Tuesday, October 30, 2007

As Maxwell Smart would say, "Would you believe..."

After 40-odd (take that both ways) years in journalism, there isn't much that makes me do a double-take.

After today, my neck feels as if I'd been watching a tennis game with the double-takes.

The first is the word that Nancy A. Nord, head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, asked Congress NOT to pass legislation that would have doubled the agency's budget, increased its staff and generally strengthened the agency that polices thousands of consumer goods.

Part of its mandate is to keep lead-soaked toys from China and other places out of the hands of children.

Nord, who had been a lawyer for Eastman Kodak and an official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before joining the federal government, opposes provisions that would hike the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make reports of faulty products public, protect industry whistle-blowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.

OK, now we have two double-takes. First, here is a bureaucrat who doesn't want a larger empire with more money and more people to boss around. Second, a person who doesn't think it's a good thing to take lead-saturated toys out of the hands of kids.

The only way you are going to accomplish that is to have laws that hike the maximum penalties and prosecute executives of companies that place the toys into kids' hands and mouths in the pursuit of profit. These folks are not going to pull this poison off the market because the feds said pretty please.

Now for the third double-take. This story was not, NOT on the front page of the New York Times. Yes, there was a reference to it at the bottom of Page One, but really, this is news. This jerk deserves to get canned. President Bush isn't going to do it, because Nord is doing his bidding. He only knows that whatever is bad for his friends who run businesses is bad for the nation, or rather the Republican Party. To him, this is one and the same.

The Times, however, seems not to think this is important. The lead story is some bureaucrat at the Department of Justice pushing somebody at State under a bus by saying the State Department never told Justice that they had offered deals to Blackwater operatives. The one-column story at the left says (wait for it) that foreign fighters of a violent bend are helping the Taliban. Well, I didn't think they were being trained by the Dalai Lama.

There is also a tale about gay enclaves in cities, and Section 8 housing in the city. At the bottom is a yarn about applying for a driver's license in Johannesburg. Yes, we need slice of life stories, but really folks. We also need to get the news out there.
By the way, the folks who put together the Times Web page didn't think the story merited being on the home page and the folks who Comcast's home page together didn't think it was important, probably because Britney Spears wasn't in it.

Page 2

Well, since I'm in mid-rant, why not talk about the price of gas and oil.

My synagogue got an oil delivery the other day. You ready: $2.95 a gallon for heating oil, which is basically diesel fuel that is filtered fewer times than the stuff you pump into your Mercedes.

Gas is also tottering at the $3.00-a-gallon mark. If you didn't know better, you'd think the president of the United States was in the pocket of the oil companies.

This is a photo of an actual gas pump in Amherst, Mass., taken a week or so ago. So, perhaps the gas there may be a couple of cents more today , but really, why do folks in Taxachusetts pay so much less for gas.? By the way, there are places in Amherst and surrounding towns that charge nearly $3.00 a gallon, but there are places like this Hess station that charge a lot less.

It could be that their gas tax is less, or it could be that their state actually fights for rules that don't allow this type of highway robbery. Yes, oil is near $90 a barrel after being over that figure for a few days. Gasoline futures came down 8 cents today (Oct. 30, 2007), but we won't see that at the pump anytime soon.

You know, last year we had storms and the year before hurricanes, all of which sent the price of oil skyrocketing. This year, it's fear about what would happen if Turkey and the Kurds started duking it out. Maybees send prices booming.

The CEO at Merrill Lynch costs that company billions by guessing wrong on mortgages, which will probably cost thousands their jobs.

So what happens to him? He won't get a bonus or a severance package, but he will get a $2 million a year pension and stock options worth scores of millions of dollars.

This imbalance is just fine, if you ask the conservatives. Leave business alone and it will take care of itself. Well, it's just not right that people who head companies screw up and get millions ladled into their accounts and the poor guy who adds wrong and costs his boss a few bucks gets booted out into the street.

Where will it all end?

Page 3

We should end on a positive note. Kudos to the Boston Red Sox organization. They had a rolling rally, a parade through downtown Boston to honor the Sox today for winning the World Series on Sunday night. Everybody in the organization got to ride in the parade, from the players and the money guys all the way to the front-office staff and the people who sell the tickets. Everybody. That's a class act.

Until next time...

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's a gas and how about those Red Sox

Well, I'm back. It's been a busy week and I have been bad about writing, but I think that's all over.
I had a project I had been promising to finish and that took a bit of time, plus some work for Paul Bass at the New Haven Independent.
But let's blame the Boston Red Sox. The World Series games have been ending in the wee hours, but it was worth it.

The Sox showed the world that they are for real, taking the last three games of the American League Pennant from the Cleveland Indians and then wiping out the Colorado Rockies in two blowouts and two really good baseball games. The celebrations were muted (only 35 or so arrested in Boston and no serious injuries) and the Sox didn't dance on Colorado's lawn. They celebrated for a while on the field, but then went into the clubhouse so not to stick it up the Rockies fans' noses too much. That was classy.

Now it's time to dance on our own lawn. Jonathan Papelbon earned his time to dance.

It's also time for the Red Sox management to do their part in rewarding those who came through during the season and the Series.

Of course, I'm talking about Mike Lowell, who will be a free agent. To the management of the Sox, re-sign Lowell, even if he wants a multi-year deal at the price you paid for J.D. Drew. When it comes to Alex Rodriguez, this is your response: NO. BAD. DON'T EVEN THINK OF IT.

Lowell is a teacher, a stabilizing factor in your clubhouse. He is a pretty darn good fielder and his hitting wasn't too shabby either. Will he equal his this-year performance next year? Probably not. But he will be out there in his quiet way, making the plays, hitting for the RBIs and teaching the youngsters the right things to do.

A-Rod, in my opinion, is a popinjay who is a disruptive influence and the Red Sox don't need him in any way, shape or form.

Now it is my turn to apologize for what I had been thinking about Drew and Julio Lugo. They came through when they needed to, even if their performance in the regular season was uninspired. I still think Lugo needs to go, as does Eric Gagne and Coco Crisp. Sorry guys, you could be a star on other teams, but just don't cut it in the rarefied air of Red Sox Nation.

My wife is relieve that the games are over. She grew up in a sports-crazy house and she doesn't want to have anything to do with watching sports. Don't tell her about the Patriots, the Celtics, UConn basketball (men's and women's) and the rest.

Speaking of UConn, how about those UConn football players. They are ranked nationally and could be in a major bowl game if they can get through Rutgers (tough team) and West Virginia (ditto).

In New England, it's good to be a fan these days.

Until next time...

Friday, October 19, 2007

A few thoughts to end the week

Sorry I've been absent some, but blame it on the fact that we are a two-computer shop and one of those has been ailing.

My desktop caught a mechanical cold from a friend's computer. No, not a virus, but a cold. A week after he told me his computer's power supply had died, mine did as well.

Fortunately, we were able to save the hard drive with all the memory and Mike, the very same Mike who won the Bring Me the Head of Joe Torre contest, cobbled together a computer from bits and pieces that will serve until we can get a new one. Thanks so much, Mike. I hope the pizzas and Chinese food were enough of a payment.

Many of you plugged in the past week to read the Coulter blog, especially after a plug by Paul Bass in the Independent. But nobody left a comment. That's a bit disappointing.

It's raining hard now, but the weather forecasters say it will be nice tomorrow (Oct. 20, 2007). I wonder why weather forecasters on television can't just give you the forecast. It's not a weather forecast, it's a weather promo. And sometimes a false one. Will it snow tomorrow. Tune in to find out later in the newscast, so you can stay through all the stupid standups that pass for news.

You know, all this talk about us not getting enough exercise may be the same as the rap against Americans a few years ago for not saving enough.

It turned out that when we were compared with Japan, for example, we saved just as much as they did, only we saved it as equity in our homes, while they saved in banks.

This thought came to me while walking through a big-box store the other day.

There are a couple of truths about those stores. First, whatever you want is located at the other end of the store, no not that end, the other end. If you want two things, they are located at the opposite ends of the store from each other. So, if you spend any time at all in those stores, whether it's Home Depot or Target (pronounced tar-JAY), then you are getting lots of exercise.

You just have to stop those visits to the snack bar.

It's funny how stories come back to you.

I remember about 20 years ago or so, my boss at the Journal-Courier of New Haven was put on a diet by his wife. His assistant was tasked by the same wife with making sure he got exercise each day.

The J-C, now the New Haven Register, is on Sergeant Drive, and the pair could be seen each day walking the length of Sergeant Drive from the Register building all the way to where Ikea is today. But the man wasn't losing any weight.

So some co-workers followed them to see what was up. They were taking the walk, all right, but what neither was telling the wife was that they were stopping by the Howard Johnson's in the hotel for an ice cream sundae along the way.

Anyway, have a great weekend and for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos.

Until next time...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why aren't more people yelling at Ann Coulter?

Ann Coulter pulled a Don Imus Monday on a national talk show, but nobody in the general community seems to care.

Coulter said Jews should improve themselves by becoming Christians. In other words, Judaism as a religion needs to be "perfected". There is something wrong with the people who practice this faith and, by extension, with the religion itself. It's OK, but you can do better by becoming a Christian, according to the right-wing yakker.

It's not a new idea -- in fact it's thousands of years old and called replacement theology. The idea: God chose the Jews to be His people, but they blew it by not believing the Jesus was the messiah, so now God threw them over, changed His mind as it were, and chose Christians.

I wonder how it would play if she called African-Americans inferior to whites, or Hispanics inferior to African-Americans, or Greek Orthodoxy inferior to Roman Catholicism. You can't get away with that. The Rev. Al Sharpton would scream, as he should do. Sharpton screamed at Don Imus for referring to some African-American young women basketball players in racist and sexist terms.

It's Friday. I just went through more than 70 news sites, from CBS to the Huffington Post, I didn't see one Christian news site or one minority news site condemning this travesty. There were those who said people give Coulter too much ink and air time, those who say people should be able to say whatever they want and those who yawn.

Don Imus lost his job in April and has not yet gone back on the air, although he may be close. Ann Coulter continues to be paid for her idiocy and people continue to tune in to see what she has to say, buy her books and make her a wealthy woman.

I guess it's OK to denigrate certain groups. Blacks say they are respectful, even jealous, of the way Jews helped each other out of the ghettos such as the Lower East Side and East New York and Brownsville.

I think Jews should be respectful, even jealous, of the way people like The Reverend Al and Jesse Jackson are quick to get into the face of people who denegrate their people. They march, demand, get themselves on television and get people fired.

Imus apologized and so what? Ann Coulter told CNBC host Donny Deutsch she was sorry for her remarks and that they were misconstrued. The National Jewish Democratic Committee has called for her to be banned and more than 500 posts have been made in the blogosphere commenting on Coulter. The ADL has condemned. The Jewish groups have condemned.

But I didn't find one from the black civil rights groups and I should have.

Page 2

I guess I should cluck about the chicken controversy.

The way I see It: On one side, chickens are said to make good pets. The hen-vocates say they are smarter than dogs and more loyal than cats. On the othe side, they don't wear diapers. But then again, neither do dogs.

I had a pet chicken once, for a few days. My father worked in a factory and was forever bringing home something. One time it was a dog and a few years later, a cat. So when I was about 10 years old, he brought home a chicken. He put some twine around the chicken's neck and tied it to a stake he drove into the ground near our home.

I thought this was going to be a pet for me. I fed the chicken and played with it, leading it around by the twine leash.

Then, the foul day came when my father told me to bring the chicken and get into the car. I had no idea we were going to see Max Prager, the ritual slaughterer. I guess my father didn't know how attached I had become to the chicken and I was in the room when the hen was slaughtered. It was to be our dinner.

When I got out on my own, I refused to each chicken for years, until I was married.

Anyway, I can't see the harm in allowing some people the freedom to have a few hens around. No roosters, though...they make too much noise much too early.

If people can have dogs, especially the little yappy ones that never shut up, why not chickens?

Page 3

Who says life doesn't imitate art?

Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday (Oct. 11, 2007), along with some United Nations agency.

Congrats to Gore, who has been in the forefront of the fight against the global warming that Bush and his cronies say isn't happening.

There was a full-page ad in the New York Times this week asking for Al Gore to allow himself to be drafted into a presidential run. I wonder if this wonderful award will spark some interest in the mind of Gore and his family.

Or, maybe, it will be deja vu all over again. A Clinton-Gore ticket in 2008.

It looks as if anyone can beat the Republicans because of a previous bad presidency. The last time we had that situation, in 1976 because of President Ford's pardon of Richard NIxon, we ended up with Jimmy Carter. Let's not do that again, shall we? Carter, arguably the worst ex-president in history, will give up that title when Bush is retired in 2009, so let's make sure whomever we run in 2008 isn't another Carter, a weak, naive, religious hypocrite who hates Jews.

But let's say Gore gets drafted and, with Hillary Rodham Clinton by his side (deja vu with a twist), he wins. So we have a somewhat liberal Democrat with a Nobel prize in the White House.

Remind you of anything? Right -- The West Wing with Nobel-laureate Josiah Bartlet (economics) as a president who had to be drafted and who served two terms. By the way, there was a real Josiah Bartlett, from New Hampshire, who was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. See, you learned something.

If I were a betting man, I'd bet Gore will not run. But I wouldn't bet a lot.

Page 4

Have a great weekend and for those in the tribe, even though we may need perfecting, have a good Shabbos.

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Indians are next victims

The only thing left of the New York Yankee season is how it ends.

Yes, they lost to the Cleveland Indians to end yet another "not exactly" comeback and season. Instead of the intertwined N and Y on their caps (which has been accepted by the American Medical Association as an alternative symbol for choking), they should have a photo of Maxwell Smart. You know: "Missed it by that much!" By the way, if they want, they can change the type face on the N and Y to a more Gothic one and welcome the Metropolitans to the Chokers Hall of Fame.

But the end of the season is not yet here, although most seers have already declared the era of Joe Torre to be at an end. The rantings of owner George Steinbrenner seem to bear this out. But that is of the future.

Mike from Amherst seems to be the winner of the Bring Me The Head of Joe Torre contest. His prize is his own satisfaction, although if he really wants a Len's Lens T-shirt, he should contact me and we'll talk. But not until Joe is officially fired. You never know about rich guys -- they sometimes change their minds. Too bad the rich guy who sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. won't change his about a lot of things, but that's another story.

Now a look at the future. The Cleveland Indians. The folks in Cleveland are for real, both the team and the fans. Let me tell you a little story.

While in Myrtle Beach, S.C., this past summer, one of the fellow guests at our hotel was a woman from the Cleveland area, an Indians fan. How do I know? I was wearing my Red Sox hat and she started a conversation about the weather and asked if I were from Boston and the like.

But it didn't take her long to start ranting about how the dastardly Red Sox took away Manny Ramirez. Manny has played for the Red Sox since signing in December, 2000, but the wound is fresh for this fan. I asked her if many people in Ohio felt the same way, and she said they did. These guys hold a grudge for a long time.

I'm willing to be there are a lot of showings of the surprise 1989 comedy hit "Major League" and "Major League II" (1994) in the Great Lakes area. The films, which are on HBO a lot, have to do with a hard-luck Cleveland Indians team that gets itself together under a pitcher, Rick (Wild Thing) Vaughn and a washed-up catcher played by Tom Berenger.

It's great to imagine all kinds of things, but when the real Wild Bunch come out to play, Cleveland had better stay away. This should be a great series.

It's just to bad it has to start Friday night. Lots of observant Jews, many of whom are wiz-bang baseball fans, had to miss many games last week. Ah, well.

Yes, yes I know there were many things happening in New Haven this past week and weekend, with the sorry cops pleading and the mayoral debate and all kinds of political stuff.

But let's keep our priorities straight, shall we. This is Playoff Season.

Go Red Sox -- Go Pats. Let's have another New England championship season this fall.

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How stupid is this?

Hi, there. Here's a short rant and then I'm going to disappear until Monday because of the last day of the Succos holiday tonight and Thursday (Oct. 4, 2007), the Simchas Torah holiday Thursday night and Friday and the Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday. Sunday is reserved for taking down the Succah. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read the last post.

Last Monday, friend wife and I decided to visit the daughters and grandkids (son-in-law was working, poor fellow) in New York -- northern Manhattan to be specific. Friend wife said if we left before 7 a.m., we would be OK getting into New York.

Now often on this trip, at a more reasonable hour, we zip through Connecticut and get held up in traffic in Westchester County or the Bronx. Not this time.

We also made a discovery. People, especially people who commute by car, are masochistic idiots. Not every one of them, but most.

There was some kind of report on carpooling that came out last week about people carpooling. I can't find it and I wouldn't believe it if I could.

We left New Haven and zipped through Orange, Milford and Stratford on Route 15, the lovely Wilbur Cross and Merritt parkways. Then we hit traffic.

The trip takes about 90 minutes. This day, it took twice as long. Why? Because every other person we saw on the road, every blasted one of them, was driving one to a vehicle. One to a car and averaging a cool five miles per hour. We must have passed or been passed by 250 cars. Really, 250 cars. And not one blamed one of them had a passenger, except mine.

There were people looking saintly driving in their hybrids and people looking a little ashamed driving in their monster SUVs. There were folks breathing in the foul air or with windows up breaching filtered air.

Some of them were breathing double filtered air, that is air filtered through their car's air-conditioning system and air passing through their cigarette's filter. Many were talking on the phone....you couldn't cite them for talking on the cell phone while moving....they weren't moving at more than walking speed.

There were workmen driving vans and people dressed to the nines, people in casual clothes and even one guy driving a Porche convertible with the top down. Some were weaving in and out of traffic and others with the resigned look on their faces as if this were a daily occurrence, which I'm sure it was.

What I can't figure out is why anyone, anyone at all, would put himself or herself through this day after day. I am sure that many of them were going to the same place, give or take a couple of miles. Dozens got off the same exits once we got to Stamford or thereabouts. If each car had two people in it, everyone would zip to work in half the time, would get another half hour's sleep in the morning and arrive with nerves a lot less jangled.

I'm sure if you asked them, many would say they needed their cars for work, although I'm sure that true percentage was fairly low. Others would say they wanted the freedom of having their cars nearby. A

Freedom for what? To drive home in their own cars at walking speed, of course.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? It should.

Unitl next time...