Thursday, November 21, 2013


Friends:  I have been putting these thoughts down since 2008, and it has been a joy for me. I hope the people who read the blog have enjoyed it; I know I enjoy reading their comments. I encourage those who may be new to reading Braindrops to take a look at some older posts just by clicking on the date index in the lower right hand column. Thanks for your encouragement and comments over the years. I will continue writing my other blog, Spaldeen Dreams, and invite you to take a look.

Jim Pantaleno

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nightmare at 35,000 Feet

The price we pay for getting anywhere distant is flying on an airplane. Flying used to be ever so pleasant with pretty, attentive stewardesses, free booze, decent food  and some actual leg room. All that has changed now that airlines try to wring every last dollar out of every flight. On a short trip the inconveniences are tolerable, but not so on longer flights. In an interesting anomaly, as planes have become bigger and roomier, passenger space has decreased. This is particularly true in "coach" which is the equivalent of "steerage" on the ships on which our grandparents traveled to America. Three-across seating is also annoying for the person who has to climb over two people to use the bathroom.

I wish they would do away with carry-on luggage because the rules are so badly  abused. I see pinheads trying to cram steamer trunks into the overhead compartments while the rest of us wait to board the plane. I blame the airlines for this. They have clear guidelines on the acceptable size for carry-on bags but these rules are rarely enforced. Eliminate the overhead compartments altogether and let everybody check their bags. Then they can wait by the luggage carousel with the rest of us trying to figure out which of the 50 black suitcases coming down the conveyor is ours. 

Airports have also become part of the flying nightmare. Dropping off and picking up passengers is like a Chinese fire drill. (That phrase is probably inappropriate.) Then comes the security checkpoints...belt off, shoes off...passengers shuffle through the metal detectors while trying to keep their pants from falling. The last time we departed JFK they were doing elaborate body scans on everyone. Then, as our turn came, there was a problem with the computer and they practically just waved us through. I pity the poor folks with metal body implants who must undergo even more scrutiny before boarding. Yes, yes, I understand that in today's scary world these measures are necessary, but that doesn't mean I can't bitch about them.

Airplane food used to be decent, and the booze flowed freely, all which made for a mellower flight. Now they charge for drinks (when you can get them) and in place of meals they hand you a bag of stale peanuts or pretzels. A few years ago we flew Air France to Paris/Rome and I was pleasantly surprised to see attractive flight attendants roving the aisles and pouring as much excellent wine as you could drink. We also ate pretty well on that flight. The experience, while most enjoyable, just made more apparent how sadly such service was lacking on most other airlines. My final gripe is about luggage charges. I can see charging for baggage of excessive weight, but for a normal suitcase, just let it go. Airlines charge enough for a ticket without adding this insult to injury.

Why do I fly if I feel this way? Last time I looked the only other way overseas is by boat, and the idea of maybe two weeks at sea at the mercy of storms, shipboard diseases, accidents, etc. is clearly far worse than the unfriendly skies.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, September 14, 2013

I Vote for the Afro

New York politics is rarely dull. New York City Mayoral elections are especially spicy this year. We have some beauties running for this esteemed office, said by some to be the second hardest job in America after President. Because our city is such a multi-racial, multi-cultured hotbed of diversity, there are many constituencies to which candidates may try to appeal. I imagine that boring cities in the Midwest actually have to discuss real issues in their elections, but not in New York. Here we run elections for entertainment just to see who crawls out from under those rocks to throw his or her hat in the ring. Here are this year's mayoral hopefuls.

As usual, the Democrat side of the slate is the most fun. It looked like Christine Quinn was a runaway winner just a couple of months ago. The polls showed her with a clear lead, but then some funny things began to happen. First, her backroom deals on the City Council to change the law and allow Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term came back to haunt her. Personally, I think the Mayor has done a pretty good job on his watch, but his perceived intrusions into people's health habits made him a lot of enemies. Also, when a guy has that much money, it's only a matter of time before people resent it.

Bill de Blasio is a New York City elected official, holding the office of New York City Public Advocate. He was a relatively minor figure on the landscape until he decided to release a commercial showing his good-looking, articulate, bi-racial son, who sports an azalea bush sized Afro, speaking about his Dad's platform. (That ball is high and deep, and clears the upper deck for a monstrous public relations home run.) Suddenly de Blasio was a player, making big strides in the polls and Quinn didn't look so invincible. Bill Thompson, the last viable Democrat candidate, is a career politician who surprisingly finished second to de Blasio and ahead of Quinn. He had a commercial too, featuring his lovely, ex-schoolteacher daughter. Thompson was backed by the Teachers Union, a huge endorsement in NYC, and though still hoping for a runoff election holds no hope of beating de Blasio, even if one is held.

For comic relief on the Democrat ticket we have the self-destructing Anthony Weiner. Everybody thought Weiner was a political corpse after his scandalous behavior tweeting nude picture of himself to women online. Along with ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer, who had similar problems to Weiner's and made a run for State Comptroller and lost, Weiner found enough faithful supporters who were willing to forgive and forget. He might have fared better if it didn't come out during the campaign that even after being humiliated in the press and losing his job, Weiner continued to engage in the same bizare behavior.   Weiner's wife stuck by him, at least during the election; I have a feeling she will dump him now that he's finished a limp fourth. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

On the more boring Republican side we have Joe Lhota, Rudy Giuliani's best boy who ran the MTA squaring off against John Catsimatidis, the owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain. Lhota looks like a ferret and has the reputation for being cold and calculating. He took a lot of flak in the press for saying he wouldn't shut down the subway system until two stray cats were found. Also, New Yorkers think $2.50 for a subway ride is way too high when in fact it is one of the greatest bargains in the City. Catsimatidis is a highly successful businessman who started as a stock boy and rose to the top of the heap. Normally this would work in his favor, but in a day when people are more admired for their looks, poor John is an overweight, rumpled fellow who just doesn't come across on TV.

Bottom line, we are about to choose a Mayor for arguably the greatest city in the world based on his son's Afro or how he feels about pussy cats. The electorate has become so dumb that they are unaware of their candidates' issues. If they bother to vote at all (many do not) they will cast their ballot like they would on a reality show. Welcome to New York, the next Detroit.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shop Til You Drop

Walked at the mall this morning due to lousy weather. They are nice enough to open at 7 am for walkers, and we appreciate it. The Staten Island Mall would probably be classified as a medium-sized operation with three wings on two levels and a nice food court. As we passed the various storefronts it occurred to me how much the shopping experience has changed over the years. As the suburbs developed, the main shopping areas shifted from local neighborhood stores and "downtown" shopping areas to sprawling malls outside of city residential areas. Clearly things are much different.

The widespread use of cars is one of the factors that made this transformation possible. When I was a kid we pretty much walked to all the stores we shopped at. Once in a while we would make a pilgrimage to downtown Brooklyn, or even less frequently to Manhattan, but this was the exception. The neighborhood provided food stores, bakeries, service establishments like laundromats, dry cleaners, clothing stores, shoe repair shops, liquor stores, drugstores, beauty salons and barber shops. For special items we would get on the train and go to the A&S Department store in downtown Brooklyn or maybe Macy's or Klein's in Manhattan. 

The first real mall I can remember was Green Acres off Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream at the beginning of Nassau County in Long Island. For city dwellers, this was the equivalent of travelling to Uzbekistan. When one of my friends got his driver's license and we ventured to make this trip, I had the feeling I had entered Shangri-La. The place was endless line of marble, glass, and neon as far as the eye could see. They had an ocean of parking spaces, something no Brooklyn driver had ever witnessed. There was music piped in and even places to eat. Surely we had crossed over into some mythical shopper's paradise.

New Jersey is arguably the heaven-on-earth for mall lovers. They have good roads, plenty of suburban land and customers with serious cash in their pockets. If you've ever driven around the state you know there must be a law that requires a spacious mall to be built in every town. Just ride north to south along Routes 1, 3, 9, 17, 18, 34, 35, 36 and you can shop till you drop. It's not just the quantity of malls but the size and splendor. One of the best is the Jersey Gardens Mall built in a faltering industrial zone that was suffering economically. Along with Ikea, the Swedish retailing giant, this mall transformed the area, bringing in hotels and restaurants to serve locals as well as travelers from nearby Newark airport with time on their hands.

No doubt we have reached the point of diminishing returns as far as how many malls can be supported. Many have vacant stores and a few have closed altogether. Ironically, as some inner-city neighborhoods like Red Hook and Williamsburg make strong comebacks, so too are local stores reestablishing their presence as shopping alternatives. Many residents of these areas can't afford to keep cars and are looking for places near their homes. I like this trend because it gives mom and pop operations a second chance. With our economy struggling we need opportunities for entrepreneurial types to make a buck, and a return to shopping locally helps that goal. 

I doubt malls will ever go away completely; they have become a part of the American way of life, destinations unto themselves where people go to hang out, even if they have no intention of shopping. Just one final thought...the newest, biggest, fanciest store in our mall...Victoria's Secret! (Why do you think all those guys are walking at 7 in the morning?)


Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Day in Atlantic City

We recently stayed in Atlantic City at Harrah's Casino/Hotel. They must be getting desperate in that gambling mecca since the room and buffet dinner were comped. We used to go down more regularly and could almost always get a free room, but lately, we have been frequenting the casinos that are closer to home like Empire City in Yonkers and Resorts World in Queens. A few weeks ago we made a day trip to Atlantic City and shortly thereafter received an offer of the free room and dinner. The competition must be cutting into their profits. Anyhow we decided to go for an overnight stay...have a nice dinner, play some slots and walk the boardwalk.

When I called to book, all the boardwalk hotels were full so we took a room at Harrah's which is maybe a couple of miles away near the beautiful Borgata Hotel complex. (They recently shut down their poker room as a cost-cutting measure...not a good sign.) Because Harrah's is away from the main drag, they run a shuttle service so gamblers can get to the boardwalk in-between bouts of donating money to the Casino Employees Pension Fund. Since check-in time wasn't until 4 pm, we drove over to the Showboat Hotel on the boardwalk to play some slots. After a few hours we were down just a few bucks between us, and decided to do some people watching. We stepped out of the surreal air-conditioned darkness of the casino into the bright New Jersey sunshine.

The variety of people to be seen on the Atlantic City boardwalk is mind-blowing. There's a couple sitting on a bench who weigh 400 lbs. each; here comes a guy with a purple Mohawk hairdo; there are senior citizens pulling oxygen tanks behind them on wheeled dollies; the crazy lady who serenades passers-by with gospel songs; and the tourists from Nebraska in the cheap Atlantic City t-shirts who can't wait to tell the folks back home in Omaha about this "freak show", not realizing that they are part of it. There are the usual food stands, rigged amusement games, souvenir joints, the Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" theater, stores selling salt-water taffy that nobody ever eats, and a curious shop that sells 500 lb. metal sculptures...hope they deliver!

We finally drive over to Harrah's and wait in the inevitable check-in line. It moves pretty fast and I keep reminding myself that I'm not paying a dime for this stay. We take the elevator up to our room in the Harbour Tower and find it to be just lovely...clean, well furnished, and with a great view of the bay below. There are a number of good restaurants in the hotel, and we make a dinner reservation at a Mexican place called Dos Caminos. Turns out to be a good call. The hostess seats us at a window table overlooking the water and our meal is everything we hoped for including a big bowl of the best guacamole I ever ate. A nice bottle of Malbec with dinner and then dessert rounds out the experience. 

We head down to the casino to work off some calories. They have a variety of slot machines here we've not seen in other casinos, so that's fun. I usually play video poker, and do so for an hour or so with mixed results. I then switch to these crazy, multi-bet machines that are so complicated that I never know when I've won. A run of good luck helps to erase some earlier losses, and at the end of the night we're down just a few bucks between us, well worth the investment for a great day. We have another free room coming that we need to use before October, and I'm sure we'll go back. I know people knock casinos but for better or worse, they are here to stay. We enjoy the excitement and after working all our lives, feel we are entitled to spend our money how we see fit.

So thanks Harrah's for the room, Dos Caminos for the dinner, and the boardwalk denizens for the side show. We shall return. 

Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is This the Complaint Window?

OK, I tend to complain a lot. Let's get that out right off the bat. I complain about how people drive, their slavish attachment to electronic devices, poor service almost everywhere I go, church sermons that make absolutely no sense and are far too long in the bargain, dumb road signs...honestly, I'm likely to complain about almost anything. I wasn't always like this. As a younger man I was more willing to let things pass. I didn't want to hurt people's feelings or get myself worked up about things over which I had no control. Now I complain from morning till night; just ask my poor wife who has to listen to my rants. I don't like the grouch I've become, but surely, if I don't tell people about their shortcomings, how will they learn?

I try being more patient, but before long, I run out. Here's a simple example: I recently had to take a distribution from one of our retirement accounts; this is mandatory once you reach age 70 1/2. The financial institution holding the investment asked me if I wanted federal and state tax withheld from the check they would be sending me. I said I did. They sent me a statement confirming they would withhold the tax as instructed. When the check arrived, no tax had been withheld. And so it begins. I email them to explain their error and ask that it be corrected. They email me back saying they don't handle such transactions on non-secure email and that I should call them. OK, they are being cautious, I can understand that.

So I call them and of course they ask for my pin number to access the account. Now I set up this account when I still had hair on my head and a working memory, so naturally, so many years later, I don't remember my pin number. No problem, the robot recording tells me, if you can't remember your pin number just answer the following questions to confirm that it's really you and we'll email the pin number to you. I painstakingly punch the answers to all their questions into my phone keypad. (I can feel my small supply of patience beginning to leak away.) After going through this drill, the robot tells me that my type of account does not permit me to retrieve my pin number over the phone. Then why not tell me that up front before making me peck out all those annoying answers. (Patience leaking faster now.)

So I can't get help via email because my transaction is "sensitive", and since I don't know my pin number, and can't retrieve it on the phone because the type of account I have doesn't allow it, just exactly where am I? Will anyone at this financial institution deign to speak with me? Maybe I should put a note in a bottle, take it down to the beach and hope for the best. I can understand encountering an incompetent individual in any company, in fact, I encounter many of them. What really bothers me is when a large company, supposedly filled with smart people because after all, look at the salaries they make, is dumb enough to perpetuate stupidity by building it right into its systems and procedures. When that happens there is no hope.

So you see dear reader why I must complain. I am surrounded by service people who are stupid, apathetic, rude, and sometimes all three. Like Don Quixote, I endure this lonely quest, bitching loudly to anyone who will listen.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Make 'Em Laugh

When television was in its infancy, some of the most popular shows were sitcoms. Programming values were pretty sparse back then and sitcoms were relatively cheap to produce. Nearly all the actors were unknowns, the sets were as cheap as they come, and the writers were just happy to be making a living at something they loved; getting paid anything was a bonus. Also, in the days before the PC police existed, it was OK to make shows based around ethnic or racial groups. It was no surprise that shows like Amos and Andy (African-Americans), I Remember Mama (Norwegians), Luigi Bosco (Italians), and The Goldbergs (Jews), found audiences in people who took comfort in seeing others like themselves up on the small screen.

The next generation of sitcoms might be characterized as the "golden age" by baby boomers who grew up on them. My favorite, then and now, is The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason and a perfectly chosen supporting cast. Most of these shows were built around family life with a slightly harried Dad, a pretty but sensible Mom, a couple of wisecracking kids, and of course some wacky neighbors. Some of the more popular included I Love Lucy, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Make Room for Daddy or The Danny Thomas Show. The latter spun off another great show that is still funny today, The Andy Griffith Show which, like The Honeymooners, starred a perfect ensemble of players including the great Don Knotts.

Then came the next wave of sitcoms that offered edgier programming. Led by Norman Lear's All in the Family, these shows explored themes that up until then were considered inappropriate for television. The Jeffersons was spun off All in the Family and interestingly was one of the first shows to feature blacks in starring roles since the Amos and Andy days. Some memorable sitcoms from this genre were MASH, Maude, The Smothers Brothers, and Laugh-In. Bill Cosby deserves special mention for his show, which disdained the stereotypes that were featured in other popular black sitcoms like Good Times and What's Happening. Instead he portrayed a black family as mainstream professionals with normal family problems and in doing so, elevated the image of African Americans on television.

By the 1980s, the sitcom was in full flower. I watched Cheers, Family Ties, The Golden Girls, Married with Children, Night Court, Bosom Buddies, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Wonder Years. In 1989 the stage was set for the first episode of a new sitcom featuring a likable comedian and the indispensable supporting cast; that show was Seinfeld. It took a while for the show to find its feet, but once it did it was carried along for many years on the shoulders of its four main characters and a small army of quirky guest players. It can rarely be said that a television show never made a bad episode, but this show came close. Another mega hit series from the 1990s was Friends, a show that frankly, I could never get into.

As for today, my current favorites are Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David and The Big Bang Theory. Ironically, when I first saw The Big Bang, I was turned off by the Sheldon character, but luckily I gave the show a second chance because one of the writers is Anthony DelBroccolo, the son of my friend Joe. As it turns out, Sheldon is the pivotal character around whom the show revolves, and his annoying, obsessive/compulsive manner is what makes the show go. Like all great sitcoms, the show features a cast of regular players who not only support Sheldon, but who are all very funny in their own rite. The key to any good sitcom, besides likable characters, is good writing, and thanks to Anthony and his talented colleagues, this show has it in spades.

Sometimes, the world can be a scary, depressing place, and people who give  the gift of laughter help us make it through. A tip of the cap to great sitcoms and their creators for making our lives a little happier.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Queen's English

One of the better uses for technology that I have found is the ability to download audio books from the New York Public Library to my i-Pod. I really enjoy listening to recorded books, partly because I am finding it hard to sit down with a real book and read as often as I used to. From childhood, reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I would get lost in books ranging from serious history to trashy novels. When I was commuting, I often rode past my bus or train stop while engrossed in some story. Like most book lovers, I read for pleasure, to increase my knowledge of people, places and things, and also because I am a huge fan of the English language. 

I'd guess that wherever you're from in the world, your mother tongue reigns supreme over all other languages. Frankly, except for Italian and maybe French, other languages sound harsh and guttural to me. If I had to learn Chinese to save my life, I'd be a goner. Yiddish sounds more like gibberish, and how a young lover coos to his "liebchen" in German, I will never understand. English, especially as spoken by the English is most mellifluous and pleasant to the ear. I'd guess that part of the reason for the success of the Masterpiece Theater series on PBS is that viewers who enjoy words for their own sake tune in just to doesn't matter all that much what's being said.

Two of my favorite authors are Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, writers of wonderful mysteries, but also women who have mastered the English language and use it to full effect in their writing. Agatha Christie is the undisputed queen of British mystery writers with such memorable characters as Miss Jane Marple and the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Sayers wrote the charming Lord Peter Whimsey mystery series, and was a renown scholar...a contemporary of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.H. Chesterton. Reading the novels of Christie and Sayers transports one to the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Their grasp of the attitudes of people from both Upstairs and Downstairs is fascinating to hear about; the smash TV series 'Downton Abbey' cashed in on the public's interest in this aspect of British life.

In the days when I read real books, I pored over everything I could get by Christie and Sayers. The precision of their language captivated me; they always knew exactly the right word to use to describe a person or situation. Once you heard the word, and rolled it around on your tongue, you knew with certainty that no other word would do. Not only were their vocabularies prodigious, but they knew how to string words together in a way that let you see in a flash the idea they were trying to convey. Listening to these books on audio brings an added measure of enjoyment for me because I get to hear these marvelous words spoken aloud by cultured English men and women. Audio book narrators can make or break a story, and the selection of actors Hugh Fraser and Ian Carmichael to read the Christie and Sayers works respectively was a touch of genius.

I greatly fear our beautiful English language is on the decline, almost like an old actress living in reduced circumstances with only her memories of better times to keep her going. English grammar and writing are no longer rigorously taught in grade schools as they once were. The notion of young people being fired up by the sound of their own language is becoming less and less likely. Sadly, I fear that ship has sailed.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, June 3, 2013


Don't mean to be facetious at all here. but in areas of the country that are known to regularly experience hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes, what makes anybody want to live there? It's not like these death-dealing events are once-in-a-while occurrences, towns in Texas and Oklahoma have annual tornado seasons. In New Jersey there are towns that wind up under water every single time there is a bad rain storm. We see these poor folks on the news after the latest disaster saying things like: "We were lucky the good Lord spared us; we aim to build again." Why? Maybe the next time the good Lord will blow you away with the roof.

Mention the Second Amendment in any bar and soon voices will be raised in defense of our right to bear arms. "The only way you'll get my gun is to pry it out of my cold, dead hand." Fine, calm down bubba. I used to own a ,22 rifle that I used for target shooting. I'm not anti-gun. Although it may not be my cup of tea, I know this country has many hunters and gun collectors to whom gun ownership is a sacred right. No problem at all there...but I'm still waiting for a sane answer to the question of why any civilian needs to own military-style assault rifles with high-capacity magazines. No sportsman worth the name would use such weapons to hunt, but deranged child killers will. Enough.

Through my daughter, I have become acquainted with some of her friends who have special needs children, mainly cranio-facial problems like my granddaughter. These families have such a hard road, often facing medical emergencies, frequent surgeries and time away from home as they travel to wherever the best doctors practice in the hopes of finding answers to the problems their children deal with. I thought I used to know the meaning of words like strength, courage and love, but these parents and their kids  redefine these terms every day. I so greatly admire them, the doctors that help them, and the support groups that help raise both funds and public awareness about these disorders.

We have Verizon's FIOS service for telephone, cable and Internet. It costs several hundred dollars a month, so you'd think if anything went wrong, Verizon would send someone to fix it. Wrong Kemo Sabe, they make the customer their repair man. We recently upgraded our service and had to replace one of the four set-top boxes in the house. I don't mind making the few simple connections to hook up the box, but then the system is telling me I lost all the programs we had recorded on our DVR. After an hour of cursing, and trying all the solutions their "helpful" phone rep suggested, I was finally told to keep the old master box and send in one of the other satellite boxes. I'm sending them a bill for all my work.

Every time we turn on the GPS system in our car, a fight breaks out between my wife and I. I have a pretty good sense of direction, so when I resort to using the GPS, it usually means I'm lost and therefore, already a little stressed. It seems my wife and I comprehend the commands given by the GPS lady differently. These systems are good, but not perfect. When the lady is telling me to do something that intuitively feels wrong to me, I sometimes ignore her. At this point, my wife will say something like: "She said to turn left." I usually jump on her (unfairly of course) and before long we are raising our voices. When she finally dumps me, the divorce decree won't say "Irreconcilable Differences", it will say "GPS Incompatibility."


Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, May 24, 2013


But is a very powerful word. Though small in size, it often takes the lead in stimulating heated arguments between people who were friends before "but" butted in. In grammar, but is defined as a conjunction, a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. In usage, but presents a contrast or exception, for example, He enjoys a glass of wine BUT never touches hard liquor. Oftentimes, what follows a BUT can virtually erase what came before it by the extent to which it contradicts the earlier statement. Here are some famous "buts" right out of today's headlines.

The Internal Revenue Service is supposed to be non-partisan in their determination of what groups qualify for tax-exempt status BUT...instead they are using their resources to persecute conservative organizations who do not support the President. This is the latest fiasco to come out of the Obama administration, and the spin doctors are working feverishly to play it down. The poor woman who was in charge of the group that determines who gets tax exempt status, and who was trying without success to change the regulations that make this kind of vile partisanship possible, was forced to fall on her sword by higher-ups looking to limit the damage. Pretty cowardly behavior by an administration that supposedly prides itself on transparency.

Vito Lopez, the sleazy Queens politician who sexually harassed his staff should be in jail BUT...thanks to gutless Democratic Party boss Sheldon (The Weasel) Silver, Vito is still free. Moreover, supporters in his voting district want to re-elect him! It was announced that two large constituencies are especially forceful in their support of Lopez, Hasidic Jews and Hispanics. Given the track record of these two groups in the way they treat women, it is understandable why Lopez would be their hero. I wonder what transgressions it would take for the electorate in Lopez's district to throw the pervert out.

After the horrific tornado that recently took the lives of ten children in Moore, Oklahoma, you might assume that the new school they are building to replace the one that was destroyed would have a storm shelter, BUT...the head of the town council is quoted as saying: "While it's true you can't put a price on children's lives, you can put a price on construction costs, and a storm cellar adds to the cost of building a new school." Are the people in this town insane? What parent wouldn't be ranting at the next town hall meeting that a cellar in a school in a place called tornado alley is a no-brainer. You simply can't trade young lives for property tax-savings.

School should be a fun time for kids, BUT...thanks to cyber-bullies, youngsters are committing suicide after being hounded on social media by classmates. Recently, a 12-year old girl Queens hanged herself after being relentlessly teased by other kids. Surely someone saw this coming, whether it be another child, a teacher or family member. Schools must find ways to discourage this destructive practice, and provide confidential procedures for bullying to be reported. We need to get a handle on this type of behavior by young people or it will continue to drive impressionable and vulnerable young people to do desperate things. 


Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, April 29, 2013

X Marks the Spot

Ever since I was a boy I have been fascinated by the subject of archaeology. Webster's defines the term as: the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities. Even before I knew the word, I knew that people who hunted for treasure on land or under the sea must lead very exciting lives. My attention was first captured by such stories like Treasure Island where a buried pirate chest full of gold and jewels was the object of the quest. Tales of vanished empires like the Inca and Aztec always spoke of the fabulous wealth hidden in long buried temples. Legends of old gold or silver mines inspired many a dreamer to go west in search of elusive riches.

As I grew older, my interest heightened. The subject became especially fascinating when such discoveries shed light on lost cities and civilizations. Movies like Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Romancing the Stone, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Pirates of the Caribbean tapped into every armchair adventurer's daydreams about finding lost treasure. Sometimes as a kid I would dig holes in my back yard, hoping I guess that some pirate took a wrong turn and was forced to bury his treasure chest in Brooklyn. My wife is always teasing me about spending my retirement years with a metal detector down on the beach; one of these days I might take her up on it.

I think the discovery of the tomb of King Tut by Howard Carter is what really got me hooked on archaeology. In the fall of 1917, Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, began excavating in earnest in the Valley of the Kings. Here in Carter's own words is the story: 

"With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left-hand corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared. Widening the hold a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, Lord Carnarvon, standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict. At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, "Can you see anything?" it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things." 

Another wondrous tale revolves around the search for the lost Spanish galleon, Atocha, by deep sea diver Mel Fisher. Here's the story: The Nuestra SeƱora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were Spanish galleons that sank off the coast of Key West in the year 1622, along with 6 other galleons from the same fleet. The wrecks were discovered in the 1980s by Mel Fisher’s team, after many years of searching. The amazing treasure trove of gold, silver, and gems that were valued in the hundreds of millions. Sadly, Mel's oldest son Dirk, his wife Angel, and fellow diver Rick Gage died after their boat capsized during their quest for the treasure. Mel struggled through decades of hard times treasure hunting in the Florida Keys with the motto Today's the Day. 

 Only today I read about the discovery of a lost Egyptian seaport city called Heracleion. For centuries it was thought to be a legend, a city of extraordinary wealth mentioned in Homer, visited by Helen of Troy and Paris, her lover, but apparently buried under the sea. In fact, Heracleion did exist, and a decade after divers began uncovering its treasures, archaeologists have produced a picture of what life was like in the city in the era of the pharaohs. Here is the link to learn more. Lost Egyptian City Revealed After 1200 Years

Most treasure hunters fail, but the dream of finding a lost Egyptian tomb or a sunken Spanish galleon stimulates sales of genuine treasure maps to hopefuls. Treasure hunt, anyone?


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mazel Tov

I learned today that a Bar Mitzvah is like the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation, only with a better party and better gifts. We attended our second Bar Mitzvah ever for a friend's son in New Jersey. The temple was beautiful as was the service...solemn and joyous at the same time, and very family oriented. Jewish rites are similar to our Catholic ones; they have a sanctuary, they read from the scriptures, they sing and they pray for the sick in the congregation. A female rabbi led the service accompanied by a male cantor. The three young boys being ushered into manhood, Andrew, Zach and Scott, look properly serious as they chanted in Hebrew from the Torah.

Then the party started. After the ceremony we adjourned to the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge for what I can only describe as a wedding without a bride and groom. The banquet hall was magnificent, the food was excellent and the wait staff extremely attentive. The cocktail hour would have fed many smaller, third world countries. Then came the dinner which was delicious. Finally, an endless stream of desserts that put the finishing touches on my rapidly clogging arteries. There were 200 guests in attendance including 60 very energetic kids. The 13-year old girls in their skintight, thigh-high dresses looked 18, while the 13-year old boys, with their ties askew and shirt-tails out looked about 9. 

There was the obligatory, obnoxious D-J in charge of music. (I say music in the very loosest definition of that term.) To give you an idea of how loud they were, the wait staff circulated to the tables where older adults were seated and offered ear plugs to those who found the "music" too loud to bear. This is sadly the case at almost all functions where DJs preside these days. They play so loudly, yet no one tells them to bring it down. On the up side, the DJ and his entourage entertained the kids in-between noise explosions so the adults had a chance to get in a few words. There was also a very rude ventriloquist whose idea of fun was to ridicule the elderly members of the Bar Mitzvah boy's family as they came up to light candles of remembrance. Not nice.

It's amazing how celebrations for religious ceremonies like Communions, Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs have escalated. We have been to parties for these occasions that far overshadow the weddings of 30 years ago. Everybody tries to outdo each other. These used to be pretty much family affairs with maybe a few invited friends; now they have become very ornate and elaborate affairs. I don't know how anyone can afford to spend 30 or 40 thousand dollars on them. I guess my old school values are kicking in. Even the weddings we've been to seem so over-the-top with no expense spared. I think back on the old "football" weddings we attended and the fun we had, not because they cost $200 a head, but because the people who were there didn't need to be entertained; they brought their fun along with them.

I very much enjoyed the Bar Mitzvah service, although I found out that rabbis like to hear themselves talk as much as priests. The boys and their families made this a beautiful ritual, and sitting in that temple, I was reminded that people of all faiths are more alike than they are different.


Children's Craniofacial Association