There are no atheists in foxholes … or in cockpits

So the president of the United States went on television last night to tell us that 13 years haven’t been nearly enough, and we now have a whole new band of barbarians hellbent on killing us and we’ll be waging war against them for the foreseeable future, and then some.

That new group has lots of names, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what to call them. Pretty much every newspaper and television station I’ve seen is calling them ISIS, which apparently is upsetting lots of women named Isis, not to mention that it’s the name of a great Dylan song (which is redundant) and I’m sure this isn’t what he had in mind. And, besides, the second S stands for Syria, which nobody really wants to think about very much. Continue reading

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Savages

 

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We sure do like our news sugarcoated, don’t we?

The cover of today’s New York Post – which shows American journalist James Foley about to be beheaded by an ISIS terrorist, an act that was captured on video and posted on YouTube – has generated predictable shock and outrage.

That’s because it actually shows the news. Dear god, what might The Post do next?!?! Continue reading

Here’s to you, Dr. Z


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Paul Zimmerman won an Emmy the other night.

He shoulda won a Pulitzer.

Grab a bottle of fine Bordeaux and pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the greatest reporter I’ve ever known. You can call him Dr. Z, as they did at Sports Illustrated. Or you can call him Zim, as we did at The New York Post. But, with all due apologies to Bob Dylan, you may not call him Zimmy. You wouldn’t dare.

That’s because Paul was a big man, a bear of a man, a larger-than-life man with an insatiable appetite for great food, fine wine, expensive cigars and a shareable story. He loved combat. He played rugby. And he was the finest football writer in the country. Continue reading

The worst New Year

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Journalists have to work on holidays, because cops and firefighters and doctors and nurses and EMTs and soldiers work on holidays, and someone has to report on what the heroes are up to while the rest of us are drinking ourselves silly.

And that’s why I always worked on Christmas. It’s not my holiday, so to do otherwise would be selfish.

But because I always worked Christmas, I always had off on New Year’s Eve. Quid pro quo, and all that.

Except for New Year’s Eve 2000, a night of work that still infuriates me, 14 years later. Continue reading

The day I made a 14-year-old kid the happiest Jew in New York

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the day I made a 14-year-old stranger the happiest Jewish boy in New York.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and it brings back memories of something that happened back in 1973 or so, when I was a kid on the sports desk of the New York Post.

The Post was a very different newspaper back then, a few years before Murdoch bought it and turned the steering wheel hard to the right. It was a leftist newspaper, owned by a woman named Dorothy Schiff, and it was very much the favored tabloid of New York’s liberal Jewish population. The popular joke was that on the day the world ended, The Post’s wood would read:

WORLD ENDS
Jews suffer most

The sports department had a list of bylines that was not only awe-inspiring, but coincidentally upheld the reputation. Ike Gellis. Sid Friedlander. Milton Gross. Maury Allen. Vic Ziegel. Paul Zimmerman. Larry Merchant. Leonard Lewin. Leonard Cohen. Gene Roswell. Dick Klayman.

Need a minyan? Call Post Sports.

And that clearly was what the woman on the other end of the line had in mind when the phone rang in the office late one afternoon, a few days before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. (I don’t remember which, but the rules are generally the same. A “good” Jew puts on a tie and jacket and goes to shul.)

It was late afternoon, and I was all alone in the office. Ike, Sid, Jack, Dick, Bob and Jerry had all gone home. My job, as the kid, was to stick around until the last race at Aqueduct was over, edit the wire report and take it to the composing room. First one in, last one out. What a job!

The phone rang. What follows is pretty much how it went down.

Me: Post Sports.

Her: Are you Jewish?

Me: Ummmm . . . What was that? (WTF???)

Her: Are you Jewish?

Me: Ummmmm, OK, what the hell. Yes. (I expect to be hanging up the phone in a couple of seconds.)

Her: You’re Jewish.

Me: Yes. (Here it comes.)

Her: Great. We’re having a problem and we need you to solve it.

Me: OK. (WTF???)

Her: We have a 14-year-old son and he wants to go to Forest Hills (where they played the U.S. Open back then, before they built the tennis complex at Flushing Meadows) on Friday. But it’s Rosh Hashanah (or Yom Kippur, I don’t remember) and his father and I say he belongs in temple. But he says he doesn’t want to go to temple, he wants to go see the tennis. We need a referee. We’ve agreed to let you make the decision.

(This woman is an idiot.)

Now, I’m sure her son read the New York Post sports pages religiously (ahem), and that she figured she was being a really cool mom letting someone in the sports department make this monumental decision, and that since the sports department had a gazillion Jews, the Jewish person on the phone would make the “right” decision, and her son would do what the guy in the sports department said.

But the Jew she got was me.

Me: Let me get this straight. You want me to decide whether your kid goes to Forest Hills or to shul on Friday?

Her: Yes.

Me: (Lady, you’re crazy.) OK. First of all, I need to make something very clear. I am speaking for me, not for the management of The New York Post or the sports department of The New York Post. In no way does my decision represent that of anyone other than myself. Is that understood?

Her: Yes.

Me: OK. Here’s my answer. You can force your son to go to shul, but you can’t force him to want to be there, and he’ll most definitely resent it, because he wants to go to Forest Hills. My decision is that HE’S OLD ENOUGH TO MAKE UP HIS OWN MIND about these things. I hope he enjoys the tennis.

That poor woman. She got the wrong Jew.

— 30 —

It’s 2013, time to bury ‘Redskins’

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Two pantheons of sports journalism, Slate and Mother Jones, took the bold move this week of announcing that they would no longer refer to the National Football League team that plays in Washington, D.C., as the “Redskins.”

The move was both silly and self-serving, because . . . well . . .

Slate? Mother Jones?

Yeah, they’re the first places I go when I want to bone up on my football.

But there’s one other thing worth mentioning here . . .

They were right.

So it’s time to press for a few other outlets – more important outlets – to take the same bold step. Are you listening, ESPN? Can you hear me, Sports Illustrated? Do I have your attention yet, NBC and Fox and CBS and ABC? How about it, Washington Post?

Listen up, guys . . . History be damned, it’s time to abandon what is, in fact, a horribly racist name.

On March 13, 1994, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Tim Giago, the founder of the Lakota Times, the first independently owned Native American newspaper in the U.S.

It was a wonderful, eye-opening op-ed . . . so much so that I stashed a photocopy in my briefcase. Nineteen years later, it’s still there.

Sadly, I can’t find it on the Times website, which is a shame because the link really should go to the original.

But Illinois Sen. Paul Simon found it as moving as I did, and he entered it into the Congressional Record, which appears to be pretty much the only place you can read it now. So read it:

Drop the Chop! Indian Nicknames Just Aren’t Right

“Redskins” is a word that should remind every American there was a time in our history when America paid bounties for human beings. There was a going rate for the scalps or hides of Indian men, women and children. These “redskins” trophies could be sold to most frontier trading posts. Along with coon skins, beaver skins and bear skins, the selling of “redskins” was also profitable.

On a recent radio talk show, I spoke with a young lady who had been a cheerleader for a team called the “Indians.” She said, “When I put on my feathers and war paint, donned my buckskins and beads, I felt I was honoring Indians.” I asked her, “If your team was called the African-Americans and you painted your face black, put on an Afro wig and donned a dashiki and then danced around singing songs and making noises you thought to be African, would you be honoring blacks?” Her answer was “No! Of course not! That would be insulting to them.” End of discussion.

That’s just a snippet. Read the whole piece. It speaks volumes, and it’s why I’ve been carrying that faded photocopy around for 19 years.

The key question Giago raised, which was brought up again this week, is:

If you were naming a team today, would you name it the Redskins?

If your answer is no, how can you tolerate keeping the name?

If your answer is yes, how would you feel about the Berlin Maccabees? The Birmingham Negroes?

This isn’t political correctness. It’s just correctness. It shouldn’t be so hard to do the right thing.

Change the damn name. Just do it. It’ll be OK.

Worth reading, 07/11/13

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New York Sizzles (Gail Collins, New York Times)

Gail Collins is hands-down the finest columnist in America. If she’s not in the Times on Saturday or Sunday, then the day is off to a lousy start. Today she offers her take on Weiner and Spitzer, and it is essential reading.

Time after time, we hear a scandal-tarred politician vow to go away and make amends. Time after time, we envision a stint as a missionary or a hospital volunteer. Time after time, we are disappointed.

Consider the example of former Congressman Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, a person who, I should point out immediately, did not do anything wrong whatsoever except lose a race for re-election in 2010. He then packed up his family and went off to join the Peace Corps in Swaziland. “He’s working with folks with H.I.V./AIDS. He loves it,” reported his sister, Denise.

In this week’s TV tour, Spitzer failed to address the question of why he was not in Swaziland. He said on “Morning Joe” that during his five years in exile, “I’ve tried to do things that matter in a small, quiet way.” This seemed like a strange way to describe multiple stints hosting political talk shows.

People, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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Pat Robertson: I’m Not ‘Anti-Gay’ Because Gays Are Just Straight People Who’ve Forsaken God (Mediaite)

“I am very pleased that we have many, many, many homosexuals watching this program and many of them are looking for love and acceptance and help,” the minister began. “And I’m glad to report that we have thousands of these people who are saying, ‘Yes, we want to follow Jesus, we’re not happy with the lifestyle we’re in, and we want to have a better way.’ I think it’s wonderful that that’s happening.”

“We’re not anti-gay or anything,” he asserted, before explaining his belief that homosexuality has existed throughout time amongst those who have “forsaken” God. “It’s not something that is natural and when people reunite with the Lord, the Lord will get their priorities the way it is supposed to be,” he added.

Robertson concluded by arguing that those who are “into this homosexual thing” are typically victims of sexual abuse as children who, later in life think, “Well, I must be gay.”

“They aren’t,” he insisted. “They are heterosexual and they just need to come out of that.”

Good ol’ Uncle Pat. The rev’s an eyeroll a minute. Let’s harken back to the good ol’ days, right after September 11, when good ol’ Jerry Falwell said:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say: “You helped this happen.”

And good ol’ Uncle Pat chimed in,

“Well, I totally concur.”

OK . . . I totally don’t.

Go away, Pat. Your meter expired a long time ago.

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Beyond the Courtroom (Charles Blow, New York Times)

Whatever happens in the George Zimmerman trial, it has produced a valuable and profound dialogue in America about some important issues surrounding race and justice, fear and aggression, and legal guilt and moral culpability.

That conversation is about people’s right to feel suspicion and fear and whether those feelings need be justified to be real. It is about the degree to which suspicions and fears are culturally constructed, or at least culturally influenced, are innate or are born of personal experience.

More specifically, it is about how race, age and gender might influence our threat responses, and whether that is acceptable. For instance, as a thought experiment, reverse the race and ethnicities of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman and see if that has any effect on your view of the night’s events. Now, go one step further and imagine that the teenager who was shot through the heart was not male but female and ask yourself again: does it have any effect on how you view the facts of this case?

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

This is a terrific piece. As the George Zimmerman trial heads to the jury, I’m convinced that Zimmerman is not guilty of murder, because I don’t think he intended to kill Trayvon Martin. I also think it’s at least plausible that once Zimmerman encountered Trayvon — and make no mistake about it, it’s Zimmerman’s fault that the encounter took place — then he realized that the kid was able to hurt him or even kill him, and so he shot him.

In Florida, that’s standing your ground.

So I don’t think Zimmerman will be convicted — but I nonetheless think this is all his fault. What’s more, if Trayvon wasn’t black and wasn’t wearing a hoodie, we’re not even having this conversation. Zimmerman saw a black kid in a hoodie and everything fell apart from there.

So Zimmerman is not a murderer; he’s just a racist cop-wannabe with a concealed gun who decided that the black kid in the hoodie did not belong in his neighborhood. But I do believe he didn’t get out of his car intending to kill Trayvon.

Someday, Zimmerman will go out on a deep-sea fishing boat, and he’ll fall overboard, and all the others on the boat will hear a splash, and they’ll look up and say, “Hey, look, Zimmy fell overboard.” And then they’ll open up a cooler and have a few beers and figure justice has been done.

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Photographer captures incredible image of massive waterspout towering over Tampa Bay (Imaging Resource)

Pick a word. Any word . . . Omigod. Wow. Whoa. Yikes.

This thing is for real and I am in awe. I may even have to start rethinking that whole Big Bad Invisible Voodoo Guy in the Sky thing. (Shamelessly plugging my own post.)

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Bob McDonnell is unfit for office (Ruth Marcus, Washington Post)

There are two swift routes to political downfall. One is sex. The other is money. The first is humiliating but survivable. The second tends to be terminal, even criminal.

Today’s topic is the second, in the form of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and the now mountainous evidence that — whether he technically complied with Virginia’s Swiss cheese disclosure laws or not in accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from a wealthy businessman — he has no business continuing in office.

We in the metropolitan New York area are so fascinated by the adventures of Anthony and Eliot that we’ve been blissfully unaware of what’s been going on in Virginia, where Governor Bob is ducking from incoming.

That has to stop, because this is fascinating.

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A Free Miracle Food! (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times)

MOPTI, Mali — Can you name a miracle food that is universally available, free and can save children’s lives and maybe even make them smarter?

That’s not a trick question. There really is such a substance, now routinely squandered, that global health experts believe could save more than 800,000 lives annually. While you’re puzzling over the answer, let me tell you how I just saw it save a life here in West Africa.

I don’t think Mr. Kristof will mind much if I give away the ending without a spoiler alert. The free miracle food is breast milk.

And if you read nothing else today, read this.

Kristof returned from a several-month book leave last week, and he was sorely missed. Excellent column.

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Latest Businessweek Cover is Worth a Peek (Fishbowl)

Ummmmm . . . Now I’m wondering whom Bloomberg will be voting for. Weiner? Spitzer?

And what would the public reaction be if the New York Post did this?

Really, BusinessWeek? REALLY???

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Toshi Seeger, wife of folk legend Pete Seeger, dies (Lohud, via Poughkeepsie Journal)

Memo to obit writers: There are some things you MUST include in an obituary, especially when it concerns someone local.

That thing would be the deceased’s age.

Toshi Seeger was 91. I had to look that up elsewhere because the obit’s writer AND the editor failed to include it in the obit.

Pretty bad, Lohud.

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Justin Bieber Talks With Bill Clinton After Vulgar Video Surfaces, Calls Former President “Great Guy” (Gossip Cop)

So The Beebs apparently is feeling totally regretful about peeing into a restaurant’s mop bucket and screaming “F*** you, Bill Clinton!” at a picture of the 42nd president and spraying it with a kitchen bottle, because he went on Twitter last night and so humbly wrote . . .

“@billclinton thanks for taking the time to talk Mr. President. Your words meant alot. #greatguy,” the singer tweeted on Wednesday night.

Great guy.

I hope Bill sat down with Hillary and Chelsea at dinner last night and asked . . .

Either of you ever heard of this guy?