“Next Year in Jerusalem” – My Thoughts and Wishes for You on This Weekend

April 5, 2015

April 2, 2015

This holy season is a time of the year that the veil between the worlds – between the earthly lives that we are living now and the eternity that awaits us all – is at its thinnest point, as a dear friend once pointed out to me.

This evening, Christian peoples begin the Easter Triduum, the three-day observance that culminates in the Easter morn celebration of redemption and deliverance from sin and death. Tomorrow evening, Jewish folk begin Passover, their week of remembrance and thanks for divine deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

The Earthly Jerusalem, seen from the Mount of Olives. Redeemer's Gate, on the city wall that overlooks the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane, which is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, will remain sealed shut until Judgment Day.

The Earthly Jerusalem, seen from the Mount of Olives.
Redeemer’s Gate, on the city wall that overlooks the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane, which is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, will remain sealed shut until Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, all around us the earth is coming back to life in the glorious season of spring. I can’t help but think that even those who don’t profess or practice a religious faith share with those who do the same feelings of wonderment and appreciation of our here and now, as well as eager anticipation of the blooming, the ripening, and the harvest that are to come.

That same friend also remarked that our earthly life is but a moment of time that stands between two eternities.  How true. But before we exit our moment and pass through that veil and finally know what dreams may come, much remains for us all to do.

I especially love the way our Jewish friends conclude the Seder on the first night of Passover with the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem.” Those words reach forward to the coming of the Messiah and to complete spiritual redemption, which is represented by Jerusalem.

Rabbi David Hartman explains it inspiringly. Every year, he writes, Jews drink four cups of wine and then pour a fifth for Elijah, the prophet who would be sent before the coming and great day of the Lord.

“The cup is poured, but not yet drunk. Yet the cup of hope is poured every year. Passover is the night for reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become. That is the significance of ‘Le-shanah ha-ba-a b’Yerushalayim’ (Next year in Jerusalem).”

So let us take this special time to love and embrace and celebrate it all – our families, our friends near and far, our health, our work, our fair and blessed land that still flows with milk and honey.

Let us drink that cup of hope and dream those reckless dreams. Let us renew once again all that we are about, and envision all that we may yet become. Then, when we do take our leave, we’ll have done our parts to make the world a better place for those whose brief moments in time have not yet come.

Happy Easter. Chag Pesach Sameach. And to all, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Rest in Peace, Eddie LeBaron – One of My Earliest Football Heroes

April 5, 2015

Sad to hear of the passing of Eddie LeBaron, one of my earliest football heroes. He died last week in Stockton, CA at age 85.

Eddie played at College of the Pacific for Amos Alonzo Stagg. He graduated in 1950 but was drafted into the Marines. He fought in Korea and earned two Bronze Stars. Then he came back to football and played a total of 11 seasons in the NFL. He was a four-time Pro Bowler even though he stood only 5-7…a Doug Flutie type who, unlike Doug, got to show what he could do as an NFL quarterback.

I saw Eddie play on TV a few times during the final stages of his career when he was with the Dallas Cowboys. It was a big disappointment when the team went with a youth movement and made the wooden Don Meredith the first-string quarterback.

In 1962 I wrote a letter to Eddie and asked him how I could become a great passer like him. In January 1963 I got this autographed picture post card that read “Tommy: The most important thing in passing is practice and strength in the fingers and forearm.”

Thanks Eddie – for your kindness in getting back to me, but most especially for your service to our country. Rest in peace!

LeBaronpic and card

History I Never Knew – EEEWWW! The origin of vinaigrette, and the real lives of our stinky ancestors.

April 3, 2015

I usually order vinaigrette salad dressing when I go to a restaurant. I think I’ll go back to Greek, now that I know where the term “vinaigrette” came from.

Vinaigrette Box

Vinaigrette Box

Back in Victorian times – think the 75 years or so before the era of “Downton Abbey” – fashionable ladies carried their vinaigrette everywhere. Depicted here, the vinaigrette was a little perforated box filled with aromatic herbs and a vinegar-soaked sponge. It was handy for sniffing in times of “olfactory distress.” The ladies’ attendants also found the vinaigrette handy in reviving their mistress after she had swooned and fainted for one reason or another.

 
Apparently, there were plenty of occasions of olfactory distress back in those days. A great deal of the ladies’ fainting must have been caused by the relentless assaults of offensive aromas.

According to “The Royal Armpits” in the latest issue of Mental Floss magazine, our forerunners stank. To high heaven, they stank. The article’s subhead wryly points out,  “We should be thankful they don’t make history books scratch n’ sniff.”

 
So how bad was it? Hard to imagine, but it started ‘way back before the Victoria era. People in those days thought that baths caused disease by opening the pores and allowing diseases to invade the body – the exact opposite of what happens.

 

Elizabeth I - never had the luxury of Dove Body Wash.

Elizabeth I – never had the luxury of Dove Body Wash.

Queen Elizabeth I once stated that she “took a bath once a month, whether I need to or not.” Henry VIII had a foul-smelling, festering wound on his lower leg; you could get a whiff of it from three rooms away. The royal doctors made it worse by tying the wound open, thinking that the sore needed to run in order to heal. They even sprinkled gold pellets onto it, keeping it infected and putrefying.

 
Over in La Belle France, Louis XIV, “The Sun King,” had such bad breath that his mistress doused herself in perfume to ward off the stench. His predecessor, Louis XII, once declared, “I take after my father. I smell of armpits.”

 
Outside those royal rooms it was just as bad, if not worse. In cities, people would simply toss the products of their bathroom visits out into the street. In 1900, in New York, there were about 200,000 horses within the city. That means a daily output of five million pounds of poop, most of which was just swept to the curb.

Louis Quatorze - could have put Scope or Listerine to mighty good use.

Louis Quatorze – could have put Scope or Listerine to mighty good use.

 

Wealthy Londoners employed an army of “night soil men” to cart the stuff away. They disposed of it in dumps on the outskirts of the city. One such place – typical British humour – was named “Mount Pleasant.”

 
The invention of the flush toilet made it even worse. In the summer of 1858, so much human excrement clogged the Thames River that it became known as the year of the “Great Stink.”

 
There was also the smell of death. In London, butchers killed and disemboweled animals right in the streets. One greedy British pastor sold “burials” to his flock, but didn’t bury the bodies. He stashed 12,000 of them in the church cellar, and the fumes made churchgoers pass out.

 
Even in churches where the dead had been properly buried, the smell of the people was too much to take. Thomas Aquinas approved the use of incense because the faithful’s odors “can provoke disgust.” In Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the people who bought the tickets in the cheap seats were known as “penny stinkers.”

 
Yes, I am very glad that our history books are not scratch ‘n sniff. And I have a suggestion for historians.

 
Let’s revise, once again, those notations that describe calendar eras. “BC” is now “BCE,” and “AD” is now “CE.” I say that we do away with them.

 
The most accurate way to depict former times is to start back at the beginning. Make the year that Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden “Year One, B.O.”

“Next Year in Jerusalem” – My Thoughts and Wishes for You on This Weekend

April 2, 2015

April 2, 2015

(Slightly updated, originally posted in 2012)

This holy season is a time of the year that the veil between the worlds – between the earthly lives that we are living now and the eternity that awaits us all – is at its thinnest point, as a dear friend once pointed out to me.

This evening, Christian peoples begin the Easter Triduum, the three-day observance that culminates in the Easter morn celebration of redemption and deliverance from sin and death. Tomorrow evening, Jewish folk begin Passover, their week of remembrance and thanks for divine deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

The Earthly Jerusalem, seen from the Mount of Olives. Redeemer's Gate, on the city wall that overlooks the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane, which is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, will remain sealed shut until Judgment Day.

The Earthly Jerusalem, seen from the Mount of Olives.
Redeemer’s Gate, on the city wall that overlooks the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane, which is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, will remain sealed shut until Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, all around us the earth is coming back to life in the glorious season of spring. I can’t help but think that even those who don’t profess or practice a religious faith share with those who do the same feelings of wonderment and appreciation of our here and now, as well as eager anticipation of the blooming, the ripening, and the harvest that are to come.

That same friend also remarked that our earthly life is but a moment of time that stands between two eternities.  How true. But before we exit our moment and pass through that veil and finally know what dreams may come, much remains for us all to do.

I especially love the way our Jewish friends conclude the Seder on the first night of Passover with the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem.” Those words reach forward to the coming of the Messiah and to complete spiritual redemption, which is represented by Jerusalem.

Rabbi David Hartman explains it inspiringly. Every year, he writes, Jews drink four cups of wine and then pour a fifth for Elijah, the prophet who would be sent before the coming and great day of the Lord.

“The cup is poured, but not yet drunk. Yet the cup of hope is poured every year. Passover is the night for reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become. That is the significance of ‘Le-shanah ha-ba-a b’Yerushalayim’ (Next year in Jerusalem).”

So let us take this special time to love and embrace and celebrate it all – our families, our friends near and far, our health, our work, our fair and blessed land that still flows with milk and honey.

Let us drink that cup of hope and dream those reckless dreams. Let us renew once again all that we are about, and envision all that we may yet become. Then, when we do take our leave, we’ll have done our parts to make the world a better place for those whose brief moments in time have not yet come.

Happy Easter. Chag Pesach Sameach. And to all, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

The Power of a Curt Response

March 6, 2015

First, let me add my voice to the millions who’ve shouted “Bravo, Curt Schilling.

Future baseball Hall of Fame member Curt Schilling

Future baseball Hall of Fame member Curt Schilling

His smackdown of the tweeting cowards was long overdue…if not from him, then from SOMEBODY. And therein lies a lesson.

We need more Curt Schillings, people who don’t just sit there, but who fight back. Hard. He forced the dirtbags to face the music for their anonymous, bullying, perverted tweets aimed at his daughter. That’s what it’s going to take to win the “war” against bullying.

That’s also what it’s going to take if decency and civility are to overcome just about anything that is not right about the world we live in today.

Curt actually didn’t do the smacking down. He did the tracking down. Then he outed them – the ticket puncher and the “student.” It was a bold, righteous, action by one person who’d had more than enough, and who did something about it

Civilized American society took over from there and smacked ‘em. Ticket guy is fired, the other guy is suspended. One for the good guys.

In the aftermath, Schilling explained that he grew up in the raucous, off-color culture of the locker room. He knows salty language. He knows bravado. He knows macho. This, he said, was different.

On his blog, he wrote, “in the real world you are held accountable for the things you say.”

That’s true, but Schilling also grew up in sports. He was a big winner, and he knows what it takes to win. It takes exactly the same thing, whether it’s in the sports world or the real world. It requires that we all, in the immortal words of William Stephen Belichick, “Do Your Job.”

Pick your favorite team sport. Why does Team A defeat Team B? Was it because of the master game plan, the scouting charts, the coach’s pep talk? No. Team A won because more of their players won more of the hundreds – no, the thousands – of solo battles that add up to victory.

The defender dashes to the spot and gets his hands on the ball a fraction of a second before the receiver gets there. Malcolm Butler.

Dave Roberts makes it to second base just in time.

Dave Roberts makes it to second base just in time.

The runner sprints to the base and slides in head first, his hand touching the bag just before the shortstop’s glove touches the hand. Dave Roberts.

The pass catcher holds onto the ball that’s pinned to the crown of his helmet, and keeps the touchdown drive alive. David Tyree.

The backchecker who bulls his man off the puck and spoils the odd-man rush; the rebounder who leaps just a little higher than the other guy; that batter who fouls off ten pitches, then draws a walk.

Those are the battles that win sporting contests. There other arenas, other contests, in which we all should take our cue from Curt Schilling and fight back. Rules of conduct and stated principles are nice, just like scouting reports and game plans. Speeches and policies and pronouncements don’t hurt. But in the end, they don’t help much either. We have to go one-on-one with the enemy.

But be careful, lest the good society’s greatest enemy, political correctness, turn it into a case of “pick your poison.”

Was Curt Schilling’s outing of the bullies an assault on free speech and “fairness?” After all, doesn’t everyone have a right to speak his mind? That’s all that those young males were doing.

Amid the cheers of approval and the compliments, there were more than a few who said that Schilling had no business bragging on line about his daughter’s achievement, and that what happened to those poor lads was wrong. In other words, that Curt too was a bad guy and a bully himself.

So, in like manner, are you a racist if you criticize the policies and actions of an elected political leader whose skin color is different from yours?

Are you a sexist if you oppose the presidential ambitions of someone whose gender differs from yours?

Are you a homophobe if you believe that the hate campaign leading to the legal ruination of florist Barronelle Stutzman is a disgrace?

Are you an evil despoiler of the environment if you are skeptical of doctored data that purportedly shows that mankind is responsible for global warming? Or is it global cooling? Or is it climate change?

The answers are No, No, No, and No. But how many Americans who realize this would still speak their minds, would still battle back, as did Curt Schilling? Or, to ask the same question another way, how many Americans just don’t bother speaking up as he did because they don’t want to endure a barrage of ad hominem, politically correct opprobrium?

In the latter case, I daresay it’s too many. That’s why I say we need more Curt Schillings. We need more people to do their jobs. There’s still a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. And it’s not for Superman to fight. It’s for all of us. In the manner of Curt Schilling vs the tweeting bullies.

POSTSCRIPT

Just a little more on Curt and the Schillings:

1.) He’s not been afraid to speak his mind in the sporting arena either. If memory serves, he was one of the few players who said, in effect. “Good riddance” when the Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra in August 2004. Schilling ticked off a lot of fans and writers, but was absolutely right. Getting rid of Nomar was addition by subtraction. Remember what happened with the Red Sox in October 2004. No coincidence.

Curt and Shonda

Curt and Shonda

2.) I had the opportunity to meet and talk briefly with Shonda Schilling one day. It was at an event where she spoke about Curt’s and her book, “The Best Kind of Different.” The love and devotion that she – and undoubtedly he as well – have for kids with Asperger’s Syndrome and similar conditions were abundantly clear and obvious to me. This is not a celebrity couple espousing a cause du jour. Rather, they’re fully and sincerely committed to the cause of helping such children and their families.

3.) After he retired from baseball, Curt Schilling took a fling at private business. His 38 Studios failed, and failed spectacularly. Yes, he got help and breaks from the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But he also put up and lost a tremendous amount of his own capital. It was no Solyndra-type fraud on taxpayers by the politically connected. Curt Schilling was all-in for the venture, and he faced up to the consequences when it tanked.

It was once rumored that Curt Schilling was thinking about running for the United States Senate. I’m sorry that he didn’t. He would be a superb representative for the citizens of Massachusetts.

Beanpot Musings and Post-Mortems

February 24, 2015

Well, it was worth waiting for.

The 63rd annual Beanpot Hockey Tournament was the first ever in which both rounds underwent postponements for snow. After a two-week delay, the 2015 championship game took place on February 23. About halfway through the third period, after Northeastern had stormed back from a two-goal deficit to Boston University at 3-3, p.a. announcer John Dolan turned to me and said, “This is what it’s all about.”

And it was. The teams had been battling with reckless abandon for the entire contest, and somehow, coming down the home stretch, they dug deeper within themselves and called for more. The fans from Northeastern and Boston University were in full-throated roar, as they too had been all game long.

There’s a lot of good college hockey yet to be played at TD Garden this year – both the Hockey East championships and the Frozen Four – but I doubt they’ll come close to matching the atmosphere of Beanpot.

Nobody asked me, but here are some deep thoughts to rival those of Jack Handey.

beanpotBig Picture: I know that the result, a BU championship, is a familiar one. But the Beanpot is once again a four-team tournament. Three of the games this year went into overtime. In the one that didn’t, Northeastern scored with less than two minutes to play to defeat Boston College 3-2.

All four Beanpot teams are contenders for advance to the NCAA Tournament. They won’t all make it; only BU is certain to receive a bid. But they’re all good enough.

Northeastern’s Knocking: Yes, it’s 27 years and counting since the Huskies won a Beanpot. That was in 1988. It took them 29 years to win their first one, back in 1980. But during that initial span of 29 years, Northeastern made it past the first round to the championship game exactly three times. In olden times, they were the Beanpot doormat. Not any more.

Since 1999, NU has played in the championship game eight times, including five of the last seven years. They will be back in the winner’s circle again soon. Husky fans, don’t lose faith.

So will Harvard. The Crimson last won a Beanpot in 1993. That, also, is far too long a time. I thought that, going into this year’s tourney, Harvard was the best team. I’ve also told more than a few people that if Harvard gets another crack at BU in post-season, Harvard will win. Their go-ahead goal in the third period of this year’s first round, double-overtime loss to BU should not have been disallowed.

Harvard’s first line of Alex Kerfoot, Kyle Criscuolo, and Jimmy Vesey is as good as any in college hockey – including Jack Eichel’s line at BU. Harvard has skill and speed, and they like to hit. They’ve also gotten good goaltending from Steve Michalek. After losing the consolation game, 3-2 in overtime to BC, Harvard will likely have to win the ECAC playoff championship in order to make the NCAAs. They can do it.

Goalies: Michalek set a new Beanpot single-game record with 63 saves against BU. The old record of 52 was set by Jimmy Barton of BC in a 5-4 loss to BU in 1970. Michalek has the bigger number now, and hats off to him. But as far as I’m concerned, Barton’s performance, over 60 rather than 82+ minutes, is still the best ever.

BU outshot Harvard this year but did not outplay them by much at all. Harvard probably should have won in regulation but had that goal disallowed. But back in 1970, BU’s barrage against Barton and the Eagles was constant, overwhelming, and unrelenting.

The MVP: Matt Grzelcyk is Boston hockey’s feel-good story of the year. He’s the Townie kid whose father works on the Garden bull gang. He’s the kid who always dreamed of Beanpot heroics. His dream came true with two goals, including the overtime winner.

Everyone has been talking about the year Eichel has been having, and rightfully so. He’s several cuts above everyone else, even as a freshman. The only other freshman of comparable skill I’ve ever seen was Brian Leetch of Boston College back in 1987. Eichel does it all, and the pros are drooling, but I hope he sticks around for at least another year. Eichel and linemates notwithstanding, Boston University would not be where it is without Grzelcyk.

Matt is a defenseman, a member of the junior class. His team mates elected him captain to lead the turnaround after last year’s miserable performance. He had only played half the games last year before going down with a serious shoulder injury. But they elected him anyway.

I frequently hear sports fans and sports writers wax poetic about this coach or that coach. “He’ll get them up for the big game,” of “He won’t let them lose again,” and so on. That’s overstating things by quite a bit.

Success is all up to the players on the team, and especially to the upperclassmen who’ve been around for a while. The coach picks the players, sets the agenda, devises the strategy, teaches the game – but the players must take responsibility for their fate.

That’s what’s happened at BU. When the players came back to campus in the summer, they wore t-shirts with “Never Again” printed on the back. Grzelcyk, along with the team’s only seniors, Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann, have been leading the way. I suggest that they’re the ones who are primarily responsible for BU’s fast return to the Beanpot championship.

Boston College, whose run of consecutive Beanpot crowns ended this year at five, has enjoyed a huge run of success since they made it to the NCAA Final at the Garden in 1998. Coach Jerry York is another who picks his players carefully, makes sure they buy in fully to his way of doing things, and then puts the onus on them to perform.

For the past decade and a half, BC has had at least one high-scoring line, usually two, and sometimes even three. Not so this year. The Eagles have found goals very hard to come by. Every game is a nail-biter. But they’re still in second place in Hockey East with one weekend of play remaining.

This may have been the best-coached team of Jerry’s tenure. It also follows that it’s a well-captained team. Like BU, BC has a junior defenseman, Michael Matheson, as captain. There are also two senior forwards, Quinn Smith and Michael Sit, who are alternate captains. BC has built a solid winning record on a good defense corps, strong goaltending, and four lines of grinders and muckers.

Next Year: The first-round Beanpot pairings will be the same was this year’s championship round. Harvard and Boston College will play in the early game, and Northeastern will face BU in the nightcap.

Maybe in 2016 we’ll finally, at long last, see a Beanpot final of Harvard vs. Northeastern. For me, that’s a bucket-list item.

“Jews and Words” – Book Review and Reflection

February 18, 2015

Jews and WordsDid you ever wonder why the Jewish kids always did the best in high school? Did you also ever wonder how the Jewish people have not only survived but prospered and contributed untold good to humanity, despite centuries of prejudice, ostracism, and persecution?

I always wondered, and I think I know now, after reading “Jews and Words” by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salberger. It’s a tight little 204-page essay by two people who describe themselves as “secular Jewish Israelis.” At the outset, the authors declare who they are and whence they come:

“First, we don’t believe in God. Second, Hebrew is our mother tongue. Third, our Jewish identity is not faith-powered…There is not a religious bone in our bodies.

That’s pretty strong stuff to declare in a book that is, after all, about a people who are identified by their religion. I can’t imagine a Catholic author saying anything similar in a book about his confessional faith. But their ability to utter such words is, as it turns out, a logical conclusion to one of the big differences between Judaism and Catholicism – the infallible guy in Rome.

Near the end of the book, they write, “The Jews never had a pope…Because suppose we did have one, everyone would be slapping him (or her?) on the shoulder, saying that their grandfather knew his grandmother in Plonsk or Casablanca. Two degrees of separation at most. Familiarity, intimacy, contrariness – this is the stuff our communities are made of…Someone will always dissent. Our smoke will never be white. So much for a Jewish Pontiff.”

They earlier stated, “There is a Jewish theology of chutzpah. It resides in the subtle juncture of faith, argumentativeness, and self-targeting humor. It amounts to a uniquely irreverent reverence. Nothing is too holy to deserve the occasional send-off. You can laugh at the rabbi, at Moses, and the angels, and at the Almighty too.”

No, that’s not the way it was for someone who grew up Catholic. But maybe this Jewish approach to things is one of the reasons that I enjoyed being the only goy in attendance at monthly business networking meetings at a temple a few communities distant.

There’s another thing about the Jewish people that this book confirmed for me. I think I had it essentially right, but the book explains why. Before reading it, I had come to believe that one of the greatest sources of Jews’ strength and resiliency was that they remember who they are. I believed that their rituals, their traditions, their religious learning all undergird their collective identity.

The authors seem to agree, They write “Almost all societies have cherished the imperative of intergenerational storytelling. Almost all cultures have glorified the passing of the torch from old to young…But there is a Jewish twist to this universal imperative. …No ancient civilization…can offer a parallel comparable with Judaism’s insistence upon teaching the young and inculcating in them the traditions and customs of their people….Where other cultures left boys in their mothers’ care until they were old enough to pull a plough or wave a sword, Jews started acculturating their youngsters to the ancient narrative as soon as the tots could understand words, at two years old, and read them, often at the ripe age of three. Schooling, in short, began soon after weaning.”

The vessels for all that learning were the written texts. When the Jews went into the Babylonian captivity – and even before that – families understood that they must “act as relays of national memory embedded in written texts.”

So there it is – early literacy and facility with storytelling that gave the Jewish kids a big leg up on their contemporaries once the secular schooling began. No wonder they had some many honor students. And there too is the collective memory of who we are and how we got here. No wonder that the Jewish community has staying power.

That collective memory, those cultural touchstones and common points of reference, it seems to me, are fading away in modern America. It seems like there’s a lot of insubstantial fluff being taught today, mere stuff and nonsense. The Common Core, anyone?

We need a real common core, a cultural canon that every American must experience. A return to close familiarity with the Bible and all it offers would be a giant step back towards the right path.

And spare me, please, the knee-jerk, selective quoting of Tom Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists on the “wall of separation between church and state.” If you insist that the old plantation owner and slave driver’s private writings be the supreme law of the land, then bring in what he had to say about black people in “Notes on the State of Virginia.” You might have second thoughts.

But back to Amos and Fania’s thoughts on the matter. They point out that there are “more Bible-wise atheists in Israel than anywhere else.” And that, too, is an advantage.

They go on to say “Most Western nonbelievers today have not crossed paths with the Bible as a literary text. Unlike Homer, it is not widely taught in schools. Like Twitter, it is handed down in byte-sized chunks…The paradox is clear to an Israeli eye. Today, in many secular societies, religion itself obscures this exquisite work of art from view. The Constitution of the United States helps bar it from public schools, because it is mistaken for a (wholly, solely) religious text. This is a sad cultural loss.”

Can’t agree more with that one.

I’m glad I got this book. It also has a lot of things I never knew about the women of the Bible, about the resurrection of the Hebrew language, and about the delicious brand of humor that is distinctively Jewish.

If you like to read, if you love history, if you want to know why things are as they are, and if you enjoy learning “the rest of the story,” I think you’ll like it too.

Calling Wayne Turner!

February 5, 2015

Wayne Turner holding the coveted Pot in 1980. Is there any wonder that NU hockey fans refer to the man from Kitimat, British Columbia as "Beanpot?"

Wayne Turner holding the coveted Pot in 1980. Is there any wonder that NU hockey fans refer to the man from Kitimat, British Columbia as “Beanpot?”

Where have you gone, Wayne Turner? Husky Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

In Boston, it’s starting to feel like 1978 with all this snow on the ground and predictions of more.

On Causeway Street, though, I hope we time-travel back to 1980. We need this generation’s Wayne Turner to come through with the game-winning goal and to bring the Beanpot back to Northeastern.

After that, we need 2016-2018 to reprise 1981-1983. In those three years, BU, BC, and Harvard all won a Beanpot championship. We need this February festival to be a true, four-team event in which every squad has a strong chance to emerge the winner. The years from 1980 to 1983 were the only four-season span in which every team took the title once. I think that such balance is coming back. Let’s hope that it does.

It’s hard to believe that the Huntington Hounds haven’t been Beanpot champions since 1988. They have come up empty in their last 26 tries.

When Turner scored that magical overtime goal to beat BC 5-4 back in 1980, it gave Northeastern its first Beanpot crown ever. That took 29 years to accomplish. We had waited too long back then, and we’ve waited too long now.

It’s just as bad over at Harvard, if not worse. The Crimson have not been Beanpot champs since 1993. Moreover, Harvard has made it to the final round just once since the year 2000.

On Monday night, Northeastern will be making its seventh appearance of the current millennium in the Beanpot title game. This is the fifth time in the last seven years NU has gotten that far. By contrast, before NU won the 1980 championship on its 29th try, it had made it to the final round exactly twice.

There has never been a championship final game pitting the Huskies against Harvard. We almost got to see one this season. Boston University spoiled that possibility when they beat the Crimson 4-3 in double overtime in round one. Harvard’s Steve Michalek’s incredible 63-save goaltending show went for naught.

Northeastern got a goal from defenseman Dustin Darou and beat Boston College 3-2 in the second game of this year’s first round. It came with less than two minutes to play and just before midnight. Maybe Darou is the Huskies’ Malcolm Butler. Dustin had scored only one other goal in his college career up until that point.

That set up this year’s final, with the 11-11-4 Huskies taking on the 17-4-4 Terriers. NU’s win over BC was not a giant upset. The Eagles were favored, but only slightly. Northeastern’s record is deceiving. They started off 0-8-1, so since mid-November their record is 11-3-3. And it’s been against some pretty tough foes.

It’s unfortunate that the postponement for snow, followed by those horrendous snarls on the roadways and on public transit systems, kept the first-night crowd at the Garden well under capacity. The whole evening was college athletics at its best.

Every year we say that the teams are evenly matched and that any one of them could win. But it was true this year. Both Harvard and Boston College played terrific games, even in defeat. The Garden fans, all of them knowing that their respective teams had a real chance to win, were loud and spirited.

Even the national anthem singers, Taylor Carol of Harvard and Grace Greene of Boston College, delivered boffo performances. Grace’s sons Matt and Justin played hockey for BC a few years ago. Her “Land of the Free” flew higher than the Garden rafters, much to the delight of the cheering fans.

If you were there, I’m sure you agree that it was a wonderful night of sport. If you weren’t, you missed something special.

Next year the first-round pairings are the same as this year’s second night: BC-Harvard in the opener and BU-Northeastern in the nightcap. So maybe in 2016 we’ll see that long-awaited championship matchup between the Huskies and the Crimson.

Harvard needs a Beanpot win. They’re vastly improved, and they’ll have most of their stars back again next year. So there’s reason to be optimistic.

But Northeastern has been knocking on the Beanpot door incessantly. They’ve won it only four times. They’re way overdue. It’s time for them to win again.

Bette Midler and Tom Brady

January 27, 2015

Bette and Tom: Two Consummate Professionals

Bette and Tom: Two Consummate Professionals

I love Bette Midler – her acting, her singing, her delightedly devilish approach to life.

I love Tom Brady – his passing, his play calling, his fiendishly aggressive approach to football.

I appreciate what they do, and I’ll pay to see them do it. I don’t know either of them personally, and I don’t particularly care to. That might dim their halos, extinguish their auras. I’ll watch them – from a distance.

Well, okay, I admit. I would love to take Bette Midler to lunch at Rossetti’s, and then to walk for a while along Winthrop Beach with her. “Beaches” was a wonderful movie with great songs, particularly “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I’d like to know if Bette, in person, is really the way she was portrayed in that movie. I’d risk dimming her halo to find out. But I digress.

Bette’s song “From a Distance” is one of my favorites. It came on while I was driving the other day, and I started humming along with her. Just before that, I’d heard yet another breathless, indignant-sounding dispatch on what’s become known as “deflategate.” Enough, already!

The song and the “scandal” are more closely related than one might think.

If anyone feels even a touch of disappointment at the mere possibility that Tom Brady might have been behind the needless altering of pigskin air pressures, here’s why. We’re no longer viewing his football heroics from a distance. Instead, we’re seeing – or we might be seeing, though I personally doubt it – one gritty little detail about what it takes to win at big-time professional sports. We don’t like it at all.

We are witnessing a reality show. We want fantasy fiction.

We want to watch the unerring spiral passes, the leaping balletic catches, the split-second artful deflections, the bursts of pure sprinter-speed, the mighty tests of strength. They’re beautiful manifestations of skill in Tom’s game, and they’re real. Just like the majestic eagle of whom Bette sings.

We don’t want to see the thumbs in the eyes, the ankle twists beneath the pileups, the forearm shots, the cleated stomps on unprotected joints. They’re ugly manifestations of brutality in Tom’s game, and they’re real too. Just the agonized last minutes of life of the fish, seized from the river by that eagle, run through by saberlike talons and pecked to death in the aerie.

Those things are obscene, in the original sense of the word. They have to take place away from the stage, as when Macduff and Macbeth exit, dueling, and Macduff returns with Macbeth’s severed head. We know that the killing and beheading happen, but we must be spared the discomfort of watching.

There’s something else about those unsavory tactics in pro football. Every player who’s good enough to make it to that level expects them. Dirty play is a reality that not everybody practices. But they all accept it and deal with it. We shouldn’t cheer it or like it. But we shouldn’t be shocked – shocked – that it takes place.

This is not to say we ought not to be angry and disgusted with some parts of the game. We should even hate some things about it.

I hate the Oakland Raiders. I was in Foxboro in 1978, watching from the press box when Jack Tatum paralyzed Darryl Stingley with a vicious, open-field hit.

I hate West Virginia University. I was at Boston College in 1974, watching from the press box when a hoodlum defensive player deliberately injured BC star Mike Esposito. The guy jumped onto Mike’s shoulder and upper arm, after a tackle and out of bounds.

West Virginia – different coach, same dirty tactics – did it to BC again in 1983. This time it was to Troy Stradford. They threw him to the ground and piled on his arm after a kickoff return.

All of those cretinous thugs should have been banned from the game. I will always root against the teams that spawned them. I don’t care how long ago it was. I don’t care if they recruit rosters full of altar boys. I hope that they always lose – badly.

That is the serious stuff. Deflategate is not. And it probably never happened anyway. How silly and risky would it be for Tom Brady to order an assistant ball boy to suck more air out of the footballs after they’d passed inspection?

Even if deflategate did happen that way, it’s nowhere near the realm of the aforementioned unsavory football tactics. Rather, it would be an example of going a hair’s breadth too far with something that every successful team does: find ways to gain that little edge, that slight advantage that can befuddle opponents and lead to victory. Sometimes they’re within the boundaries of the rules, sometimes they’re not.

We’d rather watch from our distance and not hear about this stuff either. But our beloved Celtics coach Red Auerbach was famous for it. So too was 1980 Olympic hockey coach Herbie Brooks, when he coached at the University of Minnesota. Tarnished halos, anyone?

The world will never be as Bette Midler sings: “no one is in need…no guns, no bombs, and no disease, and no hungry mouths to feed.” But that doesn’t mean we should not love our own corners of the world and do our best to make those corners better.

Professional sport will never be as we long for it to be: contests in which every participant plays fairly, honestly, and in rigid adherence to both the letter and the spirit of the rules. But that doesn’t mean we should not watch them, root for our favorites, and admire the talent and hard work of the athletes.

Let’s not spoil it for ourselves. Let’s put an end to obsession about manufactured ills like deflategate.

And as Forrest Gump would tell you, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Today’s Cultural History I Never Knew: The Jaywalker, and the Power of Public Relations

December 29, 2014

Cartoon by veteran Canadian political cartoonist Steve Nease

Cartoon by veteran Canadian political cartoonist Steve Nease

Up until about a century ago, the thoroughfares of America belonged to pedestrians. Like the spectator benches in “Casey at the Bat,” the streets were black with people – women, men, children at play – along with the occasional horse-drawn wagon.

Then came the motorcar; specifically, the affordable motorcar. Henry Ford’s Model-T, introduced in 1908, made the horseless carriage cheap enough for middle-class families.

Ford’s popular new machines were not only affordable. They were lethal. Capable of speeds up to 45 miles per hour, they could maim or kill any person or animal that happened to get in the way. And kill they did, especially in cities, as drivers moved down pedestrians “in the homicidal orgy of the motorcar,” as a New York Times article put it.

In 1922, 10,000 children marched through the streets of New York during a “safety week;” that demonstration included a separate group of 1,054 kids who represented the youngsters who were killed my cars during the previous year.

By 1925, according to the December 2014 Smithsonian magazine, auto accidents accounted for two-thirds of all deaths in cities with populations of more than 25,000. Children were especially vulnerable; a third of all traffic deaths in 1925 were children, and half of them were killed on the streets of their own home blocks.

The automotive industry had become the new evil empire. Sales of cars, which had been growing steadily for several years, slumped 12% between 1923 and 1924. Anti-car legislation, including some laws mandating speed governors, was discussed and promoted.

The carmakers and drivers fought back. Their mission: to make the streets exclusive territories for motorized vehicles, not for people. Their leader: Charles Hayes, president of the Chicago Motor Club. Their method: a public relations campaign to change the subject and blame the victim. Their weapon: the jaywalker.

“Jay” was another term for a rube, a clueless hayseed, a country bumpkin. If you were a jay, you were the opposite of cool, hip, and “with it.” If you walked like a jay, out there in the streets where the motorcars belonged, you could get killed. And it would be your fault.

The carmakers succeed brilliantly. It was a blitzkrieg, a “lightning war” that ended in total victory.

They employed Boy Scouts to hand out cards that warned pedestrians to cross streets only at certain corners. At a New York safety event, they had a guy who was dressed like a rural rube get jokingly rear-ended again and again by a Model-T. In a Detroit parade, they entered a float with a huge tombstone that read “Erected to the memory of Mr. J. Walker: He stepped from the curb without looking.”

The compliant press – newspapers and magazines – was totally in the tank for the automakers. How could they not be, with hundreds of millions in advertising revenue at stake? The Providence Journal, for one, reprinted an article titled “The Jaywalker Problem.” The piece had originally appeared in Motor magazine. The accompanying Steve Nease cartoon might be from just a few years ago, but it typifies the media’s newly evolved frame of mind in the 1920s.

In a few years, it was all over. But as early as 1924, the word “jaywalker” appeared in a dictionary. The definition: “One who crosses the street without observing the traffic regulations for pedestrians.” America’s love affair with the automobile resumed, and it has never cooled off again.

So, don’t jaywalk. And don’t take on people who have bottomless bank accounts and willing allies in the media.

One more thing. Think about how the tactics of the Chicago Motor Club and its fellow travelers are still in use. They’re not so much public relations as they are out-and-out propaganda. Can you think of any examples in the public realm today where a particular interest group attempts to brand those who oppose it as the “jays” of this era? As uncouth, uncool, unsophisticated bumpkins? I can.

How do they do it? Oh, promoting their agenda by changing the subject of discussion, by distorting and obscuring the facts, by blaring deceptive one-liners and slogans, and by demeaning the character and motives of those with whom they disagree? Sound familiar? It should. And, unfortunately, it’s effective.

“Plus ca change,” as the French say.

Look both ways. That’s today’s history lesson, and that’s the rest of the story.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.