Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Weekend

This weekend has been fairly exciting, but not for the reason that might jump to mind for most people occupied with the big game in Tampa. There is Super Bowl fever across the country, but it is mitigated here in New Orleans. The reason? Two words. Mardi Gras. No, don't check your calendar. I haven't lost it all completely. The date for Fat Tuesday is still February 24; that hasn't changed. But the hoopla leading up to the big day has taken off this week with the first of several weeks of Carnival balls I will be narrating. The first one occurred Friday with the Krewe of Iris, the oldest woman's krewe in Carnival founded in 1917. Celebrating a 92nd birthday at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, the krewe members, royal court consisting of maids, dukes, king and queen took part in a tableau titled "On the Road Again." The event ended at 10:30 p.m., but the night was still young. The krewe sponsored a "supper dance" that began at 12 midnight across town at the New Orleans Hilton Riverfront Hotel. After the royal court was introduced (shortly after 12:30 a.m.), the dancing and music provided by local legend Bobby Cure and the Summertime Blues -- the guys who played at my wedding back in 1984 -- continued until the meal was served. That was sometime around 1:30 a.m. Dessert was served around 3:00 a.m. Anyone who doesn't live in New Orleans will never fully comprehend what this whole thing is about, but trust me, once you're sucked into it, you never fully recover.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rabbit At Peace

John Updike, the erudite novelist and poet who garnered admirations and envy among his peers and pleasure from his multitudes of adoring fans, passed away yesterday. He was, to be sure, a writer among writers and his most well-known novels ("Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit At Rest" won Pulitzer Prizes 30 years apart from the other) guaranteed his star to be firmly placed in the firmament of literary giants. A tireless author, Updike churned out at least one successful novel year after year. He did so with so little apparent effort that he created enmity among his equals. But don't blame Updike. He clearly couldn't help himself. A chronicler of American adultery, Updike once admitted that if he hadn't exhausted the topic, "it clearly has exhausted me." Many of you will recall his "Witches of Eastwick" was converted into a successful movie, although the follow-up "Widows of Eastwick" didn't capture lightning in a bottle again. I was amazed at the length and breadth of Updike's prolific output. He was an inveterate reviewer of other authors and the arts and on several occasions released volumes of short stories in addition to his lesser known poetry. Unfortunately, all of my Updike collection (like nearly all of my library) was lost during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. Yet, I still remember them and Updike's highly stylized writing. I will treasure their memory as well as the writer responsible for them. Updike, a victim of lung cancer, was 76.
Thank you, Congress. Talk about taking the wind out of my sails. After alerting everyone about the impending changeover to all digital broadcasting the other day, the wise men and women of Congress decided to push back the switch until the summer, making my scribblings seem somewhat unnecessary. While our rabbit ears are safe for now, I wouldn't get too complacent. Time marches on and digital will be here soon enough.
And now a personal word to my mother, Annette, who today celebrates her 77th birthday. Have a happy birthday. I know that if her birthday is here, Mardi Gras can't be very far off. Indeed, it is less than a month away and the Carnival ball season is into full swing this weekend.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bye-bye rabbit ears (not you, Bugs!)

With the impending demise of broadcast TV, I am thanking my lucky stars that I am the owner of a satellite system. (If you wonder which one, it rhymes with "wish TV.") In a little over three weeks the era of analog broadcasting will cease and the beginning of exclusive digital broadcasting will begin. What that means is that all of those rooftop antennas that were formerly perched on rooftops in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties are now about as pertinent as fins on the backs of automobiles. It also means the effective end of the interior TV antenna, better known as rabbit ears. About a year ago, I purchased a small black and white TV set at a drugs store for less than $20. I intended to keep it in my kitchen in order to keep me engaged while I was preparing breakfast or dinner. It would appear that its days are numbered because the only way it would receive broadcasts after the switch to digital would require the hookup of a digital receiver. In case some of you haven't been checking, the cost of those darlings is quite high. The federal government has promised discount certificates for those who will be hard hit by the switch, but the program that ensures the availability of funds has run out of money. That translates into huge costs to the consumers who have not made plans prior to the switch to continue receiving TV broadcasts in digital. I'm not spending $100 or more to continue to receive broadcasts over a $19 unit. Besides, there aren't nearly enough electric wall receptors in my kitchen. Are there ever really enough in any kitchen? But for those of us who are presently receiving cable or satellite TV broadcasts in our homes, we are spared the problem. We will notice not one scintilla difference after February 17 than what we have now. Of course, we'll also have those fairly high bills that come with those services. At a time in our nation's economy when we should be conserving money, we're still spending it with abandon when it comes to TV reception. As a child, I remember growing up with only four TV channels to view, one of them a PBS affiliate. Later, there were two more UHF channels added to the mix and I thought I was in TV heaven. Today I have 100 channels to view, but several of the ones I viewed with my pre-Hurricane Katrina cable service are not included in the satellite TV package I chose. So, Turner Classic Movies, Bravo and American Movie Classics are not available unless I want to upgrade to a more expensive package. For the package I receive today I spend almost $500 a year. That seems a lot higher than my comfort level, considering the broadcast TV signals I received growing up cost me nothing. I no longer receive cable broadcasts (in case you're wondering, it rhymes with "pox cable") because the monthly bills, which used to be less than $20 per month including HBO, climbed to almost $50 per month with no premium channel. But think about the incredible progress we've made. Aside from the now six local channels from which I can choose, I also have huge numbers of home shopping selections and hundreds of channels that I can see on my guide. Unfortunately, most of them require an upgrade in service in order for me to see them. As it turns out, I am usually only viewing only a few more than the local TV channels under my present contract. It seems that most of the time I am consoled watching "Law and Order" in its various iterations, "Monk," "Psych" and "Burn Notice," the last three of which are USA Network programs. Despite their popularity, I haven't been much of a "24," "Desperate Housewives," "Gray's Anatomy," or "American Idol" fan, probably because my schedule is such that I can't devote that much time to watching programs on a regular basis. When all is said and done, I'm so lucky I don't have to worry about receiving that pesky "free" broadcast TV anymore. Besides, look how much more beautiful my interior is without those horrible rabbit ears. It's a giant leap for mankind, don't you think?

Friday, January 23, 2009

WTUL alumni unite!

Talk about reunions. I'm not sure how this developed, but apparently there is a movement afoot to invite alumni from my college radio station -- WTUL -- to visit the present station's campus location in order to commemorate 50 years of broadcasting. There's even a new Facebook page that was created to help facilitate this. It's shaping up to be a most promising opportunity to visit with many of my old broadcasting compadres, but I'm not sure how well we all have weathered the 30 or 40 years that have intervened. Back when I attended as a freshman, the radio station broadcast over AM carrier current at 550 Kilocycles. The way the station worked was via telephone lines from the studio connected to small transmitters that would "broadcast" through the wiring in each building. Several of the dormitories had transmitters, which allowed any radio receivers plugged into the electrical service to receive the station at 660 AM. It was also possible to receive broadcasts while driving through the campus, but reception was poor at best. Then, the station made the leap from AM to FM and broadcast over a small 10-watt FM exciter. It was a giant leap for our tiny alternative radio station, which in its early days only broadcast folk music or other acceptable musical forms. Later, as an FM facility with higher power, it became a favorite of the city's younger listeners who shied away from commercial broadcasting. WTUL-FM eventually achieved over 3,000 watts of power in its early days of citywide broadcasting at 91.5 MHz over an antenna array perched above Monroe Hall, some 120 feet high on the uptown campus. The day of the conversion from low to high power took place in 1976, some two years after my administration as General Manager ended. It was my job to pick up U.S. Representative Lindy Boggs to come to the studio and flip the switch that initiated the higher power broadcasts. I remember picking her up from her Bourbon Street apartment in the heart of the French Quarter and driving her to the uptown studio in my brand new silver Ford Granada. I note that Lindy enjoyed a great career in Congress for many years beyond that event, eventually becoming Ambassador to the Vatican. In terms of her years of service, it is doubtful her ceremonial work with a campus radio station on that day registered very high. But, who knows? Perhaps it did make an impression. There were other great events at WTUL. Who can forget the Rock On Survival Marathon that was held during the height of the streaking craze? I recall a very well known attorney who, as a student, happily stripped and streaked across campus during the outdoor event on the University Quadrangle adjacent to the University Center. There was also the event I organized in 1973, the Raise the Bastille Radiothon, a benefit for Parish Prison's Inmate Welfare Fund that was held at Orleans Parish Prison. Some of the guest performers for that 24-hour event included Dr. John, the Meters, Professor Longhair, Chris Kenner, Robert Parker and Jesse Hill. How I wish I had a copy of that tape! And who can forget the times we interviewed celebrities in the studio like a very impaired Dr. John, two members of the Firesign Theatre, Rob Krieger of the Doors or remotely recorded rock personages like Ronnie van Zandt from Lynrd Skynyrd? Then, again, I remember meeting actors Vincent Price, Leonard Nimoy, Deforrest Kelly and William Windom among others, who all were encouraged to record promotional spots for the small campus radio station. Our logo was a little guy chipping away at a large rock (some said "chipping away at the rock of New Orleans," a reference to a large commercial FM outlet). Today, thanks to Hurricane Katrina, that commercial station isn't even broadcasting rock music and much of what WTUL-FM broadcast as "alternative" is now considered "classic rock." I must admit that much of what is broadcast today over WTUL-FM bears little semblance to what we broadcast back in the Seventies and Eighties. But, then again, we broadcast music that might have offended our earlier predecessors over the AM carrier current station. My "Oldies Show" was one of the most popular shows, held each Saturday night. Back then my only stipulation was that in order to be an "oldie," the song had to be a minimum of three years old. Such is the nature of broadcasting, especially as it relates to students, whose musical tastes are mercurial at best. Interestingly enough, my son is a senior at Tulane and his iPod is filled with songs I used to broadcast over the campus radio station. I wonder if the popularity of many of these songs wasn't helped along in some way by enthusiastic broadcasters like me and others so very long ago.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The day after opening

Long into the wee hours of the night as the First Couple celebrated the first day of the Obama administration, there was a growing realization by those of us whose eyes were glued to their TV sets that history was about to give way to hard work. And then there were those Constitutional scholars who were shouting "Hold on! He's not President!" The controversy sprang up when Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed his one line in dyslexic fashion and caused everyone to scratch their heads over whether or not it would be necessary to re-do. Some of you may be surprised to learn that it does not take a Chief Justice or any Justice for that matter to administer the oath of office to the President. It can be any federal judge or magistrate and we should all know that because of the famous picture taken aboard Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson was administered the oath by a sitting Texas federal judge following the assasination of John F. Kennedy. Oh, well, it seems like it's only a matter of time before the President and the Chief Justice will have another go at it...just to make sure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Audacity of Hope and the Tenacity of the Dream

Welcome, my fellow Americans to a day of historic proportions. It has been 76 spirited days since the selection of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th President. He has already been given charge of "the football." That's the code name for the briefcase which holds the top secret codes that can unleash the nuclear might of the United States in the event of the unthinkable. At this pivotal moment in time, he is in fact more of the Commander-in-Chief than George W. Bush. Change has come, America. To all those who rode the Obama Express to victory, the words "Yes we can" will reverberate as a continuing call to action. To those who supported the campaign of John McCain (or others), those same words should act as reassurance that the Obama administration is attempting to forge a more perfect union at a time when good news is long overdue. He will need all of our help and support. The challenges ahead on the domestic front and in foreign affairs are daunting and the hardship of the office will begin to show on the President-Elect. Mr. Obama has come to identify with Abraham Lincoln, our nation's 16th President, in many ways. His railroad trip from Philadelphia was intended to summon forth a similar trip that Lincoln made on his way to his first innauguration. Obama's appearance at the Lincoln Memorial at the concert in his honor on Sunday certainly added to that connection. Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but lived most of his life in Illinois. After having lived in Hawaii and Kansas, Obama has also spent much of his life in Illinois. For the next four (and possibly eight) years, he is to make 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue his home. The reins of government are to be passed peaceably and with great fanfare today on the steps of the Capitol. It is a testament to our greatness as a nation that we do so with precision and reverence towards the office of Chief Executive. Today is a day to be proud to be an American and, coming the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is also important to remember that part of his dream comes true today with the searing in ceremony of our nation's first African-American President. It is a long time in coming. From the great debate over slavery that split our founding fathers and resulted in our nation's bloodiest war, the dream was only begun. With the rise of hate and Jim Crow, we struggled as a nation for a century to do what was right until the Civil Rights era dawned and the final battles were waged. Some of these struggles were waged with Dr. King, but, sadly, many more were waged without him. There is still much work to be done on this front. Nonetheless, I can't but help think he would be proud of our country on this historic day and say to us all in his powerful, booming voice "God bless the President and God bless America."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Madoff manages to muck things up here too

Bernie Madoff, the $50 billion rip-off artist, who took advantage of so many banks, charities and hedge funds, has finally been acknowledged as a source of pain here in Louisiana and New Orleans. None of the major Jewish philanthropies like the Jewish Endowment Fund of Louisiana or the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans suffered direct losses from the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The same cannot be said for federations in other areas like Greater Washington that reportedly lost $10 million or major Jewish philanthropies like Hadassah, who suffered $90 million in losses. Last week it was revealed that the Louisiana State Police and the New Orleans Police Department retirement funds had each lost approximately $400,000 from investments they had placed with legitimate hedge funds that had been taken in by Madoff's scheme. Charles Ponzi, the criminal whose name is ascribed to the criminal enterprise in which one pays out the oldest clients with proceeds from his most recent, would have been proud of how long Madoff sustained his thievery. So, the heroes of Hurricane Katrina are now the hapless victims of Madoff's greed. Meanwhile, while prosecutors plot their case against the former head of NASDAQ, he is quietly ensconced in his $7 million apartment, apparently still enjoying some vestige of the good life. If I were Madoff, I would be looking over my shoulder. One thing I wouldn't want is an angry Louisiana State Trooper or New Orleans Police Officer gunning for me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Peace in Gaza?

It is perfectly obvious to anyone who has looked into the situtation in Gaza that cease fires may come and cease fires may go, but the underlying problem between Hamas and Israel is probably going to continue for the foreseeable future. In fact, if Israel has been successful in its recent incursion, it may be just enough to turn the tide against Hamas. The fact is that Israel's future is secure in the knowledge they possess a superior force against a ragtag group of terrorists with little training. What makes Hamas dangerous is not that they can inflict massive destruction to the Jewish State, but that they have the psychological advantage of depriving Israelis of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the things our forefathers sought for themselves and their posterity. What needs to be cemented in the thoughts of the Palestinians is that there is no future for themselves or their children if the philosophy of continued warfare is maintained. Someday they must pursue a course of peaceful coexistence or the bloodletting will continue. What Hamas does so well is act like terrorists. They instill fear among their own people and dozens of deaths during the recent fighting were attributed as murderous reprisals by Hamas against those they suspected of collaborating with Israel. That is troubling, but understandable. We've seen a number of regimes whose despots hold sway over their people through fear. The best recent example of that is Saddam Hussein. If the Israelis can lessen the hold of fear over the Palestinians by dispatching the most zealous of Hamas fighters in campaigns like this with little loss of life to their own forces (as they apparently have done), they may be able to bring about necessary change in Gaza. The key for the Israelis is to make themselves look less like murderous invaders than vanquishing liberators. That will be tough to do, but their survival and the possibility of living in peace with their neighbors seems like high enough stakes to warrant their actions.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Number Six and Mr. Roarke are cancelled forever

Patrick McGoohan, left, and Riccardo Montalban

Two icons of television passed away within a few hours of one another yesterday. One had a rather prominent place in the pantheon of my youthful heroes, while the other was not, but was someone I met in real life. Patrick McGoohan, 80, and Riccardo Montalban, 88, may have not been on the A-list for most people in Hollywood, but they both played characters who were larger than life. McGoohan was "Number Six" in the strange cult-followed British TV series "The Prisoner," but he was also more than that. The season before McGoohan premiered as the captive on the strange little island, he was the epitome of the British super spy in the short-lived series "Secret Agent Man." Although the series only lasted for one season, its theme song by Baton Rouge native Johnny Rivers was a mainstay of the Sixties at parties and other events where music was played. It was during the height of the interest in the James Bond films starring Sean Connery and McGoohan played the role with aplomb. I loved watching it. McGoohan also played a great villain as evidenced in the first Gene Wilder - Richard Pryor pairing in "The Silver Streak" or as King Edward Longshanks in "Braveheart." He was always cocksure and brooding and I loved him as an actor. Montalban, on the other hand, started work in Hollywood as a singer in movie musicals of all things. Most people will remember him for his role as the mysterious Mr. Roarke on "Fantasy Island," the hit ABC series of the early 1970s. Of course, trekers (or trekies) will recall him as Khan Noonien Singh, the eventual villain in "Start Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Montalban was way past his prime as an actor when he happened into a jazz club in New Orleans in the late 1980s. He came in one winter night with an entourage and it was decided to let him into the club as a celebrity. I couldn't help noticing he was wearing a leather jacket and...yes...I couldn't help it...I asked him if it was made "of rich, Corninthian leather." To his credit, he laughed genuinely with me, even if he had heard that line 10,000 times before. In any event, he was gracious and I enjoyed sharing a piece of New Orleans with him as he and his guest plainly enjoyed the music that night. So, goodnight, "Number Six" (or as he became in the last episode "Number Two")and goodnight Mr. Roarke. May you both rest in peace until reruns.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A teacher says goodbye to New Orleans

The Recovery School District in New Orleans has lost yet another dedicated teacher in its ongoing work in progress towards improvement in public education. This teacher took a chance and hoped that she could make a difference. She contacted officials in New Orleans and alerted them that she was available and willing to leave her home on a long term basis in order to apply for a position with them. After months of the application process in which her certifications were checked, she made several trips back and forth to the city at great expense. Finally, in July she was told to report to work by the middle of the next week. She started off the school year with promise in her heart. In the end she found the system so broken down that there was little doubt she could accomplish very much and it became increasingly clear that conditions would never improve. As to discipline in the classroom, a few of the children were entirely out of control. Many had never attended pre-schools and lacked the most basic tools in learning. In some cases they lacked proper skills and manners such as how to properly hold a fork at mealtime or a pencil in the classroom. The children and the teachers were forced to endure impossible hours. Paul Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District, implemented a school schedule that stretched from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. School teachers found precious little time for bathroom breaks during the day and the only downtime seemed to be during lunch. The conditions endured by faculty and students alike throughout the school day were nothing less than horrid. Like others in the Recovery School District, this teacher spent many of her own dollars on school supplies that should have been provided by the Recovery School District such as paper or pens. What became unimaginable and eventually intolerable for this teacher was the sad fact that the education of many of the students in her elementary classroom was being hijacked by the one or two who acted out throughout the day. If they were incapable of understanding the work or were bored, all they had to do was act outlandish or threaten other students. Their behavior would bring about the total disruption in the classroom and the teacher would have to stop instruction in order to attend to the behavioral problems of the one or the few. It was a way for these students to "dumb down" the educational process, guaranteeing that all would eventually fail in the wake of their disruptions. Sadly, this teacher who had big hopes for making a difference in the lives of Hurricane Katrina affected youngsters is preparing to go back from whence she came, a drive of well over a thousand miles and several states away. So goes the hopes of one teacher who wanted to make a difference. How sad for her and how sad for the Recovery School District.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A rally by any other name

Four area cantors sing "Am Yisoel Chai ("The People of Israel Live") at the JCC
Last night the Jewish community-at-large and segments of other communities (notably the Coushatta Nation and a representative of the Baptist community) assembled together at the uptown JCC in solidarity with Israel as it entered its second week of fighting against Hamas. The program was spirited with an opening outside by Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans executive director Michael Weil. Weil, a citizen of the United Kingdom with two daughters living in Israel told of how the rocket attacks launched by Hamas terrorists in Gaza now threatened them both. Small glowsticks were passed out to the crowd who lifted them high in solidarity with the Jewish state as large candles burned in a menorah at the front entrance of the JCC. Weil then invited three area cantors and one cantorial solist to sing two powerful renditions of "Am Yisroel Chai ("The People of Israel Live")" and "Od Yavo Shalom (Peace Will Come")" before leading everyone in the singing of "Hatikvah ("The Hope")," the Israeli national anthem. Afterwards everyone was invited inside to hear from several of the invited speakers. Touro Synagogue Rabbi Alexis Berk spoke first on behalf of the New Orleans Rabbinic Council. Then came an impassioned City Councilman-at-Large Arnie Fielkow, a probable entrant in the next mayor's race. Speaking as both a concerned public leader and a prominent Jew, Fielkow spoke more about Israel than I ever had heard him before. He alerted everyone that his speech was going to run over the alloted three minutes the program had offered him. No one minded a bit. He was very dynamic and downright statesmanlike. Community shalicha Savion Medaleion spoke of the ongoing psychological damage suffered by the constant barrage of missile, rocket and mortar attacks and the loss felt by the entire Israeli community when one 17-year-old female was killed in one such attack, acting as a shield to save her 12-year-old brother. Congregation Beth Israel's chazzan (cantor) Ofer Kurtsberg, a native of Sderot, spoke of his personal knowledge of family and friends who are in constant peril. First Baptist Church senior pastor David Crosby offered unwavering support from the Christian community in a short address to the mostly-Jewish crowd. Next up was the vice chairman of the Coushatta Tribe, David Sickey. Since last November, the Coushatta Tribe situated in Louisiana and Mississippi became the first Native American tribe to recognize the state of Israel. So, it was deemed most appropriate for a representative of another sovereign nation to lend its support for Israel at the public forum. The last invited speaker to appear was Asher Yarden, the Consul General for the State of Israel representing the Southwest United States, which includes -- by Israel's figuring -- the New Orleans metropolitan area. Yarden's speech spoke to the heart of the reasons that the Jewish state could no longer tolerate the status quo. He bemoaned the loss of life, but spoke to the moral imperative that Israel has placed at the fore in their struggle against Hamas. Echoing earlier statements that Rabbi Berk uttered, Yarden exclaimed that Israel has chosen life, not embraced death as their enemies. He pointed out the extreme measures Israel has taken in calling their targets and advising them to vacate their premises because an attack was forthcoming. Hamas leaders would gather their families around them, foolishly believing that Israel would stand down, he continued. But Israel will no longer back down to Hamas or any other terrorist group that feels they can threaten them with a possible backlash of unpopular world opinion. The greatest duty a government has in its charge is to protect its citizens, he continued. As long as a threat from Hamas continues, Israel will continue to wage war against them, Yarden vowed. The final words for the evening came once again from Federation executive director Weil, who expressed his thanks for all who had been in attendance in solidarity with Israel at the gathering. Once again,"Hatikvah" was sung and the crowd dispersed. It was a powerful night and, like the national anthem that resonated throughout the auditorium, everyone left with a feeling of hope for Israel. (A highlights video is available online by clicking here.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oh, I see one ate very well

What is it about January 8 that makes it so very special? True, today is the 194th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, but not to downplay the contributions of Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte, I am more keen to look back in history to this date...less nine months. What I mean is: what is it about April 8 (or dates around then) that inspires genius in the progeny of lovers who romp in Cupid's grove at that time? Let's examine the record: January 8 is the birthdate for several composers of note including Robert Schumann. Also, for those of you who remember several James Bond theme songs, it's the birthday for Shirley Bassey, who still has the record for the most Bond title songs sung. Most of us know that this would have been the 74th birthday of the King, Elvis Presley. But how many of you know that it's also the birthday for David Bowie (his 62nd) and the Doors' Robby Krieger (his 68th)? Children's author R. L. Stine, who is one of the most prolific of authors, was also born on this date in 1943 and the incredible genius of Stephen Hawking entered the black hole of existence on this date exactly one year before. Director John McTiernan (Diehard, Predator and The Hunt for Red October) is one of several stars of the big screen and Darrell Hammond of Saturday Night Live fame is one of the small screen stars born this date. They are a fairly disparate group, but all brilliant in their own way. Yes, the cold of today's winter makes me think of the warm, inviting spring day that brought about these incredible celebrities. All of them have made a significant impact on me and maybe even you. And as the King would say, "Thank you....thank you very much!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Extinguished Senator from Illinois

The drama in the Senate as the 111th Congress of the United States assembled for the first time was palpable. Not since John F. Kennedy's days as the junior senator from Massachusetts has a member of the world's most exclusive club vacated his post because of his selection as president. As any student of the Constitution knows, when a senator resigns office or dies in office, his replacement is made by an appointment from the sitting governor of that state. The Constitution is very specific about this, because our founding fathers considered the Senate as the "upper" body of Congress, not unlike the House of Lords is considered in Great Britain. If a member of the lower house needs replacement, as in the case of the House of Representatives, an election process is instituted. This was a compromise between federalists and those favoring states rights at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. Many of our revered early leaders felt the people should not be entrusted with direct replacement of a member of the upper chamber and named governors as those who could best determine the best person for the job. Sometimes this causes major difficulties. When Louisiana Senator Allen J. Ellender, the 94th president pro tempore of the Senate, died in 1972, he was already in the midst of a re-election campaign against J. Bennett Johnston, who had just lost the gubernatorial election to Edwin Edwards and decided to throw his hat into the ring. Edwards was forced to name someone to the Senate right away whom he could trust. So who did he name to the Senate? Why , none other than his own wife Elaine! She served as the junior Senator from Louisiana from July to November of 1972 and resigned to give eventual winner of the campaign, J. Bennett Johnston, more seniority. Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich may have been crazy to think he could sell a Senate seat to Obama's replacement, but give the man credit. At least he didn't try to put his wife into the chair. Meanwhile, Roland Burris, the former attorney general of Illinois whom Blagojevich named to fill the vacancy, is clearly enjoying himself at center stage in the media circus. He'll be back again today to try to persuade other Senators that his appointment is legitimate, which I believe it is. Also, there have been a number of former detractors, like Diane Feinstein, who now believe he should be seated among all the other members of the Senate. Burris could be seated as early as today or tomorrow if Feinstein's influence has anything to do about it. Then again, it is possible that Burris may be heading back to Illinois with his proverbial tail between his legs. We shall see. There is also the tale of woe in Minnesota that needs to be played out as the junior senator-to-be Al Franken is being challenged by the incumbent Senator Norm Coleman after a recount certified the former rather than the latter as the winner. That contest will be determined by the courts, a precedent of which was set in the 2000 year election for president. Hmmm... that's a switch. Normally comedians make fun of politicians. What happens when the politicians turn out to be comedians?

Monday, January 5, 2009

A wholly unacceptable holy war

As the Bush regime prepares to give way to the Obama administration, there would seem little time in Washington to focus on world events. But the situation in Israel and in Gaza needs to be examined if only to decry the bloodshed going on unabated by both sides and to try to put in a U.S.-sponsored peace initiative there. It is my understanding from experts who have assessed the situation that the current ground engagement that follows the nearly several days-old Israeli air pummeling could take many weeks to complete and could ramp up the death toll considerably on both sides. That is clearly not acceptable given the whole scale numbers of dead left in the wake of Israeli bombing and shelling. The Israeli response has been planned for well over a year and has been carefully considered after constant barrages from Gaza openly sanctioned by Hamas. Ehud Olmert is acting as the most entrenched Prime Minister Israel can ever have. Despite a shaky future due to suggestions of political pandering and the threat of indictments from his political foes, Olmert is, by nature of the Israeli Constitution, incapable of being driven from office during this period while he is in charge of a caretaker government. This is hard for Americans to understand, but Canadians and members of the United Kingdom know how coalition governments work. Olmert is acting decisively and swiftly because in another month, he will be forced to relinquish his post when new elections are scheduled. It had long been the hope of American interests that the Middle East plans pushed forth by presidents and secretaries of state would materialize into democratically-elected regimes representing governments for the people and by the people. How horrible it must have been for Washington players to have seen the results of the 2006 election that legitimized Hamas as a government in place of the Palestine Authority headed up by Mahmoud Abbas. While both Palestinian groups call themselves freedom fighters, the freedom they most desire makes no contingencies for peaceful coexistence with Israel. What they want is freedom from Israel based on post 1917 and pre-1948 borders, but that will never happen as long as present day U.S. policy and the sovereign nation of Israel exist. The response to the cross border rocket attacks by Hamas seems to be out of proportion. Yet, when one considers that Israel has suffered through thousands of seemingly endless attacks over the last year and a half (most notably in Sderot) and that everyone has lived under imminent threat (including infants and schoolchildren) every day and night during that time, the response may seem more justifiable. I recall that Gaza was given to the Palestine Authority by the Israelis in the hope they would use the land to establish a peaceful government that would improve their people's lot in life. Instead, the continued use of homicide bombers and terrorist rocket attacks have resulted in a controversial security wall being erected and this multi-faceted retaliation by the Israelis. Given this small window of opportunity, I have no doubt the Israeli military will be harsh in its response to Hamas. Veteran Washington players and the President-Elect have largely been mum on what is happening in Gaza right now. The fighting is not localized to Gaza. As an American, I believe the biggest problem to shake out of this conflict has been the organized nationwide response by Palestinian interests. There have been huge rallies with horrible racist banners that advocate launching nuclear attacks against Israel, for example. One might think that these protests are taking place in areas where there are large Islamic populations. Not so. These protests are taking place in metropolitan areas, many in and around major Jewish communities. The protests will not abate until a cease-fire is put into place and that won't happen in my opinion until a military solution finds favor in Israel's eyes with the elimination of Hamas' capacity to launch unchecked rocket attacks in the future. A report in Haaretz suggests the Israelis won't stop Operation Cast Lead until they recapture and reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. Surely, that won't make the protestors happy, but it may relieve a lot of uneasiness in Washington.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The anniversary of Kosher Computing

Congratulations! I've made it to my first anniversary as a blogger. The past year has proven to be full of challenges and has been a fairly instructive period for me as I took a journeyman's leap into the blogosphere. Yet, it has been richly rewarding and, I hope for you, very productive in terms of output and what I had intended to create with Kosher Computing. Although the number of comments has been a bit lower than what I had hoped, those that have chosen to do so have in almost all cases had salient points they wanted to raise and to which I paid close attention. As a journalist, I have attempted to keep the highest levels of ethics and have tried to be objective in a great many, but not all, cases. A blog tends to be of a very personal nature and therefore requires some subjectivity from time to time. It is my desire to not go overboard in this regard. So, if anyone wishes to object to anything I have written, you need only post a response online. No one has been edited in this past year and I hope that the need will not arise to curtail readers' opinions in the future. With my second year now beginning, I want to continue to pledge myself to the task of reporting items of interest in a fair and timely fashion and to make comments that are deemed appropriate, if not specifically on target. Thank you all for being with me through this first important and formative year. I hope year number two offers us time and opportunity to share and consider a multitude of new thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics.
Wishing you all the best,

Friday, January 2, 2009

A sweet Sugar for sure

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Association. While few know the actual name of the committee of businessmen and civic leaders who have put on the Sugar Bowl since its inception in 1934, most everyone knows of the winter football classic that has determined 22 national college football champions. Among the major bowls, only the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is older. So it is with pride and a sense of tradition that I headed off to the Legends Luncheon of the Sugar Bowl at the Grand Ballrooom of the New Orleans Hilton Hotel. Thousands of members, guests and media were able to see 30 past most valuable players and coaches who have graced the gridiron and paced the sidelines in Sugar Bowls of the past. Players like Archie Manning of Ole Miss, Steve and "Snake" Stabler of Alabama, both of whom became New Orleans Saints quarterbacks joined legendary coaches like Vince Dooley, Paul Dietzel, Gene Stallings and Frank Broyles. It was an embarrassment of riches as sports celebrity trumped sports celebrity and WWL-TV's Jim Henderson (a former Saints radio partner with Manning) played host and introduced the figures to the audience one by one with a short biography prior to their emergence from the darkened rear and onto the well-lit podium. The event was just the start of what promised to be a very good game between two very good teams, namely the Utah Utes (12-0) and the sixth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1). Alabama, by virtue of its long-standing tradition and ranking in the polls came into the game as a heavy favorite. Utah, the only unbeaten college football team, in 2008 had on more than one occasion wondered aloud why it was not playing for the national championship. Because of what some consider a "weak" schedule and since they lack a major bowl affiliation through a conference , the Utes were kept out of consideration for playing in the BCS Championship Bowl. However, after their performance in the Superdome last night (when they upended Alabama 31-17), the case for their consideration as to owning at least a piece of the national championship could well be made. The Utes showed that, despite what the matchup looked like on paper, their talent, ablility and drive allowed them to take charge of the game from the very first drive. Their domination of Alabama was almost absolute and Nick Saban's team could do nothing more than try to play catchup after finding themselves down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. The "underdog" Utes showed they had the right stuff and put on a magnificent show for those in attendance or watchig on TV. The New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Association's Sugar Bowl was a great event, bringing visitors to the city and gaining attention for our fair city. I can't wait until next year's show.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome MMIX

What a difference a day makes, or so says the song of the same title. It is amazing how we make such a big noise and raise such a huge ruckus when we usher in a new year. Would we take the efforts, energies and monies we spend bringing in the new year and instead put it towards erasing poverty, eradicating illness and easing suffering in the world, we might achieve great results. But because of human nature, that will never happen. The reason is that the new year is a personal milestone shared by everyone. It is a vindication that means no matter how well our means or how poorly we are faring in the world, we are still here. Our celebration of the new year recognizes in a strange way our own mortality in that it indicates that we have passed another precise cycle of shared time measurement. The most appropriate verse in the Bible that deals with this is found in Kohelet or Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Of course, for those of us who grew up in the Sixties, will recognize those words (or words very similar) as lyrics to the immortal classic "Turn, Turn, Turn." Penned by Pete Seeger, that song was one of my favorites by the folk-rock group The Byrds, whose members included Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. Seeger wrote the song back in the Fifties, but didn't release it until 1962. Others who have covered it include The Limeliters, Judy Collins, The Seekers, Dolly Parton, Nina Simone, Chris DeBurgh, and Mary Hopkin, who issued it twice: first as the "b" side to "Those Were the Days" and the later in Welch when it was titled "Tro, Tro, Tro." So, as we prepare to take our places on "The Great Mandala," and look to the promise of 2009, we can't but help look back at the disasters and triumphs of 2008. Although we selected our first African American president in an election process that featured some of the best and the worst moments for our nation last year, we also saw the economy stall and nosedive. Many hundreds of thousands of workers are either out of work or fear they may be victims of the economic crisis in the coming months, not the least of whom are automotive workers. Names like Linens N Things, Mervyns, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Aloha Airways have disappeared. Experts are very cautious these days eyeing giant companies like Circuit City, who filed for bankruptcy protection last year. The costs associated with the Bernard Madoff scandal have only just now become evident. By this time next year we may have a handle on how deep the losses extend. It was only a few days ago that we learned that Kevin Bacon and wife Kyra Sedgwick were but one degree of separation away. Numbers of their losses were not released, but we can only speculate that they were extensive. We also lost a number of highly visible celebrities such as Heath Ledger, Paul Newman and Tim Russert. Yet, through it all we kept our demeanor, recalling the many good things they did in their all-too-short lives while shedding tears for those they left behind. Newspapers in general suffered through another year of downturn, while the Internet scored modest gains. My blog began as just printed words and now is heard over broadcasts of Radio-J. Like any other new year, the world looks to 2009 with expectation and promise and dread and fear. No wonder the Romans cast the two-faced god Janus for the namesake of the first month of the calendar. We are cautious as we look to the past and hopeful as we look to the future. I hope the hard times are over soon enough and that in one more year's time we may see steady progress and, if nothing else, the light at the end of the tunnel.