Saturday, February 25, 2017

Welcome Back, My Friends... the show that never ends.  

Once upon a Friday in America, submitted for your approval in support of the proposition that truth is indeed stranger than fiction...

If nothing else, William Renfro demonstrated that he is an online seller whose customers can trust his representation that the product he claims to have available for purchase is - in fact - the product he has available for purchase.  Only an honest man advertises the heroin he has available for purchase on Craigslist.  A smart man knows enough to find another means of distribution.  

Meanwhile at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), which wraps up today at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland (admit it - you chuckled a little bit upon reading the locale at which this particular hootenanny is taking place), Jason Charter and Ryan Clayton proved that if you provide sheep with a bright, shiny thing with which to play, they will play with it without reservation.  Happiness is 1,000 people waving little pro-Trump flags designed to look like the Russian flag as their hero took the stage at CPAC on Friday morning. 

Last, but most certainly not least, shortly after the President told the CPAC attendees (the ones waving their "From Russia With Love" pro-Trump flags and the ones in the hall going apoplectic attempting to take those flags away) that on his watch the United States would be the nation with whom no other nation or terrorist group would dare fuck...

...the ever-articulate Sean Spicer created an important exception to the Trump Doctrine, which apparently is that if you have a pen, a pad, a brain, and a point of view that is viewed as unfavorable to the White House, you shall not always be permitted to play in Mr. Spicer's sandbox. A position so patently absurd that Bret Baier of Fox News called "bullshit" on it, as Mr. Baier pointed out CNN and the New York Times had done on behalf of Fox News when the Obama Administration pulled the same crap.  

The late, great H.L. Mencken once rather famously observed, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."  I suspect that somewhere he is laughing good and hard. 

Better hold your baby's hand tight once you take your seat...

...this one is a dark ride. 


Friday, February 24, 2017

Meanwhile, in the Constellation Aquarius

I joke that I became a lawyer in part to run away from hard science and math.  Actually, I became a Republican to run away from hard science.  While my day-to-day is spent in the realm of words and language, I am unabashedly a geek about all things NASA.  It blows my mind, now, that two-plus generations ago, men and women looked up at the stars and the moon and thought, "I bet I can figure out how to build a rocket to transport a person up there." Me?  I would have been the idiot in the corner looking at the moon and thinking, "What kind of cheese?"

I spent a few minutes yesterday morning watching NASA's live feed of two astronauts aboard the International Space Station using the ISS's grappling arm to "capture" the Space-X Dragon craft, which accomplishment led to me clapping and cheering - while seated at the desk in my office. Had anyone else been in the building, it might have been quite embarrassing...although I did feel better when NASA's feed switched over to Space-X Mission Control in California where - at 2:45 AM Pacific Time - people were applauding their success and giving one another the obligatory high-five.  For those who have not performed it - the one-person high-five is (in my experience) rather unsatisfying.

NASA is having a pretty good week, I would say.  On Wednesday, they announced that their Spitzer Space Telescope had revealed the first known system of seven planets (Earth-size) orbiting around a single star.  How cool is that? (Hint:  There is only one correct answer to that question and it sounds quite a lot like "Incredibly F*cking Cool!")  If you are a science idiot as I am, then you might find this explanation of what the Spitzer Space Telescope discovered to be helpful to your understanding. I know that I did.   

Truth be told, the magnitude of what this discovery means is so far beyond my ability to comprehend that I shall never completely understand it.  I am likely to never grasp anything beyond little snippets of it.  And that is fine.  I understand enough to appreciate the wonder of it all...

...and to keep the little boy alive inside of me.  And in times like these, that is something worthy of appreciation. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

An Evening at an Old Haunt

My Wednesday lasted several hours longer than it usually does - and for an excellent reason.  I spent last evening at Seton Hall University School of Law, where I served as one of the judges for the 2017 Eugene Gressman Appellate Advocacy Moot Court Competition.  This marked the second consecutive year that I have been lucky enough to participate as a judge in the competition.  I hope that - whether next year or at a later date - I am afforded a third opportunity. 

Apropos of nothing other than scheduling, the arguments that we the judges listened to last night were in the "Sweet 16" of this year's competition, as opposed to last year when I was a judge in an earlier round.  I was impressed again this year - as I was last year - by the preparation of the soon-to-be lawyers and, more than anything else, by their advocacy.  Once again this year, the 3-L student who wrote the "problem" that was the basis of the oral argument did an excellent job.  She not only provided the competitors with substance - regardless of which side of the argument he or she was one - but she provided the judges with quite a lot of issues to consider and with a lot of bases for questions.  

As a Moot Court judge, I tend to ask a fair number of questions.  While that is undoubtedly a by-product of having spent close to twenty-five years on the receiving end of questions, whether arguing a motion before a Law Division judge or an appeal in front of an appellate panel, it is also intended to get the young man or woman who is standing up in front of a panel of strangers a bit more comfortable with the task at hand.  

In my experience, it can be a bit unsettling to argue one's point passionately and articulately only to have the audience to which you are presenting your case stare back at you without comment.  I have always made it my goal - in every competition in which I have served as a judge - to try and help the competitors by creating an atmosphere in which they know that the judge who is speaking to them is engaged in the process - as are the competitors themselves. 

My hope this year, as it was last year and as it has been in every competition in which I have served as a judge, is that I held up my end.  The student competitors did not disappoint.  Regardless of how comfortable (or not) any one of them is on his/her feet, or how satisfied (or not) any one of them is with the result, they never do. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Month-Long Vacation in the Stratosphere

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm...
- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

This weekend felt nothing like "mid-February" at the Shore.  The annual Manasquan First Aid Squad Mid-Winter Beach Run was well-attended - as it always seems to be.  This year, unlike some years, the dress code was short-sleeved t-shirts and shorts.  Gun time was 11:00 am, at which time it was approximately sixty degrees.  Happiness is a February race that is run, in New Jersey, under sun-soaked, sixty-degree skies.  

Sunday morning I finally completed my first good training run of my training program for the 2017 United Airlines NYC Half-Marathon, which is Sunday, March 19, 2017.  While I would be happier to report that news were I not five weeks deep into the training program, I cannot undo what has been done.  Hopefully the genuinely good effort that I gave over 7.5 quick (for me, anyway) miles on Sunday will carry over and will stay with me going forward through the slightly more than three weeks that separate me from race day.  

There are a hell of a lot worse ways to spend a February Sunday morning than how I spent mine...

17th Avenue Beach - Belmar

Looking north from Shark River Inlet

Belmar Fishing Club from Shark River Inlet

North towards Asbury Park from Avon Pavilion

I had one hell of an enjoyable day.  Not as enjoyable as the one that young Nathan Testa spent recently... 

...but then again, I can neither sing nor play the guitar. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ode to the Hater, Two Years Later

In the two years since I wrote this, nothing has occurred to cause me to rethink my preference for quadrupeds over bipeds.  In fact, most of what has occurred in the interim has simply ratified the correctness of my position...

...although I am pleased to report that in the two years since his other half died, Dempsey has continued to thrive.  Rosie has also.  Occasionally, when the weather permits it, Dempsey will spend his day lounging in the back yard.  Invariably, he spends a bit of time napping in or near the spot where Boo is buried - as if he is checking in with her to ensure her that he is OK but also letting her know that he has not forgotten her.  


Little Creature. Big Hole.

A bit of sad business crept inside the four walls of our little home yesterday.  One of our two cats, Boo, died.  As far as Margaret and I were able to tell, the little monster we affectionately referred to as "Six Pounds of Hate" because her beautifully-expressive face always made her appear as if she was mad as hell, simply had a heart attack or some such event.  

She was alive and well when Margaret and I went to bed Thursday night at a bit after 10:00 PM - and was in fact in her customary place flopping all over Rosie in Rosie's bed on the floor immediately adjacent to my side of the bed. However, when I walked through the hallway on my way to take a shower at 3:30 AM yesterday morning, I saw her motionless on the floor.  She was gone. 

Boo is/was one half of a great story.  She and her brother, Dempsey, were introduced into our home as newborn kittens, having been found in a box on the side of a road by Margaret's former husband, Bob, as he was on his way to perform electrical work at a customer's home.  Boo and Dempsey were so tiny that their eyes were barely open.  They knew not how to do anything for themselves and they had been taken from their mother at such an early age that she had not yet had the opportunity to teach them what they needed to know.  It fell therefore to Margaret and to Rob to take care of them.  And take care of them they did.  For the first several weeks of their lives, Margaret and Rob fed them them and, essentially, mothered them.  That was October, 2001. 

Over the course of the past thirteen and one-half years, Boo became what pets become, which was an integral part of the fabric of our life.  Her brother, Dempsey, is the single-most, un-catlike cat I have ever encountered in that he is incredibly people-friendly and at times almost desperate in his need for affection.  Boo?  She spent her life interacting with us humans who shared space with her on her terms.  Her physical frame was small - Dempsey is close to twice her size - but her spirit was big. 

I far prefer the company of animals to the company of human beings.  Nary a day goes by during which - on at least one occasion - I do not have to suppress my "I Want to Punch That M*ther F*cker in the Larynx" reflex while interacting with other humans.  I have never had to do so  - not once - with any of the animals with whom I have been fortunate enough to share space.  

I know not what will happen to Dempsey now - although I am worried about him.  He and his sister spent the past thirteen and one-half years essentially intertwined.  Now, she is gone.  I know not whether his little feline brain can actually process "loss" and whether he understands to any degree whatsoever what has happened.  

I worry about Rosie too.  She has lived in the company of cats her entire life.  This photograph from May 2008, when Rosie was less than one year old, features Boo, Dempsey and Rosie as they often are/were:  together.  It is among my favorites - admittedly in large part due to the fact that each one's eyes are drawn to something completely different.

Boo kept those of us of the bi-ped persuasion at arm's length.  Yet, she had a soft spot in her little heart for Rosie.  They slept together at night and Boo made sure to spend a portion of her day, every day, nuzzling with her hairy, canine half-sister.  On one particular occasion, she allowed Rosie to return the favor of using her as a pillow.


The great, sagacious Dr. Seuss instructed us, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  It certainly did.

Every day for the past thirteen and one-half years.    


Monday, February 20, 2017

He's The One We All Say Hail To...

I wrote this five years ago.  Perhaps this time next year, this day might have a different name.  If you have the day off - enjoy it...


The Ascendancy of Mercury

Happy President's Day! Once upon a time in America we honored individually the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The duo are two of the most important men this nation has ever known. The former was the leader of the Continental Army in the War of Independence and is commonly referred to as "the Father of His Country". The latter an Illinois railsplitter who did nothing less than (a) save the Union; and (b) emancipate the slaves....and did so in what amounted to slightly more than a single term in office. 

However, in 21st Century America the concept of the National Holiday and the concept of the "participation medal" (a/k/a the "Thank you for playing our game" award) have run headlong into one another. Thus, instead of recognizing Washington's birthday and/or Lincoln's birthday, we have created one catch-all day. Presumably it honors not only those two men and the others whose time in office was viewed as positive but also those lesser lights who either harbored the delusion that they were bigger than the office (I am talking to you Mr. Harding....and most especially you Milhous) or who proved to be completely overmatched by the gig upon winning it (Yes Mr. Hoover I am referring now to you....and feel free to tap Mr. Carter on the shoulder for I am most assuredly speaking of him also). 

Truth be told, if you are enjoying a day off from either work or school today because this is the day marked on the calendar to acknowledge the generally nondescript Presidencies of gentlemen such as Van Buren, Tyler, Grant, Harrison (either one), McKinley or Fillmore - the last one of whom the official White House web site's biographical information begins with this paragraph, "In his rise from a log cabin to wealth and the White House, Millard Fillmore demonstrated that through methodical industry and some competence an uninspiring man could make the American dream come true", you care not at all about the dumbing down of this holiday. Too bad Fillmore held the office several generations before Henry Ford invented the Model T. That description would have made one hell of a bumper sticker. I know, I know. You have the day off. Got it. 

He was never an American President but John Glenn has long been an American hero. Glenn served the people of Ohio for a quarter-century in the United States Senate. Long before he first sought election to public office, Glenn earned his living in the most rarified of air. 

Fifty years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. On February 20, 1962 Glenn - in his capsule named Friendship 7 orbited the Earth three times during a five-hour flight. By the end of the decade Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would walk on the Moon. Steps that likely would not have been possible had earlier legs of the journey - such as Glenn's - not been successful. 

John Glenn is 92 years old now. This weekend he and his wife Annie - to whom he has been married for sixty-eight years - were in Florida as NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of his flight with a reunion of its Mercury team. Glenn is one of the last two surviving Mercury astronauts. He was joined in Florida by the other, Scott Carpenter (that would be the University of Colorado's own Scott Carpenter). In saluting his long-time friend and former fellow astronaut and all of the other members of the Mercury program who were together again Carpenter remarked, "John, thank you for your heroic effort and all of you for your heroic effort. But we stand here waiting to be outdone."

Ain't that just like a couple of old astronauts....always planning for the NEXT mission.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sometimes I Grow So Tired...

Today is Sunday, February 19.  Four weeks from today is Sunday, March 19, the veritable cusp of the Vernal Equinox, which is a very good thing.  It is also the date of the United Airlines Half-Marathon in New York City, which is (a) an event in which I shall participate; and (b) an event for which, presently, I am woefully unprepared.  Time will tell - as it always does.  This time I may not enjoy what it has to tell me very much.  

Idle thoughts from my rambling mind (in no particular order):

- Listened the other evening to Springsteen's "Magic" CD.  Under the heading of "what goes around comes around" it struck me just how many of the issues he addressed on that record are as relevant now as they were when he released it  a decade ago.  Of course, the fact that we may well be living in the future of which he sang is not a thought that gives me much comfort.  

- I am not a fan of organized religion, including but not limited to the Catholic Church in which I was raised.  Nevertheless, a tip of the hat to the new Archbishop of the Diocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who directed that the Diocese's Director of its CYO basketball league reverse the decision to remove the two female members from the St. John's School 5th grade basketball team, reinstate the team's record, and allow the 11-member, co-ed bunch play in their league's playoffs.  Those eleven children taught the rest of us a lesson about the importance of doing the right thing and Cardinal Tobin ratified their decision by rewarding them for it.  Well done, all around. 

- A lifetime or so ago, I had the great pleasure of spending some quality time with Greg Toal, Sr.  Here in the State of Concrete Gardens, where we have parochial, private high schools that play football schedules that would make some Division I college programs blush, Coach Toal is a legendary figure.  Long before he arrived in Ramsey, New Jersey in 1999 to rescue Don Bosco Prep and to build its football team from a doormat into a State-and-National Championship-winning behemoth, he had won State titles at Hackensack High School.  It was while he was the Hackensack head football coach that I first got to know him - having been introduced to him by my then-boss, John Libretti, when I worked in John's small firm on Hackensack's Main Street.  Middle of this past week, Don Bosco Prep announced that Coach Toal suddenly "retired" and then proceeded to regale the local press with a story that was so confusing factually, one might have thought that Sean Spicer had directed them.  Whether the impetus to leave his position was his or was someone else's is - presently, at least - an unanswered question.     

And now, as the song says, it is time for me to go...

...such a pleasant stay.