Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The final blog of 2008

So far so good. This first year I have blogged about 267 times, meaning that with about 98 exceptions, I have had a daily discourse on the Internet. There were several times due to travel or other considerations (like a busy holiday season), where I was unable to get my blog submitted on time. For those times, I do apologize. So what have I learned thus far in my entry into the blogosphere (now almost a full year since my first tenuous steps)? I have learned that the connections between far-flung people can be quite strong through the blogging process. I have learned that more people are reading these entries than I would have believed initially. I have also learned that it is important to me to write intelligently and with purpose, because no one wants to read a trite, insincere blog. I have attempted to write in an ethical manner, but not necessarily in an objective way. The blogging process screams for subjectivity in much the same manner that a newspaper columnist cannot be impartial and stay valid for his readership. It is, after all, pretty much about crediblity. Can you truly believe the words I am writing? Do I make a compelling case for what I am advocating? If you disagree, can you see my point or would you think it necessary to respond to me via a comment? I have had an incredible number of good friends I have made through this first year, and I resolve to continue to do more of the same in 2009. I hope that I will be a source for information and, perhaps occasionally, for inspiration in the year to come. In the meantime, may all of you enjoy the most blessed of new year's celebrations and may the coming new year bring you continued good health and success in your endeavors. See you next year....

Monday, December 29, 2008

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and Edwin

The holidays are making this an extremely short workweek. Due to the placement of New Year's Day on Thursday, it is very doubtful that offices will reopen for one day on Friday, January 2. It is also true that many businesses will shut down for half a day on New Year's Eve. So, the end result is that there are but two full workdays this week, to wit, Monday and Tuesday. So, it was with great pleasure that I took in a concert by Edwin McCain on Sunday night at the New Orleans House of Blues. For those of you who recall "I'll Be" or "I Could Not Ask for More," you know who Edwin McCain is. He is one of the truly great troubadours of rock influenced by soul, jazz, folk and Southern rock. His memorable songs contain insightful commentaries and are full of unalloyed poetry. For those who have been privileged to see him in concert, the experience of his music is heightened ever so much by the dynamism of his powerful stage performances. With saxophonist Craig Shields and guitarist Larry Chaney giving tremendous support onstage, Edwin plays for an hour and a half or more without stopping. Bassist Murray Yanes and drummer Trommel Blassingame round out the band. The focus of the band is Edwin. He is a force of nature to be reckoned with and, for those that attend with their significant others, a nice date night too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Slaving over scripts

While December 25 may mean Christmas to many, it has a more profound meaning to me. It means that I have only 12 days until the beginning of the Carnival season here in New Orleans. That may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but as the manuscript writer and narrator for four Carnival balls and the announcer of six street parades at historic Gallier Hall, it marks the beginning of a very busy time for me and one that forces a crunch of creativity. While few understand how much I slave away over the tableaux (or scenes) of each ball, the end result is not unlike a play with lighting, music and book. These components all contribute to the benefit of the whole. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being able to put into fruition a manuscript with entrances and accompanying music for the royal courts, officers and captains for each of the krewes (or Carnival groups) for whom I write these tableaux. These balls will begin in earnest on The Feast of the Epiphany for those in the Catholic world or, as Shakespeare would perhaps colloquially remind us, on Twelfth Night. That night is always January 6 and with Mardi Gras stated as February 24 this coming year, I have only a little over seven weeks before it's all over.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chanukah, Christmas and Kwaanza to come

With all of the holidays that have begun and will continue to be celebrated over the course of the next several days, family and friends should enjoy quality time with one another. It is at the core of all such holidays and, aside from renewing the ties between loved ones, we should view this as a time for reflection. We should reflect on the past year with its many ups and downs as well as to speculate on the hope and promise of the next year with its many challenges. Today has been a day of reflection as I have enjoyed a festive meal with one family enjoying Christmas, while also being observant of the Chanukah holiday. I thought about the change that one year has brought to my synagogue at morning services, vibrant and alive with a family from outside of our community. Their many members are preparing to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah this weekend of a 12-year-old girl who wants to make a difference and combine the usual festivities with a week of work, repair and remediation at various locations across town. I saw women parading with one of five Torah scrolls donated to the synagogue over the last year and a half. I also heard guitar music in the middle of a service being played by none other than the dynamic new rabbi at Beth Israel, Uri Topolosky. The changes there have propelled Congregation Beth Israel into the forefront of recovery from Hurricane Katrina and Rabbi Topolosky has added another feather into his...er...uh...yarmulke. He has overseen the koshering of a world famous New Orleans landmark. He has made Cafe du Monde kosher! Yes, as of a few weeks ago, the famous cafe au lait and beignets (square donuts) served to millions of tourists and enjoyed in the homes of countless others in mixes and gift boxes are now kosher. Rabbi Topolosky, in concert with the Louisiana Kashrut Committee, worked on the process for the past year. For some, it is nothing less than another miracle at Chanukah.
For Rabbi Topolosky it is all in another day's work. He and his lovely wife Dahlia and their two small sons are also awaiting the arrival of another miracle in another few months. This will be their first native-born New Orleanian and everyone is hoping their home will be filled with the joyous sounds of a healthy newborn by the time next Chanukah arrives. It has occurred to me that I have been back in New Orleans longer than my time away in Cleveland following the flooding that came after Hurricane Katrina. There has been much that has transpired since my arrival in April of last year, most of it very good and productive. We have experienced losses of close friends and family and yet we marched forward, knowing that births, special events and new wonders have also made the journey pleasant. Just two weeks ago the city was reveling from the splendor of a rare one- to five-inch snowfall. In Cleveland such a sprinkling of snow might occur in a blink of an eye, but here it was a cause for celebration. With temperatures hovering just below or slightly above freezing in Cleveland, it is hard for many of my friends to conceive that I celebrated yesterday in short sleeves and 82-degree weather. Unlike Cleveland's snow banks and slippery sidewalks, the metropolitan New Orleans area was dry throughout the day with sunny skies. It is a major difference between the two cities, but I must admit that I do miss an occasional incursion of snowflakes, if nothing else than to mark the seasons more prominently. While I did not have a White Christmas, it was the people with whom I shared it that ensured me of a very warm day, indeed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wingding in Westwood

The weekend was a blur of activity for me and I am just getting back into the New Orleans groove, punctuated by a cold wave that came through while I was in fast-moving Los Angeles. Everything in L.A. seems to be moving at a faster pace than here in the sleepy South, that is except for the traffic on the highways. Californians seem to accept a nine-mile, 50-minutes run from the airport with little or no alacrity. Apart from the traffic, there is that bright California sun that hangs up in the sky like a China ball spreading warmth and light across the city that bounces across nearby mountains and valleys. I saw no smog on this trip, but it is, after all, winter. The reason for my departure for the Left Coast was a family event: my second cousin Annie's Bat Mitzvah. I mentioned this in an earlier blog. This was the first time I had seen my Uncle Joel's family since his daughter Renee's wedding to Stephen Gingold about 17 years ago. Dr. Joel Smason, a retired orthopaedic surgeon, is the younger brother of my father. At that time many of my father's family were still alive. I rather enjoyed seeing them all gathered together at such a lovely affair at the very swank Beverly Hills Hotel. Back in 1960, I was the ring bearer for my Uncle Joel and Aunt Evelyne's wedding and when their daughter Renee got married, she and her fiancé asked my son David to act as a ring bearer too. The Bat Mitzvah weekend at Sinai Temple began with Friday evening services at the synagogue located on Wilshire Boulevard in a small chapel that was followed by an evening meal in a nearby room. The next morning there was a huge affair in the main synagogue sanctuary and I was asked to read from the Torah scroll during the services. It was a huge responsibility and I was extremely nervous, especially while chanting in front of an audience of five hundred that blossomed to almost 1,000 later in the morning. Apparently I did okay, because most people complimented me, but I still was relieved when it was over. The joyous affair was punctuated by sadness as the death of 83-year-old Torah scholar and president emeritus of American Jewish University Rabbi David Lieber was noted by Senior Rabbi David Wolpe. Wolpe was named this year as the number one pulpit rabbi in America by no less than Newsweek Magazine. He was an impassioned speaker, electing to talk on one man he knew so well whose death had marked the community and the country as opposed to Bernie Madoff, whom he said had generated news but in a wicked way. Wolpe took time to sermonize about the qualities that Lieber had and the effect for goodness in the world he had generated. In Wolpe's case there were times when Lieber's influence on him personally kept him in Los Angeles and helped him and his wife face a battle with cancer. Wolpe's speech about Lieber ultimately pointed out how effective he was in working with disparate groups. The "Etz Chaim ("Tree of Life")," the Chumash or Five Books of Moses the Conservative Movement has used in prayer services since 1999, lists Lieber as senior editor, above all other writers including the eminent Chaim Potok. Following services the family gathered for an impressive Kiddush luncheon repast in one of several large rooms at the facility. The evening party was held at the Brentwood Country Club with a DJ, dancers and a 1960s theme of "Peace, Love and Annie." Annie enjoyed herself and her friends managed to keep dancing until the midnight hour, even taking pity on a cousin from New Orleans who insisted on hitting the dance floor himself to tunes such as "Low" and "All the Single Ladies." The final family event was brunch at the Brentwood Country Club the following morning and early afternoon before I dashed off to the airport with my sister Arlene in tow. She was headed back for Cleveland. I was on my way back to the Big Easy. As it turns out the lines were so long for departures, it was a blessing that I arrived so early and was able to take my time going through security and the check-in process. On reflection the weekend was chock-a-block, but all so worthwhile. It was, after all, family.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Beam Her Up, Scotty


Leave it to me to head for the hills...the Hollywood Hills to learn of the passing of Majel Barrett Roddenberry. Majel (nee Hudec) Barrett, the actress known as Nurse Chapel on the original "Star Trek" TV series of the 1960s was also the widow of series creator Gene Roddenberry. Many of my friends there will note that she was a native Clevelander. True devotees of the series will also recall that Roddenberry cast her as "Number One" on the original pilot for "Star Trek." That pilot starring the late Jeffery Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike of the starship Enterprise was scrapped by network executives who were intrigued enough to order another pilot with another male lead: William Shatner in the immortal role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk. The original pilot was cleverly used in the two-part season two opener titled "The Cage." While playing Nurse Chapel on the TV series, she struggled as a health officer infatuated with Vulcan First Officer and Science Officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) while working alongside Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy (Deforest Kelly). Barrett Roddenberry wed her husband in Japan in 1969 following the cancellation of the series. She began to attend Star Trek conventions around the country and I recall meeting her at one of the first such events held in New Orleans. Following the death of her husband, Barrett Roddenberry became one of the standard bearers of the Star Trek legacy. She appeared in all of the series that followed and was noted as the voice of the computer in all films that were released bearing the Star Trek logo. She just completed the voice of the computer in the upcoming release that is based on the original series and is to be simply titled "Star Trek." Science fiction fans will note that she also appeared in "Babylon V" and was cast in Roddenberry's "Genesis II," which was his last TV project. Fans including me will miss "The First Lady of Star Trek" whose death from complications of leukemia was December 18. She was 76.
Meanwhile, several years following the death of Linda Lovelace, Mark Felt, the real "Deep Throat," also died the same day. Felt, an Associate Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was revealed as Woodward and Bernstein's secret source three years ago, who insisted the reporters follow the money trail that eventually brought the Nixon White House down. Felt, 95, passed peacefully in a hospice in Santa Rosa, California.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Madoff's muck

Yeshiva University lost an estimated $110 million. Hadassah, according to a relative that quoted a report from the national president, reportedly lost an estimated $90 million. The Washington D.C. Jewish Federation lost its entire endowment. The American Jewish Congress reportedly lost millions. The Robert I. Lappine Foundation in Massachusetts closed its doors. Major Hollywood players like Steven Spielberg and Jeffery Katzenberg were victims. Real estate tycoons like Mort Zuckerman were taken in by Madoff. There are countless other Jewish organizations and other firms that trusted Bernard Madoff with their investments and are now penniless because of this misplaced trust. The ripples of distrust and unbelief are still radiating throughout the entire Jewish philanthropic world. How one man could be so destructive seems to boggle the mind. Remember that the Enron scandal involved $63.5 billion and Madoff is alleged to have bilked investors out of $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme that very few understand could have lasted for 25 years. But Madoff counted on Jews trusting Jews. A confidence man requires this trust while he practices his particular form of legerdemain. For those who are counting their blessings that they got out of their association with Madoff years ago before it was revealed that he was unscrupulous and downright crooked, there remains the looming possibility that they may not be so lucky. It is increasingly possible they may be forced to repay their funds back to the firm now that Madoff has agreed to a freeze of the assets of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC and that everything in that account is turned over to a receiver, Irving Picard. Andrew Calamari, the SEC enforcement official in charge, announced that Picard will act as Receiver under the Securities Investment Protector Act (SIPA). The potential for this so-called clawback action has lots of former investors especially nervous. Imagine investing with Madoff years ago, getting a payoff, investing with another firm and then taking a huge hit with the decline of the market this past year. It is possible that all of those funds could be forced to be repaid to Picard as Receiver. Picard supersedes the previous Receiver, Lee Richards of Richards Kibbe and Orbe LLP, who continues to act as the Receiver for Madoff Securities International, Ltd. It is all part of the intricately woven web of deceit that is only now coming to light. Many people were surprised to learn that major banks and hedge funds had assigned part of their portfolios to Madoff, based on his performance and promised 8% return to investors. Feeder brokers for financial institutions would regularly send Madoff business, some of which he accepted. At other times, he apparently rejected other customers. For example, a well-known financial institution like Oppenheimer Funds, through its Tremont Funds Group, used Madoff for investment purposes. The amount of litigation that will ensue these actions will clog court dockets for the next decade. Far more badly than the loss to the banking institutions are those heartbreaking cases of couples who invested all of their life savings with Madoff and retired to places like Boca Raton, figuring their nest eggs would last them in their golden years. Now they are all at risk of losing everything they scrimped and saved for over decades. Frantic calls to children and relatives have been reported through the news media. That Madoff took away their life savings is a shame and a tragedy. But his greater crime was that he took away their hope and their independence. Madoff remains under house arrest in his tony $10 million New York City apartment now that the magistrate judge in his case took away his right to leave during the day. Except for court appearances that's where he will stay for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Time to switch browsers

This blog was titled Kosher Computing for a reason. With a goodly number of certifications to my credit, it is my intention to broadcast to cyberspace suggestions on best practices and, when the occasion warrants, to warn of potential problems. If you are using Internet Explorer to read this blog, you are in very serious trouble as of today. As a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, it is not in my interest to make Microsoft look foolish or imply that their products are in any way less than sterling. However, over the course of the last few days, a serious security vulnerability has been identified by hackers that will allow websites and hackers which know how to manipulate Internet Explorer browsers to learn of passwords. In effect this could allow devious parties to gain access to sensitive information or in a worst case scenario could empty one's financial resources in seconds. The problem was reported on the ABC, Huffington Post and BBC sites among others. Estimates state the problem is mostly confined to websites hosted in the Far East and that only .02% of the world's websites are affected at present. However, that number at present translates to about 10,000 websites and could rise exponentially as soon as hackers get to work trying to take advantage of the vulnerability. For those of you who are looking for a solution, Mozilla's Firefox is probably the best alternative. This open source browser has been a favorite of many Internet surfers for a variety of reasons, chief among them is security and an almost vigilant determination to prevent hackers from doing just what Microsoft's Internet Explorer could be permitting at this juncture. Here's the site to download Firefox 3.0. Other web browsers that are good temporary choices are Safari, Opera or Chrome. It is highly recommended that you switch to one of these until a patch for the problem is announced and available from Microsoft. If you insist on using Internet Explorer, I have a few suggestions. First, if you are using your Administrator account (or an account that has full Computer Administrator privileges), switch to a profile that has limited abilities. You can easily create one under the Users icon found in the Control Panel. Just remember to give the owner or Administrator account a password and don't forget it. I don't recommend ever writing a password down or saving it to a plainly titled file like "Passwords." However, if you switch to a limited user account, the vulnerability probably won't have access to your original account files. You can, of course, share files with yourself, but that defeats the reason for creating the limited access. If there are files you need to use, I recommend copying them to a flash drive and keeping the flash drive plugged in while using the limited access account. Also, if you still insist on using Internet Explorer 7 or the Beta edition Internet Explorer 8, turn Protected Mode on. Make sure to have the latest updates available from the Microsoft.com site, which can be located through Tools and the sub-menu Windows Update at the top of the browser. Aware of the problem, Microsoft has just released an emergency patch. You can find the link for the patch here. However, in the meantime, I would still be cautious and use an alternative browser for another day or two until reports are in that suggest the problem has been nipped in the bud. Or, you can do like I do when writing my blog: use a Mac.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Greed and the Madoff mess

According to the most learned of our early rabbis, as expressed in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a), when we die and are to be judged by the Almighty for how we lived on Earth, we are not checked for how well we prayed, how many mitzvot (commandments) we kept or even how observant we were. Nay, the sages say we are first asked "Were you honest in your business dealings?" It may seem odd, but on closer examination, it makes sense. Whether we are fair with our business clients and come across as ethical and equitable qualifies us as better human beings. If we treat strangers as we would family, then we set the level of ethical behavior in our business dealings as very high, indeed. This, naturally, leads us to consider how a Jew could be so unethical and greedy in his business dealings that he would bring disfavor, disgrace and ruin to so many hundreds of thousands of Jews and Gentiles as Bernard Madoff. For those who have been researching the fallout from the Madoff melee, the figures have been rising daily. There are some Jewish philanthropies like the Robert I. Lappin Foundation that have simply shuttered their doors. The Lappin Foundation's admitted goals were to reverse assimilation and fight interfaith marriage. They did this through teen travel programs to Israel and other programs aimed at heightening Jewish interest. The money to carry on their program has vanished and the foundation felt it had nothing more it could do than terminate its seven employees. Meanwhile other robust, diversified interests hit by the scandal like Yeshiva University and New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon's Sterling Equities are continuing to operate as before the scandal, but all sustained heavy hits. Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg's Wunderkinder Foundation took a big hit and his Dreamworks Animation SKG partner Jeffrey Katzenberg also reportedly lost millions. Even Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel was reported as one of the victims of the $50 billion fraud. Weisel's Foundation for Humanity was noted as having suffered millions of dollars in losses, perhaps the greatest ignominy to one of the most inspirational voices of the Jewish people. Real estate developer and media tycoon Mort Zuckerman was one of the single investors who reportedly suffered the most. Many Jewish philanthropies headquartered in and around the New York City area are trying to deal with what is clearly a painful prospect at a time when money is especially short and gift-giving is at an all-time low due to the economy. Several Israeli insurance companies such as Clal, Heral, and the Phoenix lost millions, as did Israel's Technion University, which pegged its losses at $25 million. Madoff was a major donor to the UJA-New York Federation, but also was the Chairman of the Board of the Sy Sims School of Business and treasurer of the Board of Trustees at Yeshiva University. Madoff endowed a chair there in he and his wife's name. Madoff, the former president of NASDAQ, bankrolled his name and reputation into a multi-billion dollar concern for almost 25 years. How he got away with this huge Ponzi scheme while wearing the mantle of respectability and veneration as a trusted financial figure remains to be seen. The S.E.C. launched an investigation as early as 1992 on Madoff, but nothing came of it. Even as recently as just a few years ago, investigators could not point to any irregularities in Madoff's books. He managed to keep one step ahead of prosecution, while putting on a grand show and giving everyone the impression that he was a financial wizard. Well, the other shoe has dropped now and the financial fallout may continue to be felt for decades by Jewish philanthropic interests, Israeli corporations and the small investors who were taken in by Madoff's shady business practices. There are many Jews who retired to Boca Raton or in California who have been wiped out by Madoff. Many of them are hoping the 70-year-old Madoff will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but they all recognize that nothing the government can do will bring back their funds. Madoff is out on $10 million bail, a figure he was able to post with little or no problem. Some, reeling from the stigma of going from millionaire to pauper are thinking they hope Madoff faces financial ruin too. Still others are hoping he has to answer the question about how fair he was in his business dealings very soon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Guilty verdict in Lake Charles

I had not felt compelled to discuss the Mary Elizaberth "Liz" Marinello murder case until the guilty verdict was rendered yesterday against her estranged husband and local sportscaster Vince Marinello. Much of the circumstantial case centered on Marinello's alibi and a checklist he admits he composed which prosecutors used to show his premeditation in the shooting death of the 45-year-old woman in front of the sleepy Old Metairie neighborhood apartment complex where Vince Marinello had been living under house arrest for much of the last two years. The story captured everyone's attention in New Orleans because of the celebrity involved, reverberations even being felt in Cleveland, where I was living at the time of the murder. Because of enormous pre-trial publicity surrounding the case, the venue was changed from Metairie to Lake Charles, a three-hour drive from New Orleans. The case took place over a two week period with prosecutors putting a number of witnesses to the actual shooting on the stand. In addition, jurors heard from a local arms dealer who testified that Marinello came into his now-closed gun shop to purchase a weapon for protection. According to the gun dealer, he recognized Marinello right away due to his celebrity status from TV and radio stints over the course of the last four decades. According to his testimony, he remembered selling special armor-piercing teflon-tipped 38-caliber bullets that detectives said were used to kill Liz Marinello. Witnesses described seeing a scruffy looking man in shabby clothing with a moustache and beard pacing the area before the two shots that rang out in broad daylight. One witness claimed that she recalled seeing the assailant's eyes and that they were wild-looking. She identified Marinello as having the same eyes. Witnesses reported they saw the same shabbily-attired man quickly pedaling away on a bicycle just after the attack. Prosecutors gave an interesting motive to the crime. They said that Liz Marinello had found out that her husband had not legally divorced his previous wife before marrying her. That meant that Liz Marinello could have leveled a charge of bigamy at the radio sportscaster. A vain and self-centered Marinello surprisingly took the stand to defend himself over the last two days of the trial, a move that must have delighted prosecutors. He tried to explain away his purchasing the faux facial hair from a costume shop as well as his purchase of the gun so close to the murder. His take on the check list detectives discovered in the FEMA trailer he was living in at the time of the murder? According to Marinello, the list was simply notes he had taken regarding his being considered a suspect in the murder and his attempt to counter each one of them. He suggested that he was going to contact Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, now deceased, to discuss the list and explain how the perpetrator could not possibly be him. Lee's phone number as well as two others and a detailed map of the crime scene were allegedly on the list. Several of the checked items also contained information not known to the public, according to Sheriff's deputies. Such items as "Gun - river on way to mama" didn't seem to gel well with jurors as something that could be easily explained away. He also claimed he had never fired a weapon in his life, then admitted to prosecutors that he had lied and had discharged a weapon on the ground of his property around the time of the murder. That was the reason, he claimed, that gunpowder residue was found inside his car. Marinello's alibi that he left New Orleans at a specific time and was on his way the Byram, Mississippi to watch a Saints game with friends at the time of the murder was challenged by prosecutors who used his cell phone records and tower transmission reports to indiciate that he left New Orleans much later than he claimed. Jurors took only an hour and a half to unanimously find the 71-year-old Marinello guility of second degree murder. The mandatory life sentence carries with it a condition of no possibility of parole or commutation of sentence and the judge in the case says that the sentence will be handed down in two weeks. Marinello's 94-year-old mother met with her son briefly after the verdict was announced in a room adjacent to the courtroom. It will probably be the last time they will see each other without thick glass or iron bars between them or him wearing manacles and chains. In the meantime, Liz Marinello's relatives and friends are considering the verdict as an early Christmas present. Prosecutors state the murder was calculated, premeditated and particularly gruesome. They need only point out that Liz Marinello perished as a result of two shots directed to her face. My feeling is that justice has been served, but that all of those involved in the murder case -- with the possible exception of the now gleeful prosecutors -- have all been put through a great deal of unnecessary torment and pain. Perhaps, the healing process can move forward as still-grieving family members hope to gain closure and move on and Marinello is sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow in the Crescent City



Pictured above: a palm tree, my home and the historic St. Charles Streetcar in the New Orleans snow

The last time I recall a snowfall in New Orleans was on December 25, 2004; like everything else we use to gauge time here, it was pre-Katrina. Truly, it was a White Christmas. At that time it snowed for a little over an hour in the This morning the snowfall has been falling steadily for well over an hour and the grass has begun to be covered by a thin layer of the white stuff. People in my former abode in Cleveland are used to dealing with much larger accumulations than we will see today, but the fact that it is snowing is a big deal and probably a lot more dangerous, since most people here don't know how to drive on snow or ice. Also, there are virtually no contingencies prepared to deal with snow or ice on the roads or highways here and, given the lack of abilities of drivers to navigate through snow, there is potential for a good number of accidents. Some bridges have been closed due to icing, but most major roadways, including those with elevated portions, were kept open. All of that notwithstanding, it is a very pretty, albeit a very rare sight in New Orleans.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The right of return and Rubashkin

A fairly dangerous precedent that could have ramifications for all Jews was just set in an Iowa courtroom on December 5. In a story filed by JTA recently, lawyers for Sholom Rubashkin, the former supervisor of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking facility in Postville, Iowa, asked a judge to reconsider his decision to deny bail in the case. In Rubashkin's case, prosecutors have stressed the possibility that Rubashkin could avoid jurisdictional prosecution for hiring illegal workers and bank fraud by fleeing the country and seeking sanctuary in Israel. They cite Israel's Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to every Jew, as their primary concern. Apparently, the judge agreed, particularly when it was pointed out that two former Agriprocessors employees also suspected for illegal acts did, in fact, flee and are presumed to be living now in the Jewish State. To his defense, Rubashkin's attorneys have offered to provide additional measures, such as 24-hour monitoring and any other security measures as determined by the court. They argue that Rubashkin has deep roots and connections to his family and the Postville community and that he is unlikely to be a flight risk. Several of Rubashkin's family members also agreed to post bonds with the equity built up in their homes in order to guarantee his appearance in court. Where the arguments may seem plausible, the thin veneer behind the prosecution suggests that any high-placed Jew under suspicion or facing indictment for alleged criminal acts could be denied bail due to the Law of Return and the possibility of flight to Israel to avoid prosecution. "That means that 5,300,000 Americans would be viewed as heightened bail risks simply because they are Jews" wrote Rubashkin's attorneys in their pleadings before the judge. Ironically, they point out, the Law of Return, intended to be used to provide sanctuary for persecuted Jews, is now being used as the basis for detaining a Jew, who were he not Jewish, would probably be freed on bail. As Rubashkin's attorneys pointed out, two Supreme Court Justices and the current Attorney General of the United States could, likewise, be considered Israeli flight risks. This is a very dangerous precedent and smacks of unequal application of the law and a possible deprivation of Rubashkin's civil rights. Whether Rubashkin is innocent or guilty is of no import here. He should have his day in court to determine that. However, an Israeli law should not be used to keep him confined while preparing for his defense in a court of American justice.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Times They Are A'Changing

The last several days have been a whirlwind of deep introspection and elections. While I was working with the Chilankatoba Lodge of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's National Honor Society, I had an opportunity to take part in ritual work that dates back to the order's founding in 1915. The experience was deeply personal and quite thrilling. As a result of my time spent in the outdoors, I achieved a greater connection to my fellow Arrowmen, much of which I can't and won't discuss. Suffice it to say that it will be something that I will treasure for the remainder of my days as I continue my association with some of the finest young men and dedicated Scouters I have been privileged to know. It was late Saturday night that I perchance was in my car driving back to my campsite when I heard the unbelievable news. William Jefferson, the controversial nine-time U.S. representative from Louisiana's Second Congressional District had been defeated by a relative unknown, a 41-year-old political newcomer named Anh Joseph Cao (pronounced Gow to rhyme with cow). Cao became the very first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. Jefferson was stunned, especially after defeating Democratic challenger and former newscaster Helena Moreno last month and emerging from the primary as the frontrunner a month earlier. Blame it all on Hurricane Gustav, the storm which preempted the Democratic primary scheduled for the first Saturday in September. With Jefferson forced into the runoff with Moreno in November, many of the members of his district -- gerrymandered to maintain a large black population -- thought he had won it all at the same historic moment in time when Barack Obama was elected the nation's first African-American president. But in reality the final election took place this weekend and Gao took advantage of extremely low voter turnout (60,000+ versus 160,00+ the month before) to capture the Congressional seat from Jefferson. To Gao's credit, he is a capable lawyer who was strongly supported by the local Vietnamese-American community in addition to those in the electorate who were embarrassed by Jefferson's recent indictment and pending trial as well as other indictments leveled at other family members. The Jefferson family once considered one of New Orleans' most powerful may soon be one of the most convicted if but some of the charges leveled against Jefferson's brother Mose, sister Betty others are proved in court. Had Jefferson run against Cao in November, there is little doubt that he would be back on Capitol Hill for another two-year term. As it turns out, a new face will be representing New Orleans, albeit for the minority party. In addition Cao will have very little power to wield in his inaugural term given the fact that he was elected as the junior member of Congress last Saturday and that all of the major committee assignments have already been handed out. But it's not really much of a loss of power for Louisiana: Jefferson had been stripped of his leadership posts when the indictments were first handed down. So, it seems like a win-win proposition. The people of Louisiana win and Cao wins. Or, perhaps it's a lose-lose situation: Jefferson loses and the people of Louisiana lose an embarrassing, impotent leader who had outlived his political usefulness.
Meanwhile, I note with sadness the passing of folk singer and American music legend Odetta last week. Odetta was a powerful voice in the Fifties and Sixties, who inspired folk singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, both of whom went on to become even more well known voices for change in the country. In 1965 my mother, father and uncle promoted a concert at Loyola Field House with Odetta during a time when the civil rights struggle was in full swing. Her deep vibrato seemed to well up from within her soul, while her acoustic guitar was used as both a rhythmic and percussive device. Here's al link to a fellow Jewish blogger, Danny Miller's"Jew Eat Yet" tribute to Odetta. Odetta, who sang at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, was slated to repeat a performance at the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. In fact her most recent album, "Odetta: Lookin' for a Home" was nominated for a Grammy Award. Odetta was 77.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Flying my flag in the face of festivity

I am not a member of an insular Jewish community. I will be the first to admit that. Nevertheless, were I to live among the more observant community, I would have to be blind, deaf and dumb were I not to admit that the overwhelming message of the holiday season seems to have very little or nothing at all to do with my religion. Living as I do in a an old, but small Jewish community, it is a challenge to deal with all of the outside holiday trimmings and keep on target towards enjoying a spiritually meaningful Jewish experience. There is guilt in that we must acknowledge in one way or another that the ongoing hoopla and rush to the stores is in response to a gift-giving holiday that begins with a "C" that is not Chanukah,. I remind all of my Jewish friends and relatives that Chanukah celebrates victory over oppression and a rededication of spirit and really has nothing to do with the giving or receiving of gifts. That expression of holiday celebrations is a much more recent invention that permits well-meaning Jews who want to be included in the "spirit" of the Christmas season to take an active part. All Jews are commanded to do is light the Chanukah lights each night and say blessings. The gift giving is entirely up to us. Having grown up in a Southern Orthodox home, it was not until I was a seven-year-old that I learned that my family was different from most of the others. It seemed wrong that I couldn't have presents and enjoy colorful lights and beautifully festooned trees that seemed somehow magical. And then there were the TV specials like "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and movies like "It's a Wonderful Life" that all hawked the significance of Christmas. To a kid like me I craved programs like that. There was virtually nothing on Chanukah. I have to face it: Chanukah songs like "Rock of Ages" or "Ma'otz Tzur" are stirring calls to arms and pride in faith. "I Have a Little Dreidel" is very cute. Yet they pale in comparison to the dozens of Christmas melodies that permeate the airwaves and clog store shelves at this time of year declaring peace, universal love, and religious faith. In fact the family record store I managed and worked in from my early years depended heavily on the income derived from holiday sales in order to keep afloat each year. Suffice it to say we didn't depend on sales from the Jewish community in support of Chanukah or we would have shuttered our doors decades ago. I do take a bit of Jewish pride in remembering that Irving Berlin wrote the biggest holiday sellers for both Christmas and Easter. So, it is a challenge to keep faithful at this time of year despite the barrage of billboards, advertisements and commercials thrown in all directions. And the question that many in the Jewish community ask each year: "Is it permissible to wish a non-Jew holiday greetings?" and if so should we say 'Merry Christmas' or just 'Happy Holidays?'" I’m certainly not the person to ask for a ruling here, because the answer depends on one’s level of observance and comfort in relating to others. Frankly, in my business dealings, it was expected that extending seasonal greetings to non-Jewish clients was not only good form, but essential to keeping them as customers. Personally, I don’t consider myself a bad Jew by wishing someone else a good holiday observance or celebration of his or her own. It is not something that will test my faith, but some will differ with me on this point, so I will leave that up to sharper wits and greater minds to debate. So on this first week of December, as I am overwhelmed by the green and red trimming that abounds, I take one small step for myself to give me a sense of identity and to make me feel at ease in a sea of festivity not of my own, but to which I relate in a small way. Today I display my Chanukah flag. As the blue, white and golden figure of a Chanukiah unfurls in the wind, I see it as a tiny gesture of Jewish identity on my part. The flag flies bravely in the face of an overwhelming majority in a land where, thankfully, we are free to follow different religious paths – whether insular or not – and feel good about ourselves at a special time of the year for all religions when we all truly should.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who is Radio-J and why does it sound like me?

Starting very soon at an Internet radio station near you is my newest venture. Fans of my writing have been enjoying or dealing with my Kosher Computing blog for almost a year. Now, through the magic of the Internet, everyone who is interested will be able to not only read my words, but hear them as well. It's all part of the programming over Radio-J, the Jewish Internet radio station heard at http://www.radio-j.com/ . Radio-J is the brainchild of Cleveland area broadcasters Phil Fink and his son and program director Shawn. Phil has been a fixture of the Cleveland airwaves for over four decades with his "Shalom America" program. His son has followed in his illustrious broadcaster father's footsteps, putting together an impressive lineup of commercial-free Jewish programs that can be heard at any time of the day with just a simple mouse click. The key program on Radio-J.com is Shalom America Worldwide, a live program anchored by the elder Fink on a Monday through Friday basis from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, Eastern Time. Other programming includes stories for kids, "Chai Time" for young adults, chazzanut from various cantors in a program titled "Cantor's World" and even a resident psychologist, Dr. Mark, who offers advice and information. Now enters yours truly with radio commentaries that I hope will be insightful, humorous, timely and pertinent to Judaism in one way or another. "Spinning your Jewish web" the website proclaims and in short order listening to the beautiful Jewish music heard on the website will become a habit. Aside from my writing, I have had extensive experience as a broadcaster since the 1970s. So, please welcome me, your friendly neighborhood webslinger as I make my humble entrance over the airwaves of Radio-J. It's enough to make my Yiddishe Mama smile.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An opportunity for mitzvah in the midst of mourning

Monday night and elsewhere around the world, Chabad organizations began to unveil a very determined and organized campaign to keep the spirit of Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg alive several days after their shattered bodies were discovered at the Nariman House, the Chabad House in Mumbai. While similar faith-based groups might point to the need to keep their programs alive and campaign for monetary contributions in the memory of those lost, Chabad asked instead for a commitment from those attending the memorials that was far more lasting than financial. After showing short videos on the lives and sharing some of the experiences of the Holtzbergs, they asked for mitzvahs to be observed. They asked that Jews be more Jewish in the way they live so that the Holtzbergs loss to the world would become more of a blessing than a tragedy. Women who never light Shabbat candles or men who never lay teffillin (phylacteries), for example, were encouraged to start. Everyone was asked to learn to read Torah or to begin to keep a kosher home. What they asked for in return were small items to some, but reflected a lifetime of commitment to Jewish faith and practice. Chabad's shluchim reflect on the Hebrew word shaliah, which means "legal emissary." The first shaliah to whom the Torah refers is Eliezer, who was sent by Abraham to find a wife for his son Issac. The Chabad organization has sent hundreds of shluchim across the globe for decades to areas that are somewhat devoid of observance (domestic posts like here in New Orleans) and to places that are flashpoints for violence or under oppression from governments (places like the Congo and Morocco come to mind). Similar husband and wife or rabbi and rebbetzen teams have willingly left the relative safety of American homes to struggle in far-away lands attempting to build Jewish homes and community. It is incredible for me to consider that they are all observant Jews inspiring others there with acts of chesed (kindness) and ask nothing more than that Jews live a more observant lifestyle. To this end the Chabad.org site has created a "good deed" site where others can pledge their mitzvot (commandments) in memory of the Holtzbergs. Meanwhile, the Holtzbergs were buried to the tears of hundreds of compatriots and family members there. Both Holtzbergs carried Israeli citizenship, although Rabbi Gavriel was a naturalized American who held dual citizenship. Tragically, the Holtzbergs lost a very young daughter to a genetic disease this past year and the fact that Rivkah was six months pregnant at the time of her murder was revealed by her grandfather, a Chabad rabbi living there. The brightest spot in the midst of this very grave event was the successful rescue of Moshe, the Holtzbergs' son who turned two this past Saturday. The nanny, Sandra Samuel, is being considered for the coveted title of "Righteous Gentile," a term that Yad Vashem, the Israeli organization that bestows the honor, usually only considers for rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust who did so at great peril to themselves. Obviously, Samuel's actions meant life for the Holtzberg family in the midst of death. Her brave actions ensured the survival of the young boy who cried "Ima...Ima! (Mama...Mama!) at his parents' funeral yesterday. She arrived in Israel on a visa Monday night and will stay with Moshe for at least a year. If bestowed the title of Righteous Gentile, Samuel may elect to stay there permanently. In the meantime, one does not have to be Jewish to remember the victims of the Mumbai Massacre. There were 172 people slaughtered in coordinated attacks of terror in the city formerly known as Bombay. If we all do one thing in remembrance of those slain -- act with kindness towards one of our fellow humans near us -- we will honor their memories to the penultimate degree and cheat their murderers of any victory.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The heat is on

December came around and I figured it was about time to finally fire up the heater. This is, after all, New Orleans. It does get cold here at this time of year, but compared to other places around the country, such as my former abode in Cleveland, the cold is less severe, yet nonetheless bitter. It is the humidity that pervades our sub-tropical clime that makes our summers so sticky and hard to take for visitors and which in winter contributes to make chills go right through one's bones. I remember being cold in Cleveland, but I was able to wear layers (underwear, shirt, sweater, jacket) and I felt rather toasty when all was said and done. Here in the Crescent City, no matter what layers one wears, the cold pierces like a knife. And it is so much worse when the wind blows. The wind is the great equalizer in winter. It can cripple the most stalwart of the brave as the temperature plummets ever more downward.
Speaking of things heading downward, I want to thank the geniuses at the National Bureau of Economic Research who announced that we have officially been in a recession since last December. The nearly 700 point plunge that the Dow Jones Index took yesterday following their announcement canceled several of the best performances on Wall Street in the previous week when some insiders were hoping things might be stabilizing. Letting us know that we are officially in a recession some 12 months after the fact is like announcing that Britney Spears is pregnant...for the first time! Oh, well, now that the cat's out of the bag, perhaps we won't be pussyfooting about what to call this economic downturn. Recession...that starts with an "r." Let's hope that we don't hear any other pronouncements from them about any words that start with a "d."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A heavy heart

The worst news that people had prayed would not occur was confirmed yesterday when Indian commandos finally took over the Nariman House, or Chabad House of Mumbai. When the body count was taken, six people were known to have been slaughtered including Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg. One American woman, Leibish Titlebaum from Brooklyn, and Bentzion Chroman, who like Rabbi Holtzberg carried dual American and Israeli citizenship, were among the dead. Rebbetzin Holtzberg was an Israeli. The couple's two-year-old orphan is still reported as doing well, but reports circulated yesterday that when he was rescued, his diaper was soaked in blood. Even though I never met the Holtzbergs, it is with great sorrow that I report on this horrible tragedy. The work that Chabad Centers across the globe do has always been done with the best of intentions, though I admit many traditional Orthodox Jews do find some aspects of their outreach to other Jews as unsettling. Nevertheless, very few considered that Chabad emissaries would be putting their lives at risk just by keeping their doors open to Jews and others in outreach communities. The deaths of the victims in Mumbai were confirmed by Chabad Rabbi Mendel Rivkin on the Ten Commandments Hike yesterday when he spoke at Congregation Anshe S'fard in late morning. It was especially significant that so many Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, adult leaders, parents, siblings and friends could gather and learn of the deaths of Jewish religious leaders and make a connection with them, if only for that one instant in time. Rain did not dampen the spirits of those in attendance even though the kosher lunch was punctuated by periods of heavy downpour. When, at least, the clouds parted and the sun came out, only two stops remained for the younger crowd and three total for the rest of the hikers. The hike ended before 5:00 p.m. and all felt they had participated in a special interfaith event that supported worship in each other's own faith.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Massacre

The horrible news came out of Mumbai fast and furious, but it wasn't until late Thanksgiving night that I learned that the Nariman House of which reporters had been referring throughout the day, was indeed the Chabad House there. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah maintained the center and were entertaining a number of foreigners, several of whom were reportedly Israeli citizens. A JTA report suggests that the Holtzbergs and at least six others had been taken hostage. The one piece of good news was that the couple's two-year-old son had been rescued. The fact that the center was targeted by the terrorists for retribution may be sobering to those within the worldwide Chabad organization in Brooklyn, not far from where the Holtzbergs grew up. The two were married back in 2003, shortly before leaving for India to start the house in Mumbai. Mrs. Hotzberg had been noted as an excellent hostess and the rabbi had made significant strides in reaching visitors as well as doing outreach to the small local Indian Jewish community in Mumbai. Anxious Chabad Lubavitchers have been e-mailing members of their local communities to urge prayers be said on behalf of all those still being held at the Nariman House. The one prayer suggested has been Psalm 20:
1. For the conductor, a song of David.
2. May the Lord answer you on a day of distress; may the name of the God of Jacob fortify you.
3. May He send your aid from His sanctuary, and may He support you from Zion.
4. May He remember all your meal offerings and may He accept your fat burnt offerings forever.
5. May He give you as your heart [desires], and may He fulfill all your counsel.
6. Let us sing praises for your salvation, and let us assemble in the name of our God; may the Lord fulfill all your requests.
7. Now I know that the Lord saved His anointed; He answered him from His holy heavens; with the mighty acts of salvation from His right hand.
8. These trust in chariots and these in horses, but we-we mention the name of the Lord our God.
9. They kneel and fall, but we rise and gain strength.
10. O Lord, save [us]; may the King answer us on the day we call.
Today is the day reserved for the fifth annual Ten Commandments Hike for the Southeast Louisiana Council of the Boy Scouts of America. I started this event in 2004 and after two events that year, we had planned another hike in the Lakeview area in 2005. Obviously, Hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans and in particular on Lakeview meant waiting until 2006. While still living in Cleveland, I managed to hop a flight and lead the hike in 2006 and again last year after I had moved back to the city of my birth. Today's hike will have over 250 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, adult leaders, parents, siblings and friends moving along the historic St. Charles Avenue route to ten different houses of worship reinforcing the 12th Point of the Scout Law ("A Scout is Reverent."). It should be fun and meaningful, two things that Scouters love do do in concert with one another.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank you, Squanto

Ah, yes. The day that all America gives thanks to the Lord (or for the atheists and agnostics gathering at their tables to thank themselves) for the many blessings we enjoy. The end of this year has been pretty tough on all of us but, despite the economic downturn, we still have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to in the future. As to the past, the one person that should be thanked above all, though, is Squanto. Squanto? You mean you don't recall the story of the Native American member of the Wampanoag tribe, who saved the original Pilgrims from what would have been their first and last winter had he not been, more or less, where they landed. The incredible story of Squanto is filled with good fortune, bad luck and redemption. Credit English explorer John Weymouth with getting Squanto to England, having him learn English and learn about "civilization." Squanto, captured by the Spanish some years later, had his freedom secured by the very same John Weymouth. He returned to his homeland with another captured Native American --Samoset -- only a few months prior to the Mayflower's arrival at Plymouth Rock. Because he knew of English society and spoke English, Squanto was an essential liaison to the native tribe there. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how and what to farm, provided them pelts of beaver to keep warm, and gave them deer meat for sustenance. Squanto showed the Pilgrims, already decimated by disease and bitter weather, how to build round-roofed wigwams made of poles and flat sheets of wood. It was Captain Miles Standish who invited Squanto and Samoset along with their chief, Massasoit, to a feast that became known as the precursor to the first real Thanksgiving meal. There is so much I could tell you, but if you're interested in learning more, read this link.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not just another crime statistic

There has always been crime in New Orleans. The term "Big Easy" was supposedly coined by criminals to describe how sweet the environment was for them to ply their trade. Much of the pre-Katrina crime had been linked to drug activity, although statistically many of the crimes reported by police were perpetrated as black on black crime. Occasionally, when white citizens were robbed or shot by black criminals, the news media invariably bordered on the verge of being inflammatory in the coverage of these opprobrious acts. We have always tolerated crime in a way that very few outsiders understand. It may be that it goes back to when Louisiana was first settled by those hapless criminals whose jails were emptied and those French women who had worked in the brothels. Many of them were exiled here to live a hard life beyond the protection of French society. Years later, buccaneers like Jean Lafitte operated in the open in nearby Barataria, unchecked by any police force. Lafitte, as many of you will recall, was so powerful that General Andrew Jackson enlisted him and his men in order to protect the city at the Battle of New Orleans. Years after the Civil War, the Louisiana Lottery proved to be as corrupt as any endeavor ever imagined by petty crooks, only on a grander scale. Perhaps, because of our history, successful criminals have garnered undeserved admiration for their plots and scheming. Following the exodus from Hurricane Katrina, when the city was emptied of all but non-essential personnel, there was virtually no crime. For weeks there wasn't even one person killed in a city known in the past as the Murder Capital of the U.S. As residents returned, however, the crime statistics began to inch up. Today I can tell you that the crime wave in New Orleans has now become more personal. My son called me to tell me that he had been held up at knifepoint on Friday evening at dusk. His wallet and cell phone had been demanded and he gave them up without incident. When the police responded, he gave them a detailed description of the offender -- a white male in his 40s wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey -- and assumed that it was the last time he would see his cell phone or his wallet again. Surprisingly, he got a call from the police Sunday. Apparently, the same perpetrator had attempted to try the same thing on Saturday night. This time his would-be victim got the upper hand and through sheer force or knowledge of martial arts stripped him of his weapon and proceeded to inflict serious harm to his body. When police were summoned to the scene, my son's description (he was still wearing the Dallas Cowboys jersey) came up. Not only did they have his weapon, but also a plastic bag found on his person contained my son's wallet (sans cash of course) and cell phone. The officers returned my son's wallet and cell phone and had him sign papers preferring charges against the perpetrator for aggravated assault. I have urged my son to take whatever measures are necessary to see that this lowlife is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He is lucky and I am relieved (even though he didn't tell me about the incident until after the police had returned his possessions). As if to reinforce what I already knew, a new report by Congressional Quarterly says New Orleans is America's most crime-ridden city. Believe me, brother, I know. I know.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Kennedy Assassination Mystique

Two score and five years ago, our country went through the worst kind of gut wrenching and soul searching that could be thrust upon any nation. I was just nine years old, but it was easy to comprehend the gravity of the mood of the people on that horrible weekend. Our president was dead and the person who police said did it was from New Orleans. Oh my goodness. I recall the time in my family was somewhat uneasy. My parents had enrolled me in public school for the first time earlier that summer. Coming from a military academy, Rugby Academy, I was finding the experience a bit trying for me, but I was showing good academic prowess in an environment which no longer emphasized uniforms or marching (yeah!). Then, on that fateful day I recall my teacher being very solemn after lunch. It was then that our principal announced over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy was dead and that we were all dismissed from class for the remainder of the day. Immediately I was concerned about how I was going to be going home with my sister, because my housekeeper Victoria was supposed to pick us up and walk us home at 3:00 o'clock. That was at least an hour and a half away. Unlike today, when time seems to breeze by, an hour and a half back them seemed like an interminable period of time. I seem to recall that we did meet up with Victoria, but I can't say for sure at what time. The next few days were a blur of historical figures and events. A Time-Life book I had in my library, "Four Days" documented it all. Unfortunately, like most of my library, it was lost in the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. I do vividly recall watching the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald over a live CBS feed on Sunday, November 24. The black and white imagery of the RCA television set is engrained upon my mind. Jack Ruby's attack on Oswald seemed to happen in slow motion, even though it was over with in less than three seconds. How ironic that Oswald died at the very same hospital as Kennedy within one or two rooms of one another. While the conspiratorial theorists may never be satisified, the evidence of Oswald's role as a lone assassin seems to bear more and more validity as the years drag on. Whether it will be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt also seems unlikely. Former New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison was sure he had the evidence to link Oswald to others who had better motives, but as we know, he was never able to prove his suspicions in a court of law. Whether we think that it was Castro, the Cosa Nostra, or agents of the military industrial complex, the fact is nobody can ever state categorically they know the answer to this question. The main thing for all of us Americans to remember is that it should never happen again. It almost did in 1981 with Ronald Reagan. Thanks to Providence and a staff of "Republican" doctors, as Reagan joked in the ER, his life was spared, but it could just as easily have been a tragedy had the bullet trajectory moved just a little to either side. Two times before that it was Gerald Ford who surivived two different attacks within weeks of one another in September of 1975; the first by Manson desciple Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and 17 days later the second by Sara Jane Moore, who I am reluctant to admit was born Sara Jane Kahn, a Jewish housewife married five times with four children. In case you didn't hear, she was paroled last December, a year and a few days after Gerald Ford passed away from natural causes. Another Jew, Samuel Byck, also attempted to kill a sitting president in 1974, I am sorry to report. The half-hearted attempt involved hijacking a bus and crashing it into the White House in an effort to kill Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. While I was never a fan of Nixon's politics, I would never condone such a lame-brained scheme (as were all of these latter-day attempts). Yet, the one defining moment for me, when the country lost its innocence was when J.F.K. died. The later assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy also had pronounced effects on me, but they were defined best as auxillary to the assassination of our youngest elected president. There was a numbness that overcame the nation on November 22, 1963 and I am not certain it has ever fully lifted, now 45 years later.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Justice the Judge Judy way

Some afternoons while I am repairing computers, scanning files or doing something else that requires infinite patience, I have been flipping on the TV to pass the time. Usually, there's not much on to see other than Maury Povich exclaiming "You ARE the father!" or "You ARE NOT the father!" It would seem, though, that I am becoming more enamored with the short shrift Judge Judy Sheindlin has been giving plaintiffs and defendants in her TV courtroom. "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining," was one of her favorite taunts that I recall several years back. Some of her other more snappy rejoinders have been "Want to know how you can tell when teenagers are lying?" followed by "Their lips are moving!" She is the epitome of the know-it-all Jewish mother, who knows what's right and won't stand for any foolishness on the part of witnesses or litigants in her court. Although I wouldn't want to settle any of my legal battles in front of her bench, I find it incredible to think that there are hundreds of others who think that they will get a measure of justice on a TV program, especially with someone who is so opinionated and intolerant. But that's what endears her to me, I guess, and makes for fun TV entertainment. Catching witnesses in lies is one of her best talents and I offer a word of caution to anyone who thinks they can pull one over on her. The operative catchphrase would be: forget it! She's way too crafty and, as she will remind those who enter her court, way too smart to let that happen. Sometimes, I must admit, I find her lack of tolerance a bit unnerving, especially given that a judge is supposed to be neutral before rendering a decision. It would seem that in most cases she has predetermined what her judgment will be. The dance that is seen in her court seems to be for her pleasure as litigants each try to get a word in edgewise, usually not quite as effectively as they would have expected prior to their appearance. I like her nasty demeanor in some ways, but I am repulsed by it in others. Oh, well, I guess it does pass the time and, after all, that's the only reason I am really watching it. Oh, yeah, I'm also looking for some snappy retorts like "Uh...is not an answer!"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big Three and Thee

Are there any people out there who still believe that what's good for General Motors is good for America? Those are the people who will no doubt support the $25 billion bailout package being sought by GM, Ford and Chrysler. Others, like me (and some members of Congress) have to question whether this is a wise move or more likely throwing money at a problem and hoping it will go away. The Big Three may become the Big Two or the Only One after this financial crisis resolves itself, but the industry has been in trouble for some time, hemorraging losses year after year as foreign car companies steadily captured more and more of the U.S. market. American consumers are not buying American cars as they once did. Credit Japanese and German carmakers with building a better, more fuel efficient series of vehicles that have left American car buyers clammoring for more of the same from their domestic carmakers. When gas prices were hovering around the $4.00 mark, those in fuel efficient gas-powered foreign autos or hybrids weren't exactly smiling, but they weren't wincing in pain like those driving American guzzlers. With the exception of a used Datsun that I drove back for a short time in the 70s following an accident and an ill-fated day that I bought a used Porshe only to have it fail, I have only owned one foreign car for more than a year, a Volvo. I don't believe there are quite as many American consumers who can claim that track record. Nevertheless, I can understand the need to move to a better, more efficient product. The American people have cast their votes with their wallets and pocketbooks. I believe that a handout is not necessary, but a hand up is. I am concerned about the possibility of American workers losing as many as two million jobs and the residual fallout from that. I'm also concerned about what those lost jobs could mean to local communities as car dealerships reel in economic disaster. The Big Three need to realize that the federal government doesn't want them to fizzle, but it's not willing to prop up failing businesses with wads of cash that will quickly evaporate. There's no doubt they would be back for another handout in short order. At $154 million per day in losses, it's time for the Big Three to start figuring out how they can work with the United Auto Workers, rein in these staggering losses, and come up with options on how they can maintain what little part of the marketplace they still cling to. These hard decisions will have to be made soon whether a bailout is possible or not. Perhaps the CEOs of the Big Three had this to mull over as they flew back to Detroit aboard their private jets, winging their way back to their boardrooms.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fringe benefits and no bonuses

The New Orleans Fringe Festival closed out its inaugural run last night and with few exceptions, I found it to be an incredibly successful four days of theatre, dance and innovative experimental multimedia. I was blown away with the caliber of performances and by the numbers of attendees who gleefully paid their $7.00 per ticket to attend the shows at six different main venues and seven alternative venues organized by the artists themselves. For the first year, it proved to be a well-run venture that brought in many dollars to participating venues. Although I was only able to see three shows on Sunday in addition to the four on Saturday I had written previously (see "Scurry with the Fringe on Top"), I found the shows to be worthy and with sufficient production values to make the presentations enjoyable. Shows that I saw ran the gamut from dark comedies to experimental theatre. Le Chat Noir's "...in other words, New Orleans," started off the Fringe shows that I saw Sunday. The ten short one act plays focused on New Orleans and its recovery efforts. The cast was composed of ten talented local players, some of whom were writers like Vernel Bagneris ("One 'Mo Time") and Jamie Wax ("Goin' To Jackson"). Following that show I rushed off to see other Fringe projects in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. "Danny the Diver and Luna" at St. Mark's Community Center was an incredible ballet of light, color and music produced by three overhead projector operators playing to a pre-recorded soundtrack. The three projectors would turn on and off in synchronicity providing brilliantly crafted concordance telling the two stories in seamless fashion on the large screen. I watched in amazement as they told their tales with the two file boxes of prepared transparencies, shifting them ever so carefully or rolling them across the face of the projector in concert with one another. Ponder one aspect of their artistic achievement, which is that everything they do is upside down. So, if a fish has to swim from top to bottom on the screen, it would be moved from the bottom of the face of the projector towards the top. Puppetry was the focus for the final show of the night. "The Tragical Ballet of Black Bonnet" was produced by a local troupe and was based on the true story of a Scottish kitchen maid born with...er...an extra set of plumbing.
Goldman-Sachs top seven executives decided today they would not accept bonuses this year. How benevolent of them. After all, they each make a base salary of $600,000, which would seem pretty high for most executives. Last year's bonuses ran $19 billion and was split between them, so their decision will cost them over $2 billion each. With the current financial crisis and recession (yes, we can say that word) in place, I am glad that somebody out there is admitting that this is probably not the time to accept payment for what might be considered disastrous fiduciary stewardship. Hard times demand sacrifices. Now if we can only get the top hedge fund managers to take a similar posture and give some of their bonuses back to their companies.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Scurry with the Fringe on top

The inaugural New Orleans Fringe Festival kicked off this past Thursday and already, before it's even closed down, it is a runaway success. With dozens of shows in nearly a dozen venues, the areas of Faubourg Marigny and Bywater have been blessed with fair weather and huge crowds at small houses that have been packed with eager theatregoers and aficionados of dance. The success of the New Orleans Fringe Festival in only its first year has got to be due to the diligence of its creators Kristen Evans and Dennis Monn. Monn is the artistic director, while Evans is the executive director. The two have assembled a Cracker Jack staff of mostly volunteers and patterned it after other successful Fringe festivals, the granddaddy of all located in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Fringe began in 1947. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is known for dozens of street venues with performers putting on well-done original pieces or street performers doing their own eclectic thing. In any event the concept of a Fringe festival has spread like wildfire across the country. The New York Fringe Festival, for example, has garnered for itself quite a reputation for engaging and sometimes experimental theatre and there are several past entries at the New York Fringe that appear at this year's New Orleans Fringe Festival. This first festival has provided quite a number of quite reputable productions, each running about an hour in length. The price of pre-purchased tickets from the festival tent is only $5.00 each, but everyone has to purchase a $3.00 Fringe pin with any ticket purchase, so the cost is really $8.00. Tickets purchased at each venue cost $7.00, but the cost of a Fringe pin puts that up to $10.00. I must confess that I had not expected the large number of interested and attentive crowds that have attended all the shows. Some of the shows I caught on Saturday were "Galveston," a story about an old curmudgeon who considers himself "the greatest lover on the island" and his erstwhile 15-year-old "son" and best friend, whom he sends off to drown his girlfriend at her request so that she can be resuscitated and thus reborn. "Baby Boom" was a dark comedy that depicted a couple who find a machine gun in a baby basket left at their doorstop and who decide to raise it as their very own child. "The Last Castrato" was another dark comedy about a man born without genitals who loses it. The last show on my card Saturday was "Stripped," directed by Francine Segal and starring herself and Diana Shortes as Baroness Pontalba and Jennifer Pagan as an unnamed Latino who has come to the United States to better herself. It was a packed house for a show that started at 10:00 p.m., which is absolutely incredible when one thinks about it. It's great to see audiences enjoying themselves, but even better to see the talented ensemble that is New Orleans theatre showcased in so many different venues. Good luck to the Fringe and I can't wait to see what goodies they bring tomorrow and on into next year.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jimi's band is complete now



Drummer Mitchell at left with Hendrix and bassist Redding

Some of you are either too old or too young to know who Mitch Mitchell was. If bassist Noel Redding's death in 2003 didn't affect you, then most likely Mitch Mitchell's passing in a Portland, Oregon hotel room yesterday morning won't make any impression either. But for those of us who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies -- those flower children and rockers who were defined by Woodstock, Haight Ashbury and the sexual revolution -- his death is significant. Mitch Mitchell, born in Ealing, England some seven years before me, achieved fame as the jazz tinged drummer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Noel Redding was the bassist and Jimi, of course, provided the left-handed lead guitar and lead vocals. It was one of the few trios in rock history that achieved any lasting effect. Most bands have always had a lead and a rhythm guitar who played against one another. That was the genius of Jimi Hendrix. No one could ever play rhythm against him, so he decided there was no need for one. Recently, Mitchell had attempted to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time, when he headed up the Experience Hendrix Tour. That tour ended last week and the 61-year-0ld performer was taking it easy over the course of a four-day vacation when he suddenly and unexpectedly died. If you ever saw a picture of Mitch Mitchell, you would say he was the perfect counterpart to Hendrix. Mitchell's wildly teased mane and colorful clothing was a complement to the leader of the band and his playing was termed by many as explosive and frenetic. He was a vital part of what made Jimi Hendrix the star he became and his passing would be considered a bigger deal had the Seattle-born guitarist lived longer than 1970. We all miss Jimi, but with Mitchell's passing yesterday and Redding's passing five years ago, the band has finally reunited. If I close my eyes, I can swear I can hear "Voodoo Chile" being played one more time....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Studying for my cousin's Bat Mitzvah

Leave it to me to volunteer. If Rodgers and Hammerstein were still alive today, they would probably write a new song titled "I Caint Say No." Hmmm...well maybe they already did do that, but it would, nevertheless, still be a valid consideration for me. Ask me to do something and watch what happens. Yes, it gets done. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely lack for something to keep me occupied. A few days ago I made plans to attend my second cousin's Bat Mitzvah in Los Angeles and was asked via an e-mail by her mom to read one of the Torah portions aloud during the services. It is a high honor to be asked, but it requires a great deal of study in order to do it properly. So what did I do? Did I graciously decline and state how honored I was in being asked? Did I make it a point to point out how difficult it would be for me to prepare for such an event? Did I quite rightfully suggest that it would be too much for to deal with in conjunction with my regular and extracurricular activities? Nope. I answered back in the affirmative and asked what aliyah (section) she had in mind. Hmmm....nothing like adding to my workload and increasing the pressure upon me. In the words of the queen of American theatre, Helen Hayes, "When you rest, you rust." Well, as I oftentimes figure, they'll always be a time for me to rest once I've passed on. In the meantime, it's back to get back to work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When we beat swords into plowshears...

Today we honor those who have gone to war or served to protect our citizenry on behalf of a grateful nation. While I feel that I am more than appropriately patriotic on a number of fronts, I don't have any surviving members of my immediate family who are among current U.S. veterans. There are two uncles on both sides. The first, my 86 year-old Uncle Irvin fought in World War II as a Marine, but my father, who was his junior by just three years, never had the opportunity to join the military. Most did. Roughly half of his graduating 1944 class at L.S.U. perished in the war. Being a chemical engineering graduate, he was immediately issued a military exemption and sent to a small town in Tennessee to work on a secret engineering project whose success would ensure the eventual end of the conflict. My father worked with uranium isotopes and was even exposed to uranium gas at Oak Ridge where only a few people understood what the Manhattan Project was all about. Although I am very proud of what he accomplished in the war effort, he had no uniform or medals to show for what he did. He had no tales of being pinned down by enemy fire in France or bravely storming Mt. Suribachi. Of course, I was glad that he did not have to undergo the terrors of a battlefield, but it is ironic that he was exempted from military service and was exposed to gas, while his father fought against the Axis in World War I. My grandfather was a part of the Rainbow Division that went "over there" and he experienced the inhumane war machine that used mustard gas to fill the lungs of thousands of soldiers, most of whom suffered horrible deaths. My grandfather survived his tour of duty, but just barely. Another soldier on the other side likewise survived a gas attack during the same war and spent several weeks convalescing at war's end. That German corporal named Hitler went back to his home and began a campaign of hate that embroiled into the World War II and the Holocaust. Meanwhile, my grandfather came home and eventually married my grandmother who bore him my father and later my dad's brother Joel (the second uncle of whom I spoke earlier) nine years later. Although my dad never served, his younger brother became a doctor and served in Japan as a member of the Air Force Medical Corps. I remember how proud my grandmother was of his service to his country and how glad she was that he served in a time of peace. It was different during my time to be called up for military service. There was a draft on and the war the nation waged in VietNam was one that split the country politically and philosophically. I don't know what I would have done had my draft number been number one as it was for those born on my birth date in 1955. I would like to think that I would have answered the call to arms and proudly served my country as did my paternal grandfather and at least one of his brothers. It is those simple men and women who serve this country that continue to guarantee freedom for our citizens and promote our democratic ways in a world where many would like to see a weak or impotent U.S military. While John Lennon imagined there were no countries, it is the realist in me that recognizes that idealism doesn't work in an imperfect world. Perhaps one day there won't be a need for soldiers and veterans, but until that day I am holding to the Scouting motto that says "Be prepared."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"God on Trial"

I was alerted at the last minute last night about a PBS "Masterpiece" drama titled "God on Trial" based on a supposed real life occurrence at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Obviously, the well-written BBC drama lent itself to an examination of the horrible conditions Jews and others were subjected to at the death camps in general and in particular at that ghastly place. Moreover, it was an opportunity to explore the major issue confronting the surviving Jews after the Holocaust was over: namely, where was God during those intolerable times? How could God allow His "chosen people" to be so callously dispatched by such malevolent monsters when they had clung to their beliefs so tenaciously? What was God's plan in all of this or was there no plan at all? Was it all a matter of man's free will running amok? Or were the best among the Jews, their most precious of victims, destined to be slaughtered for some divine plan unknown to them at the time? It was a wrenching production that spared the viewer the most vile and sinister portions of what Auschwitz residents endured, but expanded what might have been a simple storyline into a philosophical and religious in-depth exploration. This was a group of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times. Some were deeply devout and tried to explain their circumstances as a redaction of God's will, while others who had lost their faith questioned the very existence of an Almighty being who could allow the Holocaust to take place. The fast-paced script brought traditional Jewish thought and challenged it in a courtroom-like setting set in an Auschwitz dormitory. The British actors were superb with outstanding performances by Rupert Graves, Anthony Sher, Stellan SkargÄrd and Dominic Cooper among others. If you missed it, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled on PBS for a repeat performance. While not a historical certainty, the trial is a fascinating tool to bring into view the soul searching that tested the faith of all who lived during those trying times. This very strong drama provides its audience with philosophical and theological issues and makes for compelling, not-to-be-missed TV viewing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

O Come, O Come Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel is girded for battle, only not the kinds of battles with which his father may have been familiar some years ago. For those of you who have not heard, Rahm, the 48-year-old son of an Israeli physician who moved to New York, is leaving his position in Congress where he made a name for himself as a hardened Democratic fighter on the Hill. His entry into politics started many years ago during the late Paul Simon's 1984 race for president. He followed that up with a successful stint when Richard Daley captured the Chicago mayoralty. A bit later he started work with a then-unknown governor in Arkansas who was preparing a run for the presidency himself. Emanuel was probably Bill Clinton's biggest fundraiser and even during the most troubling periods of his presidency, Emanuel was still able to get money brought in to help the president wage his legal battles. Perhaps it's the scrappy Israeli in his heritage or it's just his nature, but he is not someone who will back down from a fight lightly. In "Godfather" fashion, he has been known during Clinton's presidency to send someone whom he felt was being disloyal a dead fish ("Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes.") and his selection as Barack Obama's Chief of Staff was loudly bemoaned by Republican Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who, given Obama's claim to be more centrist, labeled the choice as "ironic." Emanuel is not considered the cool, level-headed plotter that some may have thought Obama would have gone with as his Chief of Staff. In terms that Mario Puzo might employ, Emanuel is the "Sonny" of the House chamber, not a level-headed "Michael." Because of his temper, he probably wouldn't have made a good choice as Speaker of the House, which Emanuel was hoping to capture in another few years. But, perhaps Obama needs Emanuel as someone whose loyalty and insight he can trust. A good chief of staff must be able to tell the President no from time to time and to back up what he says. Emanuel strikes me as someone who won't pull his punches, even if it lands him in trouble with the rest of the Cabinet, the First Lady (as was the case with Hillary Clinton), or the press. Also, putting a man with close ties to Israel can't help but stifle some of the Jewish critics who have wondered aloud if Obama will be good for the Jews and the Jewish State. Interestingly enough, Emanuel is a close friend of Aaron Sorkin, the creator of TV's "The West Wing." Sorkin allegedgly based the character of presidential aide Josh Lyman in the drama on Emanuel. So truth echoes fiction and how the final script will be written only time and history will tell.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Another Spirit of 76


©TimothyA. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The words historic, transformational, and momentous seem to pale given the light of day and the realization that the United States of America has initiated a new era of change with the selection of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President. It took two years and was the most expensive race for the White House ever waged. Yet, as the dust settled on Election Day there emerged the two nominees congratulating each other with grace and admiration, reminding their party faithful that America had spoken and that everyone needed to support the choice that had been made. Like the war hero and patriot that he is, John McCain delivered a brilliant consolation speech advising the Republicans who gathered in Arizona in the midst of defeat that America had won respect throughout the world for the peaceful transition it had achieved at the ballot box. For his part, in front of a Chicago crowd of 125,000 at Grant Park, Barack Obama delivered a rousing, emotional speech with the anthem "Yes we can" reverberating throughout the crowd, their cheers rising up through the night air and reaching into the homes of the nation via the broadcast waves. It is incredible when one considers that 40 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King -- a moment when African-Americans most despaired for true equality -- that one of their own will soon occupy the highest office in the land. As a child I remember those turbulent days in the Old South and I recall the pushback to the civil rights movement that resulted in sit-ins, marches and, sometimes, unfortunately, that escalated into violence. America is on the brink of a new era that will have a great deal of scrutiny on the young family that will soon live in the White House. As the President-Elect suggested, these will be tough times ahead and there will be setbacks along the way. Only 76 days remain between now and January 20 when he takes his historic, transformational and momentous oath of office. God bless him and, in the words he ended his address last night, "God bless the United States of America."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

00 or 01

With today's elections, the choice boils down to two simple selections. Do we want to vote for 00, which is a possibility? Or will we decide to go with 01 instead? In binary, the language of computers, it's just that simple. Either the bit is turned off (0) or it is turned on (1). Granted, when it comes to selecting a president, it is a much more complex and detailed affair. Over the course of the last several weeks, I have received a number of troubling e-mails from friends who are obviously supporting John McCain that suggest a vote for Barack Obama is a vote that guarantees creeping socialism. There have been a number of other e-mails from a smaller group of Barack Obama supporters who have similarly predicted economic disaster under a McCain presidency. Of course the two can't both be right, but such is politics. If only the choice were as simple as a bit turned on or a bit turned off. Computers have it much easier than we responsible American voters. A rogue program can be installed that can do great harm to a computer system. Yet, in most cases a computer program can be removed and, if corrupted, reinstalled without any trace of a lingering problem. Unfortunately, the decision rendered at the polls and through the number of electors selected for the Electoral College, which is what we popular voters are actually doing today, cannot be reversed so easily. There will be at least four more years in front of us to undo what agenda we launch today. Frankly, I believe both major candidates march to the beat of their own drums. A vote for McCain is not a continuation of the Bush era in all respects; nor is a vote for Obama going to necessarily mean a sweeping series of reforms from which America will never recover. There is a truth that lies somewhere in the middle of all this rhetoric. As a responsible journalist with -- dare I say the word -- ethics, it has been my aim to walk the middle ground between the Democratic and Republican Parties without expressing my own leanings or desires. What I want for the future of America will be expressed privately in the voting booth and not necessarily through words I write or post online. I do want a strong, secure America with a robust economy and freedom for all of its citizens. I want the children who cannot vote today to inherit a country that offers them protection and guarantees them and their children and their children's children rights and liberty. The best way we all can do that is to exercise our right to vote today and to cherish the fact we have this opportunity. May God provide the providence to the leaders of our nation elected today to keep the United States a leader among nations and a country of whom our forefathers can still be proud. If only it were as simple as 00 or 01.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Take it from "Les Miserables"

At the very end of Act One in the musical "Les Miserables," the protagonists are prepared to battle one another at the barricades. The student revolutionaries are joined on stage by the beleaguered Jean Valjean who is relentessly pursued by the malevolent police inspector Javert. Valjean's ward -- his daughter Marius -- has smitten one of the idealistic students, Marius, who must decide as to whether he will join his fellow students or seek out her love. Meanwhile, Eponine, the daughter of the cutthroat thief Thernadier, pines for Marius, hoping he'll notice her. The students, led by Enjolras, wave a red flag in the background as the voices of the hopeful rise in harmony proclaiming "Tomorrow we'll discover what our God has in store! One more dawn! One more day! One day more!" It is riveting theatre and among the most powerful onstage moments in a Broadway musical. It is much the same in the political theatre today. The two presidential candidates are jetsetting across the country trying to haul in as many votes in the traditional red or blue states, but in reality they are just trying to innervate the electorate. Voting lines should be very long tomorrow, but the election is so important to the future of this nation that I can't imagine too many people complaining excessively. Well, there will be voter irregularities. There always are. Make sure that your votes count. Don't wear campaign buttons, paraphenalia, or shirts that may contain logos or the names of candidates. It might be considered electioneering and could be cause for poll workers to prevent your voting. Carry I.D. with you and be prepared to prove to poll workers that you are who you say you are. Proper identification is usually a driver's license, U.S. passport, or state-issued I.D. card. Don't think anything less will be considered valid. Wherever you may be, check out in advance to whom you need to report voting irregularities or fraud. Call them right away and, if you have a cell phone, do so within moments of voting as close to the polling place as you can without being inside. It is important that you document any problems and, if you can do so without inviting injury from others, ask if any other witnesses are willing to come forward as well. Here's the link for the Louisiana Secretary of State, whose office is in charge of elections. Use common sense and don't make a scene. If you feel intimidated or threatened, remove yourself from the polling place immediately and alert authorities. So, one more day! One day more! I hope this real life Act Two turns out better than it did in Les Miserables.