Friday, April 30, 2010

The acrid smell of environmental disaster

There is a definite smell in the air, wafting its way into Louisiana's highways and byways. It is a reminder that the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will be a clear and present danger for some time to come. There are those in the seafood industry who fear this may be the death knell for oyster beds, crabbing and for shrimping seasons for several years to come. The fact that the spill is now thought to be five times as originally feared is bad enough. The loss of 11 workers to their families on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig that sank is sad enough. The inability to stop the flow of crude oil into the gulf should make all of us shout out that enough is enough. What hurricanes like Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav could not do to Louisiana and Mississippi - shut down the seafood industry - might actually be accomplished by this man-made event. The first reports of oil washing into the mouth of the Mississippi River came about Thursday evening, but the smell of disaster came into the region well in advance. With bad weather expected to hit the area in the next several days, skimming, burning and trapping measures to capture the oil spill could be stymied. Despite the best efforts on the part of BP technicians, the flow of crude oil from three separate leaks continues unabated. Even if the well was capped today, the damage to the ecosystem will be felt for some time to come. The point is that the well is not being capped and the environmental impact will loom large for some time to come. Louisiana has had a special relationship with the petroleum industry. It is a necessary evil because the fact is that oil production and the price of oil per barrel dictate whether the state budget runs into the red or black each year. Budgets aside, there is potential here to do more damage than the Exxon Valdez ever did in Alaska. Lives have been lost, livelihoods are in danger and life as we know it could disappear in a thick mass of tar lapping onto estuaries. The real danger is that damage to the fragile ecosystem below the waters and into the marshes could be catastrophic. Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency, while critics have charged that the federal government's response has been sluggish at best. Frankly, it is questionable if any government or business is equipped to handle this level of tragedy. Meanwhile the smell of disaster hangs high in the air and its stench may eventually extend all the way to the hallowed halls of Congress and into the Oval Office of the White House.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Everything was up to date in Kansas City

Tribe of Mic-o-Say dancers entertain in Overland Park
From time to time I am prone to travel on behalf of Jewish Scouting, one of my major life commitments. Because of my extensive knowledge on a number of subjects and because people know I am interested in promoting the cause, I will be asked from time to time to make presentations related to Boy Scouts and how Jews may interact with it effectively. The Central Region of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting was holding its bi-annual Jewish chairs conference just outside Kansas City, Missouri in Overland Park yesterday and I was asked to be a part of the all-day session. My topic was on Ten Commandments Hikes, which I have led in my own council since 2004. As it turned out, one of the keynote speakers, Life Scout Matt Riessen, fell ill and organizers asked me additionally to speak to the afternoon crowd that was expected to attended the community Jewish Religious Awards presentation. These affairs, chaired by local Jewish Committee on Scouting chair and host for the Central Region's conference, Dr. Norman Kahn, are also held every two years. Nine Cub Scouts in attendance were acknowledged as having earned their Maccabee and Aleph religious emblems, while four Boy Scouts were congratulated for having earned their Ner Tamid religious emblem. One older Boy Scout not in attendance was called out for having completed requirements for his Etz Chaim religious emblem, a feat that is quite commendable. Several local religious school teachers were commended for their work in helping the boys achieve their religious emblems. Also, one of the adult leaders of Boy Scout Troop 61, a non-Jew, received the Shofar Award for his work with that troop chartered to a Jewish institution in the area. It is rare that such an honor is afforded to a person not affiliated with the Jewish faith, but the National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes that oftentimes the efforts of non-Jews will encourage and enable Jewish Scouts to earn their own religious emblems. Following the presentation of religious emblems and the Jewish religious award, attendees were treated to a performance by the Tribe of Mic-o-Say, a regional honor society of adult Scouters and Scouts that encourages Native American dancing similar to the Order of the Arrow, the youth led organization that is the national honor society of the BSA. The long program of different dances was captivating to the audience members, especially the Cub Scouts who took to the center of the floor of the social hall of Kehilath Israel Synagogue, where all of the events of the day took place. The competitive nature of the dancers was such they all gave spirited performances, the top youth performer receiving special recognition from the audience. At the end of the all-day session nearly a dozen adult leaders had received training that they will take back with them to their respective councils. A final tip of the Scouting cap to Central Region Vice-Chair Cheryl Baraty and Milwaukee Jewish Committee on Scouting co-chair Kim Queen, who organized the training sessions:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jazz Fest Shabbat 2010

Holding his special top coat is Allen Toussaint, right, with Alan Smason, left.
It's not all that often that the star performer at the annual Touro Synagogue Jazz Fest Shabbat is someone that I know personally, but last night's 19th annual such event proved to be one such event. In one of the most impressive lineups ever, Allen Toussaint, the most well-known New Orleans arranger, producer and songwriter took to the bimah, the raised platform from which Torah scrolls are read and sermons are regularly delivered, and proceeded to blow away the full house in the main sanctuary there. It was a night to revel in the music that came out of New Orleans including jazz and funk, but there was also time for prayer in which the entire congregation came together to observe the Sabbath with traditional Friday evening ritual prayers, albeit with a fresh approach in terms of music accompaniment. In a 6:00 p.m. private concert for patrons prior to the show open to the public, Toussaint played many of his well-known hits like "A Certain Girl" and "Mother-in-Law." But in the later concert he chose to play several surprising choices for his repertoire: songs by Jewish composers that were especially poignant, given the unusual venue. These included Paul Simon's "American Tune" and the late Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," to which audience members eagerly sung along. Joined by special guest "The Late Show with David Letterman" bandleader Paul Shaffer, Toussaint did a marvelous job juxtaposing the incredible George Gershwin's "Summertime" with Shaffer on a second piano. Shaffer, who wore a special black yarmulka for the occasion, more than rose to the task.

Paul Shaffer swinging in the synagogue.
Joining the two superstars were the Panorama Jazz Band and other ensemble members gathered together by musical director Terry Maddox. After the concert was over, Touro Synagogue made a special presentation of an elaborately designed white tails top coat decorated with symbols associated with Toussaint's historic career. It was a wonderful night for Cantor Billy Tiep, Rabbi Alexis Berk and other lay leaders, who served on the planning committee. The evening started with the Sophie B. Wright Marching Band coming into all sides of the sanctuary and ended with the Hebrew song "Adon Olom" played as an ecnore by Toussaint, Shaffer and others to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." What a great night for prayer! What a great night for jazz! What a great night for New Orleans!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Scouter Goes Home

William von Almen I, right, at my Wood Badge beading ceremony in 2003
William von Almen I, one of the most dedicated of Boy Scout leaders in the former New Orleans Area Council and the renamed Southeast Louisiana Council, went home to be with his Lord this past Monday morning. A past recipient of the Silver Beaver and Silver Antelope Awards presented on a local council and a regional basis, respectively, von Almen was among the best known Scouters from the New Orleans area. He and his first wife Mitzi donated thousands of dollars to several worthy projects through the years. Following her passing, Bill found companionship and love again with another distaff Scouter, his second wife Elaine. Bill and Elaine were so well known that they were featured in the promotional video placed on the National BSA Council's site when the Adventure Base 100 reached New Orleans the weekend before Mardi Gras this year. That video can be found here. Bill was a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's honor society, and served as the Associate Adviser to the Chilantakoba Lodge #397 and as the Vigil Honor Adviser for many years. He had also been acknowledged as a recipient of the Founders Award from the Order of the Arrow. He was a former Council Commissioner and at the time of his passing was the Vice-President of Programming. On a personal note, Bill was one of the most difficult and opinionated Scout leaders I ever dealt with over the course of my short Scouting career. When he served as my Wood Badge ticket counselor, we had huge arguments over what needed to be done in order to ensure that I was deemed worthy to have completed the five items that comprised my ticket. I am certain that I was as intractable as he was and I recall he even offered to resign on at least one occasion. But I would hear none of it. I wanted to do whatever was needed, even if it meant pleasing someone who was extremely hard to please. When he insisted I serve on the Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills course in January of 2003 in sub-freezing weather, I wore shorts, partly in respect to "sweet old Bill," who long advocated that the only true Scouting uniform was the one with the short pants. The other reason was to prove to myself that I could do it. Yeah, I know; not the brainiest of moves. Despite my difficulty in dealing with von Almen, I still had the greatest respect for him. He gave of himself tirelessly to help promote Scouts and Scouting and was last seen at the Order of the Arrow's Section I-A Conclave this past weekend at Salmen Scout Reservation. He was obdurate and exacting and would reprove a Scout or a Scouter if he felt they were out of line. Yet he would also compliment them should they achieve a special rank or receive recognition. While it might not have been his nature to be warm and fuzzy, he nevertheless stuck to his guns about a great many things he believed in, especially how to keep America strong and the importance of leadership among youth members. He represented the best that this country stands for and was a staunch and devoted member of his church. A convert to Catholicism, he was one of the most adamant of adherents to his faith. Oftentimes, he would attend mass at Scouting events with his devoted wife Elaine. It is ironic that he died during the 100th anniversary year of Scouting in this country and that he will be unable to attend the Jamboree being held in July and August at Fort A. P. Hill for the last time. Both von Almens were looking forward to being there and his presence will be missed this year "on the hill." My prayers go out to his children, grandchildren and great-granchildren as well as his widow and I hope they will find solace in the legacy he leaves behind as a man who contributed mightily to the Scouting movement and whose mark on others will be felt for generations.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rehearsal dinner speech

Okay, so technically since there wasn't a rehearsal, the dinner last night wasn't a real rehearsal dinner. But it was a dinner and it took place on the evening before the wedding, so it's easier to use that nomenclature. It was a wonderful affair, getting started more or less on time, even if several of the guests didn't arrive until near the end of the cocktail hour. Interestingly, no one complained about time constraints. The Intercontinental Hotel provided a festive repast with their own version of a caesar salad followed by the main course of drum or chicken and finally dessert, a spectacular chocolate crème brû·lée that resembled flan or caramel cup custard. The biggest thing of the night was the meeting of the two fathers, which was accomplished with great respect and finesse (I hope). Since the maid of honor had not been told to prepare a speech, the best man chose to decline to speak as well. That put the onus on me to serve as toastmaster. Luckily, I had prepared a speech and launched into it with gusto. I include it here:

Toastmasters know that it’s a safe bet to open a speech with a joke, to loosen up the crowd, make them feel comfortable. I’ve been wracking my brain for a great joke to loosen up the crowd that everyone could identify with. I know I have the opening: “A minister, a rabbi and a stationwagon full of nuns all walk into a bar…” I just can’t come up with the punchline.
Twenty five years ago, my father of blessed memory served as master of ceremonies at my own rehearsal dinner. Known as a naturally funny man, he dropped a very serious bombshell in the room. There was a noticeable hush that fell over the audience when he confessed to the crowd that he and my mother at one point had a bad patch in their marriage and had seriously considered leaving one another, but that I, in fact, was responsible for keeping them together.
“Yes,” he explained. “We were trying to split up our possessions when I told Annette ‘You take Alan.’ She said, ‘Oh, no, you take Alan!’ None of us could decide who would get him, so we decided to stay together.” (I’m glad that joke still works after 25 years.)
My dear family, friends and soon to be machatonim, I want to welcome you all to a most auspicious occasion as we prepare to revel in the wedding of my only son David to his beloved Shannon.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Hebrew expression,
machatonim, it can loosely be translated as “in-laws,” but it implies much more than just that. There is really no comparable word for it in the English language because it really describes the relationship each set of parents has to the other because of their children.
In my case I am the
machudin, representing the father-in-law to both Mr. and Mrs. Mitsuhashi. Steven would be my machudin and Roseanne would be my machatonista.
Sadly, my wife Sally is not alive tonight to witness her son prepare to take his wife, but I hope you will consider our hostess tonight, his grandmother Bubbie, who has been a great support to him through the years as a substitute – not a replacement – for his mother.
At times like these words often fail to adequately cover the length and breadth of emotions, but I will try. As many of you may know, when David was born on Valentine’s Day in 1986, his mother was battling her first occurrence of cancer. David was born on a Friday evening and she began her regimen of radiation therapy on the following Monday morning. The radiation rendered her weak and unable to adequately care for a newborn, so my father, Dr. Arnold Smason – Zadie – and Bubbie became erstwhile parents to David, essentially giving him two sets of parents to which to bond.
The greatest joy in my father’s life was in being with his grandchildren and it is a shame that he also cannot be here to share with us in this joy or simcha we have in welcoming Shannon into our family and David into yours.
I note that the name Mitsuhashi is translated into English as “three bridges” and I marvel at the appropriateness of those words at this incredible life event. The union of David and Shannon will span religions, cultures and love. Indeed, these are the three bridges we will create and maintain starting tonight.
The first bridge between the Mitsuhashi and Smason families – that one of religion - will be delicately balanced. There is a deeply felt attachment on the parts of both families, but the underlying values in each respective faith is what Rabbi Hillel said over 2.000 years ago “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.” Around the same time another great rabbi admonished his minions to follow a similar “Golden” rule. I know that both sides of the family will keep that in mind as Shannon and David prepare to embark on their life’s journey together.
The second bridge of cultures is one that is finely appointed, strongly supported and historically important. Shannon’s family line includes both a Caucasian and a Japanese connection. David’s includes both a Caucasian and an Eastern European connection with Jewish cultural emphasis.
History shows the strength of both cultures. Both cultures have endured through the ages. There are accounts of both cultures which indicate their people were considered formidable foes in battle. Both cultures have created lasting ties for those that follow and for others to study and by which to be inspired.
Both cultures have also made lasting marks on their homelands, but at times have been very insular, refusing to capitulate to outside influence. And while I am loath to talk about atrocities at a time of happiness, both cultures know what it is to be on the receiving line of hate. Knowing that both Shannon and David’s contemporaries and ancestors have shared in dealing with these policies of hate should be a perpetual reminder to us all that respect and tolerance are the only ways that can allow all mankind to advance in this world.
The third bridge that binds all of the others is the one that has the capacity to be the strongest and most lasting, but one that will require constant maintenance on the part of Shannon and David. That is the bridge of love and it is the reason we have gathered tonight to acknowledge them and the obvious love they have for one another.
While we may recognize differences in the other two bridges that bind Shannon and David together, the common bridge of love they share for one another will be the one that will make everything else insignificant. As long as they recognize there are no better friends, advisors or arbiters of their fate than themselves, their love will continue to blossom and grow. Keeping in mind respect, care and tolerance for each other should be the guideposts on their bridge of love, no matter what adversity confronts them.
Therefore, I would like to raise a glass high to my only begotten son David and his lovely bride to congratulate them on their commitment to one another and to mark tonight as the first time that we shall as two separate families begin to use the three bridges to connect us to one another. On behalf of my family to all of our visitors, may this weekend be a moment that will bind us to each other in joy and peace. That word in Hebrew is shalom, a word that can also mean the greeting of hello. Tonight I say shalom, hello to all of you as we recognize the mitsuhashi - the three bridges - that connect us all together.
As I welcome Shannon into our family and David into yours, I say L’chaim and mazel tov and
kampai and omedetou gozaimasu, which can be loosely translated in both languages as cheers and congratulations!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The lull

I feel somewhat helpless much as I did five years ago as I watched from the relative safety of Cleveland while the powerful hurricane dubbed Katrina whipped the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico into a monstrous maelstrom. I could do nothing to help prepare the unprepared, to harden the defenses of homeowners against a torrent of water and powerful winds that would strip roofs, hurl jetsam with lethal force into windows and tear down walls. The reference to a hurricane may be a bit of a reach for some of you, but I am feeling as anxious and unnerved today as I gird for my son's impending wedding as I did then back then. Unlike a more genteel era when R.S.V.P.s would be sent back almost immediately (or at least in a timely fashion), responses from invited guests were lacking, necessitating last minute phone calls to determine final counts required for guarantees. I have turned my attention to making sure the music is right for the wedding among other responsibilities. It seems that more work has been piled on my plate in these last two days to keep my attention diverted, but it only tends to make the feelings of helplessness even more pronounced in the few free moments that surface between jobs. I have written my speech for the rehearsal dinner and I am due to pick up the new tuxedo I purchased just for the wedding later today. Various gifts for guests have been prepared in advance by my sister and the bridal couple, so there is little else to do but wait. The adage "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" is apropos. My son and daughter-in-law-to-be's relatives and her nuclear family will all be here in the next 24 hours. Many of them know nothing of my family, so it will be interesting to see how we approach one another in friendship and kinship at this important life cycle event. Just as I did in Cleveland on that fateful weekend in August of 2005, I am hoping for the best possible outcome, but keeping in my mind that a missed handshake or a misspoken word could be cause for resentment, I am trying to do everything I can to be as gracious, charming and inclusive as I can. In the meantime I keep thinking that this evening marks the beginning of the Sabbath and two Hebrew words - "Shabbat Shalom" - give me cause to pause.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taxing times

Well, you might suspect that today's blog entry will consider the Internal Revenue Service and the fact that today is the deadline to file form 1040s. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's all about the impending nuptials of my son and his bride-elect and the fallout from that event that looms large. It is somewhat unusual, but I have yet to meet my son's fiancée's father. We are slated to meet each other for the first time on Saturday night at the rehearsal dinner, a misnomer to be sure, since there is no rehearsal. I have the strong suspicion that we have been deliberately kept apart due to the fear that we would prove to be volatile or at the very least unpredictable in our treatment of each other. Frankly, the future of our children is more important to me than if the two fathers involved are best pals or not. We shall see, but it is interesting in that he may be more like me than either of us imagines. We both have strong opinions about a great many things including our practice of our religions. It is my feeling that nothing in either religion promotes the practice of hate or antipathy towards others. I hope that in the interest of being civil and making an opportunity to get to know each other that we shall rise above petty differences. But that doesn't make the suspense of the first meeting less anxious for me. It seems to me that we all stand on the threshold of a great leap forward. I vow not to impede progress, but I know that my love for my son and his choice of a mate will require I be supportive. It's got to be more than just swallowing hard and smiling broadly. I should take the initiative and put myself out there if not for my own peace of mind than for peace in the family. Can I get an amen to that?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Living for festivals

Today marks the start of two well-regarded festivals in and around New Orleans. For those of us who love the country, there is the Pontchatoula Strawberry Festival, a three-day affair with the heralded Louisiana strawberry at the epicenter of praise and attention that must be paid. It should be an impressive opportunity for everyone to enjoy the juicy, red aggregate fruits in a variety of fashions: from chocolate covered to preserves and beyond. The lineup of musicians include The Wise Guys, Bag of Donuts and Amanda Shaw. Typically, there will be strawberry eating contests and the like. It's good, clean family fun and a crate of strawberries is something of a bargain for those who drive to the sleepy old town. Instead of driving the 50 minutes or so to Pontchatoula, many more visitors and residents will flock to the busy Vieux Carre, the home of the French Quarter Festival. A slew of stages with a huge roster of local stars will continue throughout the weekend with activities not winding down until dusk on Sunday. In terms of numbers the French Quarter Fest is the largest annual festival held in the city and relatively young. The reason is that the cost is free to the public, unlike the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or the Essence Festival, which charge patrons hefty fees for admittance Parking costs $20 per slot - a 25% increase over regular weekend rates - and off street parking is virtually unavailable. While the names of the performers are not as hallowed as those at the Jazz or Essence Festivals, they are local luminaries and well-regarded purveyors of such widely varying forms of music as traditional jazz, funk, Cajun, classical, contemporary jazz, rock, soul, samba, cabaret, swing, beepop, Latin, Mardi Gras Indian and everything else in between. Several evening venues at hotels and a riverboat jazz cruise will require a ticket for admission, but all of the stages on city streets like Bourbon, Royal, Woldenberg Park and the French Market are free. It is a love fest to the city and one that signals the true blossoming of spring in the city. Food and drink are available for a price at four different locations throughout the festival. Typical costs are $5.00 per item. Jazz Fest will arrive in two weeks and that also is typically the onset of the hot and humid days of summer, even though summer is officially many months away. There is only one bad word that can be uttered over the course of the weekend and that word is rain. The weather forecasters suggest virtually no chance of that for the weekend, so it should be clear skies, lively music, delicious food and lots of family fare fun in the mix. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The end of "Law and Order" characters

Last night's second half to the season nine two-part opener of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" had longtime fans say a final goodbye to three characters on the show. Following the loss of original "Law and Order" franchise player Chris Noth (Mike Logan) two seasons ago, producer Dick Wolf and others decided last year to bring on board Jeff Goldblum as zen detective Zach Nichols, the former partner of Major Case Squad Captain Danny Ross, played by actor and playwright Eric Bogosian. Oddly enough, all three of those actors are Jewish. For the past eight seasons, though, the major "Criminal Intent" players were Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, who portrayed Detectives Robert "Bobby" Goren and Alexandra Eames respectively. The two of them were the glue that held the series together, so it's a pretty big gamble to bet the future of the entire series on the possible charisma of Goldblum or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who will be taking over next week as the third captain of the Major Case squad since the series debuted in 2001. In last week's part one opener Bogosian's character was assassinated, while D'onofrio and Erbe's characters were both forced into uncomfortable situations as they followed up the investigation into their captain's killer. It was a shame to see Bogosian dispatched in such a final way. Fans may recall him as the ruthless mastermind in "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" against Stephen Seagal or as the Pulitzer Prize nominated author of "Talk Radio." Bogosian is also a published novelist three times over, so the calibre of his play was always top notch. I felt he added an edgier dimension to the show after the departure of Jamey Sheridan as original Major Case Squad Captain James Deakins in 2006. The central play of quirky D'Onofrio and hard-nosed Erbe as his senior partner will be sorely missed. D'Onofrio, whose steel trap mind was the downfall of many a "perp" who mistook him for a bumbling, oversized buffoon. Detective Robert Goren could understand American sign language and was able to detect Asian dialects like an expert. He did research like no other detective on an investigation. He actually went to the library to check out leads and was at his best in the interrogation room when he would cock his head to the left to unsettle suspects or deliberately push their buttons in other ways in order to trip them up or elicit a confession. My favorite such tête-à-têtes occurred during several different episodes between Goren and fictional serial killer Nicole Wallace played superbly by actress and singer Olivia D'Abo. Aside from the two of the actors having apostrophes in their names, there was a chemistry between the two fictional adversaries, both of whom had troubling childhoods that led to one turning to a life of dedicated service and another to a life of crime and killing. I figured that D'Onofrio would have to go soon. His character had learned his biological father was a demented serial killer. He had watched his schizophrenic mother die from cancer on the same day as his serial killer father was executed. His brother was the final victim of his nemesis and she, likewise, was dispatched by his former mentor who admitted killing her and poisoning himself in order to throw the investigation off. That meant that all of those figures close to Goren's character outside of his work were either dead or incarcerated. It seemed it would only be a matter of time before something would set him off. Last year's arrival of Goldblum on the set as part of the USA Network's schedule also signaled the departure for Juliane Nicholson. Her character of Detective Megan Wheeler, Chris Noth's former partner and Goldblum's first on the series never even made it to this year's season opener. As of last night she was replaced by sultry Saffron Burrows, the leggy British actress who some may recall from season four of "Boston Legal" or the short-lived Christian Slater NBC series "My Own Worst Enemy." And for those who are not fans of the "Special Victims Unit" or "Criminal Intent" franchises, there was news on Friday that yet another long-time player will be leaving that series at the end of the current season. S. Epatha Merkerson, a 17-year long veteran of the original "Law and Order" series, who has played Lt. Anita Van Buren through the years, has announced she is leaving the show and moving on. If the original series makes it onto the TV schedule next year, it will take over "Gunsmoke" as the longest running TV series. The legacy of the Dick Wolf series and its spinoffs is impressive.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Butler did it, so put your Duke up

It all comes down to 40 minutes of hoop action tonight in Indianapolis. After a field of 62 other potential winners was whittled down to a final two left standing, the NCAA college basketball champion will be crowned tonight. As the nation has always pulled for the underdog (remember the Saints?), the sentimental favorite will be tiny upstart Butler University, an Indiana school with fewer than 4,500 students. The oddsmakers say the smart money will be on Duke, the only surviving #1 seed from the four regions that began the tournament several weeks ago. Butler is more than just a Cinderella team, as many sportswriters have called it. The Butler Bulldogs have won 25 straight games, which puts them in some pretty distinguished company and they are playing fantastic defense. The last team to hold as many tournament opponents under 60 points was Villanova in 1985, the year the Wildcats clinched the national championship. There is little doubt that the home field advantage will go to Butler, whose gymnasium was the film site for the heralded movie "Hoosiers." Partially based on the high school championship won by Milan High School in 1954, the 1986 film featured a fictional Indiana team and some have called it the greatest sports movie of all time. Brad Stevens, an Indiana native in his third year as head coach at Butler, will also ignite fellow Hoosiers' desires in his battle against seasoned foe, Mike Krzyzewski, playing in his eighth national title contest at Duke. While the Blue Devils from Duke have been criticized for failing to have played substantial foes, the fact remains they have not fallen from their ultimate perch. Duke has played smart ball. Their players seem to be the more healthy of the two teams, but when it comes down to these final minutes of college basketball play, all available members on both teams will play. It looks like it will be a close game with a dramatic ending and it should be one for the record books.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday, Chol Hamoed and Jumu'ah

It would seem that today is a day for prayer no matter what faith group is involved. It is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year on the Christian calendar. It is an intervening day (Chol Hamoed) of Passover for Jews and at sundown tonight will transform into Shabbat, day of rest. Lest I leave out the followers of Islam, Friday is a traditional day for intense prayer that includes the Jumu'ah congregational prayer that is required of all males. Frankly, I am glad that so many people and so many religions have found ways to reach out to the Lord for guidance. As I've always maintained, it's those people who don't seek a path to G-d that honest and law abiding citizens should most fear. In any event I hope everyone enjoys this holiday weekend and that it is a memorable time for one and all.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Let no man cast asunder

As spring has come, a young man's (or older man's) heart oftentimes turns to love. And why not? This is the time that flowers are on the bloom and green things are coming back with vigor and speedily spreading and growing. I am not exempt from nature's charms. Indeed, I find myself drawn to beautiful things all the more at this tempting time of year. As many of you may know, I have been a widower for fifteen years and while the time has been difficult, I have managed to keep myself busy with a bevy of beautiful ladies to comfort me through these perilous times. So it may surprise some of you to hear that I have decided to cast off the bonds of my confirmed bachelorhood and announce that I will make a special someone in my life my next bride. Yes, I know that it is long overdue for some of you, but I cannot take any more of this torture. I must take a chance at love, like many of you have also done and ask for my beloved's hand in marriage. The thought of going through life without her by my side is so painful that I am not sure I can endure much longer. I am bound and determined to not be swayed by any man, woman or beast nor any natural disaster that would put me off my appointed hour. You may ask what took me so long? I'm not sure I could come up with an appropriate answer. Suffice it to say that I am ready to correct this egregious situation. I shall walk down the aisle proudly clutching the hand of my betrothed as we walk into the second chapter of our lives. And because of this auspicious occasion, I shall always remember this date as the day I changed my life forever and that of my future spouse. I will forever recall this, the first day of fair April, as the day I finally came to my senses and so by the sanctity of this date, I bid you adieu.