Monday, October 8, 2012





Friday, August 31, 2012

Must See TV

Now comes the counterpunch.

Last night’s festivities in Tampa at the Republican National Convention concluded a week which brought us some of the brightest lights of the GOP (and Clint Eastwood) united in bashing the presidency of Barack Obama.  Marco Rubio, Cuban-American Senator from my home state of Florida, referred to Obama as “a bad president,” a statement which echoed the underlying theme of the night: “It is time for a change” – or, as Clint told the partisan crowd and the empty chair to which he repeatedly turned: “It may be time for someone else to come along and solve the problem.”

The problem is the state of the U.S. economy, and the “someone else” is, of course, Mitt Romney, who accepted his party’s nomination near the end of the evening. 

Pundits are busy breaking down and analyzing the impact of the Convention’s final evening. ran a piece with the heading: “Did Mitt Romney Gain Ground”?

The answer is obvious: of course he did.

This happens every election year.  A party’s National Convention leads to an immediate boost in the polls for that party’s candidate.  So we should not be surprised when Romney’s numbers reflect an upward swing in the coming days.  How could the result be different when that candidate has dominated the national airwaves (in prime time, no less) for the better part of a week?

Governor Romney should enjoy his upswing while it lasts because logic dictates that the numbers will readjust at the end of next week, when Democrats complete their swing through Charlotte.  There will be no one at the Democratic National Convention indicting President Obama’s record.  Rather, the blame will be placed on his predecessor, George W. Bush, and a Republican Congress whose stated goal was to ensure that Obama became a one-term president.

This past week did not win the election for Romney, and the coming week will not lose it.  They are simply part of a process which began more than two years ago, when prospective presidential candidates commenced vetting their chances, and will end in early November, when votes are cast and a winner declared (unless, of course, we relive the uncertainty of 2000 when, thanks to many “hanging chads,” the election was not decided until close to the new year).

It all makes for compelling television, particularly when an election appears as close as this year’s. 

September will be a busy month for television, with the networks introducing their new schedules and many of cable’s best shows (Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland) returning for new seasons. 

But the focus in the coming days will be on the conclusion of perhaps the most important two weeks of Reality TV, which will set the stage for the next three months, and will undoubtedly impact the path our nation follows for the next four years.

In the end, two question emerge: Who will Democrats choose to counter Clint Eastwood’s star power?  And will they bring their own chairs?

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Life

She was more sister than cousin.  Memories of my early years are filled with images of the frail, pretty girl whose infectious smile and large hazel eyes masked the pain and uncertainty she carried inside.

She was not supposed to live past five.  When doctors first diagnosed her heart ailment soon after birth her prognosis was poor.  She underwent open heart surgery at age two, the first of several invasive procedures she would endure throughout her life.  Doctors were far from optimistic about her long-term prospects.  They encouraged my aunt to have another child to lessen the pain of her eventual loss.

Courage is often defined as action in the face of fear.  The way she conducted her life exuded such courage.  As a child she refused to be constrained by her condition.  She danced, played and lived as if no malady existed.  My aunt would warn her to slow down, worried that physical exertion would place undue strain on her heart.  But she laughed off such fears and continued dancing, never admitting or letting anyone know that there was anything wrong.

She travelled, befriended and loved.  The photographs of her wedding depict her glowing with excitement and anticipation, as she entered the next phase of her life.  Her marriage lasted more than a decade, surviving further surgeries, illnesses and setbacks.  In the end, her marriage would not survive the stroke she suffered at the age of thirty, leaving her incapacitated, with limited movement over half of her body.

Still she carried on, never feeling sorry for herself, and never losing her sense of humor or thirst for life.  Her laugh was infectious, and she laughed often.  She remained the little girl we all wanted to protect, even as she entered middle age.

She struggled with her computer, which became her constant companion and allowed her to stay in touch with the many people who came to know and love her.  And love her we did –how could we feel differently for one who exuded such mischievous innocence?

She was far from perfect.  She was set in her ways and stubborn to the edge of exhaustion.  But I firmly believe that it was precisely this quality that enabled her to endure everything that life threw at her.  She endured because she believed, and she believed because she loved life.

Carmen died last week in a hospital bed, a few days before her fifty-third birthday.  In the end, her frail body could no longer withstand the complications of her affliction, and she moved on, leaving behind a world of memories.

As I think back over her years and picture her as she once was, I recall the closing lines of the 1971 TV film, Brian’s Song:

Brian Piccolo died of cancer at the age of 26.  He left a wife and three daughters.  He also left a great many loving friends who miss and think of him often.  But when they think of him, it’s not how he died that they remember – but how he lived.  How he did live!

Carmen lived well beyond all predictions, touching the lives of all with whom she came into contact.  How she did live!  If time is measured by impact, rather than hours and days, then her life was long and fruitful.  She lived beyond time and stretched five decades into a thousand years.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Words With Friends

I see nothing but vowels; not a consonant in sight.

How do I create a word with three I’s sitting before me?

I am hooked.  I no longer contemplate the mysteries of the universe.  Instead, I focus on word structure and ponder how to make the most of what my I-Phone has given me.

The game is an electronic version of Scrabble.  It can be played over hours, or days, or weeks (with some nudging for opponents who linger before making moves).  I place letters into boxes, some marked DL or TL for “double or triple letters;” others labeled DW or TW, doubling or tripling the value of words.
Strategy will dictate what I do: Do I create a double value word even if it gives my opponent the opportunity to triple the value of his? Do I save my 10-point Z until I can enhance its value?  Or does waiting create the risk that I will be unable to dispense of the letter and lose the 10 points when the game ends?

My friend Jeff is on a roll.  In this match, he has come up with multiple words that have used all the letters before him, thereby earning additional bonus points.  My letters, on the other hand, are unworkable.  They sit before me and mock my linguistic impotence.

Three I’s?  Really?  How can I possibly hope to compete?

What finally sends me over the edge is VAULTING.  The word has earned 60 points for Jeff, the third time in the past few hours he has eclipsed the half-century mark.

I reach out to him (texting is a prominent feature of the game, which is as much social media as contest):  “Where are you getting these letters?”

He responds in typical Jeff fashion: “I assure you that whining and kvetching will not help – and I don’t use words like TALUK.  What the heck was that?”

For the record, TALUK is a noun used in India.  It is defined as “a hereditary estate” and “a subdivision of a revenue district.”  I happened upon the word accidentally, while attempting to fit both an L and a K into a 5-box space.

My response to Jeff’s barb earns an electronic laugh: “No, but I am certain you will get the chance to use KVETCHING shortly.”

Some say that our increasing reliance upon smart phones has lessened our ability to communicate.  We no longer look others in the eyes, but prefer instead to exchange short-hand electronic messages.  The Norman Rockwell family of our era sits around the dinner table not sharing the day’s events, but doubled over phones, busily texting.

Perhaps they are right.  Perhaps the dawn of instant communication is more curse than blessing, something we will regret in coming years, as each of us becomes increasingly isolated.

But I prefer not to dwell on such thoughts.  Instead, I focus my energies on obtaining an U to go with my Q.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Greatest

The crowd is electric.  Eyes move restlessly, excitedly taking it all in: large Budweiser sign beyond the centerfield fence, tacky near-psychedelic home run structure (so Miami), men in military uniforms parading on the infield dirt.  The retractable roof softly opens, unleashing rays of sun, like a blanket spreading over the green lawn.

It is opening day at the new Marlins Park.  The sold-out stadium inches towards the first pitch, while fans in the stands celebrate, a buzzing of anticipation drowning out the PA announcer.

And then it stops.

All eyes turn to the giant scoreboard.  A golf cart moves slowly from the outfield fence towards the infield.  We can see Jeffrey Loria, Marlins’ owner, sitting beside a frail, old man.  The PA announcer welcomes Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight champion, who won his first title in Miami, who once laughed and shouted for all to hear: “I AM THE GREATEST FIGHTER OF ALL TIME!”

He has been ill for years.  Parkinson’s has eaten away at his once classic physique, leaving behind a shadow of what once was.

Loria holds Ali’s left hand, preventing the uncontrollable shaking that has invaded the rest of his body.  Many in the crowd look away.  It is a difficult sight to behold. 

The PA announcer urges fans to join in celebration of the man: “ALI! ALI!” he shouts.  But few join in the chant, which is less celebration of life than wistful longing for a dead era.

I close my eyes and see him as he once was: strong, and brash, and young.  He bounces gracefully around the ring, throwing jab jab jab, mixes left-right-left combination and then dances away.  All the while taunting, boasting, talking – echoes of his voice like whispers through long-darkened arenas, like Ali himself ravaged by the passage of time.