Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A milestone; enough already on Franken

This is my 250th blog post. I wish it were more monumental, but so it goes.

My wife and I attended a talk last night on Iran and its implications for the Jewish community.

The three panelists, an academic who specializes in anti-Semitism, a woman who runs an agency that collects facts on human rights and a woman who arrived from Iran a decade or so ago and has published reportage, poetry and academic writing on the land of her birth.

We left unsatisfied.

The academic really didn't have much to add to what we already knew. He was out of his element and tried bravely to skew his knowledge to the subject at hand.

The information collector told us about what had happened 30 years ago when the Shah fled the country, with Jimmy Carter's help, and created a power vacuum that the religious fundamentalists who have ruled the country ever since took over.

It was instructive, especially when she said the death squads that had operated at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s were being reassembled. But she didn't connect any of this to what is happening today.

The young woman who fled her homeland painted an optimistic picture, saying that the Iranian opposition had a 30-year head start and that the mullahs were on their way out eventually.

Nobody spoke to the subject at hand: how all this relates to Israel and Jews.

OK, here's my take. I'm not an expert, but I have a theory.

We in the U.S. are used to our government riding over the hill, bugles blowing, flags flying, guns blazing.

What if the present administration is trying to subtly influence what is going on over there.
What if the theory is: Iran is the key to the Middle East.

If we can marginalize the Iranian regime, or even get rid of the mullahs and their beard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pun intended), then the rest of the dictatorships will fall in line. Syria, Iraq, Hizbollah, Hamas, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, all of it, could fall apart.

That could not help but aid Israel. One speaker said the Iranians have been told to support the Palestinian cause, but now, they wonder where the Palestinians were when they need help. They are doing what they always do, bit the hand that feeds them. When Iraqi missiles were heading for Tel Aviv, the Palestinians were on the roofs of their government-provided houses, cheering Saddam Hussein. Nothing has changed. It's gimme, gimme but I don't have to do anything in return.

The panel talked about seeking resolutions in the United Nations condemning the Iranian regime for its murderous stomping on the dissidents in Tehran. Right. Fat lot of good that would do, even if we could get one passed.

Iran is the key. I hope President Obama is working way behind the scenes to help the people of Iran to toss out the theocracy that they have said time and again they do not want.

Enough already with Franken

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that Al Franken should be certified as the winner of last November's election. Tomorrow is July. Enough already.

The Republican candidate, incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, has fought in one court after the other to upset the close election which Franken won by a few hundred votes. Now the Republican governor, who has said he would sign the certification, which has to bear the governor's signature, if the court makes him. The court didn't order him to sign, but did say Franken deserved to be the senator.

I know people in Minnesota are patent people. A group of us once waited, on purpose, through three traffic-light cycles to see if anyone would toot their horn at us. Nobody did. They just sat there.

But this is becoming a joke. The people of that state deserve to have two senators serving them. The governor needs to sign the certification and Franken has to be seated as soon as the Senate returns from its Independence Day break.

Enough already in Hartford

I don't know what's ailing Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, but she cannot believe that offering the citizens of the state a huge drop in services in order to keep the wealthiest of our residents from having to pony up more taxes, is a good deal.

There are many programs she wants dropped that bring in a profit for state coffers. There are others that the weakest of our citizens need to keep living.

Remember, the cuts she is proposing are good for two years, not just one. We may be booming out of the recession, hampered by a budget that keeps the state from investing in its programs and citizens.

She needs to rethink her stand.

Until next time...

Monday, June 29, 2009

What is that bright, yellow thing in the sky?

OK, so now it's a monthly. I'm going to try to do better. Really.

For the past couple of days, the sun has come out and it really seems as if summer, or at least late spring, has come.

It's pretty sad when one is walking along and the clouds split for a moment, and one realizes that it's hot and takes a few minutes to realize that it's officially summer. The clouds, rain, dreary mist is not what we signed up for.

They never learn

Last week, my wife and I had the signal honor and pleasure of being in attendance at an event honoring Rabbi Henry Okolica. This man has done it all--held together an Orthodox Jewish congregation in New Britain, where the Jewish community is a shadow of its former self; been a chaplain for state and local police, for the New Britain fire departments, for state and federal veterans' hospitals and homes. He was a television pioneer in the 1960s with a television program that lasted decades on WVIT-Channel 30 and its ancestors.

He so inspired students at the yeshiva in Waterbury that they drive twice a week to attend morning services at his synagogue, Cong. Tephereth Israel, located in the inner city of New Britain, to assure there is a minyan, a necessary quorum of 10 men needed to read the Torah.

It was at a fund-raiser for that yeshiva, held at a banquet hall in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, that Rabbi Okolica was honored. Rabbi Judah Harris and his wife, Rona, rode down with us and Rabbi David Avigdor and his wife, Suzanne, and son Yakov, to honor the memory of the Harris' son, Mitchell Elliott, who passed away years ago at a teen-ager, as well as Rabbi Okolica.

Rabbi Okolica was my rabbi in New Britain so many years ago. I told him about my six grandchildren. He told me about his 104 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I guess when you live into your 90s, you get to have a lot of grandchildren.

But to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, I didn't come to talk to you about dinners, I can to talk to you about health care.

One of the people who showed up at this event was Nancy Johnson, who represented Connecticut's sixth and then fifth district in Congress from 1983 to 2007, when she was defeated by Democrat Chris Murphy.

She's now a lobbyist trying to keep President Obama's health-care reform from being any kind of meaningful.

We talked for quite a long time about the subject, and it became clear that her focus was to keep the playing field level, or, if I may extrapolate, to keep any kind of government-run or even government-sponsored element from coming into the health-care plan.

She was worried that insurance companies would be at a disadvantage because they would not keep up their level of profit if they had to compete against the government.

Disclaimer: I am the beneficiary of a government-run, single-payer health care plan, the same as Ms. Johnson when she was in Congress and perhaps even now. Not the same plan, but the same idea. You go to your doctor, Blue Cross does the work and the government sets the guidelines. I love it.

Anyway, it was an interesting conversation. Nancy was a good pothole congresswoman, you know, you have a problem, you go to Nancy and she solves it as best she could. But I don't think she gets it as far as health-care is concerned. Too much money goes into corporate coffers.

Another problem is the high cost of delivery of medical care.

I had a conversation with a friend who happens to be a doctor. I won't identify him more than that.

I told him about my primary-care physician, and an infected cyst I had. My doc drained it, and gave me some antibiotic and sent me on my way.

My friend was shocked. My doctor should have sent me to a surgeon, who should have done an ultra-sound to make sure this was all it was and the rest. I should have been in pain for a couple of extra days before a specialist could see me.

At the same time, my friend was complaining about how insurance companies repay doctors. He gave a for-instance: Let's say a patient has a hurt arm. The patient goes to his doctor, who takes an x-ray and determines the injury is out of his area of expertise and sends the patient to a specialist. The specialist wants his own x-ray, being that a couple of days have probably past before the specialist could fit in the patient.

The rub for doctors is that insurance only will pay for one x-ray, so the specialist must eat the cost of the second x-ray and a radiologist to read it. Nobody should have to work for nothing, my friend says.

He right. But at the same time, you can't have it both ways.

There may be, in I hope there is, a sea change coming in the way medical service is delivered and paid for in this nation. I think Obama is on the right track, as long as he keeps on it. Lobbyists like Johnson are working overtime to be sure their clients' interests are protected.

Johnson said that's the way the system works and it's a good thing. If we keep the same system, she's right. But I don't think we should be keeping the same system.

One think on which Johnson and I are agreed: We have to develop a patient-advocate system. Too often, a patent is confused by dueling diagnoses. The heart specialist says this, the lung specialist says that and the patient, who in most cases does not have an MD, is left to figure things out. That's all kinds of wrong.

A couple of things to end. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We have a pretty good health-care system here. It's too bloated, too profit-centered, too costly.

But it works most of the time. We know some wealthy Canadians who talk with pride about their health-care system but keep a residence in Florida just in case they need health care.
I remember a bus trip through the Jordanian desert with the guide going on and on about how great their health care is. At the same time, the former king would check into the Mayo Clinic every time he had a hangnail.

We can fix this. We should fix this. It's more important that just about everything.

This passing didn't make the headlines.

This is a tough week for celebrities. The deaths of Billy Mays and Farah Fawcett were eclipsed by Michael Jackson's demise.

But there was a passing that didn't make the headlines. Rebecca Lazarson passed away last Tuesday.

She was a woman in her 80s, 82 to be precise.

Here's what the obit said: devoted wife of nearly 61 years to Eli Lazarson died at Yale-New Haven Hosp. on June 23 2009. Born in New Haven June 2 1927 she was a daughter of the late Nathan & Ida M. Kaplan. Beloved mother of Norman (Audrea) Lazarson of Stevens Pa. Paula (Jose) Pagan-Rosas of Smithtown N.Y. & Loretta (Julius) Rubin of Middletown Ct. Dear sister of Ruth Polek of West Haven Saul Kaplan of Fl. Goldie Cohen of Holbrook N.Y. the late Ned Kaplan & Rose Cohen. Cherished grandmother of Elise Joshua Jason & Eric.

What the obit didn't say was that she was one of the bravest women anyone could ever know.

She suffered badly from the ravages of diabetes, lost a leg to it. She had an artificial leg but didn't allow her disability to keep her from going around. She complained little if at all about the hand she was dealt medically.

She was a synagogue board member who brooked no baloney. You didn't try to put something over on Rebecca.

You knew where you stood with her. No question. She had a lovely laugh that she exercised every time she could. She raised a lovely family, was a pillar of her secular and religious communities.

I guess you can't ask for more than that.

A wish for Bernie

Bernie Madoff got 150 years. The judge threw the book at him.

I have a wish for Bernie, who ruined the lives of millions directly or indirectly.

May you be taken to an old, rotten prison where the heat doesn't work in winter but works in summer.

May your roommate be a man with liberal halitosis and body odor who snores loudly and brooks no interference with his perverted habits. May he be big and brutish enough to make every waking hour, all 23 a day, a living hell.

Until next time...

Friday, June 5, 2009

GQ, you gotta be kidding

This has been a week of moments. The president delivered a major address to the Muslim world, known as the Arab Street.

I know when I show up in synagogue tomorrow, all the right-wingers will be waiting for me, screaming "I told you so's" at me about Obama's talk. He's throwing Israel under the bus to cozy up to the sheiks. He's siding with dictators against a democracy. 

He's soft on Iran, just because he's allowing Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 parties. Actually, I'd like to attend (can't--it's a Saturday) an Embassy bash, just to watch the Iranian diplomats dive under the table the first time someone sets off a firecracker. 

I'll have to discuss all this with the "Obama's an Arab" set. By the way, the Arabs who called him "Abu Hussein" were dead wrong, unless he has a love child named Hussein salted away somewhere. 

But I don't want to talk about that now. 

I want to talk about pizza. I'm neutral about the subject of really great pizza because I can't eat any. Really great pizza isn't kosher. The Edge of the Woods in New Haven makes a pretty good kosher pizza (Sunday and Thursday, call first, no slices, a few toppings.)

But really great pizza isn't kosher. So, here comes the confession. I haven't always eaten kosher. I have eaten really great pizza right here in New Haven many years ago. 

But now I can stand on the sidelines and watch the next version of the pizza wars. 

GQ has come out with its list of 25 best pizzas in the nation. 

They say a place in Chicago has the best pizza in the nation. You know, that thick stuff, I think they call it deep dish. This place doesn't have deep dish, as a reader pointed out, but Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza. 

The bad news for New Haven is that the city, which calls itself the place where pizza was invented or at least begun in America, didn't even make the top five.

The best we could do is sixth. Sally's was named fifth runner up, sixth best. 

Frank Pepe's didn't even make the top 10. It was voted 12th, beaten out by a joint in Port Chester, N.Y., for cripes' sake.

And the Port Chester (a pit if there ever was one--the village, not the pizza joint) place was cited for its clam pizza, something on which Pepe's hangs its apron, so to speak.

You have to fight through five-plus pages of rationale and complaining by correspondent Alan Richman before you get to the list. First is Chicago, then Brooklyn (of course, New York, not Brooklyn, Nova Scotia. Yes, that exists...nice place). San Francisco, Phoenix and Providence (that hurts) are mentioned until we get to New Haven.  Then comes Los Angeles, Manhattan, Philadelphia and then the aforementioned Port Chester before we come back to New Haven. I guess there is solace in the fact we get two onto the list, but then again, just about everyone else does, too. Not Port Chester, thank heaven. 

Anyway, I must confess I've eaten both Sally's and Pepe's pies (many years ago) and I agree with Richman about Sally's being better. The service at Sally's was better, too, all those years ago. From what people tell me, that hasn't changed, but I'd have to sustain a hearsay objection to that last statement. 

But Chicago having the best pizza?Puhhleeze. Many years ago, while attending a Society of Professional Journalists convention in Chicago, I went great-pizza-joint hunting with my convention traveling companion Richard Peck, who has gone on to that great newsroom in the sky where every desk's bottom drawer has a bottle of Blue Label and you can smoke and cuss as much as you want, never get beaten on  a story and they always save you a spot above the fold. Never mind, those not in the business. That's newspaper talk.

But we had to get Chicago pizza. I don't remember were he ended up, somewhere where the pizza was supposed to be great and typical Chicago. Fahgettaboutit. 

So, Mr. Richman, thanks for starting the next pizza war. But if you ever want to start a fight about hamburgers, see Louie. Not that I've eaten there, either. 

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It's raining as I write this, but tomorrow and Sunday are supposed to be nice, spring days. Enjoy, have a great weekend and, for those in the Tribe, a great shabbos.

Until next time...