Monday, February 27, 2017

A Pernicious Hate Hits Close to Home

The big local news story today is that the continuing epidemic of anti-semitic attacks and threats has hit in our area, with bomb threats phoned in to Jewish Community Centers in the communities of Tarrytown and New Rochelle. I am intimately familiar with both of these municipalities- I work near the Village of Tarrytown and I used to live and work in the City of New Rochelle... both of these communities are exemplars of multiculturalism and the virtues of liberal values. I have posted on the wonders of New Rochelle and Tarrytown on numerous occasions, and have a love for both of these places.

I've always been stymied by anti-semitism, having grown up with Jewish friends, neighbors, doctors, teachers, roommates. The Jewish people, in spite of two millennia of bigotry and violence, have thrived- their gifts to humanity in the fields of science, medicine, philosophy, and the arts are immeasurable. The very fact that this current wave of vandalism and threats of violence is occurring in twenty-first century America appalls and confounds me, and the fact that such threats have been made in such 'safe' communities as New Rochelle and Tarrytown has me pig-biting mad. These are friends of mine who are being targeted now.

I am currently writing this post in the Grinton I. Will branch of the Yonkers Library System, having stopped by looking for some reading material while on errands. In the lobby of the library, there is a small, stark Holocaust memorial:




As I guy who likes to fight recreationally, and abhors cheap-shotting someone, I sure am in a Nazi-punching mood. New Rochelle and Tarrytown are vibrant and beautiful because of their diverse residents, and they are strong enough to resist this onslaught of hate.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My Pick for the Academy Award Would Be...

I'm not a big cinephile, and I haven't been keeping up with the Oscar nominations beyond listening to the coverage on the radio news. That being said, as a nerd, my preffered 'best picture' winner would be Hidden Figures, a dramatized account of the work of the African-American women who worked as 'computers' for NASA in the 1960s. As I have indicated before, I am a firm believer in the importance of having women and people of color working in STEM fields.

The achievements of women and minorities in American history have largely been ignored or suppressed by the white, male dominance structure, to the extent that there is still a lot of resistance from certain quarters to the celebration of Black History Month. The recognition of the NASA computers who helped to put John Glenn in orbit and get him back down in one piece, despite their need to navigate the pitfalls of the segregated South, is merely one corrective in the historical narrative, though it's good to see Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn, and their colleagues finally receive the accolades due to them.

The general buzz seems to be that the musical La La Land will win best picture, largely because it is a callback to the old Hollywood musicals of yore (I need to use this word more often), but I'd rather see a celebration of women, people of color, and technical brilliance than some LA navel-gazing. I've heard that this year's Oscars have been characterized by expressions of resistance to Trump, what better rebuke would there be than to celebrate a crew of genius black women who worked for the government to achieve something amazing? Besides, it would be a good way for the film industry to put that 'Oscars so white' controversy to rest.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An Arduous Path, an Amusing Payoff

One particular annoyance in traveling to midtown Manhattan on the weekend is the fact that, while the subways run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, their primary purpose is to convey the millions of Monday-to-Friday workers to their jobs, with an emphasis on getting the 7A-3P, 8A-4P, and 9A-5P cohorts to their places of employment. The weekends are when a lot of track repair takes place. I knew, before I even approached the subway station at 238th St and Broadway in the Bronx, that I would have to take a shuttle bus from 238th St to the A train terminus at 207th St.

The bus ride wasn't too bad, because it was early in the morning, and the traffic backups due to the track maintenance and maintenance work on the Broadway Bridge hadn't had time to metastasize. The Broadway Bridge played host to a bunch of Department of Transportation trucks:




Metal barricades were set up to provide a clearly delineated area for the construction workers:




The central portion of the drawbridge was covered with plywood:





The ride on the A train from 207th St to 59th St wasn't too bad- the train is an express, so it makes a paucity of stops. The trip was only remarkable because there was a panhandler on the train with a unique approach, he was wearing pajamas and a leather jacket, and his pitch was, "I'm wearing my pajamas and I need two dollars to wash my clothes." His novel approach didn't win anyone over, it was a crowded train of people who were already pissed off that they had had to take a slow shuttle bus ride to the 207th St station. Divining the unsympathetic mood, the panhandler got off the train after one stop.

I got to the dojo eighteen minutes late, but Big Al and Kickass Sue had the first class well in hand. Head Sensei, the Berber Badass, was supervising the whole thing, and Morocco's George Clooney came in shortly after I did... yep, train issues.

We had a great program after everybody had assembled. I played randori with Head Sensei for three minutes and held my own- I told him that I had spent a lot of time earlier in the week humping boxes around, so I felt extra strong. Our last class was a big one- about thirty students, boys and girls, seven years and under. After an initial instruction period, reviewing O Soto Gari and O Uchi Gari, we decided that we would have the kids engage in an informal tournament- we set up a competition area on the mats and had them compete, complete with formal bowing, two out of three falls for the win. The highlight of the competition was a match between one of my favorite students, a four year old girl with an infectious smile, and Head Sensei, who graciously let his opponent win. I have to commend these little kids for their sportsmanship, respect for each other, and mutual support- these kids really made me proud with the way they comported themselves. We all emphasize the moral component of the sport (mutual welfare, mutual development) and these kids demonstrated flawless behavior. They looked so cute, and so funny, as they were fighting, I couldn't help but be amused by our little tourney. It's things like this that make getting up on a Saturday morning after two and a half hours' sleep worthwhile.

After we were done, Gentle Jimmy G., who arrived at about the midway point in the day after working a shift, offered me a ride back to the Bronx. When he proposed driving up to Dyckman St because there are a lot of pretty Dominican girls in the neighborhood who would be enjoying the warm weather, I told him that Broadway was a traffic nightmare due to all the construction. The neighborhood is a bit of a traffic snarl-up on the best of days, so bypassing it on the Henry Hudson Parkway was the way to go.

I can't imagine the Broadway construction project will wrap up anytime soon... there are two more weeks of our Saturday classes, two more weeks of dealing with the vagaries of the transportation system. It's also two weeks of teaching, and watching our students put what they learned into practice. The trip may be arduous, but the payoff is wonderful.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Yet Hannity Remains

Via Tengrain, who was invited by the man to be a contributor to Liberaland, Alan Colmes died at the all-too-young age of sixty-six. I primarily knew Mr Colmes through his role as the liberal foil to Sean Hannity on Fox' 'News' Hannity and Colmes.

Being the sole liberal on a Fox talking heads show, Mr Colmes often came across as a punching bag, especially paired with a shouty blockhead like Hannity. He was a quiet, calm presence, trying to use reason and facts to promulgate his point of view. The problem was that Americans, despite what platitudes they mouth, tend to side with the bullies. Sure, Mr Colmes came across as a punching bag, but that made Hannity, and the other nutjobs the punchers. Mr Colmes' one failing was precisely his virtue- he brought his brain to a fistfight.

After leaving Fox, Mr Colmes had other media gigs, in which he always came across as a smart, compassionate guy, but I mainly know his oeuvre from his 'Liberaland' site, and a guy who would go out of his way to hire Tengrain is alright with me. Someday, we may value the thinkers over the punchers, but I'm not holding my breath... we put a puncher in the White House. It's just a tragedy that Alan won't be around to participate in the resistance.

Here is a clip of Mr Colmes doing a stand-up routine back in the 1980s:





Back then I bet this stand-up comic didn't know he'd be working with a clown one day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yankee Goes Home

I'm back in New York after a whirlwind of activity in northern Virginia. Last November, mom sold the house she had been living in for the past eighteen years- the yard maintenance was just getting to be too much for her. After 'couch surfing' for a few months with my sister and two younger brothers, she finally closed on a cute townhouse not too far from her old stomping grounds on February 10th. The movers moved her stuff from a storage unit to her townhouse on the 15th, and I made plans to help mom unpack the larger boxes.

Yesterday, we must have moved a ton of stuff, mainly books. We are a family of bibliophiles, we have been for generations. The good thing about being a bookworm is that it forces you to be a weightlifter if you have to move. Pumping paper, bay-bee. I'd hump a few boxes of books, then take a breather by putting them on the various bookshelves in the study/family room. Establishing a rhythm is the key: UGH, UGH, UGH, UGH, hey I wondered where I'd last seen that hardcover edition of Don Quixote, UGH, UGH, UGH, UGH.

Gradually, books, board games, pictures, kitchen utensils and lamps found their way to the places they would occupy, and mom's cute new dwelling place emerged out from under a sea of cardboard. Mysteries remained- there were lampshades which needed to be reuinted with lamps, and mom's meager shoe collection, aside from a pair of sneakers and a pair of moccasin slippers, remained to be found. The bulky/heavy 95% of stuff was moved in, but one of the laws of the universe is that the last 5% of stuff to be moved is the pain in the ass part.

Today was occupied with putting the empty cardboard boxes in the driveway, as close to the curb as possible, so mom could move them to the designated trash pickup spot next to the gutter. She called the sanitation department to let her know that there would be a huge cardboard pickup. My plan was to leave in the early afternoon so I could drive straight to work, and I know that a lot of municipalities frown on residents putting stuff at the curb before 5PM. One of mom's neighbors was outside doing some yardwork, and we sheepishly told her that this mountain of cardboard was a one-time, ephemeral structure. She laughed, her husband is serving in the Army, so she was no stranger to the travails of moving.

After a hot shower and a couple of aspirins, I hit the road... my arms were pretty heavy, but the foot was light enough to avoid any brushes with the law. I made decent time, even having enough time to hit the grocery store before starting my shift. I called mom before stepping into the store. She had found her box of shoes behind a box of holiday decorations. I had held up my part of the bargain, I was a brute going grunt work. In the coming weeks, my sister and her husband will stop by to hang up paintings, photos, and diplomas. They have a better eye for that sort of thing than I do, and the stud detector had yet to be unpacked.

Despite the fact that it was a couple of days of dusty, sweaty work, I had fun. Mom is good company, and throughout the lugging and unpacking, we had a great running conversation. The aphorism is that many hands make light work, but the wagging of the tongues is a more crucial factor than the work that the hands do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Profile Picture Doesn't Look Bad Enough

The profile picture I've been using since this blog's inception was snapped by my friend Frenchie (who is, of course, Italian), a man I have known for almost twenty years. Ever since I've known him, he has taken headshots of his friends, and my photo was an impromptu one taken in the dojo on a Saturday morning between classes. This past Saturday, he took another round of headshots, which he then 'doctored' using an app on his phone. I initially protested that I hadn't shaved for a couple of days, to which he replied, "That's good, it makes you look tougher." In order to make us look even 'tougher', he played with the contrast, darkened the image, and applied a red filter so we all looked like we'd be fighting (which we had been). I now present the publicity still for Frank Miller's 'Bastard City', a Quentin Tarantino Production:




Funny, I could swear that I had blue eyes...

After he took this picture, he took one of our mutual friend and colleague, Kickass Sue. Sue has a baby face, with a snub nose and wide eyes... while she is extremely tough, she is incapable of looking 'mean'. After Frenchie took her picture and played with the images, he showed it to her and her verdict was, "I don't look tough, I look drunk!"

I look drunk too, drunk on baaaaadness.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Avec Ma Mère

At the end of last year, I moved from one apartment to another, my landlord having sold the three-family house in which I rented an apartment... I moved all of six blocks. During the same timeframe, my mom sold her house in Northern Virginia. My sister, her husband and their sons relocated to the D.C. area earlier in the year when my brother-in-law retired after a career in the Air Force (my sister and her husband are both rocket scientists, literally). Mom moved in with them while she searched for a nice, low-maintenance townhouse in the general area, and she finally closed on a place a week and a half ago. Her furniture and other belongings were delivered on the 15th.

I drove down to her new place today in order to help her unpack and move stuff- I told her that I'd rather not move the fragile stuff, but the heavy stuff wouldn't be a problem. I talk a good game about being a 'bull in a china shop', but I'm really not that clumsy, I just would rather tote boxes of books than to gingerly place the good stemware in a cabinet.

Of course, we didn't accomplish a thing this evening, after I got the grand tour of the new place, mom and I just shot the breeze for hours over a leisurely dinner and a couple of belts of homemade limoncello that would make a passable rocket fuel... gotta talk to my sister and my brother-in-law about that.

Tomorrow, the work begins, the unpacking, the stowing away, the gathering of the moving boxes. My hope is that all of the grunt work gets done so mom can just rearrange the small, but not necessarily minor, stuff at her own pace. Wednesday, I'll move all of the boxes into the garage before driving directly to work in NY's suburbs, so mom doesn't have to lug the recycling that far when it's cardboard collection day.

The important thing is that mom doesn't have to couch surf anymore, she gets along well with all of us kids, but I'm sure she's happy to have her own place. Mom is tough as nails, and very independent, so this autonomy means a lot to her.