Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Shepherd who lost his way

It seems somewhat ironic that a man named Shepherd could be lost, but the truth is that State Senator Derrick Shepherd is in full-blown meltdown now and no one, not even his closest supporters or ex-girlfriend, can save him. Shepherd, already under federal indictment for alleged money laundering, added to his woes over the weekend when he was accused by former girlfriend Thaise Ashford, 29, of having broken into her home in the middle of the morning, punched her and stolen $100 and her cell phone. When Jefferson Parish Sheriff Deputies went to Shepherd's home in answer to the complaint, they allegedly found him in the company of two women, one of whom was performing a provocative dance for the Marrero Democrat. That alone is not worthy of his being arrested, but when the deputies executed a search warrant, they found Ashford's cell phone inside his home. His arrest early Saturday morning caused heads to turn because the terms of his release on a federal bond seemed to be clearly broken. That would mean that Shepherd would have to forfeit his freedom and spend the remainder of the time behind bars leading up to his federal trial on October 6. After a day in the slammer Shepherd was released early Sunday morning under house arrest with a monitoring ankle bracelet. A hearing was hurriedly arranged on Tuesday in front of a federal magistrate and anxious lawyers, reporters and voters gathered inside the chambers to hear what fate would await Shepherd. But then the unexpected happened. Placed under oath and on the stand before U.S. Magistrate Louis Moore, Jr., Ashford recanted her story. She said she had invited Shepherd over to her home to reconcile as a couple, but that he was late and she became angry and called the Sheriff's Office to file a false complaint. Ashford asked that all charges be dropped against Shepherd and filed an afidavit on his behalf. Prosecutors and Sheriff's Deputies were caught off guard. Meanwhile, Moore ordered that Shepherd be placed in a halfway house until he could sort it all out. That's where the whole brouhaha stands as of now. Ashford may be prosecuted for filing false charges, but no one is commenting on that just yet. Shepherd may be able to maintain his freedom, but not without a major fight. And then there's the federal trial in the fall. He maintains his innocence on all of the charges and says that the latest round including alleged breaking and entering, theft and battery charges are without merit. He may just be right. Or at least halfway right.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Jews of Natchez

Temple B'nai Israel, 213 South Commerce Street

It is obvious to one who examines the history of Natchez that the importance of the Jewish community was notable. Jewish merchants were among the most important that established Natchez as a major center of trade, beginning in the late 18th Century. Several decades later in 1843, many of the wealthy Jewish families of Natchez banded together and founded the first permanent Jewish house of worship in Mississippi, Temple B'nai Israel (Children of Israel). Just after the Civil War ended, the congregation purchased a plot of land in downtown Natchez at South Commerce and Washington Streets. Quickly affiliated as a charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations that led the Reform movement, Temple B'nai Israel continued to serve the needs of the Jewish community there until a fire destroyed the building in 1903. As a testament to the commitment on the part of the Jews to reestablish their presence in Natchez in short order, a new structure was hurriedly erected just two years later in 1905 paid for by funds raised in both the Jewish and Christian communities. But the lasting spirit of the Jews of Natchez failed to consider the possibility that their community might one day leave their city perched high on the banks of the Mississippi River. Events in 1908 set a trend that has, unfortunately, continued to this day. After the ubiquitous cotton crop so essential to Natchezians was hit hard by the boll weevil and the Mississippi River overflowed its banks, flooding the downtown area, Jewish merchants and their families began to flee for the safety of other cities. In less than 25 years only one third of its former 450 Jewish families remained. The once large, burgeoning Jewish community in Natchez is down to as few as 10 families. As it turns out, religious services are held just twice a month on alternating Sabbaths with the help of a traveling rabbi. On several occasions the synagogue was in peril of losing its status as one of the founding members of the UAHC (now the Union for Reform Judaism) due to its inability to pay dues. In recent years the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience has taken over the physical plant and installed an exhibit on the Jews of Natchez. The museum plans to operate it as a satellite facility once it is no longer utilized for regular worship services. In this way the historic temple will continue to serve as a source of information and a font of historical research for those who are interested in the glorious past of a community that has all but disappeared. For more details on Temple B'nai Israel, check out the digital archive from the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life: Digital Archive

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A trace of Natchez

Greetings from a city which is three years older than New Orleans and wherein is found the largest concentration of antebellum mansions in the country. I have spent several tranquil days in Natchez, the terminus of the famed Natchez Trace and a place steeped in early American history. There is a tendency here to take things a little too easy, to get caught up in the slow-moving and staid qualities of this picturesque place. For a harried New Orleanian to take time out to explore a picture gallery at a Presbyterian church, for example, would definitely seem out of place. But the picture gallery - a photographic representation of two major photographers' work - was one of the best experiences and on the same level as one would expect at the Smithsonian or other top-grade museum. There was a significant Jewish influence in Natchez that sprang up early in its history. Many of the city's top merchants were Jewish and the hotel at which I stayed, the Eola, was founded by the Levy family, who owned a retail outlet next door to the hotel on North Pearl Street. Sadly, only ten Jewish families are left to maintain one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the South, Temple B'nai Israel. (More on that tomorrow.) A ride in a horse-drawn carriage is something that I usually think of as low priority, but I must admit that the guides in Natchez seem to be on top of their game. The 40-minute tour was informative, humorous and relaxing. Food in Natchez is, well, okay. I haven't been knocked out by the kitchens here or by any chef doing superlative work, but it has been palatable. Servers are pleasant and they do make the meal go smoothly. They try very hard, even those serving breakfast in the Eola Hotel. The Natchez Trace affords several incredible opportunities for exploring including Emerald Mound, the second largest Indian mound in the U.S. Used for ceremonies and games, the very tall plateau with two hills on either side resembles a modern day football or lacrosse configuration. There are lots of things to see along the Trace, although I didn't have a lot of time to do more than see Emerald Mound and Mount Locust, one of the inns where travelers stayed while hiking along the path that led back to Pittsburgh. There are many antebellum mansions to see here including the Stanton Manor and Melrose, but the place I chose to visit yesterday was the William Johnson House maintained by the National Parks Service. Johnson was a freed slave who was known as the "barber of Natchez." He not only owned sizeable real estate holdings, but also owned a plantation with slaves, something that was not as unusual as one might expect. In any event, that home was quite revealing because of Johnson's diaries, which were presented to give an insight into life in Nineteenth Century Natchez. It's all part of the sleepy charm of this quaint city.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Causeway Two-Step and The Last Exit

Ah, yes. I know that I'm back in the land of dreamy dreams and the former playground of the Kingfish. All I need do is scan the recent headlines dealing with the Causeway Commission, the agency that maintains what used to be the longest bridge in the world. It is a tangled tale of alleged inebriation and suspicious behavior on behalf of enforcement officers in the way they handled an incident with the mayor of Mandeville, where the 24-mile span ends on the North Shore. Both small and large players have paid the price in terms of losing their jobs over the fallout from this fiasco. And now comes news that the former police chief of Kenner will reap a huge financial windfall in the coming years. Where to start? Should I talk of Tulane football star Eddie Price, Sr.? Price, who later joined the NFL's New York Giants, was the Green Wave's gridiron hero from 1946 to 1949. His 1948 single season and career rushing records still stand on the books as the greatest at Tulane, my alma mater. When Price retired from the world of professional sports, he literally set up shop at the edge of the Tulane campus, the scene of his former athletic prowess. A small eatery, beer hall and pinball joint, Eddie Price's was the gathering place for Tulane and Loyola students who wanted to relax, smoke cigarettes and enjoy a burger. A number of pinball players there attested to some alleged minor form of gambling going on where numbers of games would result in payoffs. It seemed a little shady at times, but it was business as usual there for many years and Tulane never seemed to have many problems with its former star running the place, which also sold some grocery and convenience items, if memory serves. In 1972 all of that changed. The night manager was shot and killed in a robbery attempt gone bad and Eddie Price, Sr., overcome with grief, soon closed the popular spot, making an opportunity for another small eating place located two blocks away up Zimple Street to take over the lease at the corner of Broadway. As a result, The Boot became the established late night pub adjacent to the Tulane campus and has been a fixture there for over 30 years. It was only a few years later that Price died of a heart attack at the very young age of 53. I've often thought that the shooting at the place that bore his name may have contributed to his demise. Fast forward a few years later and the name of Eddie Price, Jr. begins to make the political rounds, his popularity fueled by the legend of his dad's gridiron performances. Price, Jr. was elected to several low level offices before becoming mayor of Mandeville. A few months ago Hizzoner crashed through an unopened gate in the toll plaza of the Causeway and drove off with his lights off on his city-furnished SUV. He was pulled over by two Causeway Police officers a bit up the road and, despite admitting to having had a few drinks and exhibiting behavior consistent with drunk driving, he was never arrested or even required to take a field sobriety test. Instead, he was allowed to call someone to drive him home and move his car. Officers checked with their supervisor and he woke up the Causeway Police Chief to inquire what to do with the man whose signature appears on the bottoms of their paychecks each week. Later, it was alleged that Price had been stopped on at least one other occasion and allowed to drive off despite being inebriated. Eventually, one of the officers resigned. Two others were disciplined and later fired. The internal investigation lauched by
Causeway Police Chief Felix Loicano found him at fault partially, even though all he advised the supervisor to tell the officers was to be discrete, but do their duty. When it was all over Loicano was compelled to resign. Price agreed to pay for repairs to the toll plaza gate, thought to be at least $600-$700 and was issued a citation that cost him another $250 or so. The public outcry was so great that Price thought it best to turn in his city vehicle. Yesterday, Loicano's successor was named: none other than former Kenner Police Chief Nick Congemi, Jr., who had a tempestuous battle for mayor of Kenner a few years ago and retired. The thought of heading up another police department and a $90,000 a year salary proved too tempting to Congemi to stay out of consideration. Because of a nepotism law in effect at the Causeway Commission, Congemi's son, an employee for less than a year, will be forced to resign his post so that his dad can accept his new position. Meanwhile, Mayor Eddie Price, Jr. is the butt of jokes with labels like "Fast Eddie" and he is still in power with no apparent problems. Meanwhile, at least five people will be out of jobs and the beat goes on. It's all part of politics as usual as the Causeway Two-Step is all the rage these days.
Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor whose "Last Lecture" inspired millions and who bravely fought pancreatic cancer for the past two years, finally succumbed to the deadly disease earlier this morning at his Virginia home. He was just 47 and leaves behind a grieving widow, two young boys and a toddler daughter. For those of you who did not know about Pausch, I strongly suggest you search his amazing life on the Internet. My dad died as a result of pancreatic cancer, so anytime I see someone in his prime struck down by this virulent disease I am especially saddened.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bulldozer drama, Obama and a Golden Mama

It's been a frantic past few days for those of us following Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama as he jets back and forth meeting with American military advisers and with Middle East leaders. It was interesting to see him wear a yarmulka (skullcap) at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel, as he paid homage to the millions of dead and righteous Gentiles honored there. While Obama was in Jordan on his way to Israel, yet another Arab Israeli bent on wreaking havoc with a bulldozer went on a rampage. He was shot dead by Israeli border police in the heart of Jerusalem not far from the King David Hotel, where Obama stayed. Thankfully, there were no deaths other than the assailant in this vicious attack, but at least 16 people were injured, one seriously, including an infant baby and her mother. The fact is it could have been much worse had the police not acted swiftly. According to published reports, the 22-year-old assailant was an East Jerusalem Arab who held an Israeli identification card. It was reported that his uncle is a member of the Palestinian Authority Parliament presently jailed in Israel. This second attack, like the first on July 3, attempted to inflict maximum casualties by selecting a bus filled with passengers. Were it not for alert driving on the part of the bus driver, the number of injured could have been much higher and several deaths could have occurred. According to Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, this second attack could mean much more scrutiny in the hiring of Arabs to do heavy construction work in Jerusalem or elsewhere about the country.
In the meantime, another force to be reckoned with in the past, Estelle Getty, a star on TV's "The Golden Girls," passed away quietly from the effects of dementia on Tuesday. Getty, who played Sophia, a Sicilian mother to Bea Arthur's Dorothy on TV was born Estelle Scher to Jewish Polish immigrants in New York in 1923. She got her start in the Yiddish theatre scene there. As a teenager she performed in the Catskills doing stand-up, but struggled as an actress for many years. It was late in life when she achieved success playing a Jewish mother in Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" on Broadway. That led to her audition for NBC's "The Golden Girls," which garnered her seven nominations for Emmys and three for Golden Globes during its run from 1985 to 1992. She won one of each: a Golden Globe in 1986 and an Emmy in 1988. Getty made a career playing mothers of every type and description. She also starred in the forgetable Sly Stallone comedy "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" and had minor roles in "Tootsie," "Mask" and "Mannequin." She began suffering from Lewy body dementia about eight years ago, which was erroneously reported by some tabloids as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's Disease. Getty was 84 at the time of her death, but she would have turned 85 in three more days. In her honor Lifetime Channel has announced it will run ten episodes of "The Golden Girls" on Friday, July 25. Fans can vote for their favorite episode on the cable channel's website and the episode that has the most fan votes will run last.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is Governor Jindal looking to become Veep?

Although he continues to deny that he is interested in becoming John McCain's running mate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the youngest sitting governor, is having another audience with the Republican presumptive nominee tomorrow. This has raised a number of eyebrows because McCain is thought to be well ahead in the state and having a private audience with Jindal on a second occasion seems, well, somewhat unnecessary. This continues to fuel speculation that Jindal is on the short list of Vice-Presidential candidates for the McCain ticket. "I have the job that I've always wanted," Jindal has been quoted as saying and I believe that he speaks the truth there. No one, however, can be expected to withstand the intense amount of pressure that will be put to him by the McCain team should they decide he will be an effective counter against Barack Obama and whoever he chooses as a running mate on his ticket. It would seem to me that Jindal could campaign with McCain for the relatively short period between the Republican Convention and the election in the fall without any lasting fallout in the state executive...unless he and McCain should win. Obviously, then, he would have to resign and Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu would step right into the governor's mansion. Frankly, that's not a bad scenario. I have known Mitch for decades (his father is former H.U.D. Secretary and New Orleans mayor "Moon" Landrieu and his sister Mary is one of the two U.S. Senators from the state). He would make an excellent choice as governor and could sweep into office without fearing a challenge from the northern electorate of the state (Shreveport and Monroe in particular), who tend to regard anyone from New Orleans as a godless heathen. Mitch lost out to Mayor Ray Nagin in the last race for New Orleans mayor, but he mounted a clean campaign, despite a lot of opportunities to use less than gentlemanly tactics. As the head of a number of state agencies, Mitch has performed well and he would continue to bring integrity to the office should Jindal resign. Of course, this is all pure speculation. The governor says he's not going and John McCain's not talking either. So, why is McCain headed here when he has such a lot of ground to cover in his presidential campaign? It does make one think.
Speaking of governors...Former four-time Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, serving his time in federal prison for , is hoping to hear from President George W. Bush as to whether his sentence will be commuted and he be issued a presidential pardon. Even if Bush fails to act on the pardon, Edwards, 80, will be out of the pen in 2011. That's plenty of time for him to think about a fifth term in 2012, although as a convicted felon, he may no longer be eligible to run. In Louisiana politics anything is possible. But it begs the question, how can you make a ham kosher?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The latest spyware that masks as antivirus

I'm not sure that any of you have been hit by a new program called Antivirus 2008 or XP Antivirus 2008, but if you have, you'll know of the problems associated with what properly would be called spyware. Spyware that masks itself as an antivirus program? Well, yes, and why not? For those of us remembering the "good old days" when Microsoft security was a bigger joke than it is today and viruses were a daily occurrence, the necessity of an anti-virus program was unquestioned as a best practice. Today, with beefed up security in Microsoft operating systems like Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (or for you who were unlucky enough to have upgraded to Service Pack 3 with its many foibles) and Windows Vista with or without Service Pack 1, the biggest threat to computer security comes not from viruses, but from spyware. Spyware is in a way so big a problem and with so many permutations, it is not unlike talking about the fight against cancer. Cancer can strike in a variety of ways and can spread slowly from one organ to another or metathesize quickly throughout a body. Spyware can be innocuous or dangerous. It really depends on what kind of spyware hits unlucky victims as to how disabled their security will be or whether personal information could be compromised that could potentially be used for identity theft or criminal activity. The XP Antivirus 2008 program features a logo that resembles the security logo used in Windows XP and uses several ingenious popups that make it appear that normal computer activity is in reality viruses. It "finds" these "infections" and then offers to remove them for a license fee. I've even seen it emulate a blue screen of death (or BSOD) in order to scare computer owners into clicking on their product. People whose computers are hijacked in this manner oftentimes will pay these criminals because they believe it is necessary. There is no online or phone support. Once they get paid, they are nowhere to be found. The only effective way to fight these charges is to get in contact with your credit card company and dispute any charges that are made to your account immediately. I've been checking the best way to remove XP Antivirus 2008 and I can tell you that I have had some field success with SUPERAntispyware (Home Page), which has a free home user edition. SUPERAntispy also offers upgrades to its Professional Edition at $29.95 per year. AVG Antivirus Free Edition 8.0 is also very good, but comes without any phone and very limited online support. I've also found that AVG 8.0 Free Edition will stop printing through Internet Explorer 7.0 if upgraded from AVG 7.5 edition on a Windows Vista computer. Using an alternative browser like Mozilla Firefox 2.0 or 3.0 will correct the problem. AVG is also now pushing its Professional Edition, which can cost $59.99 for two years. That's not a bad price when compared to McAfee or Symantec. In any event, please be careful of anything that suddenly appears on your computer and never, never click on any popups that are not from a known application like Norton, McAfee, Panda, Trend Micro, AVG, etc. or from Windows itself. If you're not sure, click the red "x" in the upper corner of the window. If it's a legitimate popup from Windows or an anti-virus program, it should identify itself in the blue bar at the top of the popup or window. If you have any doubt of the origin, call your nearest computer tech and ask. A professional will let you know in just a minute or so over the phone if he (or she) believes it is spyware or a downloader virus. You should not be expected to pay for this service. Any professional who wants a fee for a phone consultation like this is in my opinion too greedy to be worth having as your adviser. Find someone else you can trust. In the meantime, I say good luck and to the spyware good riddance!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Neil Armstrong and the dream of space

When I was 14 and away at summer camp, I was keenly aware, like most of my male peers, of the ongoing space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. I was always interested in reading stories about the astronauts, who were, after all, national heroes. I followed the story about the fiery deaths of Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee at the Kennedy Space Center a year and a half before. I mourned the loss of our first space-related deaths at the very beginning of the Apollo program. Several years before that I read about the sub-orbital flight of Alan Shepherd in TV Guide and the other Mercury astronauts like John Glenn when their flights were covered in Life and Look Magazines. Throughout my elementary school years and into junior high school, the Gemini program suggested that the U.S. was way behind the Soviet Union. But as the Gemini program advanced, and I grew older, it was apparent that the Soviet Union was losing steam and that the U.S. was pulling ahead in the race toward landing a man on the moon. Although it is often quoted today, I don't remember John Kennedy's famous "man on the moon" speech, but I recall the national pride we had when our astronauts took a "walk" in outer space or read the Bible while passing the surface of the moon. So, on July 20, 1969 in the middle of the morning, I joined with hundreds of campers watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon. "That's one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said. Unfortunately, the communication between the L.E.M (Lunar Excursion Module) and the Houston Space Center dropped the "and" from being heard. Forevermore Armstrong was quoted as "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind." It's a minor point, but on such an auspicious event, one should be quoted correctly. So, thirty-nine years later the date passes by and I remember how much in awe I was at seeing men on the moon. It seems odd that we haven't had a similar manned flight since Apollo 17, which left the surface of the moon in December of 1972, shortly after Watergate. Back then I thought we would have had a manned installation on the moon by the beginning of the new millennium, but times dictated differently for the space program. Instead, we concentrated on the Space Shuttle program, two of which (Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003) were lost in very tragic ways. Perhaps the dream of space exploration will become a reality for my son. Sadly, the promise of what could have been has not yet come to fruition.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

When Tabu is no longer taboo

One of the famed Holland Shaker Boys with four varieties of Tabu Absinthe

The Tales of the Cocktail has proven to be a major mid-summer festival these last few days, but I must admit that it is not about bringing tourists to New Orleans. It is all about bringing the right kind of people to New Orleans. These are the fellows who can help report about the normalcy of the city and how it has returned to its former glory. These are the people who make New Orleans the treasured place it is in others' minds. It is through their efforts in the media and through international connections that others will heed the call and make the journey to what Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan refer as "The Land of Cocktails." For a city as renowned as it is for fine food and haute cuisine, New Orleans should also be renowned for spirits. The number of cocktails invented here is impressive. Aside from the well known Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz, there are hundreds of delightful concoctions like the Vieux Carre Cocktail or Orgeat Punch that got their starts here or were so identified with the city that they became institutions of themselves. It has been fascinating seeing how many in the spirits industry have been taken away with the old grandad himself, absinthe. Absinthe has been manufactured in Europe in recent years after being outlawed since the days of World War I. The U.S. outlawed the liquor partially made from Grand Wormwood in 1912 due to faulty information that it brought on insanity and, in some cases, death. Famous for its licorice or anise flavor, absinthe is now manufactured in Europe and about four or five varieties are available in this country since the ban was lifted about a year ago. Chef Andrea Apuzzo of Andrea's Restaurant now uses Lucid Absinthe to coat the glasses of his Sazerac cocktails instead of Herbsaint, which became the most favored substitute for absinthe following its ban in 1912. They are similar, but not the same. Tabu, a German company, manufactures four varieties of absinthe including a 146 proof variety of dark green shade. Others with various levels of anise and all at 110 proof are made in red, yellow and a slightly paler green than its stronger cousin. They are not yet available in this country, but were available at a tasting in the private suite of the Holland Shaker Boys. This famous group of mixologists from Amsterdam includes the three who made the journey to appear at the Tales of the Cocktail on behalf of Sonnema Vodka, distilled in the Netherlands. Besides being very knowlegable, they were all very entertaining and the drinks made with varying degrees and varieties of absinthe were quite tasty and refreshing.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Going bananas

Alana Brennan with waiter Billie Hartline demonstrate Bananas Foster (Photo Alan Smason)

Ann and Paul Tuennerman's Tales of the Cocktail, completing its sixth year in New Orleans in promotion of all manner of spirits is winding down, but it has definitely made the French Quarter the place to be for the last several days. With the historic Monteleone Hotel as its headquarters, the city has been the festival's veritable oyster. Thursday night special dinners were held all across town at some of the finest restaurants with special cocktails and after dinner libations offered as part of the festival. This morning a Media Breakfast was held at world famous Brennan's Restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter with public relations hostess Bonnie Warren making everyone feel at home. U'Lavka Vodka provided the Bloody Marys for the pleasure of the diners. The highlight of the morning was a demonstration of how to make Bananas Foster with waiter Billie Hartline doing the honors along with an assist from the lovely Alana Brennan, whose family has run the restaurant for several generations. Media reps from across the country were first treated to baked apples in heavy cream and Eggs Hussard and Eggs Benedict before the dessert was passed out by the excellent wait staff. It was quite an experience to be a tourist in my home town. The meal was incredible, but the ability to connect with others and to relate to this delightful experience made it even more special.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

An unequal trade

I am appalled at the recent trade between Hezbellah and the State of Israel in which live prisoners were traded for dead Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. All along Israelis had been led to believe that the captured IDF soldiers were still alive when negotiations were ongoing between the terrorist organization and their government. As short a period as a year ago Israel had been assured that the soldiers captured at the beginning of the war against Lebanon were still very much alive. The fact that negotiations were held in earnest for their release as live participants was verified by the United Nations and others. Yet, when the exchange was made for several incarcerated Lebanese terrorists, there was no mention of the soldiers having been killed until at the last possible moment. To the contrary, Israel was expecting to get back live prisoners of war for the live terrorists and numerous dead held in its jails. What they got were two coffins filled with the remains of the soldiers they had hoped to restore to their families. This was the most unbalanced trade that could ever be expected to be negotiated between Hezbellah and the State of Israel and has left Israelis dismayed. Imagine if these were U.S. Marines. Would Americans stand idly by and swap our honored dead for live prisoners in a similar exchange? I think not. I know how precious Americans regard those killed in the line of duty. Israelis are just as proud and because of the size of the country regard each death with a high degree of poignancy. What is most disturbing is that the ill-conceived 2006 war between Israel and Hezbellah, was set off by Goldwasser and Regev's capture. Following the ceasefire, posters demanding their safe return went up across Israel, the United States and elsewhere around the world. JTA reports that a forensic examination of the bodies suggests Goldwasser and Regev were killed due to injuries sustained at the time of their capure and might well have been dead at the start of the six-week exchange between the Iranian backed terrorist organization and Israel. Yesterday I received an e-mail message from the Israeli representative (Community Shilchah) to New Orleans. She closed it with the words "May G-d avenge their blood." In a war that is waged in the name of the Almighty, both sides can claim divine providence and intervention. I am certain that cries of "Praise Allah!" were uttered when the Lebanese terrorists were restored to their families. It is a shame that men and women must pay the ultimate price and all in the name of religion and politics.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kindred Jewish Spirits

I am delighted that the Tales of the Cocktail, a festival comprised of a series of several events throughout the city at various venues and dedicated to celebrating spirits kicks off today. Headed up by the dynamic Ann Tuennerman, the Tales of the Cocktail's first major event launches this afternoon honoring the nation's first official cocktail of any city: the Sazerac. The history of the fabled Sazerac is in a way the history of New Orleans. Tuennerman has often called the Sazerac "history in a glass" and homage is being paid to the distinctive mixture that is made with Peychaud's Bitters (sometimes with Angostura Bitters too), rye whiskey, sugar (or simple syrup) and served in an Herbsaint coated rock glass with a lemon twist. The afternoon seminar on the Sazerac at the Monteleone Hotel will have a few politicians on hand from the Louisiana Legislature. Those stalwart ladies and gentlemen and our peerless governor who didn't sign the legislation but allowed it to become law by not vetoing it, were responsible for the recent bill that recognized the Sazerac as the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans. It went into effect a week ago. There are two rye whiskies bottled under the name Sazerac by the Buffalo Trace Distillery (the former Ancient Age Distillery) and distributed by Republic Distributors. The first is their regular 90 proof Sazerac Rye Whiskey, used by many to make traditional Sazerac cocktails. The second more pricey cousin is their 18-year-old version with an even higher alcohol content. I find that one more in the category of a sipping whiskey rather than one that would be used for a mixed drink. At the price that the 18-year-old commands and because it is exceedingly rare to find it available at a bar or hotel, it makes sense to savor its smooth and subtle flavors on the tongue in the confines of one's home. Among the local media people covering the Tales of the Cocktail festival will be Lorin Gaudin, a food and drink writer, who originally hails from Chicago. Lorin has lived in the Crescent City long enough to be considered a New Orleanian and surprised me when she let me know that she was of Jewish extraction. I suppose she was charmed by yet another suave and sophisticated New Orleanian gentleman. In addition I have become acquainted with another Jewish lady, Elyse Glickman, a writer (and fellow blogger) from Los Angeles who will also be covering many of the Tales of the Cocktail events for several national publications. We will all be looking forward to finding Jewish connections to the festival for each other for the various readership we serve. Republic Distributors and Buffalo Trace Distillery, for example, is owned by a well-known Jewish family from New Orleans. But I believe there's more to this story than that. I'm determined to find out more interesting tidbits and reveal other historical connections to the Sazerac and other famous libations. It doesn't matter how many bottles or glasses I have to empty in search of my story. In this way Lorin, Elyse and I are all kindred Jewish "spirits" on a quest. To which I have one thing to say: "L'Chaim!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


If there is one intransmutable law of nature that defines my life, it must be a vindication of Newton's First Law of Motion. The Law of Inertia states that a body in motion will stay in motion and that a body at rest will stay at rest. For me it's all about change. While most people are afraid of change, I love to act as an agent or catalyst of change. It's what makes life so interesting to me, but I must admit it does have its fallout from time to time. One of the reasons I got so involved in Boy Scouting is that it serves to make young boys into responsible young men and I can see these changes in a relatively short order. These days it is a sad fact that many parents are so involved with their work and other social networking that their kids are left to do a lot of growing up on their own. The pecking order of pre-teens and teenagers can be very cruel without several safety nets put into place that allow them to just be themselves. It seems to me that Scouting is one of those activities that keeps boys (and sometimes girls, in the case of Venturing) safely involved and committed to a set or series of goals. It becomes evident that these goals, which are closely allied with achievements of rank like First Class, Star, Life and Eagle become essential formulas for success in later life for many of these Scouts. The other evening at the JCC gym, I was pedaling my stationary bicycle and looked up at the young man doing the same adjacent to me. I recognized him as one of my former Scouts. He is one of my son's classmates, a 22 year-old recent graduate of Harvard University, who is in New Orleans for a short summer before leaving to work as a foreign exchange trader at Goldman Sachs in New York. I remember how he was hounded as a kid, even by some of our Scouts, because he was different. He was always thinking about something, but one could tell there was a lot of cogent thought going on in his head. One night, during one of my Scout meetings when the other Scouts were playing ball, he asked me to "explain" Judaism as a religious concept to him. He was asking from the standpoint of an inquisitive Christian who needed to know in his mind where and how Judaism could exist without accepting Jesus as the Messiah. His school was full of boys and girls and faculty members who were Jewish. Yet, he felt compelled to ask me. I am not sure if my carefully chosen words were as well crafted as those that might be given by a rabbi or other Jewish lay leader, but he seemed satisfied with the answers I gave him. I believe a child should always be answered with truthful answers, but that discretion should temper the truth should it be too painful to hear. Invariably, there are those questions in life which cannot be answered without peril. "Do these pants make me look fat?" is a good example of a question whose best response is a quick dash for the door. In any event, I am so glad to have been a small part of this young man's early, formative years. He might well have become a Harvard graduate without me, his Scoutmaster or the other adult members of his troop. But I would like to think that we all helped to shape him into a responsible, independent member of society and that kind of change, as Martha Stewart would quip, is a good thing. It's part of the small changes that we can all undertake every day to make life memorable and satisfying.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Goodbye Girl

Today was a sad day for all of New Orleans, but especially for those in the theatrical and cabaret communities. Today we laid to rest one of our most cherished children, a little girl who grew into a woman with talent brimming from every pore. Today Cynthia Owen was eulogized as a wonderful singer and actress and the outpouring of grief inside Trinity Episcopal Church where hundreds gathered to remember her was palpable. There were moments of levity because wherever Cindy (as oldtimers recalled her original name) went, she brought laughter. There were few dry eyes inside the church as a choir sang a collection of many of the Broadway and cabaret songs she made popular in her powerful, yet brief career. I thought about Cynthia a lot as I comforted her family members, most notably her mother, Lyla Hay Owen, a noted local playwright, director, actress and singer herself and her sister Robin, who also had tread the boards as a child. The Christian rites associated with burial differ from those found within Judaism in several ways. Jews are every bit as much in mourning as their Christian brothers, but the deceased is never put on display for people to see. It is more important to recall the loved ones through the veil of memory rather than to see their remains through the prisms of our eyes. It is felt that this is a respectful gesture of love and a fitting way to ease the transition for friends and family. I wish this were the case for Cynthia because there were video tributes playing on monitors and beautiful posters and pictures on display at the same time as the mourners had to pass in review and witness the now lifeless body confined to its final resting place. How better for me would it been to have had the glowing tributes to my dear friend heard aloud without the image of her corpse burned into my psyche. When I had first heard that Cynthia had died and a memorial service was discussed, I had been told that her body had been cremated by her grief-stricken mother. I bemoaned the fact that I would not have closure; that it were as if a page in a treasured book was removed without my knowing it. But when I found out Thursday night that the memorial service was a funeral service complete with an intact body and a wake, I began to think that my original complaint may have been in error. I wanted to mourn the loss of my friend without having to view her remains. I wanted to remember Sally Bowles, Annie Oakley, Charity Hope Valentine, and the chanteuse who could make you laugh or cry with her amazing singing abilities and stage persona. In Orthodox Judaism there is a tender ritual of burial that many outsiders and less observant Jews find troublesome. Out of reverence for the deceased member, the body is lowered to the ground in a plain coffin without nails. Once deposited into the grave, the casket is covered with dirt until it is no longer seen in any way. Some think this as heartless, but the opposite is the case. It is intended that the deceased be covered by loving family and friends as a child would be clothed by any parent. It is an act of extreme love and it also symbolically separates the period of loss when prayers become a necessary part of paying tribute to the dead. It is then that a special prayer called Kaddish is first uttered and the period of mourning known as sitting shiva begins as family members exit the cemetery. Mirrors in a house of mourning are covered so that we keep our thoughts away from being self-centered and to help us cope with the final separation. Cynthia was a lady of deep faith and a former teacher at Trinity Episcopal. I know that the service prepared for her was in keeping with the dictates of her religious background. I am certain for most it was a deeply moving experience. For me, though, I wished it were more in keeping with my faith and that I would have been able to say goodbye to one of the loves of my life in a less visible manner and keep those memories inviolate in my heart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The state of theatre

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the city of New Orleans was reeling from devastation no major urban center had ever withstood. All of the major performance venues for theater were either detroyed, severely damaged, or in serious doubt of being able to sustain a season with a population that was widely dispersed in other towns and cities. Yet, within six months the acting community was back in businesss staging theatrical productions for the psychological benefit of the weary populace and the uplifting of the scores of dedicated theatre professionals and volunteers who had returned to the city they loved. While I was not able to be here in the early days, I was able to witness several productions in 2006 and many more in the 15 months since I returned. Recently, a spectacular version of "Cabaret," originally meant to be staged in the September that followed Katrina, was restaged at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. What made this production so special was that virtually every original cast member (Jessie Terrebone, Roy Haylock, and Jimmy Murphy among them) were back for this production, almost three years later. Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre is in the midst of their run for "L'il Abner" this weekend and this follows a well received "Pal Joey" that opened the season less than a month ago. The Tulane Shakespeare Festival mounted two very strong productions of "The Taming of the Shrew" and "As You Like It," both cast in innovative settings that, for the most part, worked very well. Barbara Motley, the proprietress at Cabaret Le Chat Noir has been featured on the latest cover of New Orleans Magazine, a credit to her skills as a cabaret operator, member of the Downtown Development District, and a promoter of local theatre. Uptown, the Anthony Bean Community Theatre and Acting School have served up "Unplugged" with original music and lyrics by young peformers of the current hip hop generation. Several new production companies have opened and one of them, InSideOut Productions is mounting a moving performance of a Southern death row drama titled "Coyote on a Fence" by Bruce Graham. Directed by Ashley Riccord and starring her husband Michael Aaron Santos, this small cast with big production values shows what is capable in a post-Katrina theater environment. Across town a new staging of Chekov's "Uncle Vanya" is playing and a new production of "Private Eyes" opens this evening at Southern Repertory for their City Series. Another new company, FourFront Productions, will be presenting their first offering, "Gutenberg! The Musical!" in August. I've left out a number of others, but not intentionally. It's just that the theatre scene is so varied here that I wanted to give examples of all of the contrasting choices on a present-day menu that almost three years ago lacked basic ingredients or even a serving menu. It is a credit to the amateurs and professionals who tread the boards that theatre has rebounded so well in this city that needs so badly to be entertained and for its collective imagination to take flight.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Computers running s-l-o-w ?

More times than not, I am asked about why computers that formerly zipped along doing their thing have slowed to a virtual crawl. There are several answers, but most have to be determined by a spate of different questions. Are you running anti-spyware? If not, has the computer been compromised by downloading a spyware program that seems innocuous, but in fact is acting like a parasite on your system? Many times a flashing box warns "You have been infected. Check your system now!" and end users scared into thinking they are doing something wrong click on the "scan" only to find out that they now are truly infected with a spyware that demands $29.95 for removal of suspicious files. More times than not, the suspicious files are anything but and these programs will remove non-infected files to appear to be doing something important and vital. Spyware is not unlike a virus in the way it compromises a computer's ability to function, but unlike a virus it does not replicate itself by sending itself to other nodes on the local area network or by e-mailing itself to contacts derived from a computer's address book. With viruses no longer able to compromise many of the security holes in Windows products, virus alerts have become fewer and fewer. Even if a new virus rears its ugly head, anti-virus script writers are able to bash it in little time. The adventurous virus writer finds his moment of glory or ignonimy has faded. Aside from the vile threat from spyware, another problem with aging operating systems is the fact that temporary Internet files and cookies need to be deleted on a regular basis. The way to accomplish this easy task is to go to the Control Panel and click on Internet Options. Then click on the General Tab of Internet Properties, go to Browsing History and click on the Delete button. Click on Delete Files and wait a while. Then click on Cookies and delete those as well. If you're not running Windows XP Service Pack 2, it is slightly different. You'll have to click on Internet Options and go to the middle of the General Tab and click on View Files. Click on Select All, which should highlight them all. Then delete the Files with the Select All and delete keys found under File and Edit. Once they have been deleted, delete the Cookies in the same fashion. This should increase the speed of most computers, but in many cases the difference will be noticeable, but slight. Sometimes a reboot of the computer will yield great results because it will free up the RAM that has been allocated previously by other applications. Again, it may be a slight increase in speed, but could be just what you need. These are fairly simple practices, but should be considered from time to time (at least once a month) to keep computers running faster than they are at present. A good anti-virus and anti-spyware program is vital today. Good practices of deleting temporary Internet files and cookies and an occasional reboot will also help. Good luck.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Dear Sweet Cynthia

I regret that I must report today the loss of one of the great stars of New Orleans, nay, of America, Cynthia Owen. Cynthia died late Sunday night in Las Vegas on the eve of her 45th birthday. Her death remains unclassified, according to a report in today's edition of the Times-Picayune. Click here.
As a performer, Cynthia was without peers on the local stages. She possessed an extraordinary voice and a stage presence that made her a local luminary ever since she was a teenager in her hometown here in New Orleans. Cynthia, the daughter of local performer and singer Lyla Hay Owen, also achieved some fame as a featured performer aboard the American Queen and Robert E. Lee riverboats as well as in St. Louis at the Theatre Factory there. Cynthia also performed in a national touring company of "Nine," based on Fellini's film "8 and 1/2." Above everything else, she was a dear friend and I am blessed to have shared my life with her. A beautiful lady with an indomitable spirit, Cynthia charmed her way into the hearts of local theater goers for most of the decades of her life. She was a belter, but she could finesse the most difficult of intimate songs too. It is painful for me to think that she is gone. I remember her as a teenager coming into my family's record store and I was taken with her charm and irrepressible spirit. I caught most of her stage work through the years and counted her as among my closest of friends in the years leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, since the passage of the storm and my stay in Cleveland, I had not seen her. In the interim I had heard she was in St. Louis, had married and was now living in New York commuting between the East Coast and the West Coast. Yet, I was gladdened to hear that she would be performing as part of the cast of Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre's "Pal Joey." Unfortunately, she was ill just prior to the show's run (an attack of sciataca I was told) and her part and her song, "Zip," were hastily cut from the production. I will forever mourn the fact that I was not able to see her perform in that show. I feel certain that I would have seen her after the show and caught up with what had been going on in her life. Cynthia was a dynamo whether it was part of an ensemble or doing a cabaret show that spotlighted her abilities as a solo performer. I am overwrought with the thought that I will never see her smile or listen to her laugh again. She was a joy to me and the thought that she has passed so suddenly brings wave upon wave of inconsolable sorrow. I will cherish the great times we shared and remember her as a beautiful and charming lady. We have lost one of our truly great ones. God bless you, my dear sweet Cynthia.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Save the Sazerac

Thanks to our wonderful Louisiana Legislature, the City of New Orleans now has its own official cocktail, the Sazerac. Many of my Cleveland friends will recall that two liquid refreshments kept me connected spiritually to New Orleans in my stay there. The mornings produced a heady cup of coffee with chicory (usually Cafe du Monde or CDM brand), which got me going throughout my busy day. However, when evening came, the choice beverage for me was a Sazerac, considered America's first cocktail and invented right here in New Orleans. The Sazerac has always been made with Peychaud's bitters, which are the second most popular bitters in this country. However, the most popular brand, Angostura, far outsells Peychaud's bitters and is used to make a plethora of popular cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. So, if one asks for bitters at most bars, they invariably get Angostura. Bitters are made with herbs suspended in an alcohol or glycerol solution. Like the name suggests, they have a bitter taste when sampled alone. However, they are used as starters for several alcohol concoctions and meld with spirits in such a way that they enhance the libation and provide it with a taste that stays well on he tongue. When pharmacist Antoine Amadie Peychaud, an immigrant from the West Indies, first came up with Peychaud's bitters, it was intended to be used as a digestif, or after-meal potable that would aid digestion. Peychaud began selling his proprietary bitters and created the original Sazerac cocktail using them with a special brandy imported from France. When liquor taxes became popular in the mid to late 19th Century, bitters were also passed as "medicine" and several popular watering holes, often colloquially referred to as "coffee houses," sprang up to dispense the potent potables. In New Orleans the most famous was the Sazerac Coffee House, constructed in 1852. It featured a 125-foot bar manned by as many as a dozen bartenders. The use of absinthe, then legal in the U.S. to coat the glasses of the concoctions gave the Sazerac its unique place in history and later, as American tastes dictated, whiskey was substituted for the original brandy. The famous Sazerac Room of the Roosevelt Hotel, later renamed the Fairmount, was world famous for dispensing their potent libations. It was reputed that Huey Long downed as many as six of these strong drinks before the long drive back to Baton Rouge. Today, the Sazerac is made with rye whiskey and Herbsaint (a substitute for the now banned absinthe) stands in for the licorice or anise flavored liquor used to coat the glasses. So, I am off to class and we will see if my version stands the test of the experts. will be the best "class" I've attended all year.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, America

With all of the hoopla surrounding yesterday's July 4th celebrations, it was hard for me to get a word in about the importance of our Independence Day. As someone who is keenly aware of the rights and privileges we Americans entertain in our daily affairs, I am always concerned that ever more of our rights are being given up voluntarily at the expense of so-called security. Anyone who has boarded a plane in the last seven years knows of the travails one must endure in order to successfully move from origin to destination. How many women have had to give up their children's box drinks because they didn't think about their being larger than 3 ounces? How many times have we wanted to bring a bottle of water on board only to remember that the one we just purchased outside the airport has to be disposed before boarding? It's not just the annoyances, it's the flights that have been delayed due to everyone trying to stuff their overloaded carryon items into the overhead bins. Now, with American Airlines and others charging for any suitcase checked into a flight, that battle for overhead bin allocation space would seem to get more heated. Red light camera enforcement has given way from catching motorists who flagrantly run red lights to capturing the license plates of those who drive nine miles above the speed limit. I can't wait till the cameras start recording those people not wearing seatbelts or using text messaging while driving. Not that I'm apologizing for those scofflaws. It's just that the technology has made it much easier for government (or private concerns working for government) to intrude into personal lives as a way of seeking more profit and revenue streams. The ability to monitor the private lives of citizens has taken on Big Brother status in recent times. As Benjamin Franklin so eloquently pointed out: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." I hope we keep that in mind as we continue to lose more and more rights at the sacrifice of "security."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Death by bulldozer

In one of the most bizarre terrorist attacks I've heard about, a Palestinian wreaked havoc in the busy streets of Jerusalem by using an unconventional weapon, to wit, a runaway bulldozer. During the course of the attack a packed city bus was turned on its side and a number of cars were smashed, and pedestrians were struck before the assailant was shot dead by an Israeli motorcycle division police officer who climbed into the cab of the vehicle while on its rampage. It is ironic that a bulldozer would be the weapon of choice. That's because the images most Israelis associate with them are that of bulldozers razing the houses of Jewish settlers in disputed areas of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Dozens were injured in this brazen assault, but the fact that three women were the ultimate victims of the attack in the heart of Jerusalem serves as a reminder that terrorism is intended to disrupt the normalcy of life. Women buying items in food markets or using public transportation to make purchases at retail outlets make ideal victims for terrorists. Because they stand for innocence and have no political agenda, women killed in senseless tragedies like this strike terror in the heart of everyone. The case can certainly be made that if it happens to them, it could happen to anyone. Reports from Jerusalem suggest the terrorist, a 31-year-old East Jerusalem Arab and father of two, was very well-versed with how to use the bulldozer as a weapon. A witness watched as he used the shovel portion of the powerful device to hit a van head-on and then to use it to smash and flatten the front of the vehicle. Reports say dozens of other vehicles were smashed along busy Jaffa Street unable to get out of the way of the oncoming earthmover because of concrete barricades that have been erected on the sides in prepartion for a light rail system being constructed there. Ironically, the attack occurred as Israel opened up its borders to Gaza, a move orchestrated by Egypt in a deal with Hamas, who promised to stop lobbing missiles into Israel from their positions in Gaza. Despite promises to the contrary, Kassam missiles had been launched yesterday, breaking the cease fire so tenuously negotiated. Meanwhile, Israeli politicians have pointed to the dead assailant's status as an occupant of the former East Jerusalem section. All former East Jerusalem residents were offered citizen status following the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel captured the Arab section of the city and unified it. Most refused to accept citizenship. Some Israelis, like Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, the chair of the right-wing Shas Party, have called for stricter measures to limit the movements of East Jerusalem residents. Others point out that such measures would threaten to partition East and West Jerusalem again, making East Jerusalem a likely capital of a Palestinian state should that occur. There is no doubt that this adds to the ongoing malaise in Israeli politics brought about by constant bombardments in places like Sderot, the double military problems of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbellah in Lebanon, the looming nuclear threat from Iran, and ineffectual and scandal-plagued leadership from Olmert's government.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A sudden goodbye and a sudden change of mind

When I joined the Cleveland Jewish News staff in October of 2005, I did so with the knowledge that I would be taking a very big chance. I would be leaving behind all of my friends and social connections in New Orleans to take up roots in a community of which I knew very little. The fact the CJN was a Jewish newspaper made the prospect seem a bit more reassuring, but it was a giant leap of faith to be certain. Among the members of the staff who made me feel at home was a quiet, tall figure who worked in the Production Department as a graphics designer. His name was Matthew Narby, but everyone called him Matt. Matt had started working at the newspaper in 2004, the year before I arrived. Like the late Tim Russert, he was a native of Buffalo and had graduated from State University of New York before moving to live and work in Cleveland. Prior to joining the CJN staff as a member of the production team, he had worked as a production manager and graphics designer at Trader Publishing as well as a designer at a nearby Kinko's. A devout Catholic, in his spare time Matt wrote children's books and taught religion classes at St. Clare's parish in nearby Lyndhurst. The ever-present smile he wore and his general demeanor always suggested he was happy. I recall Matt as a tireless morning reader of the Plain Dealer. He was an inveterate sports enthusiast who followed the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cleveland Indians and the Buffalo Sabers with a passion. He had an amazing head for sports trivia and kept his mind active during periods of downtime at work through a series of mental gymnastics, which always meant solving the daily crossword puzzle. Sometimes I even supplied a word or two in Matt's quest to finish the task. I really liked Matt as a fellow co-worker and found his unbending spirit refreshing. He was never without an opinion on sports or politics, but he mostly kept to himself and concentrated on his work. Perhaps it was because of his deep-seated religious background and compassion, he always seemed concerned with me as to what progress or lack thereof I could tell him about restoring my damaged home in New Orleans. Recently, Matt submitted a book review on a historical novel that was published in the CJN's March 28 edition. A dedicated husband and father, Matt was often on the phone with his loving wife Tara or conversing after school let out with his two daughters, Victoria and Grace. He worked hard through the day, but when it was time to go, he headed out through the door with a twinkle in his eye, making way for his home in South Euclid. In short he was a mensch, a Yiddish term for a responsible adult. Despite his being Catholic, it is a badge I believe he would bear with honor. Matt rarely missed a day of work due to illness, although he kept a mighty big secret from staff members; he had a congenital heart defect that put his life at risk. This past Sunday that big heart of Matt's suddenly and unexpectedly gave out. He was only 35. Like all of the CJN staff, I will mourn his loss and offer my deepest sympathies to his surviving family members.

Meanwhile, Governor Bobby Jindal acted like a responsible adult yesterday when he suddenly changed his mind, after saying he wouldn't, and vetoed the whopping pay increase that Louisiana state legislators had voted for themselves. The veto kills any chance that the measure can be considered again this year. It also derails the recall petition that had been launched two days prior, precipitated by angry voters who demanded he take such action.