Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A few hopes for the coming year

Here it is: New Year's Eve and the end of 2008, thank heaven.

First of all, a heartfelt thank you to the steady readers of this posting. The thanks go double to all of you who have taken the time to write a comment about what I've had to say. I've agreed  with many, disagreed with some, especially about Israel. But I appreciate the fact that most have been honest and express true feelings.

Last year, I set down some hopes for this year. Some of them actually came true -- such as electing a president and Congress who will actually have the good of the nation at heart. I know, I know, it's early, but at least Barack Obama and the Democrats are talking a good game.
We also may get smaller, more efficient cars and $45-a-barrel oil  actually costs less than that now. The Arabs still think they can push Israel into the sea, and the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, are still willing to die for that forlorn hope.

Finally, those in the mortgage industry are not being punished, as I hoped they would. The government is giving billions to those who didn't care or messed up. Those who kept up with their payments, no matter how difficult that was to have become and how much sacrifice that would take, are left to their own devices. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

So, how about next year. 

Hope one: President Barack Obama is as good as his word and all the Democrats in the House and Senate, plus a few Republicans who love their country more than their party, will get together and start to clean up the economic and political mess left them by Bush-Cheney and the do-nothing administration. 

Hope two: The rest of the world will forget the last eight years and remember that the U.S. has stood for what is good. We can again be a force for right and justice. The America Firsters were wrong in 1917, 1940 and are wrong now. We need to be the moral compass of the world...the United Nations certainly isn't doing it.

Hope three: That this nearly-trillion-dollar shot in the arm we are giving the economy spurs some improvement and fast. Those who saved for their retirement found that much of their savings has gone away because of the flight from the equity markets. The Roosevelt maxim that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," is as true now as it was during the Great Depression. If credit is loosened, people will begin to buy again. If the investors who run the markets stop being afraid of this or that or the other, maybe some of the people who saved their whole lives to be able to enjoy their retirement will be able to do that, rather than have to choose between food and medicine.

Hope four: People start to realize that Thomas Jefferson was right: you cannot have a functioning democracy without a strong, free press. The right-wing ideologues who inhabit the radio and Fox News Channel are not a free, fair press.  

We have allowed big business to take over the news business. The Tribune Co., with real estate mogul Sam Zell at the helm, is down at the head and sinking fast. While Sam Zell's losing a fortune is him getting his just desserts, taking some of the nation's, and the region's, premiere news sources down with him is dangerous. 

Ditto to the Journal-Register Co., a group who thought their house of cards would never blow over. Well, it has. While the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register-Citizen papers limp along, newspapers in New Britain, Bristol and a number of weeklies have but days to live. Sucking down  longtime nameplates like the Hamden Chronicle, West Haven News, Branford Review, Clinton Recorder and others down as it sinks is indefensible. 
Look, news is special, it's important and where you get it is important. You can't count on bloggers who don't know the difference between fact and rumor for news. News must come from sources like The New Haven Independent, where each story is vetted by an editor. Facts must be checked, fairness analyzed and importance determined. Weak as they are, the New Haven Register, Connecticut Post, Hartford Courant and New London Day are important.

Hope five: And thanks for staying with it this long. We need to expect more from our leaders locally. Is the mayor doing the job for New Haven and not pandering to what he feels is his base? Is the Board of Aldermen fulfilling its mandate as an independent check and balance on the mayor and the administration? Is the school board doing its job, not pandering to the loudest voices? Are those who pay the taxes being heard and fairly represented and not being bled dry? Ask yourselves these questions. If the answer is yes, then fine. If not, then do something about it. Attend meetings. Don't be afraid of being called an "ist". Talk up. Run for office. 

Again, thanks for reading. Let's hope that this year is not as bad as predicted so that those of us who have worked hard and done the right things can start enjoying the fruits of our labor and those who have not can find the way, through education, to begin. 

Happy new year to all.

Until next time in the new year...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

When you defend yourself, you don't hold back

The Israelis have begun a long-overdue response to the unprovoked, dastardly and cowardly rocket attacks on its civilian population by Hamas from inside Gaza. 

For months, even while spouting propaganda about a ceasefire, the Iranian-backed Hamas has fired rocket after rocket into Israel. The latest bombardment used longer-range rockets that can target large population areas. Israel could not sit on its hands.

Most rational people will agree with those statements, but some are saying that Israel's response was disproportionate. Hamas fired off many rockets and mortars, and then Israel came back like an avenging angel, dropping bomb after bomb and firing missile after missile. It looks as if Israel will go back into the area that it left three years ago, at least for a little while.

Some people, however, say that Israel's response is disproportionate.

Let's look at that. 

Is it disproportionate to use whatever force you have available to stop an enemy from harming your civilian population? Isn't the protection of its citizens a primary duty of any government, be it city, state or national? 

A little runt goes after the big guy, kicking him in the shins, hitting him from the back, telling lies about him, making his life miserable or worse. When the big guy finally has had enough and hauls off and cleans the runt's clock, it is disproportionate?

When I was 16 and my sister was 10, she was being bothered by a kid a year or two older. He was bothering her at the school bus stop. One day, I made it my business to be at the bus stop because she had complained about this little twerp's bothering her. 

When I arrived, he was sitting on his bicycle and had her pinned up against a fence. I told him to knock it off. He asked what I was going to do about it. I told him I would throw him over the fence. He said he wasn't going to get off his bike, so I wouldn't be able to carry out my threat.

Well, it so happened that I had gone out for football that year and I was in pretty good shape. So, I picked up the bike, with him on it, and tossed both over the fence. As my sister and I walked away, he was crying and screaming threats. Needless to say, he never bothered my sister again.

Was that a disproportionate response?

The point is if you attack someone who can wipe up the floor with you, then you shouldn't be surprised if they do just that. 

What should Israel do? They tried talking. They used their own soldiers to pry its citizens out of their homes in Gaza and gave Gaza to the Palestinians. What did the Palestinians do? They used Gaza as a base from which to attack Israel.

Should Israel count the number of rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza and fire only that number back at Gaza. Most of the rockets used by the Hamas against Israel are not guided. The gunners have no idea where the rockets will go and couldn't care less. They have killed their own people in Gaza with errant rockets. They don't seem to care? Should Israel do the same?

At the same time that Israel is targeting Hamas bases and rocket pods, it is allowing food, medical supplies and fuel into Gaza so the civilian population will be harmed as little as possible. This is not the action of a cruel tyrant state.

The Palestinian population must realize that its election of Hamas as the ruling entity in Gaza is the worst mistake it has made and  it must do something about it. It will take guts to toss out the ruling Hamas thugs. Until the Palestinians living in Gaza do that, however, they will continue to be the pawns in a chess game directed not by their elected representatives, but from Tehran and Damascus.

The Palestinians are the ones being hurt by the Hamas and its Iranian rulers. And they are being hurt disproportionately.  But only they can free themselves. 

Until next time...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Some hopeful signs for the new year

Happy Boxing Day. 

Well, Christmas is over, and with it those horrible Target ads with bad poetry and people gushing as if they swallowed too many happy pills. Target wasn't the only one with horrible ads urging people to give (read buy) for the holiday, but they were so frequent. I may boycott Target for a month or so.

It's part of what my friend The Rev calls the rank commercialism of a holiday meant to bring hope to the masses. 

The only hope we seem to read about is the hope by merchants that the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year will bring in sufficient business to make up for a  lackluster year. Today, merchants are hoping that people will return gifts they didn't like, trade up for more expensive ones and buy things they had hoped to receive but did not. 

It looks as if those hopes will be dashed. In some cases, it's Darwinian -- extinction of those who are not fit to survive. Case in point: I was in a store buying a handmade gift for a Christian friend. I spotted something I didn't really need but would have liked to have. It was priced at $40...a bit rich for my purse, but within range. Three times, I mentioned that to the storekeeper...asking him how much the item cost. Now, this guy had a going-out-of-business sign in the back of his store. My wife and I were the only customers in the place.

In many societies, and in the minds of smart merchants, my bringing up the item and the price three times would have signaled a willingness to purchase the item, but for a lower price. It should have begun a bargaining process and likely would have resulted in a sale. But he didn't get it, and I didn't buy it. 

Page 2

In six days, it will be 2009. 2008 has been a horrible year for a lot of people, including those who were counting on investments to get them through their retirement years or enhancing their incomes. People with mortgages they could barely afford are finding that they can't afford them at all. People who had followed the rules, bought houses they could afford and who were struggling to keep up with their payments while paying $4-plus a gallon for gas, shelling out more for food and clothes and education for their families, are finding themselves left out of the freebie benefits pond. 

Money seems to be going to those who bought houses they knew or should have known they could not afford, or who took out the equity in their homes to buy cars, vacations or pay off credit cards with tax-deductible money, counting on the rocketing housing market to keep on going forever. 

But there is hope on the horizon. The election of Barack Obama should bring relief to those who don't own oil companies or know people who do. Fuel prices have come down, so you can now fill up your car for $20 (notice I didn't say SUV), heat your home without selling your eldest child and buy food at more reasonable prices (unless you need to eat kosher meat, then all bets are off.)

Among hopeful signs: The Lebanese Army found and dismantled eight Hisbollah rockets aimed at Israel. A couple of years ago, that would not have happened. One notices that the people at the nearby United Nations post did nothing. Useless United Nations -- that's a redundancy. 

Another very hopeful sign is the realization by banks and other mortgage holders that they need to be part of the solution after being a large part of the problem.

According to a friend who knows of these things, banks and others are taking the initiative to stave off foreclosures. In one example, a mortgage-holder lowered the interest rate on a trouble mortgage, lowered the payments and transferred the amount in arrears to the end of the mortgage period, bringing the loan current. That's not an isolated incident, my friend said. 

Congratulations to the banks involved. It's smart business. You should tell people you are doing's great public relations and corporate citizenship.

Page 3

I have stopped sending e-mails or letters to the editor to the New York Times. But if I did, it would read something like this:

In your well-reasoned editorial on immigration in the edition of Dec. 26, you used the kosher slaughterhouse at Postville, Iowa, as an example of how the current immigration strategy hurts immigrants. 

The people who ran that operation should suffer the worst fate that could be imagined. No thinking person could debate that.

But why is this one business singled out constantly? There are many, many other slaughterhouses that transport illegal immigrants into this country, but them to work in hellish conditions, offer attractive women better working condition in return for sexual favors, assign children to dangerous work. None of these nonkosher businesses are mentioned in stories or editorials. Why are Jews mentioned as the only examples of these travesties? 

Page 4

In a couple of days, Len'sLens will offer its second annual hopes for the new year list. Stay tuned and rest up. 

Have a great up from the shoveling, the caroling, the gift opening and the commercial-watching retching. And to those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos, and a happy Hanukkah .

Until next time...

Monday, December 22, 2008

That was the week it was

Happy Monday and Happy Hanukkah (the official AP Stylebook spelling) to all in the Tribe.

This past week, friend wife has been a bit under the weather, and then the weather was a bit under the weather. More about that later.

On Monday, my wife began what she called her never-ending birthday celebration, which actually ended on Friday. 

As part of the celebration, we saw the Capitol Steps on Thursday at the Shubert. It turned out to be a fund-raiser for Christian Community Action (CCA), which made it that much more special. 

If you haven't seen Capitol Steps, try to catch their act. It's political satire with a beat, and these folks are funny with a capital FUN. They harpooned everything from the Clintons to Sarah Palin to, of course, W. 

But almost as funny was one of the introducers. 

The Platinum Sponsor of the event was the Stratton Faxon law firm, which, by the way, also is the prime sponsor of the Labor Day road race in New Haven. These guys give away more than 10 percent of their fees to charity. That's great and they should be commended for it.

They should, however, spend a little bit for communications consulting (at the Word Hive Communications LLC, we'd be happy to help). 

Stratton Faxon's business is plaintiff's law. Some of the practitioners of this are known, somewhat uncharitably, as ambulance-chasers, and the public tends to paint the entire industry with a broad brush.

One of the partners of Statton Faxon took the stage, before the Capitol Steps came on, to help introduce the troupe and take a bow for being the prime sponsor. That's fine. There was a banner hung in front of the background curtains with the firm's name on it, at least as big as CCA's banner. So far, no problem. You pony up the big bucks, you deserve to take a bow.

But the lawyer took it bit too far. He launched into a long defense of plaintiff's lawyers and tried to explain and justify the famous case of a woman who got a multimillion-dollar judgment from McDonald's  over spilled hot coffee. 

Look, if you need to justify your business, maybe you shouldn't be in it. Any firm that gives as much of its income to charities as Stratton Faxon doesn't have to justify itself. People that good-hearted aren't the type who go to accident scenes and hand out business cards. 

Everybody knows, or should know, that plaintiff's lawyers have a purpose and the good ones do a service to people who are getting stepped on. 

A little free advice. Next time, take your bow, say you were happy to do whatever it was that you did, smile and sit down.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Page 2

Another raft of news sources have been stilled and another diminished this past week.

The weekly newspapers owned by the Journal-Register Corp. will close, its staff out of jobs and another source of oversight over the doings of local government is or soon will be gone. 

No matter how weak they had become, these weeklies were a source of news people needed to know and news people wanted to know. You'll notice comments at the end of the Independent story, much of which is a lot of carping about the lack of hard news in the papers. 

Some of it, I'm sure, is justified, but a lot of it translates to, "they didn't report the news I'm interested in in the way I want to see it." Many Independent readers are local-news junkies who aren't interested in the chicken-dinner events that, like it or not, are what many if not most weekly-paper readers look for. 

The watchword in most newspapers, aside from the New York Times and national publications of that ilk, is for local-local news, and that's what weeklies give. Staffs work long, long hours for low pay and few benefits. There used to be satisfaction, but most of that is gone because so many weeklies are owned by chains that shouldn't have bought them in the first place. The chains bring in some hotshot from Kansas who tells you how to cover local news in Branford or Hamden or Guilford or Milford.

In addition, Channel 8, the local ABC affiliate that also does news shows for My9, a station that shares facilities with WTNH and does a 10 p.m. newscast, has laid off a number of  news staffers. The Late 8, as they have been known for decades, has been doing what many local TV stations do. The programming is: If It Bleeds, It Leads; Press Releases; Read the Local Paper; Localize Feeds From Network.

Add this to the problems being faced by the Tribune Co., which owns The Hartford Courant and the New Haven Advocate, as well as WTIC-TV, Channel 61 in Hartford, and you have a bleak future for news in Connecticut. 

Page 3

I know this is going to sound petty, especially for those who live on streets that have hardly seen a plow or evidence of one's passage, but I would like to thank all the plow drivers who work on wide streets such as mine. 

In fact, there was one who was so dedicated that he stopped his plow in front of my house, backed up, ran his plow the length of my yard, then backed up another time, just to make sure that enough snow and huge chunks of ice were dumped on my freshly shoveled sidewalk and driveway.

My street is as wide, if not wider, than major thoroughfares such as Fountain Street, Whalley Avenue, Whitney Avenue and The Boulevard. Why, in this time of restricted budgets, curb-to-curb plowing is necessary is beyond me. I once stopped a plow driver who had just dumped a bunch of snow into the driveway I was shoveling out and asked him that question. He said he was ordered to plow from curb to curb and told he could lose his job if he failed to comply.

I know the fact that my street is one that the mayor drives on his way home has nothing to do with this situation. 

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. 

Until next time...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Things are getting stranger and stranger

Just when you thought things couldn't get any stranger...President Bush goes grandstanding in Iraq instead of staying home and tending to the mess his party made on the auto bailout.

So what does he get for his trouble? The Arab version of the bird, you know, the finger -- a pair of shoes tossed at him. Serves him right.

A few years ago, while studying Japanese customs before writing a story on how to do business with the Japanese and preparing to greet a Japanese family we were "hosting" through a Yale program, I studied up on some international customs. In some cultures, it's considered a prime insult to show the bottoms of the feet. In others, shaking hands is taboo, while in others, extending the left hand is considered bad form. Some men kiss, while in some cultures, like Israeli, polite conversation involves a lot of yelling.

I came upon the shoe thing with many Arab cultures. I guess Bush now knows about that, too.

There are about 35 days left in the Bush presidency. He should sign whatever deal is made on the auto industry, then take himself to Crawford, Texas, for the rest of the time. He should return on Jan. 20 to hand over the keys to the executive washroom (yes, the Lowinsky memorial executive washroom).

He should also know with certainty about the applause he receives on Jan. 20. It's like the windbag speaker who finally sits down. The applause isn't for what he said, but only because he finished saying it.

Page 2 -- How dumb can you get?

President-elect Barack Obama asked the Bush administration for permission to move into Blair House, the official guest residence, on Jan. 5, so his children could start school with the new term. 

Bush administration officials said no. They had an explanation. It doesn't matter. It was a stupid thing to do. So what if the residence was promised to someone else? Move them into a hotel. When the new sheriff comes to town, you don't want to tick him off. It's true that these officials probably would have been out of a job anyway, but now they've ticked off the most powerful man in the world . Not a good move for people who will be looking for a job.

Barack Obama doesn't seem like a man who suffers fools or insults lightly.

Ask Alfredo Carrion. 

This guy was supposed to be secretary of housing and urban development. He then opened his big mouth at a Yale talk. You don't talk about a Cabinet appointment until after the big guy announces it.

Sure, he's getting a good job with the new administration. He has the president's ear. But what he doesn't have is a Cabinet appointment. He doesn't have a seat at the big table in the Cabinet room. He isn't in the line of presidential succession. He doesn't get to sit in the front row at the State of the Union. He doesn't get the big office, the big car and all the rest that goes with being a member of the Cabinet. I think he now knows to keep his big mouth shut. Tough lesson.

Page 3 -- You gotta have tzaichel

Tzaichel is a Yiddish word. It means common sense, or good sense. 

The cops in New Haven don't seem to have it when it comes to issuing parking tickets.

A couple of years ago, they towed some cars in Jewish neighborhoods on Jewish holidays during street sweeping. They posted the warnings during the holidays, when Orthodox and many Conservative Jews are forbidden from driving, then towed the cars the next day. 
Now they towed cars outside a church while an important service was going on inside.

Yes, cars at the church were double-parked, but, according to the story in the New Haven Independent, the practice had been going on for years. Blatchley Avenue is not one of the city's prime avenues, so a little double-parking isn't a threat to life or limb.

The cops in New York have been ticketing cars during snow storms for violating the alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules. Those stupid rules mean that, for two hours every other day, cars have to be moved so street sweeping can happen.

The City Council finally had enough and is passing an ordinance stopping this practice, which does little except fatten the city coffers. 

Maybe it's time the Board of Aldermen pass a law that makes it illegal to ticket cars on holidays and celebrations. The city needs money, but doesn't need it that badly.

Page 4 -- Happy Birthday

I just want to publicly say happy birthday to my wife, Sue. My partner for the past 37-plus years in life and one-plus in business, she, of course, is celebrating by helping one of the kids. That's what she does.

Much love and many, many, many happy returns.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Judge not lest ye be overpaid for judging

Most important, happy birthday to Tamar

Tamar C. Spoerri is 7 years old today. Happy birthday to her. 

Let me tell you a little about this young lady. First, obviously, she's cute. You can see that. Oh, did I tell you that she's our granddaughter...but I'll bet you figured that out yourselves.

She's also very, very smart. She is an instigator at her school, trying to get the teachers to do as she wants, not necessarily as they do. She also takes care of her two younger brothers when her mom, Malka, needs to focus her attention on other things. 

So, happy birthday to Tamar, who will be the guest of honor at a birthday party in her honor in the very near future. 

Oh, and did I say she's cute?

Page 2

Some time ago, last summer in fact, I did a rant about the state of justice in this nation and took television judges to task for it. Oh, it's tough being a pioneer.

In next month's Reason magazine, or right now in its Web edition, Greg Beato talks about some of the judges I ranted about, including Judge Judy, Judge Mathis and others.

I didn't know, for example, that Judge Judy, otherwise known as Judith Sheindlin, makes $38 million a year being snippy to those who enter her courtroom to get arbitration. She accuses them of wasting her time, being too liberal with their affections and having too many children they cannot afford or care for.

I'm not saying Beato copied me...I'm sure he never heard of me. It's never easy being a pioneer.

One of the judges he mentions, and about whom I have to chuckle every time I look in, is Judge Jeanine Pirro. 

Ms. Pirro is the former district attorney in Westchester County New York. A smart, determined woman, she ran for New York Attorney General and lost. She also considered a run for the U.S. Senate seat eventually won by Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

The problem is she kept tripping over her husband, Albert, who seemed to get arrested for something or other about the time his wife was starting a bid for an office.

Al Pirro is a force in Westchester politics and real estate, but was convicted of federal tax charges, fathered a child out of wedlock, was reputed to have mob ties. Read all about it in this New York Daily News story about her finally, finally kicking him out after refusing to do so because, as she put it, her son needs a father. 

So, it's kind of funny that Jeanine sits behind a fake bench in a fake courtroom and dispenses advice to those who come before her about their relationships with husbands, wives, girl and boyfriends and the like. 

I guess she knows what not to do, so she can pull advice out of a deep, deep well of personal experience. Like Greg Mathis, who tells of a history of gangs, jail and second chances, Jeanine knows of what she speaks. 

Page 3

The local chamber of commerce had a forecast breakfast Wednesday morning. It was held too early for me to attend, but the New Haven Independent has a link where you can download the PowerPoint charts the speakers used. 

There wasn't really anything surprising. We're in a recession, a bad one, and whoever doesn't know that may want to remove their head from the hole in the ground where it has been residing. 

We have been through downturns before, perhaps not as bad as this. For people of my age group, people who were born during World War II, the timing could not have been worse. A lifetime's worth of savings is diminished, at least temporarily. You have to be a lot more careful in your spending than you thought you would.

But, prices are starting to come down, at least on some of the things we all need. If you are careful, and didn't buy the Bimmer with the equity on your house, or didn't get into a mortgage the village idiot could have told you that you couldn't afford, you should be OK. 

It's not fair to lose a good portion of your life's savings because of the mistakes and greed of others, but who said life was fair? 

Until next time...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tribune files for bankruptcy protection: more bad news

Happy Monday. We had a nice weekend. A little more about that later.

I never thought I would feel bad about the Tribune Co. hitting the rocks, but I do.

The Chicago-based chain today (Dec. 8, 2008) filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Act. That means it will reorganize itself while protected from some creditors. 

Tribune owns, among other things, The Hartford Courant, WTIC and WTXX television stations, the New Haven Advocate, and major national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune. It also owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, but that's not part of the bankruptcy. The team has enough problems on its own.

Sam Zell, the real estate magnate who apparently ran the chain into the ground, sent a memo to staffers, telling them their pay and benefits such as 401(k) plans were safe. The employee stock option plan (ESOP), however, is another matter, the memo said. 

I worked for Tribune in 1990-1991 at the New York Daily News. Trib's management style can only be called Draconian, and the chain finally gave the paper away to British con man Robert Maxwell, who ran it for a couple of years, stripped money from it, and it eventually lost it. He also lost his life in a mysterious fashion on his yacht, or rather under it. 

The papers and television stations owned by Tribune contribute a large percentage of what stands for news coverage in the state, and it would be really bad to have that pared down, especially with the probable closing of the New Britain Herald and Bristol Press. 

Newspapers in Connecticut are in big, big trouble. That's not news to anyone who's paying attention. Much of the state is relegated to the tender mercies of Journal-Register, a horrible company employing some talented reporters, editors, photographers, artists and the like. Last week, the share price for its stock was 60 mills - that's $.006. These reporters and photographers, at least some of them, are talented and hard-working, but have little in the way of resources. 

The Hearst Corp. has taken over Fairfield County, with the exception of the Norwalk Hour. Gannett sold the Norwich Bulletin to a regional chain and the New London Day has been laying off people. The Waterbury Republican-American is hanging on, as are the Manchester-Rockville Journal-Inquirer and Willimantic Chronicle.

At a time when we need more and varied information, it's getting harder and harder to come by. The weakening of the Hartford Courant will take us in the wrong direction.

Page 2: A little break from the sweetness

If you are getting  little sick of the sweetness and buy-buy-buy ethos of the holiday season, a little weary of 24-hour Yule carols on certain radio stations and the injection of the season in everything, there may be a respite for you. 

Two friends, plus friend wife and I, went to Bridgeport yesterday and took in "The Santaland Diaries and Season's Greetings" by David Sedaris at the Playhouse on the Green on State Street. 

This two-act, double soliloquy is irreverent, biting and funny in the black-humor sort of way. The first act is Scott R. Brill, telling of his adventures as an elf at Macy's Santaland.  He pulls it off beautifully, a droll wonder of an actor playing an actor playing a seasonal elf.

Kim McGrath is a wealthy, well-established housewife whose recent tragedy would not be allowed to interfere with the joy of the season. It's a prime example of black humor.

Go and enjoy. The seats are $27, $25 for seniors, $15 for students and less if you belong to TheatreMania or other discount groups. It's presented mostly on weekends, but the site will give you specifics.

My friend Al, who, with wife, Cheryl, accompanied us, said Bridgeport is trying to reinvent itself downtown with restaurants, theaters, clubs and the like. It's a few years behind New Haven in that regard, but many of the wonderful, old bank buildings have been reused.

Al says the Bridgeport plans include condos and apartments, so that people could live downtown, like New Haven. The skeleton of one such plan sits at a corner, the victim of the current financial crisis, but I hope this renaissance continues. 

Page 3: Three cheers for Barack

I watched President-elect Obama's interview with Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning. 

One of the questions Brokaw asked is that if the price of gas is coming down to where people can fill up for less than $20, aren't they going to go back to the SUV's and large trucks that are anathema to the move for more efficient transportation? If so, why not raise the tax on gasoline so that people are paying $4 a gallon, which people had been paying anyway until a month ago or so? Would that not raise money for infrastructure and help the drive toward greener cars?

This is the same theory that Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times has been plugging.

Obama said no. He said because there are so many people who are hurting through no fault of their own, it wouldn't be right to penalize them even more by artificially raising the price of gas. These are people who had lost their jobs, whose houses were being foreclosed upon, whose savings had been trampled, and who may need their cars to seek out work.

Good common sense prevailed over theory. At some point, it might make sense to hike the price of gas, but not now. 

I think he's right. I don't want to see people selling pencils on the street corner, with signs saying "Homeless due to a theory."

Page 4: Happy birthday, Tamar

The day after tomorrow, a cute little girl named Tamar Spoerri will be 7 years old. She's very smart and very determined. Let's all wish her a very happy birthday. 

Until next time...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How not to build up Goodwill

Good Thursday. 

Before we get started on today's rant, a little unfinished business. 

The last time I raised the subject, I said the Kosher Express Chinese restaurant was all but out of business, but that some people were trying to breathe life into the moribund Amity business.

Forget it. All efforts have failed and the Kosher Express is officially dead. The shopping center has taken down the sign at its entrance. There is no Chinese restaurant now between New Rochelle and Boston. 

My wife, Sue, and I yesterday were driving back from New York (more about that later) and stopped at Eden Wok in New Rochelle for some kosher Chinese.

The meal was fine, well-served. The waitress served water and nibbles as we sat down. The proper plates were served with shared appetizers and main course choices. Requests were fulfilled quickly. The food was OK -- the soup was a little salty and the lo mein noodles a little dark, but the vegetables were crisp and fresh.

If only Kosher Express could have mounted that level of service....well, it was not to be. 

Page 2

Driving in New York, even away from Midtown, is a challenge. 

Driving on 181st Street near Broadway is maddening. Bus drivers think they have the right to drive into traffic at will. Pedestrians stroll across the street, not only at corners but as if the cars were only figments of somebody's imagination. Other drivers seem to feel the same way.

The axiom that two solid objects cannot fit into the same space at the same time is lost on most of the drivers and walkers.

Yesterday was worse than average. At about 5 p.m., we headed for the Cross-Bronx from Broadway. Traffic wasn't crawling. It just wasn't moving at all. We followed a couple of cars that were trying to work their way around the mess. Finally, we found the source of the stoppage. It was a bus, loading passengers. The rear end of the bus was in the travel lane, halting everything. The dozens of passengers boarding the bus took what seemed like forever to get on board.

But, you may ask, why did the rear end of the bus stick out into the travel lane? Well, I'm glad you asked. It was because half the bus stop was taken up by a box truck, standing illegally as it was being loaded with rolling cages of what looked like shmatas (rags). 

The bus was finally loaded and lumbered along on its way and we finally were able to draw even with the truck. 

It was from Goodwill.

Sorry, but if I have anything to give away this year, or next for that matter, it's going anyone but Goodwill. Yes, I know these were probably volunteers loading the truck. But  there was a Goodwill center nearby and if you are responsible manager, you don't allow one of your trucks to inhabit a bus stop during rush hour on a busy street.

No shmatas for you.

Page 3

Things are really getting nasty out there in work land, or rather, lack of work land. 

At my former employer, about 36 people were laid off in Westchester at The Journal News. One guy, my former immediate boss, learned he no longer had a job when his key card didn't allow him access to the building as he reported to work Tuesday. Nobody deserves that. 
Jacques LeSourd, the well-regarded Broadway critic, no longer has a job. Neither does the woman who was running the Rockland Journal News after her former boss got the ax a few weeks ago.

Closer to home, there is a move to save The Herald (formerly the New Britain Herald) and the Bristol Press from being closed by the Journal Register Co. That's the outfit that brings you the New Haven Register.

I hope they succeed in keeping the papers going. JRC has threatened to close them if nobody buys them by early next year. Unfortunately, there may be a Greek tragedy at work here. That's when something that was done in the past brings an inevitable bad result in the present for future.

More than 20 years ago, JRC's ancestor company, Ingersoll, bought the Register for debt. In other words, little cash changed hands, but the company used junk bonds to buy it. It bought much of its chain for promises to pay. It kept on buying newspapers, hoping that some of them would bring enough capital to pay off the debt. It bought a bunch of papers in the Midwest fairly recently. 

The gamble didn't pay off. The stock is worth $0.006 a share at last look. Blame the economy. Blame bad management. Blame an ill wind. Whatever. 

It's a shame. There are some talented and dedicated people working at the Register. I run into them from time to time. There are good reporters and photographers who should only have to worry about getting the news to the reader, instead of whether they will have a job next week or month. 

All this debt is preventing legitimate companies from buying profitable parts of JRC. For example, the Register makes money. But it also carries millions and millions of dollars in debt. 

So, although local and state politicians are trying to keep the papers open, the chances of success are slim to none. It takes a lot of money to start a paper. A Web paper is a good idea. In New Haven, according to the New York Times, the New Haven Independent is competing with the Register and beating it with some regularity. 

Page 4

Something must be said about the tragedy in Mumbai.

The real tragedy is that nothing has changed for a thousand years. You have a problem with a neighbor, kill the Jews. You are upset about something, kill the Jews.

Some terrorists from Pakistan were upset about something, maybe Kashmir, maybe they couldn't raise the money to get to Mecca for the hajj, maybe their girlfriends laughed at them, whatever. So, they shot up a railroad station and a couple of hotels where foreigners stay. 

That's illogical enough. But then, they had to go kill some Jews. And the Indians could not prevent the slaughter. 

So, what has changed. The names of the innocent, the locations, but little else. It was Munich, 1972, or Poland, 1940, or any one of a thousand, thousand other places. 

So now, we pick up the pieces. We mourn the dead and promise to look after the 2-year-old orphan. We make the older child as comfortable as possible, the older child who has Tay Sachs disease, a horrible, fatal genetic affliction for which there is a blood test that every responsible Jewish couple should take.

We mourn and go on. What else can we do?

Until next time...