Archive for September, 2010

Building Bridges vs. Burning Bridges

September 30, 2010

This a portion of the cover of today’s edition of our local newspaper, The Buffalo News.  I had hoped to capture the entire cover.  But, I couldn’t properly operate the scanner.  Technology 1, The Major 0.

We sometimes lovingly refer to this paper as “The Schnooze.”  Love it or hate it, it is our only local print daily.  Many small and mid-sized markets face the same dilemma nowadays.  Clearly, this is the subject for another day’s rant.

Today’s headlines featured two big stories: Continue reading

The Revolution WILL Be Televised (But You Can’t Turn It Off)

Do we have anything to learn from the events of 152 years ago?

1848 was called the ‘Spring of Nations’ or ‘Springtime of the Peoples.’  Popular uprisings took place in most of the countries of Western and Central Europe.  Some historians describe it as a “revolutionary wave.”  Alexis de Tocqueville, the famed French social chronicler, wrote: “society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror.” Continue reading

Grandparents’ Day

One of Island Boy’s Pre-K teachers told me that Grandparents’ Day is being celebrated in October this year.  I told her that IB would not have anyone attending.

My in-laws live downstate and don’t travel much anymore.  My parents are both deceased.

My parents were exceptional human beings.  I know that there is a tendency to exaggerate about how wonderful people were after they have died.  In this case, however, we do not exaggerate.

To capture the essence of my father we like to quote Jane Austen: “He was the kindest and best of men.” I don’t remember him ever saying an unkind word about anyone.  My father quickly, quietly and rightfully earned the respect of anyone who knew him.  For this reason, we gave Island Boy my father’s first name.

My father was one of the smartest people I have ever known.

Pop was a collector of decorative owls (the mascot of his alma mater, Rice University). IB has these owls displayed in his bedroom.

He was a rare person who never made anyone feel that they were less intelligent than he was.  I adored that about him.

If you didn’t know my father well, you may have thought him stern and reserved.  He was certainly reserved and always in control.  He rarely lost his temper.  In fact, I only remember him losing his temper with me once.  I absolutely deserved his anger as I was being incredibly disrespectful to my mother.

Stern?  He was when he needed to be.  He could stop me or my sister with “the look”.  We laugh now when we think about receiving “the look” as children.  We would be at a party and be totally enamored of the food.  Reaching for one too many treats and we’d be greeted with “the look”.  We would freeze, mid-grab, and slooooowly retreat away from the food.  I don’t think either of us found out what was on the other side of “the look”.  I am thankful for that.

On the other hand, when he was pleased with something you did, his smile made you feel like a million bucks.  I will never be able to accurately describe how his praise made me feel.

His sense of humor was brilliant.  He could tell a tale that would leave your sides aching.  In turn, he appreciated a good story.

My father’s professional life was in academics.  At his retirement, someone commented that no one ever ran meetings as successfully as my father did.  If he called a 45 minute meeting, he held a 45 minute meeting.  His meetings never went over their allotted time.  He listened carefully to people.  He moved them along without making them feel rushed.  Everyone left feeling they had accomplished something, went away knowing what needed to be done next or thinking about a some new aspect of an issue.

My dad played the guitar.  I won’t say he was gifted, whatever that means, however he worked diligently to learn to play the guitar.  When I was growing up, he played every day when he got home from work.   He enjoyed playing folk music, blues, some rock, country (from singer songwriters, not just “country music”) and bluegrass.  He had a great voice too.

My dad was handsome, distinguished and physically fit.  At his wake, his co-workers clambered to see photos of my dad in jeans.  “Dr. Marshall in jeans?”, the ladies squealed.  The Major has said he thinks about the way he dresses with my dad in mind, even for a simple trip to Target.  The physically fit part?  In his life, he played tennis, racket ball and worked out at the gym. Yes, my dad was a runner.

My dad and my mom were exceptional together.  No if, ands or buts about it.  I can honestly say that I never heard them argue once.  It was very special to see them steal a kiss, holding hands or come upon them dancing in the kitchen.  I don’t mean it was a rare event to see those displays of affection.  I just mean it was special.

My mother said the secret to their marriage was that they always considered the other person’s feelings first.  I have to work to remember that.

My mother was a people person.  She could talk to anyone.  She would talk to anyone.  She loved talking with anyone.

The Major liked to say that my mother brought the game “Six Degrees of Separation” to a new level.  She was always looking to bring people together in the world.  She was brilliant at it.

My mother was a middle school art teacher.  It takes a special kind of person to be a middle school teacher.  All of her students loved her.  She had a special affinity with the ESL kids.  Again, the Six Degrees of Separation.  She longed to learn about and connect with everyone.

My mom knew every person in her school.  Every faculty member, staff member, support staff and worker in the building.  She knew about their lives, their families and what was important to them.  She proudly introduced us to everyone in her building when we visited her.  Of course we heard about how special mom was.

My mother was thoughtful and kind.  She would go miles out of her way for someone.  She would pick up little things for people that reminded her of them.  In return, when I lived in Manhattan and even Queens, I was expected to travel up to Zabars to get several bottles of Olive Oil for her.

The bruises I would find from the bottles banging against my legs. Ouch!

Let me tell you, it was no picnic to carry those heavy bottles on the NJ Transit for her, along with whatever I was bringing home.  I would do it without complaint (don’t smart mouth me, Major, sir) because I knew she would do the same thing for me without hesitation.

My mother was a true gourmet cook.  She and some friends put together a monthly Gourmet Group together back in the early 70’s.  As a result, I grew up with an appreciation for good food.  Fresh baked bread was a staple in our house. To this day, I can’t seem to let go of her cookbooks.

Anytime I had a problem or a concern, I could always call on my parents.  Between the two of them, I would get phenomenal advice.  The clear cut, rational advice from my dad combined with the heartfelt, personal slant from my mom.

I miss my parents a great deal.  They had many health issues at the end of their lives.  They never complained.  They both died too young.  I do not dwell on those facts.  They had a life that most people only dream of.  They were the happiest and most positive people I have ever met.  I try to follow their example every day of my life.

I wish they had the opportunity to meet Island Boy.  They weren’t the type of grandparents who would have made a special trip for Grandparent’s Day.  In fact, my father would have rolled his eyes at the very notion of Grandparent’s Day.  They were, however, the type who would have been so much more to their newest grandson.  They were the type that their grandson could look up to and try to emulate.

I hope that Island Boy will learn many of the lessons that my parents taught me over the years.

–Running Girl

Cross Training Blues Be Gone!

There is nothing like a toddler to get a runner pumped up to get out of the house for some cross training.  You know how toddlers are.  Among other charming traits, those little people crave routine.  Toddler routines can be dreadfully dull for Mamas and Papas.

Play cars with Mama. Repeat ad nauseum.

Today The Major came home to find me on the floor with Island Boy playing the age old game of cars.  This involves racing the cars back and forth across the floor to each other.  IB likes to see the cars crash.  I like to try and shoot the cars up his pant legs.  I don’t tell him I’m doing that.  He’d go postal if he figured out my game.

The Major walks in and I greet him in his favorite manner:  a clipped hello and an eye roll.  He foolishly gently asked what was wrong.  I pointed out how I was clearly still in my work clothes.  Life is so unfair to a mom who works hard and only wants to get upstairs to check Facebook get changed and ready for a workout.

Eventually, we all made it upstairs, got changed and ate dinner.  The Major agreed to get Island Boy ready for bed.  As you may  remember, that’s usually my duty.  As a result of TM’s kind offer, I was able to skip off to the gym for 45 minutes of solitude.

I have grown to love getting out for “just” a walk.  Of course, it’s best to be out and about in the neighborhood.  Fresh air and all that.  However, tonight it was too dark by the time I could get away, so the gym was my best option.

Mama's current dream getaway

I have found that Cross Training days give me a chance to assess my aches and pains.  These days I’m feeling pretty darn good.  The day after a long run is an especially good day to get rid of that lactic concentration your muscles build up after many miles.

It’s always nice to get out of the house — for even part of an hour.  No cling-on begging for one more car race.  Man, those metal cars really smart as they ram into my ankle.  Ah, so that’s where the pain in my ankle came from!

"Domo is horrified by the injuries inflicted by the games of his childhood."

–Running Girl

My Soul Is Black…But in a Good Way

Who am I?  A white guy raised in a largely white suburb of Metro New York.  Although, there were black people around me all of my life, by and large I have spent most of my time around Caucasians.  Why is it then that I identify so strongly with people whose skin happens to be darker than my own?

I’m not one of those people who claim to take no note of skin color.  I think individuals who state this are disingenuous.  I certainly take account of the color of those around me.  However, I think that I have a natural bias toward the underdog.  In this context, I will go out of my way to welcome a person of color if they seem unfamiliar with their surroundings.

In the Army, I felt for the first time that I was in an environment in which skin color was not determinative of opportunity.  Every day there were examples all around me of exceptional individuals with pigment different than my own who had risen to high levels in the organization.  For some reason, I found this comforting.

Traveling to Haiti multiple times, I felt very comfortable.  In Port-au-Prince, I swam in a sea of dark skin.  Despite the misery and desperate conditions in that nation, I have never met a people more willing to smile and laugh.  Haiti’s joy is infectious.

For reasons that I cannot state, I have always had heroes with dark skin.  This wasn’t a conscious thing on my part.  As a matter of fact, I realized this only recently.  Some of my heroes:

Roy White — as a kid, my favorite ballplayer, year-in and year-out, was this New York Yankee center fielder.  Roy roamed the wide expanses of the Yankee Stadium (and for two years, Shea Stadium) outfield.  He ran like a gazelle; would routinely climb fences to catch balls; was the clutch hitter you wanted in a do-or-die situation; and was perhaps the smartest base runner I have ever seen.  I thought he would be a Yankee for my whole life.  Ever my sentimental favorite, I still miss Roy in the outfield at Yankee Stadium.

Ray Charles — my favorite singer of all time.  I believe he possessed a genius on par with Mozart.  In fact, I have been in arguments over this point at dinner parties.  Unlike Wolfgang, Ray Charles Robinson had neither a wealthy and powerful family nor formal musical training to rely upon.  Additionally, Mozart never had to face a restrictive society with ‘Jim Crow’ laws biased against him simply because of his skin color.  And, oh yeah, Mozart had sight.  I cried the day that Brother Ray died.

Duke Ellington — having just praised Ray, I don’t think it’s inconsistent to declare that Ellington is among the greatest American composers of all time.  His talent and versatility surpassed all boundaries.  He called his music “American Music” as opposed to simply jazz.  He composed for bands, orchestras, ballet, movie scores and adapted a John Steinbeck novel to music.  Edward Kennedy Ellington played for presidents, kings and other powerful people.  His music transcended race.  When he traveled in the South of the USA, he insulated himself from Jim Crow by sleeping and dining in his custom-made railroad car.  He lived on his own terms.  Two of my favorite expressions came from Duke: “A problem is a chance to do your best,” and “If it sounds good, it is good.”

Denzel Washington — Has there been a male actor with this much charisma since Cary Grant?  One of the most likable leading men in the history of cinema, Denzel goes beyond his good looks to solid acting chops.  He is just as comfortable playing the villain as the leading man.  And he is perhaps more convincing in the bad guy role, bringing an unexpected intensity to films such as Training Day and American Gangster.  One of my favorite Washington films is Crimson Tide, in which he played a Navy officer forced to defy the orders of his commanding officer in order to do the right thing, and possibly save the world from nuclear annihilation.   Most importantly, I was reminded of Denzel’s recent trip to Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio.  After touring the facility, Washington pulled out his checkbook and made a generous donation on the spot to assist soldiers and their families.  Finally, Denzel is a Fordham grad.

Colin Powell — born in Harlem, Powell is the epitome of the U.S. Army’s policy of giving soldiers as much responsibility as they can handle.  Rising to the Army’s highest rank, he then became Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving in that position during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.  During the first term of President George W. Bush, he became America’s first African American Secretary of State.  In my opinion, the low point of his career occurred when he attempted to justify faulty American intelligence before the UN’s Security Council prior to the Iraq War.  However, left the administration on his own terms in 2004.

Muhammed Ali — Ever “The Greatest” in my book, Ali was the most recognizable face on the planet for much of my childhood.  Principled and articulate, he dominated his sport in a manner far surpassing that of Tiger Woods in recent years.  The fact that the Champ lost fights and came back spoke more to his greatness than invincibility would have.  His great crimes before the American public were his religion and his stand against induction into the military.  He paid a great price for each of these.  I recently watched the film Facing Ali in which most of his former opponents were interviewed.  Not a one of them spoke against him personally.  George Foreman’s description of Ali’s restraint in the ring spoke volumes.  As the Champ can no longer speak for himself, his adversaries came to praise him.

Never in a million years did I ever envision myself as belonging to a bi-racial family.  An even more improbable set of circumstances has made me a father to a child of rich, dark brown skin.  In my eyes, Island Boy’s skin is the most beautiful I have ever seen.

But, when my son smiles at me, I see no skin color at all.  I see my child.— The Major

Bragging can be hazardous to your health

Here’s a word to the wise: It’s probably not a good idea to make snarky comments like, “Well, obviously you didn’t put Island Boy to bed right.  When I put him to bed, he stays bedded.”  Uh oh.  Didn’t think that one would come back to bite you in the nether regions, did you?

Like all parents, The Major and I have a division of labor when it comes to our duties.  One of mine is bedtime.  I love bedtime: reading stories, singing songs,  laying with Island Boy until I fall asleep for a few minutes.  On very rare occasions Sometimes, The Major will put Island to bed.  TM is not above taking full credit for our child’s blissful night sleep.

Last night I was presented with the golden opportunity of going to the gym for a little mini workout.  TM offered to do bedtime.  Off I went to the gym.  I returned home to a blissfully quiet house.

Around midnight, I was awakened to Island Boy’s quiet cries.  I got up and got him back to sleep with “yon ti dlo” (a little water).  At 12:30 am, the same thing occurred.

The Major’s words from the beginning of the post were ringing in my ears.  I thought, “Oh really, buddy?  How about next time YOU be the guy to stumble into the bathroom to look for a cup?  How about next time YOU leave our cozy bed to comfort the wee man?”  Famous last words indeed.

This morning as I was teasing The Major I found out that he got up at 4 am with Island Boy.  I’m guessing TM won’t be bragging about his bedtime magic anytime soon.

–Running Girl

Triple Plays: The Answers

I hope you enjoyed this quiz, which was originally posted on September 27, 2010.

Less Difficult

1.  Huey, Duey & Louie are the nephews of Donald Duck.  They first appeared in 1937.  They are the sons of Donald’s sister, Della Duck.  In current cartoons, they are often depicted with Scrooge McDuck, who is actually their great-uncle.

2. “Bewitched, bothered and bewildered” is the title of a song from the 1940 musical, Pal Joey by Rodgers and Hart.  It was popularized when recorded by Ella Fitzgerald.  It is now widely accepted as an American Standard tune.

3.  The Executive, Legislative and Judiciary are the three branches of the U.S. Federal Government.   The first three Articles of the U.S. Constitution prescribe the powers of each branch.

4. Santino (“Sonny”), Fredo and Michael are the three sons of Don Vito Corleone, characters in Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel, The Godfather.  Similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear (see below), Corleone is an aging, powerful leader who must decide how to divide his empire among his three sons.  Consistent with Italian patrilineal society, Corleone’s daughter, Connie, was not considered an heir.  Academy-award winning films based upon this novel were made in 1972 and 1974, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

5. Ford, General Motors (“GM”) and Chrysler are the three remaining major U.S. automobile manufacturers.  Collectively, they are often referred to as “The Big Three.”

6. ABC, NBC & CBS were the three major U.S. broadcast networks for many years.  Arguably, their power in terms of influence and market-share have diminished considerably with the arrival of many cable TV networks, including CNN.

7. Faith, hope & charity were three Christian martyred saints.  Their feast day is September 17.

8. David Crosby, Stephen Stills & Graham Nash make up a rock recording group known collectively as Crosby, Stills & Nash (or “CSN”).  They were occasionally joined by a fourth member, Neil Young.  Prior to CSN’s formation in 1968, its members played in various other bands, such as The Byrds and The Hollies.  CSN played at the Woodstock music festival in August 1969.  Their music is known for its flawless harmony layered over acoustic guitars.  However, electric guitars and other instruments have also contributed to the group’s sound.

9.  Win, place or show are the three wagers available in horse racing.

10. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are three characters from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Literary scholars have held Baum’s tale to be an allegory for turn of the 20th Century American politics (for example, the Yellow Brick Road represents the US’s reliance upon the gold standard).  The novel was adapted into a highly successful film in 1939.

More Difficult

1. Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance were a well-known double play combination for the Chicago Cubs.  They were a part of the Cubs’ World Series-winning teams in 1907 and 1908, as well as a pennant-winner in 1910.  Their names were immortalized in a poem by Franklin Pierce Adams called Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.

2. Patty, Maxine and LaVerne Andrews from Minnesota were a popular singing trio from the Swing and Big Band eras.  The Andrews Sisters’ style was characterized by close harmony.  Patty Andrews is still alive at 92.

3. The Yalta Conference took place in a Black Sea resort in Yalta in February 1945.  Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin convened representing the heads of the major Allied powers of World War II.  The leaders discussed an agenda for governing post-war Germany.

4. Stars Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi are titles of George Lucas films constituting Parts IV, V and VI respectively of his nine-part series, now collectively known as Star Wars.

5. The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes are the three races of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Most Difficult

Laurence Olivier as Lear

1. Regan, Goneril & Cordelia are King Lear‘s three daughters from Shakespeare’s tragic play of that name.  Written between 1603 and 1606, it tells the tale of Lear’s descent into madness after wrongfully distributing his estate after falling prey to flattery.

2. The Potsdam Conference took place in occupied Germany in July-August 1945.  Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Harry S. Truman represented Great Britain, the USSR and the USA respectively.  President Roosevelt had died suddenly in April 1945, and Truman ascended to the presidency.  The leaders met to discuss various issues, including the post-war order following Germany’s unconditional surrender.  Clement Attlee succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister midway through the conference.

3. Destiny’s Child was an American R&B group comprising lead singer, Beyonce Knowles, alongside Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.  The band achieved four US number-one singles before disbanding in 2006.

4. Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo & Billie Jo were the three daughters of Kate Bradley on the CBS sitcom, Petticoat Junction, which ran from 1963 to 1970.  Together, they ran the Shady Rest Hotel outside of the fictional town of Hooterville.

5. The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mouquetaires) was a novel by Alexandre Dumas, pere, serialized in March-July 1844.  It recounts the adventures of a young man named D’Artagnan and his three friends, Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Extra Hard Bonus Question

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt denounced the trio of “Martin, Barton and Fish,” three conservative Republican Congressmen who had harangued the president for years for failing to do enough to revive the economy.  They also criticized Roosevelt for his efforts to augment the Armed Forces in the years leading up to World War II.  In an October 28 campaign speech in Madison Square Garden, the president rattled off the names of Martin, Barton and Fish with such resonance that members of the audience took to repeating them in cadence.

— The Major