Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dome field advantage

After two disappointing straight losses at the hands of Dallas on a Thursday night and Tampa Bay this past Sunday, many Saints fans were beginning to believe that their team had peaked too soon. Frankly, a couple of plays late in each game might have made the difference to have helped the Saints maintain a perfect season. But perfection is not everything as Indianapolis learned this past Sunday. After all, it is far more important to keep fixed on the goal of getting to the Superbowl and to play the very best games possible in the playoffs. Frankly, the last game of the season against the Carolina Panthers on January 3 doesn't count for anything other than bragging rights about whether the Saints can defeat them twice in one season or split the two decisions. I would not be surprised to see Coach Sean Payton keep Drew Brees out of a portion of the game in order to keep him rested and out of danger of a possible injury prior to the start of the playoff season. So, surprise of all surprises last night when I tuned in to the Chicago Bears game against the Minnesota Vikings. The score in the third quarter was Chicago 16, Minnesota 0. What? I gulped hard and thought to myself "Be still my heart." The Minnesota Vikings with the fabulous Brett Favre (almost a local boy from Kiln, Mississippi) should have been way ahead of the Bears. Indeed, it didn't take long for Favre to play catchup in the remainder of the third and fourth quarters. The score was evened at 23 each and then again at 30 a piece. Then the game went into sudden death overtime. The Bears won the coin toss and elected to receive. They got down to within potential field goal range, but the kick was errant. Then the Vikings took over and they took their shot, but were denied by the tenacious Bears defense. After the Bears failed to capitalize on the following drive, Favre looked like he was about to put the game away. He tossed a short pass off to one of his receivers who added nearly ten yards on the carry when the ball was punched out of his arm by a crafty Bear defender. The ball popped out as a fumble and was jumped on by the Bears, setting up a near perfect touchdown pass into the endzone by Bear quarterback Jeff Cutler. In this case Cutler, the student, taught Favre, the master, a lesson from the playbooks. It was an incredible see-saw battle, but in the end the winner turned out to be the New Orleans Saints. Based on their 13-2 record and Minnesota's unbelievable third loss in the last four weeks, New Orleans secured home field advantage at the Superdome for what Saints fans hope will be the next two games played there before a shot at the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Miami. Nothing good ever comes from something easily obtained, but the Saints have achieved one of their major season goals by the most unlikely of friends, the same Chicago Bears team that denied them a shot at the Superbowl a couple of years back. Politics and football make strange bedfellows, it would seem.
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Theta Theta chapter of Sigma Alpha Rho fraternity right here in New Orleans. Many of my contemporaries will recall that this high school fraternity reached its height in the late Sixties and early Seventies. After that time the relevance of high school fraternities became lessened and many Jewish students gravitated towards AZA, a B'nai Brith Youth Organization. Sadly, the local chapter lost much support from the local community and quietly died sometime in the late Seventies, as best I can tell. It's a shame because some of my best memories from high school revolved about many of the events sponsored by S.A.R. Some of my earliest writing can be found in some of the old newspapers we printed on a mimeograph machine owned by the fraternity. I learned much about putting together a newspaper as well as the necessity of selling advertising for much of the more upscale publications such as the program printed for the White Orchid Formal, held each December 29. There are no such opportunities for Jewish youth these days. The high school sorority, Sigma Theta Pi, also shut down around the same time. High school fraternities are indeed dinosaurs and have lost out to organized sports and other school-related activities. I still feel the loss, even though most of today's kids don't really know what they're missing. Many of my closest friends today were S.A.R. fraternity brothers and given the fact that I never did pledge a college fraternity, those friendships are still dear to my heart.

Friday, December 25, 2009

"A Christmas Story" explored


Every Christmas like clockwork, TBS runs 24 hours of "A Christmas Story," a 1983 picture based on the writing of Jean Shepard about the travails of an eight-year-old in search of his ultimate Christmas present, a Red Ryder range model air rifle. This "holy grail" of holiday presents becomes the quest that little Ralphie seeks in the weeks leading up to Christmas morning. Jean Shepard serves as both the writer and the narrator for this wonderful little movie that has an abundance of classic scenes. Some people may not know of the connections this film has with both New Orleans and Cleveland. Some of them will know that the film was shot in downtown Cleveland as well as at a house on the West Side of Cleveland that today serves as the official A Christmas Story Museum. Believe it or not, there is a a manufacturer of plastic leg lamps similar to the kind that figures in the movie. The president of that company decided that tying in the promotional value of that house with his product would be a great marketing tool. So, when I was still in Cleveland following the Hurricane Katrina related flooding, news stories followed the restoration and conversion of the house into a museum. Today it stands as a testament as to how a little known film could be transformed into a tourist site in a city that has very few of which to boast. Some people know that the late director of the film, Bob Clark, also wrote the film with Shepard. Clark was tragically killed two years ago by a drunk driver, but many don't know he was born right here in New Orleans, although he was raised in Fort Lauderdale. So there you have it. A Cleveland and New Orleans connection to "A Christmas Story." I didn't say this would be earthshaking, but after all, it is Christmas and that makes it all worthwhile, don't 'ya think? (Photo © 1983 MGM Studios)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mister Bingle and Santa vs. Mr. Scrooge and the Grinch

An advertisement for Mr. Bingle, my chilhood Christmas hero

When I was but a mere lad, television was still mostly broadcast in black and white. At holiday time local TV station WDSU broadcast a five-minute holiday message from Mr. Bingle, the icon of the then powerful department store Maison Blanche. As legend would have it, Mr. Bingle was a small snowman brought to life by Santa Claus who wore green holly leaf wings, had red and white candy-cane striped gloves and wore an upside down ice cream cone for a hat. This imaginative creature was drummed up as a sales promotion gimmick for Maison Blanche. Even the initals for Mister Bingle reminded one of Maison Blanche, then the largest department store in the South. At holiday time when everyone still dressed up to go downtown, my grandmother would take me to the Maison Blanche department store window on Canal Street where special 15-minute shows would take place throughout the day. Mister Bingle's voice was that of Oscar Eisentraut, an unlikely cigarette chain-smoking window dresser who was drafted as the voice of the imaginary character back at its inception, suggested as 1947. Oscar's high-pitched voice could best be described as a dwarf inhaling helium. Throughout many years on TV and at the store, Oscar was assisted by many creative individuals. The late Al Shea, who passed away a few months ago, was known as the voice of Pete the Penguin, for example. These creative shows carried on even during my tenure at WSMB-AM on the 13th floor of the Masion Blanche Building and lasted until 1985 until Eisentraut passed away. It was different for me to meet and see Eisentraut as an adult and help him prepare some of his scripts while I worked at the station. When I was a kid, it was all so magical. While my Jewish heritage did not allow me to attach much significance to the religious reasons for the celebration, I was, like all the kids of my age, attracted to the cuddly, cute and sometimes mischievous Mr. Bingle, whose image was emblazoned on the store and oftentimes on all of the holiday shopping bags. The shows truly got me into the spirit of the holiday and I looked forward to meeting Santa and hearing more about his aeronautical sleigh and reindeer. The Dr. Seuss book and TV classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" starring Boris Karloff was never read or viewed by me as a kid, although I came to appreciate it much more as an adult. Likewise, I read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens much later in school beyond the time I was a young, impressionable child. So, the images of the two archetype villains who would steal the joy from the holiday were never in my mind until much later in life. Today, however, I can't help but summon up all of the collective images of Christmas. Mr. Bingle and my childhood impressions of Santa stand on one side with the Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge on the other. It is true that I still get a bit teary-eyed when I watch the immortal "Miracle on 34th Street" starring Edmund Gwenn and a very young Natalie Wood. Others that have come along since that time: Tim Allen in "The Santa Claus," the classic film made in Cleveland of "A Christmas Story" ("You'll shoot your eye out, kid!") and even Billy Bob Thornton's "Bad Santa" have also made impressions (good or bad) that I carry with me today. But for me, my fondest childhood memories were watching the small black and white screen and imagining this little puppet and all of his possiblities. How I did enjoy those trappings of the holiday. I am sorry that my son, now grown, never knew the significance of Mr. Bingle nor that more of his generation or others who have followed were never able to experience the magic of the holiday through the hilarious mischief of a happy, high-pitched, flying snowman bearing a slight New Orleans accent.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Am I blue?

A pall has been cast over the city. Even though I have not ventured outside since last night, I can somehow feel a diminishment of the ardor of that collective spirit of Saints fever that reached its zenith yesterday. The "Bless You Boys" have been vanquished by "America's Team" and there seems no solace in the recognition that on any given Sunday, Monday, Thursday or Saturday one NFL team can overpower another. On reflection it may well have been overly optimistic to think that the 2009 Saints could be talked about in the same breath as the 1972 Miami Dolphins or the 2007 New England Patriots, both of whom had posted perfect regular seasons. Had New Orleans won last night, the team would have tied the regular season record Miami had enjoyed. New England, of course, won every game with the exception of the one that mattered, the Super Bowl, where they were defeated by the upstart New York Giants. I suppose any reasonable sportsfan would understand the disappointment attached to seeing a dream - no matter how impossible - vanish before one's eyes. But the Who Dat Nation has never been so close to perfection and it was reassuring to think that all of those past seasons where we let opponents run ramshackle over us or, for me, the nadir of hopelessness when the Saints went 1-15 in 1981, would be redeemed this year. That's not to say the Saints didn't manage to play good catch up ball last night. They almost pulled off yet another amazing comeback. This time, though, they had trouble pulling even with Dallas, which came out in their first two possessions with two touchdowns. Given the advantage of a Superdome filled to overflowing with diehard Saints fans, it seems hard to rationalize they couldn't get one score out of their first two possessions. Dallas controlled the clock and their destiny last night. By going 9-5, they kept themselves in the playoff picture. The Saints are already assured a first-round bye, but home field advantage is now up for grabs. Given the loss in the Superdome last night and the terrific way the team has played in away stadiums, perhaps home field advantage won't be necessary for the team to do well in the playoffs. Some analysts have suggested the Saints needed a loss in order to psychologically prepare them for the challenges ahead of having to win the rest of their remaining games and keep an eye on the prize, which is the Super Bowl. Frankly, I would have preferred a perfect season, but I will take what I can get. There is only one other team out there, Indianapolis, that has achieved 14-0 and they did it this past Thursday night. If the Saints can get through Minnesota and any other NFC teams that stand in their way, they may yet have an opportunity to have it out with our own Peyton Manning and his fabulous Colts team. The loss to the Cowboys is not as important as other factors that have affected the city like Hurricane Katrina and the related flooding four years ago. We have many challenges for this city and the people who live here. The Saints have provided amazing moments of commonality in spirit for many culturally diverse people. I suppose it was inevitable that they could and would lose. I keep telling myself that statement over and over. It has yet to sink in for I have drunk the dregs of defeat and they are indeed bitter.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Am I happy or what?

Okay, to state for the record I am dealing with the loss of my MacBook's hard drive as best as can be expected. Is this the same as the barefoot boy whose father is a cobbler? Well, yes. I am ashamed to admit it. I have been snakebitten. But in any computer crisis, there is usually a ray of hope or a lesson to be learned. I am now in the process of updating my MacBook to allow me to install Time Machine (an application which will back up my data more regularly) and Boot Camp (an Apple feature that permits dual booting into Windows). The other good outcome from such a dastardly turn of events is that I will be upgrading my hard drive from 80 Gigabytes to a full 320GB with a split between the Mac and Windows OS (160GB each). So, although I have lost lots of notes, pictures and presentations, I guess I can take solace in the fact that I will have learned from the errors of my past and can say with some certainty that I won't be as hard hit next time as I was last weekend.
There is also another reason for my sunny disposition. Perhaps it is caused by those extra hours of streaming sun enjoyed by me and my fellow Louisianians. Or pehaps it is in the Creole or Cajun food or the Dixieland, rhythm and blues or Zydeco music we so love. Whatever it is, we in Louisiana are the happiest people in the U.S. Don't just take my word for it. There is a genuine scientific poll that says just that. In fact Louisiana showed up ahead of Hawaii and Florida in the study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now some of you naysayers in the gray, frozen tundra may snicker, but there is now undisputed proof that what I've been saying all along is right. Life in Louisiana is pretty good, despite the occasional threat of hurricanes and pelting rain from the soggiest December on record. I believe it has a lot to do with the amount of sunshine we enjoy, but there's more to it than that. After all, the Equator gets more sunshine than any other place on earth and I don't necessarily feel that any of those countries are happier than we are in our neck of the woods. In case some of you are wondering about the study, it was conducted over the course of several years (some before Hurricane Katrina and some after), so the findings are even more startling to me. Over 1.3 million people were interviewed about their quality of life and the happiness quotient for living in Louisiana topped all others. Not surprisingly, New York came in last and California showed up in 46th place. So, with the New Orleans Saints at 13 and 0 and this study proving what I've been saying all along, this land of dreamy dreams seems somewhat more transformed into a more perfect resting place. In case some of you snowbirds want to have some of what we've got, make a reservation, hop a plane, car, bus or train and get down to enjoy what will be a great holiday season and a fantastic new year to come. With the Saints steamroller making locals a bit more loco, the upcoming Sugar Bowl and the Mardi Gras season fast approaching, New Orleans and Louisiana is looking pretty good about now. We'll keep a cup of cafe au lait and some beignets warm for you all.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Mac, my Mac, my kingdom for a Mac!

Grrrrr. I never did fully understand that word when I read it in comic book form, but I am beginning to now. A simple download from I-Tunes last night and all of a sudden, my MacBook did an unthinkable thing. It died. Now, all of my data (including the partition with Windows XP also is gone). Oh, well...nothing like being a computer expert to know when to punt. I'll let you all know how this plays out soon, but I expect it will be at least a week or so before my laptop is fully restored. Grrrrr.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The day that will live in infamy

There are fewer and fewer Americans alive who recall that Sunday morning when members of an advanced force from the Imperial Nation of Japan carried out their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. What is forgotten in the wake of 9/11 was the outrage at the empire of Japan, the mourning of the great loss of American lives and the embarrassment that we had let our guard down and allowed this to happen. Providence played a hand because, despite the incredible fortune of the attacking force that dispatched much of the American fleet stationed there, not one aircraft carrier was berthed at Pearl Harbor that morning. Had the United States lost one single aircraft carrier, the fate of future battles might have tipped toward the Japanese. As it turned out, the attack was devastatingly decisive. The elements of the Japanese Navy that planned the logistics probably could never have imagined how successful this foray would have been. Such plans had been discussed for years by the Japanese military, who viewed American hegemony in the Pacific as detrimental to their own imperialism. 68 years ago Americans were galvanized and plunged into a war of purpose against an enemy that could be readily seen in Tokyo, Rome and Berlin. Today's enemies are much more stealthy. We can only surmise where Al Queda and the Taliban are hiding. The good news is that big attacks like those that happened in 2001 are not as likely to happen. The bad news is that we must submit to measures that make us more secure, but less free in order to prevent future occurrences. Would that our enemies were not so invisibles. The new surge in Afghanistan is an example where our conventional forces are still having trouble dealing with guerilla tactics that wear our troops down and pick us off one i.e.d. at a time. Of course I hope we can get the job done in the time allotted, but I fear that many of our bravest and our best will suffer at the hands of this unseen enemy who would like nothing more than for us to abandon our way of life and our resolve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A theatrical experience

In all my years of reviewing theatre, there have been many gaffes, unexpected entrances and awkward moments when scenery gets stuck. Occasionally, actors will break character creating a memorable instance of levity that allows the action to continue unabated. Understanding human nature, audiences are decidedly passive and almost always forgiving. With that stated I must say that today's matinee performance at Le Petit Theatre's production of "White Christmas" was like nothing I have ever experienced. You may not comprehend to what I am alluding until you realize that the show took place during the same time frame as the New Orleans Saints game at FedEx Field against the recalcitrant Washington Redskins. First of all, the house was packed. Even Gary Solomon, the managing director of the oldest community theatre in the country, was moved to express his thanks vocally for the totally unexpected numbers in the audience. Uncomfortably, he spoke onstage just before the curtain rose. At that time he announced the Saints were trailing the Redskins by a score of 20-17, but he uneasily predicted he would be back to let everyone know the final score at intermission when the Saints would have prevailed. Uncharacteristically, the show began more than ten minutes late. Throughout the first act the audience was responsive, yet restless. Everyone kept looking at their watches, enjoying the show, but also moving uncomfortably in their seats wondering what the boys in white and gold would be up to. As the first act curtain fell, cell phones were pulled out and others (like me) went outside and into the historic French Quarter to peer through windows espying the bright TV screens broadcasting the game. The game should have been over. It was already past 3:30 p.m., but the game was far from over. It was in sudden death overtime. Apparently, the Saints had just tied the ballgame at 30 apiece as regulation time ran out. Everyone was in a panic. The show was quite good, but the Saints had everyone's rapt attention. Hugh Jackman could have been giving the performance of his life on that stage and not one audience member would have cared. Intermission meant rooting for the Saints pure and simple. With cell phones glued to their ears the attendees connected to their homes or to friends and relatives who clued them in on the action taking place on the bitterly cold field 1,163 miles away. As the sudden death period continued, it became evident that no one was ready to return to his or her seats. All of a sudden the inside of the theatre became ever more excited. The Saints were moving down the field. After a sustained drive, they were suddenly on the Washington 20-yard line. They moved the ball down to their opponents' five-yard line and I expected they would try to punch the ball in or lob a pass into the end zone to put the game away. Apparently, Coach Sean Payton decided to kick a game-ending field goal instead. The Saints kicker lined up to make the three-pointer and it sailed over the goalposts! The audience screamed. The Saints had won the game. But no! Washington had called for a time out just as the ball was about to be kicked. It's an obvious ploy coaches use to make the kicker think about what he has to do and put pressure on him. Sometimes the second kick goes bad and it gives the other team another chance at saving the game. The officials handed the ball back to the Saints and made them kick it over. The crowd inside the theatre didn't quite understand it at the time, but they noisily accepted their fate. A second time the ball sailed over the goalpost and an explosion of approval immediately followed. This time the game was over. The mighty Saints had won 33-30. Almost immediately the band started playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" from the orchestra pit and shouts of "Who dat?" rang out. The audience started clapping to the music when cast members in costume began "second lining" across the stage. It was unreal to me, this feeling of unalloyed joy and unabashed pride in a professional sports franchise that held the show up for several minutes until the celebrating subsided. Solomon returned to the stage with microphone in hand to remind the crowd to turn off those pesky cell phones now that they were no longer needed. The performance ended an hour later with the entire cast singing Irving Berlin's immortal holiday classic, "White Christmas," and snow machines blanketed the audience with thick sheets of faux flakes. Several performers couldn't help themselves. They launched themselves into an impromptu cheer of "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" to the delight of the audience. Truly, I'm not sure that I'll ever go through another matinee performance with as much excitement. It reminded me of that old joke where someone asks: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

11 and 0h my!


If there is another happiest place on earth (aside from Disneyworld), it's probably right here in the Crescent City. There is an ever-present smile on the faces of the children and its reflected in the happy countenances one sees on everyday people doing their regular jobs or keeping their appointments. There is a spring in everyone's step and it's all because of the unbelievable record posted by the undefeated New Orleans Saints. Yes, it's true. The birds are singing sweeter and the sun is shining more brilliantly as each day dawns. The Aints of old are such a distant memory that paper bags are only considered as worthily used at grocery stores. The jazz music in the air seems to carry a universal message for all to enjoy. It's a tune every kid knows for certain: "Oh, when the Saints go marching in..." According to the Nielsen people who are paid to know, Monday night's game on ESPN and the local station that paid to carry it might turn out to be the largest audience in cable TV history, eclipsing the record set October 5 when the Green Bay Packer took on their former quarterback Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. The ratings people suggest the national rating for the Saints game against the New England Patriots was at 14.4 in metered markets compared to the earlier game, which registered 14.2. There is no doubt that a big majority of TV sets in the area watched the sellout game at the Superdome. Estimates suggest the combined share was a much as 83.7. That means that the overwhelming percentage of homes with TV sets was tuned to either WDSU-TV the local station that carried the game or the ESPN channel. That is hard to fathom, but it may also be a local record for penetration and easily eclipsed the ratings for the past two Super Bowls, typically the single biggest and most watched game of the year. There are five remaining games and everyone has their eyes wide open, but even the most hardened of naysayers is now convinced. The Who Dat Nation has risen and their mantra is spreading northward, westward and eastward. It's a short week, but the Washington Redskins are next up and Saints fans are ready to take them on and add yet another number in the "w" column. Mmmm... Can you detect that fragrance in the air? It's the smell of victory and it smells a lot better than the freshest coffee and chicory or the crispiest and confectioner's sugar-covered beignet one can have at Cafe du Monde. It's been a long time for Saints fans who savor this day and consider the possibility of a Super Bowl date no longer a pipe dream. (Logo Copyright New Orleans Saints)

Monday, November 30, 2009

On towards December


Oh, my aching foot! The Ten Commandments Hike was a resounding success, but the six miles of walking did little to alleviate the discomfort that resulted when my plantar faciitis kicked in an hour after I stopped hiking. Oh, well, if a night or two of foot pain (make that three nights) is the price I have to pay for a successful hike, I guess I'll deal with it. We had over 200 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Scouters, parents, siblings, other relatives and friends go with us to ten different places of worship. Among the highlights of the trek this year was the rare presentation of the St. George Award from the Episcopal Church of the USA to The Very Reverend Susan Gaumer, the rector at St. Andrew's Epsiscopal Church. St. Andrew's and Mother Gaumer were selected because of the 80th anniversary the church celebrated in its sponsorship of a Boy Scout unit, Troop 48. Two Catholic churches, Mater Dolorosa and Holy Name of Jesus were also on the hike for the first time this year in acknowledgment to the large number (60%) of the membership of the Southeast Louisiana Council. Two Jewish presentations were made. The first at the Jewish Community Center with Conservative Rabbi Ethan Linden and the second at Touro Synagogue with Rabbi Alexis Berk. The talks by all of the religious leaders were especially good this year as each expounded upon one of the Ten Commandments at each stop. One of the best talks (again) was delivered by the Rev. Carol Crawford at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church. After the first four miles ended at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Cub Scouts fell out and caught a streetcar (note our logo) back to the starting point. Everyone else continued on for an additional two miles to two further stops, a Lutheran Church (Zion Lutheran) and a Baptist Church (New Home Full Gospel Ministries). Many thanks to Father Jon Paul (Catholic-Jesuit Order), the Rev. Neale Miller (Presbyterian), Mike Nicholas (LDS Church), Robert Carpenter (Lutheran) and Terrence Giles (Baptist) for filling in at the last minute for other speakers. The Jewish Community Center was also the site for a hot kosher meal consisting of hot dogs, chips, fresh fruit and lemonade. Kentwood Spring Water contributed several cases of water and Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman provided a motorcycle escort for our hikers for most of the way. Now the only question is what to do to make the 2010 hike even more memorable, since it will be in the centennial year of Scouting in the U.S. Guess it's also time to start making plans for Chanukah and Christmas season, which is fast upon us now. And, Mardi Gras is also fast approaching.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

Let me be perfectly straightforward. We should all be thankful for every day we enjoy. Even the most hapless individual trying to eke out a living in an inhospitable world should give shouts of praise for life and all of its possibilities. As challenging as life can be, there is always a positive outcome just around the corner. Some lessons I've learned through the years are telling. Bill Gates started Microsoft during a recession. Harland Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 66 with no income aside from the $105 he received from Social Security. James Cash Penney suffered financial ruin at the onset of the Great Depression, but kept his empire alive by borrowing from his life insurance policy. There is always potential in every human being that he or she will do better tomorrow and so we should all gives thanks for the many blessings we have today. To me Thanksgiving Day is the quintessential American holiday. It speaks volumes about our dependence upon one another and that we should always put our best foot forward. The story told to grade schoolers of the first meeting of the plucky Pilgrims and the dimwitted Wampanoags who befriended them is full of untruths and misleading stereotypes. For those of us who know the true story of Squanto and the historical facts of the very first Thanksgiving, there is little doubt that the Pilgrims would likely have perished had they not had substantial help from the Native Americans living near Plymouth Rock. Nevertheless, it is easy to dismiss these spun tales as pure propaganda and understand the reasons these stories were concocted in the first place. It was to make the earliest American settlers seem somehow superior to the Native Americans and justify the horrible way the Europeans treated their friends. Those Wampanoags that survived the pestilence brought upon them in the form of the common cold or flu to which they had no immunity were almost all wiped out by wars waged upon them by their Pilgrim brothers a few years later. From such humble beginnings the holiday of Thanksgiving evolved into what is today the most American of holidays. It is a day for families to gather and to revel in the freedoms we all enjoy as American citizens. It is a spiritual holiday, but that doesn't mean it is specifically religious. It is a patriotic holiday, but it is best expressed through family. I've always loved the holiday for what it offers: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, an opportunity to dine out or join with family at a central location and the jumping off point for the upcoming holiday season. As a kid, I loved the Macy's TV spectacular and a few years ago I even managed to go up to New York to view it up close and personal. It was so bitterly cold outside and so crowded that I abandoned my perch on Broadway and ran inside to catch the rest of the parade on the small TV screen in the cramped hotel room there. For this we paid a high premium. I thought to myself that I could have just as easily caught the parade on the small screen back home and saved a significant bill in the process. Despite my having seen many Mardi Gras parades here in New Orleans, I will admit the Macy's parade with its many colorful and gargantuan balloons is very special. There's nothing quite like watching these mammoth lighter-than-air figures floating inside massive canyons of glass and steel. The spectators are very composed and enjoy themselves with a great more comportment than we do down here. But perhaps I am jaded. These New Yorkers just don't get it. I stood on a crowded sidewalk freezing my lagniappe off and didn't catch one bead, cup, Frisbee or doubloon. Some parade! In any event I hope you all enjoy the grandest of holidays and keep the spirit of the day in your hearts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tokens of my affection


Last night I drove downtown to pick up 180 Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tokens. No, I'm not planning on giving up my car or becoming environmentally responsible by advocating for mass transit. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. A very important part of the upcoming Ten Commandments Hike involves our use of the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcars for our return to the starting point. Streetcar fares like buses are $1.25 each. Anyone who knows the difficulties with having to pay for hundreds of people boarding one or two streetcars using cash know full well the reasons we dispense RTA tokens to our participants. The only problem is that the tokens are only sold at a handful of stores across New Orleans, none of which are particularly convenient for me. The one store that sells tokens into the evening hours is Unique General Store, a huge convenience store located near the intersection of Canal and Royal Streets. This means that it is located in the historic French Quarter, although for many New Orleanians there is the feeling that first block with its many modern edifices along Canal Street is well out of character. Suffice it to say that the block is busy. There are quite a number of people drinking beers and congregating along the sidewalks there and inside the aptly-named Unique there is a veritable United Nations of visitors and residents. In my earlier days I would have had no problem getting down with my people and acting like a very cool cucumber. But in order to find a legitimate parking spot free from the ever-vigilant meter maids, I had to enlist my mother to travel with me. She was not amused. While I went indoors to find a manager, she was exposed to a cacophony of sounds and a kaleidoscope of sights not usually heard or seen by her. After locating a manager I had to go to the rear of the store, my hand inside my jacket clutching several hundred dollars. I felt uneasy as I negotiated what seemed like a palaver between me and the natives there. "Can I please have a receipt?" I asked the manager through the windows that formed a small office. His right eyebrow rose as if to mimic a look from one of John Belushi's "Samurai" skits on Saturday Night Live. "Is a plain piece of paper okay?" he shot back. I assured him it was. He handed me 18 small bags, each containing ten tokens, and I was instructed to count them. 15, 16, 17, 18. "Yes, that's right. Thank you very much." I turned to move towards the front of the store, but the exit seemed a lot further away than it did when I had entered. There were several people congregating in the front and I had to do my best Fred Astaire impression, pivoting masterfully here and there as I found myself back on the street and turning towards my car and my mother. As I approached the vehicle, I could see her demeanor was not unlike that of a deer caught in the headlights. She was not amused. I opened the door, giving her a slight startle and began to negotiate out of the parking spot. In a few seconds we were away and much more relaxed, feeling our mission was a success. I felt very pleased with myself until this morning. That's when I heard from the Scout office that another 20 people had signed up overnight for the hike. That meant another two bags of tokens and another jaunt down to the French Quarter. How lucky can I get?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sixth annual 10 Commandments Hike


View 10 Commandments Hike 2009 in a larger map
Map of 10 Commandments Hike
With less than a day to register online, there are still several slots available for interested parties to join with me on the sixth annual Ten Commandments Hike, sponsored by the Southeast Louisiana Council. This is an interfaith hike designed to reinforce the 12th Point of the Scout Law ("A Scout is reverent.") and to promote physical fitness. It's more than just a Boy Scout activity. It is open to the public and an unusual way to promote religious tolerance, acceptance and understanding. Quite frankly, I enjoy leading this event because it brings everyone together in a very real manner under the umbrella of Scouting. Everyone who participates gets a water bottle emblazoned with the 2009 logo, a special patch, a streetcar token, a brochure listing all the stops and is fed a delicious hot kosher lunch midway through the hike. It's even open to Girl Scouts, the only event sanctioned by the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. So the hike is responsible for bringing all kinds of disparate groups together. Here's the link to sign up until midnight tonight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Four rabbis and two imams

Imam Omar Suleiman addresses the dinner crowd at Casablanca Restaurant in Metairie.

The joke is supposed to start "Four rabbis and two imams walk into a restaurant," but last night it wasn't a laughing matter at all. It was, in fact, a serious effort on the part of many in the New Orleans community to foster trust and understanding between two divergent faith groups. The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a non-profit organization founded in New York by rap mogul Russell Simmons, Rabbi Marc Schneier and the late impressario Joseph Papp, organized the day-long activity between (Orthodox Jewish) Congregation Beth Israel and the Abu Bakr Al Siddique Mosque This so-called "twining" process began two years ago with Schneier's The New York Synagogue and the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque and has since grown into 50 such pairings last year across the nation with 100 this year. Rabbi Uri Topolosky and Imam Omar Suleiman have varying opinions on a number of matters, but they did away with criticism and dissent yesterday and, along with fellow congregants, picked up paint brushes and helped rehab a home in the Upper Ninth Ward area. That work, sponsored by the Saint Bernard Project, was intended to have both groups of Jews and Muslims work together on a project of lasting significance. After they cleaned up from the back-breaking work, everyone gathered at Casablanca Restaurant in Metairie, a kosher Morrocan restaurant, to enjoy a festive meal and to enjoy fellowship with one another. Both Schneier and his "twin" partner, Imam Muhummad Shamsi Ali, were in attendance at the dinner and each had time to discuss the various forms of religious observant foods allowed or prohibited in each religion. In Jewish circles the concept is called kosher or kashrut, while for Muslims the term is called halal. Members of each group asked questions of each other's spiritual leaders in order to gain insight. Also in attendance were Beth Israel administrative director Rabbi David Posternock and Rabbi Robert Loewy, the spiritual leader of Gates of Prayer Synagogue, where Beth Israel is presently meeting. All in all it was a great first start for two religious groups who have been largely distrustful and suspicious of each other. While Imam Suleiman and Rabbi Topolosky still have a major philosophical rift on a number of other topics, rebuilding New Orleans is a primary focus for both of them. This first "twining" was tentative, but wildly satisfactory in that a mechanism has been put into place for common values and to foster future connections between the two groups. It is, perhaps, God's will that the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding will bring these two Abrahamic faith groups closer.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NBC News Correspondent Martin Fletcher books into town

Sharing a moment in time with broadcast legend Martin Fletcher at the New Orleans JCC
One of my journalistic heroes came into town last night. Martin Fletcher, the lanky NBC correspondent who has covered conflicts in the Middle East, wars in Afghanistan, scourges in Africa and a host of other unsettling news events wheeled into New Orleans as part of the Jewish Community Center's 10th annual "People of the Book" Bookfest. Fletcher, whose hard-cover edition of "Breaking News" was released last year was not able to fit New Orleans in on his vacation schedule from NBC, having to stick to major cities in the initial push for publicity in 2008. This year, however, he made two stops at the two cities where I spent a significant time in my life. Last week it was Cleveland and last night he was here. Speaking with a very proper British accent, Fletcher charmed his audience with a number of "war" stories, some of which involved him and his crews in genuine danger. His ready wit had many in attendance laughing along with him as he recounted small instances in his long career, which at the time seemed anything but funny. Following a stint as an editor at the London Times, Fletcher opted to become a television reporter. Initially he signed on as a cameraman. One of those early stories involved his work as a pool cameraman during the 1973 "Yom Kippur" war in Israel when he and his colleagues riding in an armored personnel carrier were attacked in a bombing and strafing run by an Egyptian plane. As Fletcher related, he was traveling with Horst Faas, a Pulizer Prize winning photographer who had been cited for his previous superb work under fire. Faas and others sought refuge inside the vehicle through a turret. Fletcher was unable to join them because there was no space left inside. So, being the good broadcast journalist that he was, he started shooting his film camera. Even though the vehicle was driving erratically and in a serpentine pattern, he stood firm and watched through the lens as the MiG came back for two more attempts to dispatch their vehicle. Just as Fletcher and the others feared the worst, the Egyptian pilot flew straight up, pursued by an Israeli fighter, which shot him down in a haze of black smoke a few moments later. Faas hadn't even shot a single frame of film, but Fletcher had recorded it all. Afterwards, he told Fletcher it was by far and away the most dangerous event of his life, but Fletcher being naive or, perhaps, naturally calm under pressure, caught what turned out to be one of the most incredible exchanges of fire in that conflict. It was to be an indicator of much of what he was capable of doing in the coming decades. Although he stated he lived in Paris for two years early in his career, NBC kept him on the road in Afghanistan, the Middle East and other places for all but 42 days during that time. Eventually, he married an Israeli woman he literally "picked up" on the street, came to live just north of Tel Aviv and raised his family there. To hear Fletcher tell it, his job is unlike any of his adult counterparts in Israel. When the two intifadas were ongoing and prior to the security wall going up, Fletcher would put his children on school buses every morning fearing for the lives of his sons that they would not suffer at the hands of a terrorist or suicide bomber. Then, he would travel to the West Bank and interview some of the very same people who might very well be launching such attacks. Throughout his credit and much to his credit, Fletcher managed to interview both sides of a story and come away with a fair and objective report. The result was that neither the Israelis or the Palestinians came to see his reports as particularly biased. He didn't make any friends with right-wing Israelis nor was he embraced by hardliners in the Palestine Liberation Organization. The human factor of his stories has become more important to Fletcher and to support that he played videos of some of his more recent reports. A story on a young, determined AIDS victim in Africa, whose parents were lost to the disease and who was once close to death herself was riveting. Another report showed a violin from World War II that had belonged to a young Jewish violinist forced to play for Nazi officers and their ladies at a night club. Plotting his revenge, the violinist stashed a cache of explosives over a period of a year or more and used them to kill 200 of his captors before he himself was captured and executed. His violin was restored in Israel and played by famous Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz at Aushwitz as Fletcher recounted the compelling event. Proudly, Fletcher admits he is less interested these days in covering an event or a story, but more interested in coming to know the people involved and telling their story. All in all, "Breaking News" is a good read, but Fletcher is an effective speaker and a vaulted personality worthy of respect in the field of broadcast journalism. He is less anxious these days to cover a war or conflict as he might have done in Rwanda or Kosovo. Still, that sounds to me like the wisdom of his years finally caught up to the recklessness of his youth. Martin Fletcher is a hero for these and many other reasons. An audience member revealed how surprised she was to learn that Fletcher is the son of Holocaust survivors from Vienna and that in all of his reports across the globe from Israel and afar, she had no idea he was Jewish. That's an incredible compliment to any reporter that is seeking the truth. He is a great broadcast journalist and now he is an author of great merit. I look forward to his new book on Israel, which he says is already at his publisher's offices. Perhaps next year we in New Orleans will be lucky enough to be on the first publicity tour for that tome. If not, there's always the paperback tour in 2011.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

10 Commandments Hike


Holding a special "kudu horn" or shofar, here I am at the 2007 Ten Commandments Hike

Five times in as many years I have organized an interfaith march along historic New Orleans streets for the Boy Scouts. Sponsored by the Southeast Louisiana Council (with a major push from the Jewish Committee on Scouting), the Ten Commandments Hike has received critical praise and overwhelming support from diverse groups within and without the Scouting community. As a matter of fact, it is the only event in which members of both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA participate. The idea of the hike is to promote acceptance and tolerance of major faith groups as well as to advocate for physical fitness. The Twelfth Point of the Scout Law is "A Scout is reverent." To that end and to promote a Scout's duty to God, the participants gather at one of the many designated houses of worship and hear about one of the Ten Commandments before leaving for another and then another. The hike is designed to be age-friendly for the younger and older segments of those participating. For Cub Scouts and others from six- to eleven-years old, the hike is four miles long encompassing eight of the ten stops along majestic Carrollton and St. Charles Avenues. For older Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and adults, the remainder of the hike is another two miles long. At the end of each segment, participants climb aboard the historic St. Charles streetcar and return to the starting point just prior to sundown. This year's day-long event on November 27 enjoys stops at Episcopal, Catholic, Presbyterian, Jewish, United Methodist, Mormon, Lutheran and Baptist houses of worship. But an interesting thing has occurred this year. Perhaps it is the ever flattening economy or perhaps it is that boredom has set in, but for some reason our usual numbers are off and less than ten days remain before the hike takes place. This year's hike is important in that it kicks off awareness of the centennial year of Scouting in the United States among the various faith groups. Founded on February 8, 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has always counted on support from religious factions and major faith groups as major partners. So, in an effort to drum up support and get more participants, I am officially plugging this year's hike. EVERYONE and I mean EVERYONE can take part. You don't have to be a Scout or even know one (although you do know me, I guess). Here is the link to sign up online. Oh, and don't forget about submitting the medical form and registration information. Hope to see you at this year's hike. Woo hoo!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The skin of my teeth

The last week has been bit of a haze for me. Monday I underwent periodontal surgery on the upper right and lower left portions of my gumline. The three and a half hour ordeal was made easier by the use of copious amounts of lidocaine that rendered parts of my nose, lips and oral orifice numb for 24 hours. There's nothing so freeing as to dribble liquid unintentionally over yourself following a procedure like this. It's those little things that make the other more disgusting and painful outcomes of surgery seem somehow a bit more tenable. Thank goodness for pain medications and an attentive staff who called me daily to check on my progress. In any event, as you can attest, I did survive and indeed made it through the initial bland-and-soft-food-only days with a certain aplomb and esprit-de-corps. It's like the song "New York, New York." If I can make it there (through this), I 'll make it anywhere (through anything)." There is no doubt we take our mouths for granted. It is only in disquieting times like this when we are advised not to speak and counseled as to what we can put inside our mouths that the daily importance of smiling, eating and even kissing loom large. I can admit that the most difficult post-operative prohibition I dealt with was not talking. Oh, what would I have given to have had a universal translator or some other fictional futuristic device to aid me in my dire time of no communication! I had a pad of paper and a pen that I tried using, but given my poor pensmanship, cursive writing is a labor in futility for me. I liken it to surfing the Internet with Mosaic. It could be done, but why bother? I am so accustomed to typing for all my writing that I think in keystrokes. It probably was a good thing that I had a handful of pain medications to down at the time and help me cope. The relative lack of pain kept my spirits up and allowed me to deal with my recovery in a measured and steady manner. By the end of this past week I was talking and eating in a more natural way. I admit I was not really feeling up to writing a whole lot or chowing down on a thick steak or a box of peanuts. The last week I've had several instances where I should have written something. Disgraced former U.S. Representative William Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years behind bars and both New Orleans Chief of Technology Gregory Meffert and his wife Lisa and his computer-savvy crony Mark St. Pierre were arraigned in federal court on a variety of charges. Looks like when I finally do recover, I'll have plenty to write about. Oh, well, time to remove the sutures.

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Ida, One Ani

Some of you may have heard. It's November. Apparently, that fact escaped notice from Mother Nature because an extremely rare November storm named Ida lashed North America over the past few days. While attentions were being paid in Louisiana to football games and the fallout from last weekend's Voodoo Fest, Hurricane Ida blindsided the Big Easy. After hitting the Carribean, the storm entered the Gulf of Mexico, poised to strike the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coasts. According to meterologists, Ida has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it still will be a significant rain event. Meanwhile, Ani Kafavian, a renowned classical violinist whose sister Ida of the Beaux Arts Trio, was due to be in town tonight for a concert sponsored by the Friends of Music. The concert is now slated for November 10. Uh-oh. Gotta fly. My periodontist beckons me to have oral surgery about now. When I hear the word "oral" pronounced, I prefer a litany of other choices to follow it, surgery being my least favorite of word choices.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yankees go home

For the 27th time the New York Yankees are world champions, winners of the coveted and heralded Commissioner's Trophy that signals they have won four out of the seven-game World Series. It's the first time the Yankees have won since 2000 and the first year they opened their new stadium. Back in 1923 the Yankees did the same thing. They opened a new stadium (soon to be called "the house that Ruth built") and won all the marbles that year. Winning has been a part of the Yankees' tradition. Fact is, they have won more World Series than any other ball club and have several significant records to reflect on their dominance in Major League Baseball. The crowning glory of this year's victory this year was they defeated last year's Series winners, the Philadelphia Phillies. 2008 was the first year in recent memory they didn't figure into the post-season, so posting the best average in the league was a great place to start, but taking the title was even more important. There was a time when winning and the name Yankees were almost synonymous. True Yankee fans will harp back to that incredible run from 1996 to 2003 when the team went to six World Series and won four. Of that four most fans will point out, the Yankees had a run of three consecutive Series wins (1998-2000). It would seem their losing ways hit a nadir last year. But look. The birds are flying ever more lightly this day and the air seems somewhat more refreshing than it has in years. The moon looked a bit brighter, perhaps showing the sun was beaming ever more brilliantly. Indeed, the universe is back on an even keel, because Yankee fans take to losing about as well as penguins do to living alone. It just can't be done for very long without the entire fabric of society shredding away. So, for the seventh time since 1973, the New York Yankees are world champions. Philadelphia put up a good fight, especially in Game One. But world champions they are no more. Sorry, Boston fans. Sorry, my friends in Cleveland. This is one of those special times where you won't hear us saying "wait until next year."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Windows 7

I've been keeping a bit mum about Windows 7, the latest and greatest operating system from Microsoft. Windows 7 is basically Windows Vista without any of the problems that beset that operating system at its initial release. Most of the problems associated with Windows Vista were hardware related and not the fault of the operating system, which did offer significant improvement in a number of areas over Windows XP, most notably that in security. Unfortunately, the bad rap it suffered from the start kept it from being implemented into more workplaces. Many clients actually preferred to stick with older versions of Windows XP rather than upgrade to Windows Vista because they were sure it would cause problems on their local workstations. Ironically, those that upgraded from older downlevel client operating systems like Windows 2000 Professional or were implementing computers on a local network for the first time, thought Vista was a huge improvement. Many of the problems with Vista have been ironed out in the last several years, which is why Microsoft used Vista as the basis for its latest operating system. There are some significant differences with Windows 7, especially as it relates to the desktop. There are some very cool features here, most of which require actual hands-on use rather than a description by me. The main thing to remember is that Microsoft got a black eye from the pushback it suffered from the initial release of Windows Vista. It is not making the same mistake with Windows 7, which it released October 22 at the same time it released an upgrade to its Windows 2008 Server package: Windows Server 2008 R2. As it turns out, there are some very sharp applications that work in concert with Windows 7 Professional and Windows Server 2008 R2. Please remember this does not apply to Windows 7 Starter or Home operating systems. I have never recommended any Microsoft Home operating system for a business, but I can understand an end user wanting to save money when purchasing a new computer intended for a home network. Frankly, I believe there are benefits accrued when using Windows Vista Business or Windows XP Professional in the workplace or at home if spending the extra $100 is not crucial to one's budget. Today I took part in a seminar related to the benefits of installing Windows 7 over existing networks. I am intelligent enough to know that the downside of Windows 7 is likely to be glossed over, but for the most part I am impressed. It seems to me that it's worth upgrading to this new operating system, especially for those who have not upgraded in the past five years. Also, in the back of my mind I know that Windows 8 won't be that far off either.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The second burning of Atlanta

This time there wasn't a Big Ben play. The Saints simply took it to Atlanta, hung in tough and, despite some ugly play at times, held onto their lead and won ESPN's Monday night NFL game 35-27. For the first time before the home crowd in the Superdome the boys in black and gold trailed their opponent, even though that lead was a short one. Quarterback Drew Brees outgunned his counterpart on the Falcons, Matt Ryan, in a convincing manner. with his stable of tight ends and running backs (Colston, Henderson, Shockey and Thomas) and extended the lead for the Saints to 3-1 in the NFC's South Conference. Colston was credited with making a couple of key plays in his 85-yard game in which he also scored one touchdown, while Pierre Thomas registered a 100-yard game with 91 yards gained on the ground. Even Reggie Bush managed to score his sixth TD for the year with the go-ahead points that put his team into the lead for good. The Saints also were at the top of their game defensively with heavy pressure applied to Ryan and his offense both on the line and on the passing routes. Tracy Porter was credited with a possible game-saving interception in the fourth quarter. Brees admitted that he thought the Saints could play better. "I don't think we played that great today," he shot back at newsmen after the game. "I think our best is yet to come." Maybe he's right, but for most of those who are used to seeing the Saints start and stop from season to season, it is refreshing to see the team register so well and play mostly injury free. Only one other team, Indianapolis, led by New Orleanian quarterback Peyton Manning is still undefeated. There's still at least nine more games left to the season, so it's good to not get too overconfident or cocky. But at 7-0, the Saints' record is tied for their best start in franchise history. The coffee and chickory tastes a bit better this morning and everyone is smiling broadly as they go about their daily rituals. Next week is a short one in terms of preparation with conference rival Carolina.
Meanwhile, the National League champs Philadelphia Phillies fought against elimination at the hands of the American League New York Yankees last night at the same time. They'll play at least one more game in New York on Wednesday night to determine who will win the World Series after winning the fifth game last night 8-6. The Yankees lead the series 3 games to 2 and have never lost to any team in previous series play when they led 3-1. Chris Utley, who has proven to be a one-man scoring machine for the Phils tied a record previously held by Reggie Jackson for hitting five home runs in a World Series. Utley hit two more four-baggers last night. Mark my words. If he hits another home run in the next game (or the final game, if necessary), we may all be calling Utley "Mr. November."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An hour saved is a month gained

Halloween was probably the most perfect of nights this year. There was a large, practically full moon lighting the way for the children, who gleefully ran through the streets from house to house seeking candy and treats. The night had just the slightest of chills to take the edge off a warm day, making a glass of wine (or was that blood?) a perfect libation to take it all in. Then, after a long night of merrymaking, it was time to sleep and to worship the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, the first man to propose Daylight Saving Time or, as some people refer to it, Summer Time. The idea first cropped up in the writings of Dr. Franklin in 1784 in Paris, when he was acting as an American delegate for the young nation to France. The idea took root when several Frenchmen ran with the idea, but nothing came of it until over a century later when British builder William Willett in his pamphlet "Waste of Time" proposed clocks be turned back 20 minutes for four successive Sundays in April and turned back ahead in the fall. Imagine dealing with four separate time changes in the spring and the fall. Daylight Saving Time has its critics, but with few exceptions statistics have indicated a one percent savings in nationwide energy costs. Not every state participates in Daylight Saving Time. Arizona and portions of Indiana do not as is the case for Hawaii and American territories in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa. Countries in Asia and Africa typically don't observe Daylight Saving Time either. Countries along the equator get equal amounts of sunshine and daylight, so it would make it foolhardy to implement it as well. During World War II, "double" Daylight Saving Time was implemented in Great Britain, meaning clocks were set back two hours for additional savings. Luckily, Daylight Saving Time has been standardized in the United States for some time. Implemented in April of each year, we lose an hour's sleep and retrieve that hour when we return to Standard Time, usually in late October (or, as it was technically this year, very, very early November). It's nice to get that extra hour of sleep and this year was no exception. But a curious thing happened. No sooner did I get back that hour than a new month loomed large. It is November, after all. I reckon it is only a little over four weeks from Thanksgiving and that means the holiday season is also fast approaching. Without fanfare one hour of rest was retrieved and, without expecting it, reality began to sink in. Planning for holiday parties means Mardi Gras balls and parades are not that far off too. I'm not trying to rush the end of the year, but I must be pragmatic. There's a whole lot less of 2009 left than we've enjoyed so far. Another year has almost lapsed and it won't be long before we are all caught up in the maelstrom that is holiday time, the New Year and (especially as it applies here in the Big Easy) the Carnival season.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A fallen leader and a budget shortfall

Is it just me or do you notice that bad things happen in pairs, batches or concert with one another? No sooner did the news leak out that New Orleans is in the throes of an imminent financial crisis - a $28 million projected shortfall - then the death of former Governor David Treen was reported. Treen was the first Republican to grace the governor's mansion since Reconstruction. Indeed, the Solid South was already rapidly disintegrating from a Democratic stronghold and rearranging itself into a Republican haven when Treen was elected back in 1979. He served the state of Louisiana for four years from 1980 to 1984 and did so with dignity and little fanfare. The biggest challenge his administration faced was how to deal with the Democrat-controlled Legislature. His ineffectiveness in shepherding his own programs was probably what cost him his reelection in 1983. Treen was defeated by the much more flamboyant and slick Edwin Edwards, whom he had succeeded - a politician who was in many ways his exact opposite. While Treen was seen as a devoted, faithful husband, Edwards was considered a philanderer and a rake. Treen was a political chameleon, having been a member of the racist State's Right Party in the early 1960's, when it was politically expedient. However, he made the leap to the Republican Party not long after the turbulent Civil Rights period made being a segregationist a risky proposition for any serious candidate. Interestingly, one of Treen's last public outings was when he appealed this year for an early release for Edwards, now serving time in the federal system after being convicted on a variety of racketeering, extortion, fraud and money-laundering counts. David Treen was the respected elder statesman of Louisiana politics. While he never served four terms (like Edwards) or became the laughing-stock of the nation (like Edwards), he did make a mark for himself as a quiet standard bearer of the Republican Party. It's a shame. New Orleans could use leaders like Treen to help see it through its current financial crisis.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A tarnished silver anniversary

Today is the 25th anniversary, or more precisely, today would have been my 25th wedding anniversary. It's hard to believe that so much time has elapsed since that memorable day when my bride took her walk down the aisle and I smashed that glass wrapped in a napkin beneath my foot to end the ceremony. I suppose I should be grateful that the time we had together, although short, was meaningful. The decade I spent as a married man was one filled with thousands of special times and moments. Like all couples, we had our share of arguments, some of which I lost and others that I let her win. It wasn't all about winning, though. It was about sharing. She shared my bank account, my cars and my home. I shared the payments. It was a match made in banking heaven. Seriously, though, I was very happy to be married and the grieving after her passing continues to this day. I take solace in knowing the love we shared still survives in the person of my son, who, believe it or not, is planning his own nuptials in the not-too-distant future. Silver is the precious metal associated with the anniversary year of 25. In Scouting circles silver is the most precious metal linked with the highest of awards. There are Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope and Silver Buffalo for adults on a local, regional and national basis. There are also Silver Arrow Points for Cub Scouts and Silver Palms for Eagle Scouts. I feel honored to have lived to celebrate this sterling and lustrous day, although it would have been ever so much more special had she also lived to see this day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Saints are for real


Something has happened to our New Orleans Saints. Under the helm of Sean Payton's leadership, the play of the upstart NFL performers has gone from good or lackluster to great and formidable. Despite a laughable franchise history from its inception in 1967, the Saints fans have been characterized as being rabid beyond all expectations. They did have a couple of good years including that run at the NFC Championship two years ago - a juggernaut that froze on Soldier's Field at the hands of the Chicago Bears. After impressive wins in their first five games this season the Saints never trailed to any team. Until yesterday. That was when the uppity Miami Dolphins, rested after a bye week in which they were able to prepare for their contest, piled on the points and dazzled the boys in gold with a 24-3 first quarter shellacking. When the half ended, the Drew Brees-led offense had closed the gap, trailing 24-10 after a controversial decision by Miami coach Sorano led to a one-yard Saints touchdown run instead of a sure field goal with five seconds left on the clock and no time outs. To a lesser team the numbers might have been daunting. The Saints returned to the field with purpose and posted two additional touchdowns in the third quarter, but Miami answered with another 10 points, leading 34-14 at the end of the third quarter. A lesser team would have been derailed, but the Saints defense held firm and their offense exploded. Miami watched in disbelief as the Saints added another 22 unanswerd points on the scoreboard that lifted the team to an unbelievable 46-34 comeback victory. It was quite simply the most inspired comeback in Saints history, snatching victory from the hands of defeat and keeping their record unblemished. The team next takes on arch-rivals Atlanta a week from tonight in the Superdome wtih coverage on ESPN.
In the meantime, the New York Yankees head to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies after their 40th American League pennant was captured yesterday with a win over the Califorina Angels. While this may not make any Boston Red Sox fans happy, it does lift my spirits and along with the Saints win makes me quite happy as we head toward the annual classic. Does anybody else think this baseball season has been stretched out a bit too far? It won't be long before we're talking about a player being "Mr. November."

Friday, October 23, 2009

The final pie in the face for Soupy

Today is a day of sadness for me that ranks in my mind with the date six years ago when Bob Hope passed away. Soupy Sales, the clown prince of television during the days of my youth, has joined the ranks of other great comic performers who have gone on to perform on the celestial stage. It's not that the 83-year-old Sales (born Milton Supman in 1926 in North Carolina) was all that funny. In fact, he was probably more juvenile than jovial in his comic patter. He was just plain silly and his creations of "White Fang"("the biggest meanest dog in the United States") and "Black Tooth" ("the biggest sweetest dog in the United States") were among my boyhood TV favorites. I remember the black and white world of early television and the grainy reception we had for the upstart ABC network over which "The Soupy Sales Show" was seen. Somehow that black and white medium seemed perfect for throwing shaving cream pies, Sales's trademark, and his non-stop joke telling ("Did you hear the one about...?"). Even a stellar celebrity like Frank Sinatra was perfectly at home having a pie lobbed at his kisser by Sales. Sales gained his nickname while growing up in North Carolina. His Jewish parents ran a dry-goods store and allegedly sold sheets to local Ku Klux Klan members. His other brothers' nicknames were Ham Bone and Chicken Bone. He was given the moniker "Soup Bone," which he shortened to Soupy. After a stint in the Navy during World War II where he performed for his fellow sailors over the public address system, Sales attended Marshall College, earning a journalism degree. He began his broadcast career in his home of Huntington, North Carolina using the broadcast name of Soupy Hines before journeying to Cincinnati, where he got involved with the television industry. Early in his career he changed his last name to Sales so it wouldn't get confused with Heinz (as in 57 varieties). Oddly enough, he then traveled to my former home of Cleveland, where he established himself as a local celebrity and received his very first pie in the face. Sales claimed he left Cleveland "for health reasons: people got sick of me." It wasn't long before he jumped to Detroit and became a major local TV star there. Eventually his shtick got him noticed by the network brass and he relocated to New York, where he became the darling of ABC and the delight of diminutive devotees such as I. His skits were decidedly puerile in nature, but I loved them, even if many of them went over my head. In truth I may have been exposed to modern jazz for the first time on Soupy's program, where the sweater and oversized bow-tie wearing host employed that brand of music for several of his segments. He was the precursor to the Benny Hill Show, only his show was for kids and the former was definitely for adults. There is no doubt that a part of me never outgrew Soupy Sales, and I think it safe to say that were it not for him, there would never have been a Pee Wee Herman, who was my son's favorite in his formative years. I had not seen or heard of Soupy Sales for at least a decade, but his death at a New York hospice yesterday saddens me and diminishes us all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

École du freak


New Orleans has long been a mysterious and exotic place. The locale has been the backdrop for myriad tales revolving about voodoo and ghosts. Witches, seers and voodoo priestesses like Marie Laveau wielded unlikely power over segments of the population due to their so-called powers. Several highly successful franchises from cult writers like Ann Rice and others have focused on vampires and other fictional creatures that go bump in the night. So, it is not surprising that the production company for "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" set up shop here last spring and started filming at a number of locations all over town for four months. Based on the first three of the twelve-volume "Saga of Darren Shan" by Darren Shan, the film stars John C. Reilly, Willem Dafoe, Jane Krakowski and Salma Hayek among others. While the Shan books don't specifically mention a particular city setting, New Orleans serves nicely as the fictional setting for this first film. Notice I said first film. I fully expect this one will be turned into at least two other sequels. It's just such a natural. The interesting point is that the young stars of "The Vampire's Assistant" are seen early in the film attending high school. The weird aspect here for me has nothing to do with the script. It's just the simple fact that the school depicted is, in fact, my own alma mater, the former Alcee Fortier High School, reorganized and renamed following Hurricane Katrina as Robert Mills Lusher Charter High School. Literally located a scant 15 blocks from my present domicile, Fortier High School was also my dad's school. His brother also attended. My Great Uncle Joseph Smith was the art instructor there for nearly 37 years from the day the school's doors opened. It does give one pause and I may check out the film just to see how many other scenes feature familiar settings.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Upstaged by a runaway balloon

Imagine the city of New Orleans rolling out the red carpet for the first presidential visit of Barack Obama'a administration. Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Mary Landrieu, Mayor Ray Nagin and a host of dignitaries are on hand to welcome the president to New Orleans for the first time since taking the nation's highest office. Cameras are rolling and reporters and correspondents are hurrying from pillar to post to cover this short stay the entire duration of which will be less than four hours in length. The New Orleans population is collectively holding its breath, hoping the coverage will draw interest from outsiders who need to know about the slow progress being made towards recovery in the city. Four years after Hurricane Katrina's landfall this is a public relations opportunity that demands worthy network coverage and insight from commentators and pundits alike. Suddenly, a news flash is broadcast. A runaway helium-filled weather balloon is aloft with a six-year-old aboard. CNN cancels its scheduled broadcast with U.S. Representative Anh Cao to cover the plight of this potential disaster. The ravenous news industry pulls out all of the stops and New Orleans and its plight takes an immediate back seat as this "high priority" news event overshadows any previously planned coverage. After two hours of non-stop network coverage, a sudden downdraft forces the balloon to the surface and inside...gasp!...there is no six-year-old. Meanwhile, the president addresses a town hall meeting and only one person - a college student - asks a question which causes President Obama to have to address the question of what the federal government is actually going to do to help the city make its recovery. Pretty soon, after several 10-second video clips have been shot by the national media to represent the city's plight and his response, the president is winging his way aboard Air Force One back to the White House. Embarrassed city and state officials have their heads spinning trying to figure out what went wrong. By the time the story of the missing six-year-old gets sorted out, it is revealed he has been hiding in a closet in a room in his house while the nation's eyes were fixed on the runaway balloon. Questions are posited about the father who constructed the balloon and whether he was using the story for his own ends or not. New Orleans loses out. So, sorry, CNN says, but they just had to cover the breaking news story. Better luck next time. In the meantime I would like to make a suggestion. The next time President Obama is set to return to New Orleans, let's put all of our city and state leaders into a lighter-than-air ship and have it break free of its mooring. I can just see the headline now:



Thursday, October 15, 2009

An Inconvenient Blog


Today is Blog Action Day, a worldwide effort by 5,000 fellow bloggers to spotlight one issue to which we can all add our own spin. The topic for today is climate change. I will be one of the first to admit the topic didn't seem to be of any particular interest to me five years ago. Oh, yes, there was that troublesome hole in the ozone over Antarctica and deforestation in several tropical rain forests seemed to be causing some problems in South America. But it wasn't until the summer of 2005 that the full impact of climate change - specifically that dealing with global warming and the causal effect of creating killer hurricanes - literally came home to roost. The devastation left behind the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made me pay close attention. As a result of the impact of the former and the resultant flooding caused by poor civil engineering, climate change became a topic of keen interest to me and my fellow New Orleanians. I freely admit that I have never seen "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's film that explains all of the causes and effects of climate change upon the ecology. Moreover, I have never taken a college level course on the subject. I am just a common-sense, laid-back fellow who reckons that we cannot continue to plunder our planet of riches, befoul and litter the landscape and affect the biosphere in myriad ways without repercussions like depleted ozone levels, acid rain and killer cyclones. It is true that the United States has been one of the leading culprits in defiling and desecrating the earth and its fragile ecosystem, but there are also many among us who recognize the folly in that and are now provocative advocates for change. Being green makes sense, but changing the habits of the American public will take time. Paying huge amounts at the gas pump made many of us rethink using cars and wasting fuel. Now that the price of a barrel of oil has plummeted from its peak a year and a half ago, the pressure seems to have lessened. The fact is the world is in the same shape as it was before; we're just paying a bit less due to man-made factors. We have been responsible for poisoning the atmosphere with thick billows of smoke from coal-burning energy plants and have greedily gorged ourselves on gallons of gasoline. Despite our track record, we are insisting that Third World nations and countries with burgeoning populations like those found in China and India should operate at a level far less than we had done just a few years ago. We need to set the example in order for those people to not think our actions as hypocritical. If we do nothing else than start to think about what we have done, we will have made a good start. Beyond that, though, we should clearly delineate goals and plan for a future that includes considerations that will slow, deter and countermand man's global effect upon climate change. Like it or not, we have the ultimate responsibility to take care of our fragile home and leave it in the same shape, if not better, than we had it handed to us. To do nothing less would be unconscionable. To do nothing would be criminal.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rehabbing before performing

This picture was one of several taken yesterday at a single ranch style home in Meraux, Louisiana. Located a scant quarter-mile from the sprawling Murphy Oil Company complex, the house was being rehabbed by a number of out-of-town volunteers under the direction of the St. Bernard Project. Among the dedicated volunteers was none other than Neshama Carlebach, the peerless Jewish songstress seen at left, whose passion of bringing New Orleans back towards the road to recovery was never more evident or brilliantly expressed than that which she demonstrated by floating wallboard and applying joint compound (mud) to a room she built all by herself. Carlebach, the daughter of the famous "singing" Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, is in town to headline a special benefit concert tomorrow night (October 15) at Touro Synagogue at 8:00 p.m. Along with 16 members of the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir led by the Reverend Roger Hambrick, Carlebach will also be joined on stage by legendary New Orleans jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis and other unannounced players in a performance of original songs written by the late Rabbi Carlebach. Carlebach's producer and drummer Marc Amborsino was at her side yesterday, along with his wife Rozan, applying mud to sheetrock and doing what he could to help finish the project. Ambrosino and Carlebach were both in the Crescent City in 2006 for the New Orleans Jewish Music Festival held at Howling Wolf. It is very gratifying to see performers actually roll their sleeves up and get dirty in helping the city's recovery, but the opportunity to raise much-needed funds to battle hunger is even more important. The "Go You Forth" concert will raise money for the St. Bernard Project and the New Orleans Food Bank through Mazon, the Jewish organization that provides food and grants to aid the hungry. Mazon literally means "food" in Hebrew and the concert is Carlebach's dream towards making a significant impact on the recovery here in order to help former residents return to their city. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Group sales are $10 each, but must be purchased through the Mazon site. For more information call Touro Synagogue at 504-895-4843. The Go You Forth concert will be a wonderful opportunity for all of the New Orleans area to take part in an interfaith program that embraces the Jewish legacy of Rabbi Carlebach and the collective talents of Neshama Carlebach, the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir, the legendary Ellis Marsalis and others. It will be a convergence of different worlds – Jewish songs, gospel and jazz – all designed to bring divergent folk together in worship and praise towards God. In a way it's a success already even before the first notes have been heard because of the generous spirit of giving by Carlebach and her band members in making this concert happen. If you are able to attend, fly to the "Go You Forth" concert and be a part of this experience. If you are unable to attend or live out of town, consider making a donation to Mazon or the St. Bernard Project. It will help and will definitely be appreciated.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Neshama Carlebach arrives in New Orleans for benefit concert

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and daughter Neshama (© Joan Roth)

Neshama Carlebach, one of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's two daughters and the most well-known performer who has followed in his illustrious footsteps, has already arrived in New Orleans. Carlebach is working in St. Bernard Parish rehabbing a home today as a precursor to her upcoming "Go You Forth" concert to benefit Mazon, the Jewish group that fights hunger. Thursday evening Carlebach, who has felt an affinity with New Orleans even before Hurricane Katrina, has been mortified with what happened to the city in the wake of the flooding that followed the storm. Her most recent CD release, "Higher and Higher" on Sojourn Records came out today. On it she is joined by the 40-member Green Pastures Baptish Church Choir (led by the Reverend Roger Hambrick) in ten songs penned mostly by her famous rabbi father, known to many the world over as "the singing rabbi." Produced by Mark Ambrosino, this CD is part of Carlebach's vision to help the city of New Orleans recover. The project is called "Soul Journey" and it is her hope that this will be one of many such concerts to help the city and the musical community here recover and prosper once again. Carlebach makes it no secret that she loves the music that has come out of New Orleans, especially that from jazz giants like Ellis Marsalis, who will also perform this Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m. at Touro Synagogue. Sixteen members of the Green Patures Baptist Church Choir (including Rev. Hambrick) will join Carlebach on stage as well. Tickets are only $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Group tickets are $10 each, but must be purcharsed through the Mazon site. For more information call Touro Synagogue at 504-895-4843.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lost Weekend?


For most Americans the weekend may have seem like a setup for the federal holiday of Columbus Day, but to the Jewish community, it was more than that. This past Friday evening was not a typical beginning of Sabbath. It was the ending of the Succot holiday and for the Reform community it was the combination of the Shemini Atzerets and Simchat Torah holidays on that one day that began at sundown and continued until Saturday evening. Like the Reform community, the more observant Jewish community observed the Shemini Atzerets holiday on Friday evening, but the holiday of Simchat Torah was not begun until Saturday night. The differences in the ways the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox communities observe these holidays can be startling. Most Reform Shemini Atzerets/Simchat Torah services are very quick and maintain a goodly degree of decorum. By contrast the Conservative and Orthodox services tend to be much longer and, especially with regards to Simchat Torah, tend to become more raucous and rowdy as the gift of the Torah is commemorated with lots of singing and dancing. The children really enjoy this holiday. They parade around the sanctuary with toy Torahs and flags denoting their love of learning. For adults there are opportunities for liquid libation to make the celebrations even more meaningful and, sometimes, hangovers plentiful. The truth of the matter is that in hindsight I celebrated the gift of the Torah a bit more than I should have, but what good is staying sober when a federal holiday looms so close behind? The interesting thing is that after a wild night of carrying the Torah scrolls around the sanctuary amid singing and dancing, it all started anew on the morning. It was like something out of the old Ray Milland film, only instead of the delirium tremens and pink elephants, there were lots of Torah scrolls. Thank goodness for Columbus Day on Monday.