeking to purchase healthcare insurance on line to do so, shouldn't the person in charge be held accountable? And be dismissed?

Hundreds of millions were spent on the design of the Obamacare website and it is virtually useless. Shouldn't Sebelius have been monitoring the situation daily while it was being constructed? And since she obviously didn't, shouldn't Obama do what The Donald would do?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23, 2013--Zwerg

It seems everyone I know has become interested in genealogy.

Up to now I thought that strange--what, after all, is important about knowing you had a great-great grandfather who was a colonel or general in the Civil War or (like me) a horse thief? What does any of this say about anyone? Does it make you more worthy if you had an accomplished ancestor or diminish you if a distant relative was "only" a scrivener?

I got the "Roots" thing. For people who were ripped from their homeland, put in chains, and shipped here as slaves where their history was stolen from them, to find connections to Africa and distant families and nationalities made sense to me. That was about identity, not a search for previous family accomplishments.

It felt fundamental, not an act of vanity.

That's cynical me talking. I'm sure for those who use there are all sorts of interesting and good reasons they root around in their family's past.

Then someone sent me an e-mail asking if a certain Lisa Zwerling was a relative of mine.

I said yes and yes. That there are at least two of them--my first wife who, after we divorced, kept Zwerling as her last name, and another Lisa Zwerling who is an executive producer for ABC.

When I checked out the link my friend sent about the Lisa's, there was another that offered to provide information about the etymology of family surnames. Without looking anything up, I knew Smiths descended from ancestors who were iron mongers and Coopers, barrel makers. But when it came to Jewish family names, when my people in the past were required to take on family names, those frequently assigned to them by anti-Semetic officials were often derogatory.

Sephardic Jews in what is now Spain as early as the 10th or 11th centuries took on last names but it wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries that Ashkenazi, or German Jews were forced to have last names if they wanted legal emancipation.

I knew about how Schwartz was from the German for "black" or "devil." Or why there were so many Jewish Golds, Goldbergs, Goldsteins, and Goldmans--because one of the calumnies associated with Jews was (and often is) the claim that we were gold hoarders, jewelers, and usurers.

But then there are other Jewish names that are quite benign, even affectionate. Gorelik, for example, is the nickname for someone who had a house fire; and Geller the nickname for someone with red hair. Then Stein is for someone living near rocky ground.

But what about Zwerling? For years I have been curious about that--what is its etymology? I was told we were once Zwerdlings, but some Zwerdlings for some reason dropped the D and became Zwerlings. But then what does Zwerling or Zwerdling mean?

Someone once said, "pesky little sparrow"; but though this could be a good name for many Zwelings (me included), I could never verify it.

Then, yesterday, via the same etymology website my friend sent, I discovered that Zwerlings may actually once have been Zwerglings. The addition of that G made it quite a mouthful and I can understand my people jettisoning it.

But if in fact we were once Zwerglings, that means we were named for zwergs, which in turn was derived from the Old High German dwergaz--dwarfs.

So though my father was for his time a towering six-feet tall and my brother and I are six-three and then some, we apparently come from a family of dwarfs.

Not that I have anything against little people, but you get my point about this ancestry research?

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 22, 2013--Anniversary

Number 30.

To celebrate, we're off very early to Frosty's for some Boston creams and twists. Thus, no blogging for me today. I will return tomorrow after the sugar rush abates.

Monday, October 21, 2013

October 21, 2013--Ladies of Forest Trace: Senator Cruel

"I only have a minute. I'm watching C-Spanish." My 105-year-old mother was calling from Lauderhill.

I knew she meant C-SPAN. These days she's been glued to the TV. So much is going on in Washington.

"And it's making me depressed."

"What else is new," I said, "My recommendation is that you watch something entertaining. C-SPAN  and CNN and Fox News," the other things she watches, "will make you crazy."

"C-Spanish I also find entertaining. Most of what they say there is not to each other but to people watching on TV. Only when there is an important vote is anyone there. But it is making me crazy."

"So why . . ."

"Why? I may be on my last legs but I have my mind and things that I care about. That includes our country. America. You know I came here from a shtetl in Poland?"

"Of course I do. With your mother and sisters and brother. You've often told us that your father came to America first, saved enough money, and then sent for the rest of you."

"He would be turning over in his grave if he had a TV."

"Good that there aren't any where he is in Mount Lebanon."

She let that one pass and said, "One of the girls I have dinner with told me she read in the Yorker that that senator from Texas, Ted Cruel who filibustered for 20 hours against the president, Obamacare, said he is going to read it."

"I heard that too," I said, "He's finally going to read the bill itself. Someone passed the article along from the New Yorker--that's its name--about Senator Ted Cruz--that's his name."

"If you say so. But wouldn't you think before speaking 20 hours that he would do his homework? How can you talk for so many hours about something you don't know anything about?"

"They do it all the time. As you said, Mom, it about being entertaining. He is that--a political entertainer. Like Sarah Palin. By being so outspoken about Obamacare, even though like her he doesn't know anything about it, guarantees that he gets to be on television and as a result he has become a household name. He's been in the Senate for less than a year and is now more famous than others who have been there for decades. I bet more people know who he is than know about John McCain."

"And like that woman Palin he is probably making a lot of money and getting ready to run for president."

"I'm certain about that."

"Why do they hate him so much?"

"Senator Cruz? His constituents back in Texas still seem to like him even though he almost ruined our economy and failed to get Obamacare defunded."

"I meant the president. Obama. Why do they hate him so much?"

"What do you think?"

"On TV they should talk about that. About the real reasons."

"Which are?"

"It's not because he doesn't talk with Congress. He should do more of that. The way Reagan talked with that Tipper person and Clinton with that Grinch."

"Tip O'Neill and Newt Gingrich."

"Yes. Them. But that is not the real problem."

"Which is?"

"He's smarter than they are and enjoys pointing that out. As they say on TV, he's the adult."

"I agree with this too. He isn't good at the schmoozing and backslapping and never misses the opportunity to demonstrate he's the smartest person in the room."

"But he is the smartest person and that's part of the problem too. But only part."

"And the other part is?"

I think I knew where she was headed; but for someone her age, who can handle the challenge, it's important not to put words in her mouth or finish her thoughts. If she can it's more stimulating and even healthy for her to have to think things through. And the miracle is that she very much can.

"They don't talk about it enough."

"What's that?"

"His color."

"His color?"

"Because he's black. Millions can't stand that idea. That there is a black president. Not that they have a black president--but that there is a black president."

"I get the distinction."

"And one smarter than almost all the rest of us. That only makes it worse. If he was just ordinary that would be better for them because that's the way they think about black people. That they are inferior to white people. They even believe that black people who went to Columbia and Harvard are inferior to white people who just went to high school."

"I agree with that analysis."

"That's why Donald Trumpet wanted to see Obama's college transcript. He couldn't believe that there was a black person who could be better educated that he is. Even one who became president. Which, remember, he tried to do and made a fool of himself."

"I can't say I disagree with you."

"There's more."

"More what?"

"More to say about this. About white and black there are many complicated things. Remember, I'm almost old enough to remember slavery."

"That's an exaggeration. You only 105."

"And four months. Now like a baby I keep track of how old I am by counting months."

"But still . . ."

"It may have been 150 years ago when it ended but with something this terrible it takes longer than that for all whites and blacks to get over the cruelty and the family memories. Remember Bessie Cross, who worked for us? Who took care of you when I was teaching? Her grandfather was a slave and told her all the stories. And she told her son, Henry, who lived with us for awhile and was like an older brother to you."

"I remember them both very well. But they protected me from that history. Henry never said anything about his great-grandfather."

"Bessie told me everything." I heard my mother sighing at the memory. "And she told me other things too."

"What where those?"

"About how she was raising Henry. She knew that there were still separate black and white worlds. This, remember was after the War. The 1940s."

"There was still official segregation," I said, "Jim Crow laws in the South and unofficial segregation in most of the North. Including in New York. And in Brooklyn where we lived. There were separate black neighborhoods and in my school, PS 244, there were no Negros. But what did Bessie say about raising Henry?"

"She was a very proud and fearless person. And she wanted her son to have a safe and successful life. What the times would allow. She did not want him to expect or demand more than what was possible. In her heart she knew this was not right, not the way for things to be, but she accepted them. Though they made her angry and she did things to protest. She was active in colored organizations."

"The NAACP?"

"Yes that. But there were problems, violence, lynching as Negroes after the War asked for, demanded their rights."

"I too am old enough to remember that."

"But like every other mother Bessie wanted to protect her son. Even if necessary from his own desire to want to live in the white world."

"That is sad to hear, but I understand."

"But she knew that was what he wanted. Not to be white but to have the same opportunities. And to have them he might need to study and work among white people. And to do that successfully he needed to behave in certain ways so as not to make things worse for himself because to live this way would be bad enough."

"Which meant?"

She whispered, "Often compromise."

I could hear my mother's labored breathing. Remembering this and those days was painful, but I didn't attempt to distract her. I knew it was important to her to finish what she had called to discuss and that she could handle the intensity of the recollected feelings.

"For Henry to stifle himself at times. Yes, do that if it was necessary. Remember when this was."

"I do. And now? You raised all of this when talking about Obama. Why so many hate him and how he reacts to that."

"He is not from Henry's generation, thank God, and he had a white mother, which made it additionally complicated for him to figure out who he is and what he wanted to be. He wrote about these things."

"In Dreams from My Father."

"So, do you think this puts more pressure on him about the right ways to behave among white people?"

"Say a little more about this."

"That what we see as his willingness to compromise, even when he may not have to, could be a problem that comes from the way he thinks about himself--I know he thinks about himself as black--and how he feels a black person should behave among white people."

"This is indeed very complicated and not easy to talk about. I think especially for white people. Even liberals. I don't expect to see this discussed on TV or written about in the newspapers.

"Like Bessie Cross taught Henry, does Obama see the need to compromise, to stifle himself as part of what is necessary for a black person to do to be successful among white people?"'

"Some would call this a race-identity issue."

"And maybe a problem."


"So, they hate him because he is black--that needs to be said and exposed--but also maybe by some of his behavior as president we still see what remains of segregation and even slavery. That we have made many things better; but even when someone becomes President of the United States, someone who was elected and reelected both times by more than 50 percent, the pain remains. The wounds are still there."

"Could be," I said. "One thing I am sure about."

"What's that?"

"That hard as it is we need to talk about this."

"That would be good," my mother said. I could sense that she was exhausted and I didn't want any longer to keep her from lying down. "Even if everything I said is wrong."

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Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18, 2013--The Not-So-Grand Bargain

Didn't everyone know it would end this way?

The congressional adolescents would have their week or two of cable airtime where they would be permitted to have politically-motivated temper tantrums and then the adults would take over, send them to their rooms, and make a deal.

In this case the deal was to surrender unconditionally to the Democrats and especially President Obama since the focus of the Tea Party's fury was and remains the Affordable Care Act.

The deal is a pathetic one--to negotiate a long-term budget by mid-December and then in early January, since there will likely be no such deal, begin the process again of threatening to shut down the government and then in February begin to rally around the idea to not raise the debt ceiling.

We got a not-so-grand bargain but need a real one that controls spending and adds more revenue to the budget mix.

We need to see the Medicare and Social Security cost curves bend downward as Baby Boomers cascade toward retirement and put bankrupting pressure on those two programs.

If we do this seriously, next time around it will be the liberals doing the screaming.

In the process, we will find out if President Obama has starch in his shorts and is willing to take on his own party and constituency or was his tough stance this time around just about preserving his eponymous program--Obamacare?

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 17, 2013--Midcoast: That Abdul Fella (Concluded)

"They sat down right there on that dock." He pointed to a small float directly behind me. "For more than an hour."

"My God," Rona said.

"As I told you, I was in law enforcement and they didn't look right to me. They didn't look like they were from here."

"What did you do?" I asked hesitantly, not wanting to probe too deeply into what might be a painful memory.

"Well, I had my suspicions. Of course not about what happened. Who could have imagined that. Though I should have . . ." His voice trailed off.

"No one could have imagined what they were plotting," I said. "No one." And that was the truth, not something I said to make him feel better.

"But I did write down the license plate number of their car."

"And, if I may, what . . ."

"I was at a meeting the morning of the 11th and just as we were about to get started someone rushed in to say something terrible just happened in New York, that we should come out and watch on the TV. So just like millions of others we were glued to the screen. When the second plane hit we knew it was an attack. We were all from law enforcement but no one could guess the extent of the damage or if there were other attacks all over the country. Or if we were bein' invaded."

"You're bringing that time back to me," Rona said.

As if not hearing her, he continued, "Two of the men who were at the meetin' had family working in those building and they raced to the telephone. Of course all the lines were tied up and they couldn't get through. So they came back to join us and we moved in close to them to help them get through what might turn out to be a tragedy for them too.

"At that time, horror struck, I wasn't puttin' any pieces together. The two men who sat on the dock out there and what was happening in New York and Washington, D.C. too. Over the next few days we all went through pretty much the same thing. Fear, anger, wantin' to get even. No matter our politics we were one nation, indivisible. Just like the Pledge says we are, but for the most part we've forgotten."

"True. True," Rona said.

"A few days later--from your readin'," for the first time he turned toward me but still looked out over the glinting water, "you probably know how many days--they released the names of the hijackers. The murderers."

"It was about three days," I said.

"Then a couple weeks after that they began to show pictures of them. Passport photo types. I forgot how many. 'Bout 20 of 'em.  And that's when it struck me--two of 'em (the Atta one and that Abdul fella) who took over the first plane were the same men who were here that day before. Spent an hour looking up at the sky and all them planes flyin' high overhead on the great circle route from Europe toward Boston and New York. 'Oh my God,' I thought, 'I had 'em here and let 'em get away.'"

I could hear his raspy breathing.

"There's no way you could of . . ."

He waved me off. "I let 'em get away. I'm from law enforcement. I even took their license number."

"What could you have done?" I asked, wanting to reach out to him, touch him. "Even if you had notified the police it's unlikely they would have done anything at all right them. Though they knew you and you had justifiable suspicions as it tragically turned out, it would not have been a priority for them. No one would have connected any dots and assumed they were up to such evil. Sadly, today it would be different."

"I know what you're sayin' makes sense, and though I did talk to the FBI as soon as I saw who it was, thinking there might be more to learn about them and who was behind this, still I have trouble sleeping at night."

"I do too," Rona said. There are many nights when we're in the city and I hear a plane overhead heading for LaGuardia, my heart stops. Things as you said will never be the same."

"One more thing."


"You remember," for the first time he looked directly at me, "You remember where the president was? Bush?"

"I do. Somewhere in Florida at a school."

"In Sarasota. At an elementary school. And you remember what he did? Or what the Secret Service had him do?"

"I do. Until they knew the nature of the attack they flew him around from an air force base in Louisiana and eventually to the Strategic Command Center in Nebraska where he would be safe."

"Well, my son at the time was in the Marines. With everything goin' on I was worried about him. I couldn't reach him. I was real worried. Like I said, no one knew the full story of what was happening. There were all sorts of rumors."

I was confused about why he was talking at the same time about President Bush and his son.

"Then when Bush returned to the White House later that evening--he was eager to get to there--they showed him landing in his helicopter on the south lawn. Like they often do. But this time it felt more important to know he was all right."

"I remember feeling relieved about that," I said. "Even though I wasn't his biggest fan."

"And then I knew my son was also all right. You see, he was one of the pilots for the president's helicopter. Marine One it's called. And I saw him there when the president got off and turned to salute him."

With that, he turned toward Judy's General Store. "Gotta get me some of her muffins," he said sounding cheery, "before they run out."

In silence we drove back toward Brunswick.

At the museum, Rona said, "He never told us about his theories."

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 16, 2103--Midcoast: That Abdul Fella

We had a few hours to kill. It was later in the morning of the day we drove at dawn to Frosty's in Brunswick for our donut orgy.

We were waiting for the Bowdoin College Museum to open. It was the next to last day of the Maurice Prendergast show. I especially like his work on paper--watercolors, pastels, gouaches, mono prints--and didn't want to miss it.

Thinking about what to do, Rona remembered that our friend Al Trescot was planning to berth his boat in a nearby marina at the end of Mere Point. He plans a book of photographs of the waters of Casco Bay. "Let's drive down to Paul's Marina," she suggested, "From our GPS it looks as if it's only five miles."

We took our time as the historic town of Bowdoin gave way to clusters of suburban-looking ranch houses before quickly turning into the more familiar look of rural Maine. The turn off to Paul's came up quickly and I had to brake hard not to glide past the dirt road that lead down to the marina.

It turned out to be more basic than the yard where Al had been mooring his boat the past two years as he worked on a soon-to-be-published book about the Sheepscot and Kennebec Rivers. But I agreed with Rona who felt it had much more charm huddled among cabins and cottages that lined the shore facing the bay and Merepoint Neck.

We parked next to one of the cottages, maybe a bit too close; but we thought that would be all right since we intended to take a quick look around to get a visual fix on where Al would be early next spring before we could join him for a trip or two.

"Let's get a quick cup of coffee," I proposed, "Just as Al said, there's a general store, over there, Judy's," I pointed toward the dock, "And maybe something to . . ."

"After what you ate at Frosty's an hour ago you want more . . ."

"Maybe some lobster?" Rona glared at me. "See what that other sign says."

"The Lobster You Buy Here Today,'" Rona read, "'Slept Last Night in Casco Bay.'"

"This is a perfect place for Al," I said. "It even rhymes." We both laughed. "Let's just get a cup of coffee. More to see Judy's than for the coffee or . . ."

"Good idea."

The coffee was hot and full flavored. We took it outside to a small deck and sat on a bench, passing it back and forth, looking into the half-risen sun and staring languidly out to the first of the more than 300 islands of Casco. More than enough for Al to find subject matter.

"Time to head out," I said, "By now the museum's open and I don't feel comfortable leaving the car so close to that house."

And with that, the door to it eased open and an elderly but seemingly physically vital man with a severe Amish-style beard began slowly to lumber down the four or five steps, heading toward our car.

I whispered to Rona as we trotted toward where we had parked, "I don't like the way he's looking at it or us. In fact, I don't like the way he looks. Let's just get into the car and not say to much. I'm in too good a mood to get yelled out for where we parked. Maybe just signal a brief apology and move on."

"I see you're . . ."  I couldn't make out what he was saying but from the tone he seemed friendly. I also noticed that our car was not really encroaching on access to his garage.

I relaxed. He sensed I didn't hear him and repeated, "I see you're from New York." I nodded, by then half seated in the car. "What parts?"

"Manhattan," Rona said. "Downtown."

"Not my kind of place," he said. "All these islands right here are enough action for me." With his hand he swept the horizon.

"Where you there on 9/11?" He didn't turn to look at us.

"Yes, we were," Rona said. "The first plane flew right over our terrace. I went out there to check the weather. To determine what to wear when it flew by just above the roof, going full speed. I thought it was in some sort of trouble. Not of course what was really happening."

"Terrible day. Terrible. Terrible time. Then and since."

"I agree with that," I said, "Things haven't been the same."

"We've lost our way," he said. "That's why I hardly ever leave this place. What more do I need? I got all my wants taken care of. I don't need any of that other nonsense."

"I understand," Rona said. "When we're here we feel the same way."

"From then on things have been different," he said, still looking into the sun. "They'll never be the same."

"I agree with that," I said. "It's awful, just awful."

"Do you know what happened the day before?"

"You don't mean yesterday?"

"No, September 10th. That day before."

"Your asking about that reminds me that two of the hijackers started that day near here in Portland."

"That's right, they came to Portland on the 10th, stayed overnight, and then flew from Portland to Boston the morning of the 11th when they got onto the plane that they hijacked and crashed into the first building."

"The one I saw," Rona sighed.

"No one seems to know why they came to Portland on the 10th," I said. "Do you have any idea why?"

"I have my theories," he said. "Before I retired I used to be in law enforcement."

"Your theories?"

"That's for another day." He waved the thought away. "But I'll tell you something I bet you don't know about."

"What's that? I've tried to read a lot about the hijackers."

"In your reading did you see that they came to this here marina?"

"Really?" I exclaimed. "Here? Why would that be?"

"Don't know about why, but I do know they came right here the day before. Was a beautiful day just like today."

"To do . . .?"

"As I said, I don't know. But I do know it was them. Atta, the leader, and that Abdul fella."

"I think it was Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari. For some reason I seem to know the names of all 19 of them."

"They sat down right there on that dock." He pointed to a small float directly behind me. "For more than an hour."

"My God," Rona said.

"As I told you I was in law enforcement and they didn't look right to me. They didn't look like they were from here."

"What did you do?" I asked hesitantly, not wanting to probe too deeply into what might be a terrible memory.

"Well, I had my suspicions. Of course not about what happened. Who could have imagined that. Though I should have . . ." His voice trailed off.

"No one could have imagined what they were plotting," I said. "No one." And that was the truth, not something I said to make him feel better.

"But I did write down the license plate number of their car."

"And, if I may, what . . ."

To be concluded tomorrow . . .

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15, 2103--Getting a Get

A friend keeps a close eye on fanatics. Particularly of the Islamic sort, especially in regard to their barbaric treatment of girls and women. Like burying them in the ground and stoning them to death.

Though depressing, this is worth doing. We all have to speak out in outrage about practices of this kind. Those sanctioned by religious leaders and governments more than any others.

She and I were talking about this recently and I said that, though I share her outrage, I have chosen to concentrate on keeping my eye on and decrying fanatics among my own coreligionists. That's where I can claim credibility--not seeming in a one-sided way to castigate the sins of others while ignoring what those culturally closer to me may be doing that is also outrageous.

"But your people aren't killing people, not doing these kinds of hideous things to girls, so why are you focused on their relatively benign behavior?"

"In some cases they are not that benign--though admittedly, stoning women to death is in a category of its own. But in the past there are too many cases of Jews killing innocents. If we want to go back to the Old Testament, recall the Israelites treatment of the people of Canaan. The God of the Jews, it is written, instructed the Israelites to commit genocide on the Canaanites--to kill every one of them, including all woemn and children."

"But that was thousands of years ago," my friend protested.

"True, but this suggests to me that we still have to keep a wary eye on all people under the sway of fundamentalist religious dogma, especially if their faith's history might predispose them to violence. I particularly try to maintain a critical perspective on zealots in Israel and on the ultra-orthodox in America."

"I hear you, but I still see things a little differently."

Of course, in many ways she is right, yet I keep alert to the unacceptable things "my" people do and attempt to bring them to public attention.

The other day, for example, the New York Times reported about something occurring in Brooklyn that on the surface felt bizarre and Medieval.

Something about ultra-orthodox Jewish women seeking rabbinical permission to divorce abusive husbands. According to Jewish practice, in order to divorce a husband it is not enough to hire an attorney and file a petition in a civil court. Women must go before a committee of orthodox rabbis and attempt to convince them that there is appropriate cause for the rabbis to endorse their desire to seek a divorce. If they are convinced, they issue a get, a liturgical document that then allows women to proceed.

Since as in the other biblical religions women are considered less than second-class citizens, getting a get is complicated, difficult, frequently humiliating, and often costly.

To be clear--orthodox women seeking divorces usually need to pay the rabbinical court many thousands of dollars for them even to consider their cases. Especially in those circumstances where the husbands refuse to give permission for their wives to proceed since according to orthodox doctrine husbands have this power.

But according to the recent report in the Times, not only is the process very expensive, but what some rabbis have been arranging is bizarre, and likely illegal.

For fees that can total $60,000, the rabbis hire people to kidnap the reluctant husbands and have them physically tortured in order to force them to sign the required papers.

At least two rabbis who allegedly arranged for the kidnappings and torture were scooped up in a sting operation that included law-enforcement officials taping telephone conversations in which the rabbis casually talked about how they go about their violent business. Ironically, with a feminist twist since the beneficiaries of their "services" are women.

According to a rabbi caught on tape by federal prosecutor, after the husbands were abducted, "They beat them up and tied them up, shocked them with Tasers and stun gun until they got what they wanted."

One of the perpetrators, Rabbi Mendel Epstein talked openly and casually about how his hit men went about the techniques they used to fool the police if the victims stepped forward to report the kidnappings and torture:

If they beat them up carefully, leaving no visible bruises, "basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him then, uh, [they think there] is there some Jewish crazy affair here, they don't want to get involved."

And not only that--the rabbis guaranteed that after their "tough guys" finished with the husbands, the women will get their gets. And for the most part they did.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14, 2013--Columbus Day

In celebration, I will be taking the day off but will return tomorrow with a story about getting a get.

Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11, 2013--Midcoast: Basic Food Groups

Donuts for us are one of the three basic food groups.

They are, we have convinced ourselves, an excellent source of carbohydrates and so, to get off to a nutritious start Wednesday, we drove nearly 40 miles to Brunswick to have a tray full at Frosty's.

Forsty's is a local institution and so popular that it's essential to get there early in order to find more than a few crumbs remaining. Did I mention that they open at four? Four in the morning. This is not the time they mix the batter and preheat the ovens but when they open for business.

Since they close when they run out of donuts--which can be by as early as 9:30--to have a semblance of a selection, we determined the night before to be on the road no later than 6:30.

It was a magical drive. It had cooled down over night and there was hoar frost crusting the fields and the ponds were steaming with ground fog. Thinking about the land being crusted was yet another inducement to think about donuts and seeing the ponds steaming reminded us that Frosty's also has excellent coffee. All just 50 minutes away.

"This is crazy," Rona said, "You know how I hate to get up so early. I'm still half asleep."

"Close your eyes," I said, "As long as Sirius continues to play Beethoven quartets I'm good to drive."

"But it's so beautiful out. I should train myself to get up and out earlier."

"It makes it special, though, to have to make an effort to get to Frosty's. In many ways it's better to have them so far away. Think about what it would be like if they were in Damariscotta."

"I'd weigh 25 pound more." And with that, Rona nodded off, dreaming, I was sure, about her favorite Boston creams.

When we arrived, though we were sixth in line and I was worried they would sell all our favorites by the time we got to the counter--almost everyone ahead of us was buying at least a dozen (one person bought eight dozen--I assume for a business meeting, though up here where people can really eat, I may have been mistaken), they still had a few left of all those we had been thinking about since earlier in the week--Rona's Boston creams and my favorite glazed twists. And since we had made such an effort to get there and rationalized that we wanted to secure our full quotient of carbs, we also got a chocolate glazed, a toasted coconut, a chocolate maple glazed (with real Maine maple syrup), and, to honor the season, a pumpkin spice donut.

With tea for Rona and French roast coffee for me, the bill totaled $7.00 and we happily slipped into one of Frosty's old-fashioned wooden booths, breathed deeply, and plunged in. Literally.

We didn't speak a word to each other for at least 10 minutes, which is unusual for us. Though being at Frosty's with a tray of melt-in-yor-mouth donuts was also unusual for us--we only do this two or three times a year.

In the adjacent booth there was a couple with a box of "ten mixed," who looked, how else to put this, beatific. When I had sampled all six of ours, I couldn't resist asking which were their favorites. I needed to ask three times as they were so engrossed in their donuts.

Without taking her eyes off her donut, our neighbor, as if in a trance, said, "The glazed twists."

"Mine too," I exclaimed. "What a coincidence."

"What about others?" Rona asked, coming up for air.

"I love them all," she said. "We're from Ohio, Columbus. We've been in the area for five days and we've been to Frosty's every day. We always have a box of ten." She smiled as if in a daze.

"Pants don't fit."

"What?" Her husband had finally roused.

"Pants don't fit," he mumbled.

"Who cares," she chirped.

"I sure don't," he said.

Later that day, after doing a little antiquing at Cabot Mills and visiting the Maurice Prendergast show at the Bowdoin Art gallery, Rona said, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm feeling a little hungry."

"Frotsy's is just like proverbial Chinese food--you eat it and are hungry an hour later."

"It's four hours later and I admit I have an appetite."

"I'm game for anything. Do you have something in mind?"

"What about that drive-in along the Bath Road? We've noticed it before and thought to try it. I think it's appropriately called Fat Boys. They supposedly have the best BLT in Maine. I think they make it with Canadian bacon."

Indeed they do. And indeed it is noteworthy.

"Isn't bacon also one of the basic food groups?" Rona smiled, looking up blissfully from her BLT, as if to make us feel better about ourselves.

"With pizza," I noted, "being the last of them."

Later that evening, after devouring two delicious single-serving-sized Rosario's pizzas (made locally), Rona said, "Tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, we eat fish. Right? We have to G-tox."

"As I said, I'm game for anything."

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

October 10, 2013--"I Just Want to See My Mother"

Dateline Any Day, BAGHDAD:

"A suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives on the playground of an elementary school in northern Iraq on Sunday morning, killing 13 children and the headmaster, police said."

The report in the New York Times, beneath a modest headline and buried deep in the A-Section, went on:

"Many children who survived the attack were seriously wounded and were sent to larger, better-equipped hospitals in the Kurdistan region of Iraq for treatment, medical sources said."

The brief article concludes--

"'I don't remember what happened,' said a sobbing boy named Ali, who suffered wounds to his face and legs. 'I just want to see my mother.'"

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

October 9, 2013--Virgins in Paradise

This must be the week for passing along quotes from my reading. 

Monday, from Woodrow Wilson, I shared A. Scott Berg's description of the leaders of the Four Powers, victors in the First World War, literally redrawing the map of the world while on their hands and knees on the floor of the president's office in Paris.

Today I offer one from Jess Walter's powerful 2006 novel, The Zero, set in the days right after the destruction of the World Trade Center at what became Ground Zero. Largely through the eyes of a policeman who was there that day, Walter takes readers on a harrowing tour of a city and a country shuddering through the aftershocks of that devastating terrorist attack.

His hero cop, Brian Remy moves through the dreamscape narrative in a state of heightened awareness and simultaneous dislocation, encountering "The Boss" (a slightly fictionalized version of Mayor Giuliani), first responders, government agents who inhabit an Kafkaesque world of mystery and half-truths, and U.S. and foreign nationals living double and and at times metaphoric lives.

One of the most vivid characters is peripheral to the main events--Walter calls him "the old Middle Eastern man"--but is an important truth-teller. At one point, he says to Remy--
"The way people here mock a religion that promises virgins for martyrs in the world after this one. Your own culture would seem to indicate that there is nothing more profound than sex, nothing more humbling or graceful or suggestive of the mystery of creation. And yet the idea of virgins in paradise somehow seems to draw your greatest scorn. Do you honestly imagine yours is a sexless heaven? What kind of paradise is it that has harps and angels but no orgasms?  
". . . You're always convincing yourselves that the world isn't what it is, that no one's reality matters except your own. That's why you make such poor victims. You truly can't know suffering if you know nothing about rage. And you can't feel genuine rage if you won't acknowledge loss. 
"That's what happens when a nation becomes a public relations firm. You forget the truth. Everything is the Alamo. You claim victory in every loss, life in every death. Declare war when there is no war, and when you are at war, pretend you aren't. The rest of the world wails and vows revenge and buries its dead and you turn on the television. Go to the cinema. 
". . .  Entertainment is the singular thing you produce now. And it is just another propaganda, the most insidious, greatest propaganda ever devised, and this is your only export now--your coffee and tobacco, your gunpowder and your wheat. And while people elsewhere die questioning the propaganda of tyrants and royals, you crave yours. You demand the propaganda of distraction and triviality, and it has become your religion, your national faith. In this faith you are grave and backward fundamentalists, not so different from the grave and backward fundamentalists you presume to battle. If there are barbarians knocking on the gates with stories of beautiful virgins in the afterlife, then aren't you barbarians too, wrapping the world in cables full of happy-ever-after stories of fleshy blondes and animated fish and talking cars?"

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

October 8, 2013--Stagehands

"It's not that I'm antiunion," Stan said, which surprised me. He tends to take conservative positions on most issues of public policy.

"But from what I'm hearing about your stagehands, I'm not so sure."

"My stagehands?" I looked at him quizzically, "I'm a bit confused. I don't have any." We were sitting together in a booth at the Bristol Diner, with the sun streaming in, whiling away the morning.

"Well, you are New Yorkers, aren't you?"

"Still, I'm not following you." At times Stan tends to speak elliptically. Or playfully when tweaking us about being from the Big City. "Stagehands?"

"Don't you read your own paper? The one you're always writing about?"

"The Times? The New York Times?"

"There was something there, I think on the front page, about how they were on strike."

"I've been busy and somehow must have missed that."

"Not for more money but because they were insisting that Carnegie Hall hire more stagehands to work for the new education program they're planning to launch."

"What does the work entail? Traditional stagehand work? Moving props and scenery?"

"I don't think so. The Carnegie Hall people say it's mainly moving chairs and other lightweight chores. And so they want to hire people who will work for less money than the stagehand's union requires."

"What kind of money are we talking about?"

"I think that's why the dispute wound up on the front page."

"So, how much? As I said, this is the first I'm hearing about it."

"I'm glad you're sitting," Stan said with a broad grin. He leaned across the table to make sure I couldn't avoid making eye contact.

"On average, $400,000 a year in salary and benefits."

"What?" I was incredulous.

"You heard me--400 grand. More than most Carnegie executives make and a lot more that any of the musicians in the orchestra."

"I can't believe this is true. I know they have a strong union and at times have gone on strike and shut down Broadway theaters. And I know they make a lot and . . ."

"Here's how I think it works," Stan said, cutting me off and getting out his pen, using his napkin for scratch paper. "They get whatever their base is. For working 9 to 5 Mondays through Fridays. Like the rest of us. But since everything at Carnegie Hall is at night or on weekends they get paid for that at double or triple overtime."

"So you're thinking that even though there's not much to do weekdays during the day, still they come to work then and wait for after hours for the actual work to kick in and at those times they make a lot more than they do for the first 35 hours?"

"It's gotta be. Otherwise how does it add up to $400,000 a year?"

"And there's probably no way for Carnegie Hall to change the deal. Or on Broadway, for that matter, where it must be pretty much the same situation."

"I don't know about that," Stan said, "But about Carnegie Hall I only know what I read in the paper."

"You mean my Times?" I winked. "I didn't know you read that."

"My son-in-law, who knows my views, showed it to me on-line. Probably to make me crazy."

"So," I couldn't resist poking at him, "If it was up to you, you'd let them stay on strike while not just resisting hiring more $400,000-a-year men for the new program but also demand all sorts of givebacks from the current stagehands? To bring their compensation into line with management and, more important, the musicians?"

He smiled back at me in answer.

"They'd probably stay on strike forever," I said, "if the Carnegie board insisted on that. But I take your point about union overreach. I'm pretty liberal . . ."

"Don't I know it," Stan said. This time he did the winking.

". . . but this doesn't do the union movement any good."

"You're right about that," Stan said. But then, as he occasionally does, he surprised me, "Look, there are only four or five stagehands at Carnegie Hall and this is not a typical union situation. In fact aren't you surprised that your leftwing paper made such a big issue out of it? About four or five people making a ridiculous amount of money?"

"Good point," I said.

"This will be all over talk radio tonight. Another thing to make people feel they're being taken advantage of and that everything's unfair. There are many unfair things," Stan continued, "But not everything is unfair. It doesn't help to simplify things this way. If we want to dig out of the mess we're in we need to be smart. And blowing this all out of proportion makes us stupid."

I nodded. "What's more, it distracts us from looking at what's really unfair. I know we'll disagree about most of that but at least we'll be talking about the real problems. Not sideshows."

"That's why I love you Stan. So much so that I'm paying for your coffee."

"For today or the whole week?"

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Monday, October 07, 2013

October 7, 2013--Peacemakers, 1919

If you've been following this, you know about my obsession with geography.

Specifically, how leaders of the great powers at the end of the First World War redrew the map of the world and, ignoring history, religion, culture, and tradition, created more new countries than any tyrant or conqueror at any previous time in history.

And, you know, this has not been just an idle curiosity of mine, but grows out of an interest in the contemporary world and the problems the leaders of England, France, Italy, and the United States in 1919 bequeathed to us.

Also, I have been commenting here how that map is now in an accelerated way being undone, redrawn by seeming chaos in the Middle East, Africa, Asia Minor and even in some parts of South and Southeast Asia.

I was reminded again about this ongoing interest and the consequences while reading A. Scott Berg's recent, rather decent biography of Woodrow Wilson, Wilson.

Wilson, obsessed by the notion of a League of Nations, which he envisioned giving voice to and representing the interests of peoples whose national aspirations had been subsumed by the colonial reach of England, France, Italy, and Japan, a League of all countries that would stand for self-determination and the protection of human rights for all peoples worldwide.

He was thwarted by partisan politics back in the United States where Congress never voted to endorse the League and, as a result, as Wilson foresaw, the world inexorably drifted toward a second cataclysmic world war.

In Wilson there is a vivid picture of how the leaders of the Big Four powers in Paris in 1919 literally redrew the map of much of the world, insensitive to issues of culture, history, and national aspiration, focusing instead on their own geopolitical territorial self-interest.

Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau of France, Lloyd George of England, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, and American President Woodrow Wilson.

Here from Berg--

The Big Four often worked from a map in the [French] President's room, one too large for any table to accommodate. Whenever it was needed, they spread it on the floor. One morning Dr. Grayson [Wilson's personal physician] entered the salon, only to find the four most powerful men in the world on their hands and knees, studying the chart. "It had every appearance," noted Grayson, "of four boys playing some kind of game." 
In the spring of 1919, that quadrumvirate on the floor erased more boundaries and created more new nations than had ever been drawn at a single time. And whenever Clemenceau and Lloyd George fell into another argument, scrapping over patches of Asia Minor, Wilson reminded them that they were engaged in the "bargaining away of peoples. . ."  
While the United States had no direct interest in most of the territorial settlements, Wilson continued to involve himself as the others tore at the Habsberg Empire. Austria and Hungary (then in the midst of a series of revolutions) would be divided into two separate landlocked countries, neither of which would ever be powerful enough to rise to any significant stature. The Treaty sanctioned a union of Czechs and Slovaks into a sovereign independent state. Similarly, the Independent Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro joined the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs as well as much of Dalmatia and Bosnia and Herzgovina to form Yugoslavia. Parts of the Habsburg Empire--Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Transylvania--joined the Kingdom of Romania. 
The Ottoman Empire offered a map with more blank space on which to draw. Out of secret treaties and mandates and assurances to Arab leaders, new nations would be built in the sand. They proved problematic because they too bundled diversified populations, often with ancient ethnic and religious differences. Tensions naturally rose in the area as each of these disparate peoples sought self-government and independence while they were in conflict among themselves and well as with their mandatories.

Four boys playing some kind of game, indeed.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

October 4, 2013--Rite Aid

On Wednesday, while in Camden in 80 degree weather, we stopped at the Rite Aid pharmacy to buy a bottle of water. Forget for the moment that 18 ounces was $1.95 and Rona couldn't resist making a point about what must be the profit on selling "free" water.

What was most interesting was the chat I had with a Rite Aid staffer who was set up with a computer at a desk near the prescription counter.

He was with a customer but we caught each other's eye and I mouthed, "Obamacare?"

He nodded and when the person with whom he was talking got up--seemingly quite happy--I stepped closer and we chatted about what he was doing and how it was going. Counseling people, he said, about the Obamacare options available to them in Maine and how the public he was encountering was reacting to what they were learning about it from him. Very positively he reported.

He told me that at every Rite Aid around the country, not just in communitarian Maine, there were people like him who had been trained to help uninsured people think about what might be best for them.

I told him I was not waiting to have him describe the options to me, that I am on Medicare and have Aetna in addition, but since there was no one waiting he seemed eager to chat.

"They come in here having gotten most of their information about the Affordable Care Act from listening to fear-mongers such as Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Mark Levin on the radio in the middle of the night and, as you might imagine, are very worried about what having to purchase insurance will mean for them and their families and how much it will cost them to sign up."

"I can only imagine," I said, "Though to me it's far from perfect, I support Obamacare; but feel he hasn't done as good a job describing it, selling it, as people such as Rush Limbaugh have done to denigrate it and instill fear in unsuspecting listeners."

"Pretty much everything they tell me that they 'know' about Obamacare is wrong. For example, there is still the belief out there that if you sign up for it you and your family members will be under the control of death panels and if you currently have coverage you will not be able to keep it but will be required to join a plan endorsed personally by Obama."

"What about cost issues? Are people worried about how much it will cost them?"

"Initially, pretty much universally yes. But when I sit them done and run the numbers--based on their family income--considering incomes here are in general not that high, they discover that it will likely cost them a manageable amount to select a health care plan."

"Can you be specific?"

"Sure. For a couple making less than about $62,000 a year (and that would be almost everyone here) with the tax credits available, on average it could cost them about $100 a month. Which almost any working couple can afford. For a family of four, tax credits kick in up to about $94,000 of annual income; and the cost for the plan selected--and there's a range of them--would run from a couple of hundred dollars a month to $1,000 or so for those opting for the low-deductable, so-called 'platinum' one. On the other hand, if a family of four makes less than $32,000 a year, the cost of the basic plan will be about zero. Like for those of you on Medicare. The government subsidies will cover pretty much the entire cost. Which, to say the least, is a good and big deal."

"Do they know about how with Obamacare there are no lifetime caps on how much will be covered and how, no matter one's preexisting conditions, coverage can't be denied?"

"Some have heard about that but most haven't. And when I tell them about that--almost everyone I've spoken with thus far does in fact have a preexisting condition--they think I'm not telling the truth. That I'm a shill for Obama."

"So Mark Levin and company have been ironically successful in spreading misinformation . . ."

"And lies," he said. "That's what this computer's for," he tapped the screen, "I show them the truth in black and white, so to speak."

"How's business? I mean, how many people have you seen?"

"Between yesterday and thus far today maybe a couple dozen. But here's the most interesting part."

"What's that."

"Already today I'm seeing people who had friends or relatives who I spoke with yesterday coming here now based on what their friends learned. It's too early to generalize, but word of mouth seems quite positive."

A couple of middle-aged people had joined the line behind me so I turned to leave.

"They're not positive about me," he laughed, "but about Obamacare."

"I wonder if this will find its way to the media or will they continue to insist on covering the negative?"

"That would be a first," he said, winking and waving as I left.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

October 3, 2013--It Was My Party

Here's what we actually did yesterday--

We didn't see Blue Jasmine. We didn't go to Primo. Or for that matter Cafe Solo.

We did go out early to Chrissy's where I had two of the best croissants available outside Paris. I indulged in a double espresso with steamed milk on the side.

Then, surprising myself, I said, "Let's drive to Camden and after that stop in Rockport on the way home." It was 80 degrees out by the time we got there. While walking around, I noticed a small sign for a 'Doctor Margaret Zwerling'.

As there are very few of us, we went to her office and discovered we are related somehow since ancestors of ours came from the same Austrian village. Though she, unlike me, did not have any known horse thieves in her background. But she does have a brother Steve, actually Stephen.

Around the corner from her is Leslie Curtis Designs. We had read that they have nice wicker pieces and since we have been looking for new porch chairs we went in. It didn't hurt that she is a former wife of Tony Curtis and helped raise Jamie Lee. One of my favorites.  And, to boot, there are a couple of chairs we are considering.

At the Rite Aid drugstore, where we went for a bottle of water, Rona insisted on my buying a $2.00 scratch-off lottery ticket. In many ways I have been and continue to be a lucky boy, but that didn't carry over when it came to this. I'll keep the ticket as a souvenir and a reminder to invest my money more wisely.

We spent an hour sitting on a bench gazing out into lovely Rockport harbor. A Maine classic. We almost fell asleep in the sun but pushed on. To perk us up we stopped at a Dunkin Donut overlooking Rockland harbor. A bit more commercial but the pumpkin donut that we shared was a seasonal treat.

Rona kept asking what I wanted to do for dinner. "Maybe eat out," Is said. There are a couple of modest places still open and Rona seemed game for either.

But, as a backup, we went to a local farmer's market where we bought a couple of heirloom tomatoes and newly harvested tiny potatoes. Also, a couple of tree-ripened pears and a large handful of pole beans.

"All we need now are some New Harbor beef medallions from Reilly's," Rona said, "And we'll be ready to cook at home or go out. You're still have those options."

"We do have that wonderful Bordeaux," I reminded Rona, as if she needed reminding. "Maybe just drink that with some Weatherbird's bread and hand-churned Maine butter?"

"We'll see," she said.

"Just as long as we're done with dinner so we can watch Mary Tyler Moore."

"And Bob Newhart," Rona made sure to add.

So that's what we did--I roasted the potatoes with Rosemary straight from Rona's garden, steamed the beans, grilled the steak, sliced the heirlooms, and we managed to drink almost the entire bottle.

I watched MTM but feel asleep halfway through Newhart.

It was a perfect day.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

October 2, 2013--It's My Party

"So what do you want to do for your birthday?"

It was Monday, two days before October 2nd and Rona wanted to be sure I wasn't being coy when I had said during the past few months that I'm not really into celebrating birthdays--mine--and that we should play it by ear.

"Maybe," I said, "closer to the time I'll come up with some place I'd like to go or do to make it a little special."

"Well, it is a special one considering the number."

"To tell you the truth, this one is feeling like any other. To quote my mother, 'Every day I wake up and feel good is my birthday.'"

"But your mother's more than 105 and it's easy to understand why she feels that way. On the other hand, I hope you're not into denial when you say you don't want to make a big fuss. Or a small fuss."

"I don't think I am."

"I know why you're saying that. In your case it's honest to admit you don't think you're in denial considering how you thought turning 60 was no big deal and then when that birthday came you had a version of a nervous breakdown."

"Fair enough. But we were in Beijing at the time and I believed I was more disoriented by that than by it being my 60th."

"So, what do you want to do? I can still arrange a dinner party for friends. We can go to Primo in Rockland. It's supposed to be the best restaurant in Maine. Or Solo Bistro in Bath. Friends say it's even better than Primo."

"I guess that's a possibility."

"Don't sound so enthusiastic."

"I'm really not. Enthusiastic. I mean, I'm thrilled to be alive and feel this good and to be married to you; but at the moment, I think I'd like to cook dinner for us and drink a whole bottle of a wonderful, very expensive Bordeaux. Then watch Mary Tyler Moore reruns."

"How about two-thirds of a bottle and also watch Bob Newhart?"

"It's a deal."

But then yesterday, the day before my birthday, we returned to the subject.

"You know," I said sheepishly, "I think maybe I would like to do something."

"Anything. Well, almost anything."

"Maybe let's see Blue Jasmine and then go out for a nice dinner."

"That sounds fine. Which theater and where do you want to have dinner?"

"In Rockland. I think they have an afternoon show and then we could go to Primo. We've been here five, six years and are sort of foodies but have never gone there."

"That sounds good. They say eating in the bar is the thing to do. But check the movie schedule because it changes so often."

I did and discovered that there was no show at all in Rockland. The film apparently played just on the weekend. "I suppose," I said, "there's not that much call for Woody Allen up here. But I think it's playing in our town, Damariscotta, at the Lincoln Theater. At 2:00 and 7:00. Depending on the show we go to, we can go to King Eider's for an early dinner either before or after the movie."

"You'd better check that too."

I did and, amazingly, the film appeared to be scheduled at both times.  "So, let's pencil it in. The 2:00 show."

"I think," Rona said, "let's also buy a Bordeaux. That will give us the option--if you change your mind--of having it if you decide you want to cook your own birthday dinner."

"No, I'm all set--movie in the afternoon and an early dinner at Eider's. Eating at that time will prepare us for early-bird dinners in Florida."

At that Rona rolled her eyes. "I know you by now and so let's get the wine. You say pencil in the 2:00 show, but it's at best 50-50 that we'll budge from the house."

"We can go to Portland if you'd like," I offered. "Or the Lake District. The leaves are changing and so it must be beautiful there."

"I'm sure it is, but since you're colorblind leaf-changing season frustrates you."

I shrugged and smiled. "You're right, let's get the wine. But what about Portland? I'm sure the film is playing there and there are so many good restaurants."

"That will mean staying overnight, which I doubt you'll want to do."

"True, true. So let's just stick to the plan."

"Which is?"

                                                     *    *    *

It is now 6:00 AM, October 2nd and I am officially another year older. Or, as I prefer, another day older. We have the movie penciled in but just in case also have a wonderful bottle on hand of 2005 Cos d'Estournal. It did cost a fortune. But how often do you get to be as old as I?

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