Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Blue Knights

It seems like every time I pick up a newspaper there is a story about a New York City cop who has been shot. Today's paper tells of police officer Thomas Richards, who was fired at and miraculously saved, when the ammunition clip he was carrying on his belt blocked the bullet. The assailants in these cases are always the same types: punks and drug dealers carrying illegal weapons who prey on their neighborhoods and the kids living there. The irony is that the people being protected by brave cops like officer Richards probably wouldn't lift a finger to help identify and capture the criminals living among them if they had the chance.  

It's not just New York City, but every urban area that has been taken over by the worst elements of our society. I'd like to believe that I'm not a racist; I have nothing but admiration for minorities who have struggled to overcome the prejudices against them to live productive lives. There is no denying, however, that too many violent crimes are committed by African-Americans and Latinos. Sadly, the victims of many of these crimes are decent people who themselves are minorities and who have the misfortune to live among these thugs. Murder is the leading cause of death among young black males. Some people chalk criminal tendencies up to poverty, but not all poor people turn to crime. Many use education and hard work to pull themselves out of the misery that poverty creates. 

Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, Cleveland, and even our nation's capital, Washington, D.C., are beset by crime. Organized gangs roam the streets, armed and dangerous, knowing that well-meaning but idiotic liberal do-gooders have tied the hands of the local police to the point where any police officer involved in a shooting will probably get into more trouble than the punks who started it. I don't know how a cop can enter a known drug den looking for felons when he or she knows they will be second-guessed to death by review boards and Internal Affairs if they have to draw their weapons. How did we get to this ridiculous state of affairs?

One of the justifications for it is to cite the examples of bad cops who abused their powers to make questionable arrests. Does that happen...yes it does. I'm betting though that some cops just get frustrated watching punks they have put in jail plea bargain their time down to nothing, or walk altogether because of a faulty justice system. The next time they collar these punks, they plant some drugs or a gun on them to see if they can keep them in jail for a while. Is that right...certainly not, but neither is it right for a slick lawyer to intimidate witnesses and manipulate juries (who aren't always that bright to begin with) into putting career criminals back on the streets.

I wouldn't be NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for the world. He is hounded in the press for harassing Muslims, when in fact he is just doing his job by surveiling those people who have attacked us in the past and will do so again if given the chance. Then he has to visit his officers in the hospital, who got hurt protecting all of us while being hamstrung by restrictive rules and the legions of second guessers who make their lives hell. Worst of all must be the visits to the families of officers killed in the line of duty to tell them their loved one won't be coming home. I applaud Commissioner Kelly and cops everywhere for keeping us safe at great risk to themselves.

If you get the chance, thank a police officer for the hard work they do. I can't imagine a more dangerous and thankless job.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Uneven Fairways

I love golf...its history, integrity, and its challenge to play a difficult game well. There are things about golf that I don't love, namely that for too long it was an elitist, racist and exclusionary pastime open only to rich white men. There are vestiges of that mentality still around today, but nothing like what prevailed from the 30's well into the 70's. The Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) of America actually had a clause written into its charter stating that the ranks of professional golf were open only to Caucasian males. Like some other sports, especially baseball, this policy of segregation was harmful not only from a moral standpoint, but because on a practical level, it denied men of color the opportunity to compete at a game they loved.

The Golf Channel, (yes folks, there is a channel dedicated entirely to golf) aired a special a few years back titled "Uneven Fairways", a reference to how blacks were excluded from the game except as caddies. Fortunately, they found a way to play. As caddies they learned the game by watching the white men they caddied for. They picked up discarded clubs, or made their own, and played anywhere they could. Because their equipment was inferior and the courses they played less than pristine, they became skilled shotmakers who found a way to get the ball into the hole. Frustrated at being unwelcome to compete in PGA tour events, black golfers, (like black baseball players who founded the Negro Baseball Leagues), formed the United Golfers Association (UGA) in 1926.

It was heartening and sad to hear the old timers who played in that Association back then tell stories of how they struggled. Sponsors were hard to come by, winner's purses were a tenth of what they were on the PGA tour, and often, the winners' check would bounce at the bank due to unscrupulous promoters who stole the money and fled. One golfer spoke of sometimes having just one golf ball to play in a tournament, and if it was lost, he had to quit. They talked of sharing hotel rooms, riding public buses to the tournaments, and eating only if the tournament promoters provided food. What was so uplifting about these sad stories is that, almost to a man, these old timers recounted their stories with a smile. More than one said it was the best time of his life in that everyone helped one another and lasting friendships were formed.

A major turning point for black golfers came in the 1930's when Joe Louis defeated the hated German Max Schmelling for the world heavyweight boxing title. He became a hero, not only to black Americans, but to all Americans. An avid and able golfer, Louis was the first African-American to be admitted to an all-white country club. While a step forward, this hardly changed life for the black professional golfer. They were still excluded from PGA tournaments due to the "Caucasians only" clause. Ironically, unlike baseball where white players were openly hostile to integration, most white golf professionals had no objection to allowing blacks to compete. Some, like Arnold Palmer, openly advocated for the change.

In the late 40's and early 50's, talented golfers, inspired by Jackie Robinson's breakthrough in baseball, began mounting legal challenges to the PGA's 'whites only' rule. Men like Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes and Bill Spiller won local events which would have qualified them for PGA tournaments, but were still denied. Rhodes, who was widely regarded as the best black player on the UGA tour, was also considered to be a passive man and a reluctant hero. “He was just too nice of a guy and too much of a gentleman to fight and scratch for his constitutional right to play." Sifford, who was more combative, was chosen to do for golf what Jackie had done for baseball. With the help of a local white San Francisco attorney to sue the PGA for denying them their constitutional right to work, they pressed hard for change.

Not wanting to incur the embarrassment a lawsuit, the PGA relented and allowed the men to play. That technically ended segregation in golf, but loopholes were found to keep black golfers out of tournaments. Finally, in 1952, sponsors of the San Diego Open invited Joe Louis to participate in their tournament through a sponsor’s exemption. As it is today, inviting celebrities to play was a common practice and often done to draw attention to the event and increase attendance. A spokesman for the tournament said at the time, “We are most anxious that Joe, one of America’s true sports heroes, will play in our event.” The barriers were finally down, but blacks in golf still had to endure what Jackie Robinson endured trying to integrate baseball.

One of those interviewed for the "Uneven Fairways" show was Tiger Woods. This was before Tiger imploded and ruined his career and his life. He was asked if he understood what other African-Americans had to undergo so that he as a man of color could compete and excel at the highest levels in golf. To Tiger's credit, he had sought out and learned from many of the men who paved the way for him. He graciously acknowledged their contributions and sacrifices as the only reason he was where he was today. Conversely, the interviewer spoke to many older golfers who had competed in the United Golfers Association and asked them what they thought of Tiger Woods. Clearly they were fiercely proud of him, but the wistful look that came into their eyes said: maybe if I had the chance, I could have been the Tiger Woods of my day.

What was done to these men is terrible, but they never gave up on their dream. They found a way to play golf and fought long and hard to show they were as good or better than their white counterparts. I wonder if young African-American men today fully understand the courage and resilience shown by Jackie Robinson and Charlie Sifford in fighting for what they knew was right.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can It Core a Apple?

One of my favorite Honeymooners episodes is "Chef of the Future" when Ralph and Ed decide to go on late night TV to sell the Handy Housewife Helper, a kitchen gadget that does just about everything except when the boys try to demonstrate it on a TV commercial. "Can it core a apple?" asks Ed. Ralph promptly illustrates and cuts himself, prompting one of Gleason's rants as he dances around bellowing and holding his injured hand. I love gadgets, even simple ones. Things like a potato peeler fascinate me. All of these things were invented by clever people who saw a need and filled it. Sadly, like the Handy Household Helper, not all gadgets have a promising future. Here are a few from the wonderful "Heartland America" catalog to illustrate my point. I've used the actual language from the ads so you know I'm not making this stuff up.

The Poultry Pal - "Why would you ever want to shove a can of beer inside a chicken or turkey and cook it? The answer is simple...it's the most tasty, moist and incredibly flavorful bird you've ever tasted. However, cooking with an actual beer can creates dangerous chemicals that are released from heating the paint and ink on the can. And after all, it's the beer and the cooking method,not the can, that creates such a great taste. Now you can make incredible beer can chicken or turkey without the dangers of using a can. Poultry Pan combines a cooking pan with a chamber to hold your favorite brew while cooking so you can get a perfect tasting bird every time! " (I'm guessing this is a best seller in Arkansas.)

Classic Tin Cup - "Bring history to life with each drink. Take a sip from this historically-correct Classic Tin Cup, just as our forefathers did over the creation of our great nation. We've been handcrafting these tin cups for nearly 200 years, without welding or soldering, just like in the early 1800s when the American West was young. Used by Americans in most walks of life, these tin cups are still put together by hand and with a little help from the original equipment. So let your imagination flow as you enjoy this epic relic of Americana. You'll surprisingly bring history to life with each drink." (Good for begging too.)

Revolving Tie Rack - With so many ties in your collection, you need a serious solution to tie organization and storage. This revolving tie rack holds 64 ties, numerous belts and is exceedingly compact. The rack attaches securely and stays in place, allowing you to rotate your ties at the push of a button. Battery operated makes it easy to choose the perfect tie from your collection. Room for more than 60 ties and special attachments for belts make this tie rack durable and practical for any closet. Special clips allow you to attach the tie rack to a closet rod, and a convenient light turns on as it revolves. Uses 4-C batteries (not included). (Comes in handy when there's nothing on TV.)

Headlight Hat - "Ingenious invention! A comfortable cap with an on-board incandescent lamp - get 2 for the price of 1! We couldn't believe it when we saw this clever product! This 5-panel cap is constructed of premium quality cotton that's lightweight, durable and comfortable. Plus, it has an incandescent bulb that adjusts four ways so you can direct a warm, bright beam of light where you need it most and an off/on switch. Great for hunting, car repairs, walking the dog at night and more. Includes 1 khaki and 1 mossy green cap. Two 'AAA' cells per cap included. Adjustable hook & loop closure." (Also useful for trainee coal miners and night stalkers.)

Portable Rechargeable Fan/Radio - "If you're like most people, you've often wished for a fan to cool you off while you enjoy the great outdoors. Your wish has come true! This ingenious fan has a rechargeable battery so you can use it anywhere. Plus an on-board AM/FM radio with a great sounding full-range side speaker. It features two whisper quiet fan speeds plus oscillation, 10" blade, AC operation mode and up to four hours of use per charge. Rechargeable battery & AC power cord included. 16" x 20" x 6". 1-year limited warranty." (Gee, I always thought being in the great outdoors would be enough to cool you off. Clever combination of appliances...almost as good as their bathtub toaster.) 

I am a catalog freak; I never cease to be amazed at the stuff people come up with. The best thing about these products is that people are buying them. Somewhere in this great land of ours, there's a poor soul whose life is so uneventful that he's waiting eagerly for the mailman to bring his revolving tie rack. Is that the doorbell?!


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Every February 14, across the United States and around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from? Why does Booger feel compelled to buy those gas station roses for Lurleen? Why can't you get a dinner reservation anywhere on Valentine's Day? Why are guys across the country scratching their heads trying to figure out why their normally placid spouses got hysterical and threw those nice Valentine gifts of steam irons and vacuum cleaners at their heads. Well lucky for you I have nothing better to do today, so I will try to shed some light on this phenomenon.

The history of Valentine's Day--and the story of its patron saint--is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl--possibly his jailer's daughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and--most importantly--romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France. 

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--which probably occurred around A.D. 270--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”--at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine's Day should be a day for romance. Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

How smacking ladies with strips of goat hide dipped in blood translated down through the ages into candy, flowers and bling, I can't say. I do know that Valentine's Day is a welcome holiday in mid-February when winter is starting to get old. It also reminds us that we would be nothing without those we love, and who love us, in our lives. Happy Valentine's Day to all.

(Information taken from HISTORY.COM)


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Now That’s Funny

The other day I was watching a Golden Girls rerun. One of the characters, (Blanche, the oversexed Southern belle) spoke this line: "I'm as nervous as a virgin at a prison rodeo." I fell off my chair laughing. I find the show even funnier today than when it was in its original run. The four ladies around whom the show is built are total pros who understand comedy timing and delivery. Throw in a talented group of writers who "get" the characters and know how to write for them and you have, in my view anyhow, one of the funniest shows ever on television.

I got to thinking about what makes people laugh. A sense of humor is absolutely necessary if one is to get through life intact, and yet, we don't all find the same things funny. I think too that our sense of humor changes as we get older. For example, when I was a kid I never missed a Red Skelton show; I thought he was hilarious, yet when I see old clips of the show today, I cringe to think I ever found him funny. Same goes for Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges, Milton Berle and other performers I've outgrown. They were all physical comedians, and that type of comedy, with a few exceptions, (John Belushi, Steve Martin, Kevin James) just leaves me cold today.

It's hard to put into writing what I find funny. Certain people as diverse as Jackie Gleason, Woody Allen, Steve Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Eddie Murphy (before he fell in love with himself) Lucille Ball, and Lily Tomlin can usually be counted on to make me laugh. There is also a company of second bananas who ring my bell: Art Carney, Ted Knight, Don Knotts, Jerry Stiller, Vivian Vance Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway. There is no common denominator that all these people share except that they make me laugh. There are many others, but these folks come to mind this minute.

As a kid I was addicted to certain cartoon characters, and these I have not outgrown. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety and Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, and The Tasmanian Devil were (and are) all favorites. Saturday afternoons of my childhood were spent in the balcony of the Colonial Theater in Brooklyn where, in addition to two feature films, they showed 21 color cartoons. I think my own sense of humor was developing at that time, and there was no greater joy for young Jimmy than to watch the look on Wile E. Coyote's face as that mail-order Acme Roadrunner Bomb blew up in his face. There was also a memorable cartoon featuring the fabulous Michigan J. Frog, a singing amphibian, that I found to be a classic.

Comedy is where you find it. Charlie Chaplin is widely considered to be a comedic genius, yet I find his films to be infinitely sad. On the other hand, sometimes the most serious situations can produce laughter, or so-called comic relief. We find ourselves needing to laugh to mitigate the powerful emotions some dramas can evoke in us. Comedic lines that paint funny images can come at us from anywhere. The other night I was watching a show called "Justified" written by the great mystery writer Elmore Leonard. It's about a U.S. Marshall in Harlan County, Kentucky dealing with a unique collection of backwoods crooks and con men. It's usually a pretty violent show, but in this episode, one of the rednecks says to another: "You're so dumb you have to blow a whistle while you take a s**t so you know which end to wipe."

Now that's funny.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association 

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Man Who Saved the World

In the darkest days of WWII, when Hitler was steamrolling Europe and the appeasers in England like Nevile Chamberlain had their heads in the sand, one man spoke out against the German menace. Winston Churchill, whose career had its ups and downs, was just beginning to reestablish himself as a respected figure in British government. Though he knew his voice would be in the minority, Churchill warned that war was imminent if Hitler was not stopped. The British people and their government remembered the horrors of WWI and were not anxious to go to war again. We all know what happened; luckily, England realized its grave error and put Winston Churchill  in charge of winning the war. Never in history did one man, by the force of his will and the power of his words, do so much to save the world from disaster.

In the late 1930s, with Hitler gobbling up European countries like candy,  Churchill, along with Lord Beaverbrook, aggressively stepped up production of war materials including fighter planes and bombers. Knowing that Germany's Luftwaffe dominated the skies, this single strategic initiative allowed England to catch up and eventually overtake Germany's war production. Britain's Royal Air Force, suitably equipped and trained, was able to frustrate Hitler's and Air Marshall Goering's plan to destroy RAF bases , thus paving the way for a naval attack on England. In expressing his gratitude to these pilots, Churchill uttered one of the many memorable quotes that would be the hallmark of his career, and which would help boost morale in England and around the world: 'Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few'?

It would not be the last time Churchill used the power of words to rally the people. At a time when Germany was winning the war, confidence and optimism were in short supply in England. France had fallen and the British were staring down the barrel of the German war machine. Realizing how badly the people needed to believe that victory was possible, Churchill rallied them yet again with these words: "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

One of the great events that helped turn the tide against Germany was the ability of the Allies to decipher encoded German signals traffic by breaking the Enigma coding device, a machine like a typewriter, which encrypted secret messages. A coded message was sent from the German foreign minister to his ambassador in Mexico City informing him of plans to invade the United States. On being notified of these plans, officials in Washington were understandably perturbed, and hastened to effect the entry of the U.S. into the war, something that Churchill was trying hard to do. One of the many errors Hitler made was declaring war on the United States, an action that brought America's military might to bear against an already faltering Germany.

Another bad decision of Hitler's was taking on Russia. Early in the war, Russia and Germany were secret allies. While on the surface Stalin was trying to make an alliance with Britain and France he was in fact carrying on secret negotiations with the Nazis in order to obtain guarantees of Soviet safety from the Germans. On August 23, 1939 the world was shocked to learn that a German Soviet non-aggression pact had been signed. In effect, the pact meant that Germany was free and clear to invade Poland without fear of interference from the Soviet Union. When the British code breakers learned that Hitler was now planning to turn against his Russian ally, Churchill warned Stalin who didn't believe him, fearing a trick. When the Germans did invade Stalingrad, Russia became an ally of the West and helped to crush the German armies.

Did Winston Churchill save the world from Nazi domination? The answer is yes. At a time when the Nazi threat was not yet recognized for what it was, a man of courage was needed to stand up and tell the truth, thereby preserving the hopes of the civilized world; thankfully the good Lord sent us Winston. As relentless as he was in winning the war, he was magnaminous to his enemies in peacetime. Here is a final quote to commemorate the man who rallied not only England, but the world, at a time when things were looking so bleak: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'!”


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Random Thoughts

When I read about the things that evil people do to children, it makes me wonder why we ever eliminated the death penalty. There is no argument that will change my mind on this issue, not religion, not morality, not philosophy. Not only should these monsters be put to death, they should first be made to suffer the same pain they inflicted on their victims. If this makes me a monster, I guess I'll have to live with that.

The mayor of Hoboken does not want Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Jennifer "JWoww" Farley's "Jersey Shore" spinoff. In a  letter to 495 Productions, Mayor Dawn Zimmer has officially denied the request to let the spinoff take place in Hoboken. Good for you Mayor Zimmer, I would move to Hoboken just so I could vote for you. These brainless bimbos, whose only talent is the amount of silicone their bodies can tolerate, should be put to sleep.

The headline read: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on Wednesday that he's "not concerned about the very poor". This quote from Huff Post shows that yellow journalism is not dead. The article goes on to say that Romney said that there is already a safety net of programs in place to help the very poor, and that if needs to be improved, he will do that. His main concern is for middle class Americans who just keep getting handed the bills and for whom no safety net exists. Sadly, many people will only read the headline and form an opinion about Mr. Romney on that basis alone. Got to love that liberal media!

Demi Moore has had a rough few months. She lost her husband, then had a drug overdose which led her to back off from a movie role. She is just another sad example of how this country's youth culture destroys people who succumb to it. In many cultures, the elderly are revered; in the United States, they are too often ignored or discarded. Instead of chasing that elusive fountain of youth, we should embrace the gifts that come with age. PS. An added downside of Demi pulling out of that movie is that the part went to Sara Jessica Parker, someone with no discernible talent.

From Sara O'Leary in Huff Post: "Three years ago, Ms. Deen was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. For the next three years, she continued on her delicious, wildly unhealthy course without missing a single marketing beat. She evangelized her fat, fried and sugared recipes with the enthusiasm of a drug pusher, only to become one for drug company Novo Nordisk when there was money to be made." This pretty much speaks for itself, but let me add my two cents: Shame on you Paula.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association