Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lincoln and the Fiscal Cliff, Pro Football, a Story from Sid's Archives and a Vargas Girl

Lincoln, Obama, Boehner and the Fiscal Cliff

In Steven Spielberg’s motion picture “Lincoln,” the sixteenth President fears that once the Civil War is over and he no longer has his “war powers,” Congress will reverse his “Emancipation Proclamation,” which freed the slaves in those states which were attempting to secede from the Union.  He wants to lock in emancipation permanently by making it an Amendment to the Constitution.

Although the war was fought to preserve the Union, the salient issue which was dividing the Union was slavery.  Without the Thirteenth Amendment, Lincoln and the Union would have a hollow victory.  And so, he fought to assure the Amendment’s passage through the House of Representatives, even at the price of compromising on other issues tied to ending the Civil War.  He would give in on much, but not on abolishing slavery.

Lincoln as portrayed in the motion picture by Daniel Day-Lewis

Right now, the United States is facing a financial crisis for which some sort of compromise between the Democratic President and the Republican House of Representatives is the only solution.  President Obama, however, having won the 2012 election in a campaign during which he repeatedly insisted that increasing tax rates on the wealthy must be part of the solution to the nation’s economic problems, is not going to retreat from the position of strength his victory gave to him, at least in regard to such tax rate increases.  

The President making a point

Certainly, it is not an issue comparable to the issue on which Abraham Lincoln would not compromise, but it is one on which I feel the President will not retreat.  Just as Lincoln was willing to give in on much, but not on abolishing slavery, Barack Obama will compromise on much, but not on raising taxes on the wealthy.   Unless the House Republicans recognize this, the country will tumble over the Fiscal Cliff on January 1.

It takes two, however, not only to tango but to reach a compromise.  For the Republicans to agree to the increased tax rates (I said increased rates, not reduced deductions and loopholes) on the wealthy, which would open the door to serious compromises from the President, they risk ripping their party apart.  There are Republicans who adamantly refuse to agree to any increased tax rates whatsoever for the wealthy and there are Republicans who ultimately would accept them.  In seeking a compromise, House Speaker Boehner risks the discipline which he must maintain over an already splintered G.O.P.  If he loses it, the party faces disintegration.  Compromise will come, but I doubt that it will come in time to avert going over the fiscal cliff.
Jack Lippman


Sid's Corner

COLD, HUNGRY VAGRANT                                     

Sid Bolotin

The cold and hungry vagrant approached the car in front of me. I watched the driver quickly roll up his window and lock his head to stare straight ahead. I knew that the vagrant was hungry because he clutched a handwritten, scribbled cardboard sign that read, “Hungry. Will work for food. God bless.” And he had to be cold because the temperature was only in the low 50’s with the wind chill lowering that to the 40’s. His knobby-kneed, rail-thin legs below his grungy, dirty shorts were flushed almost beet-red from exposure.

With a forlorn shrug of his shoulders that screamed, “defeat” he turned away from the rebuff to face me through my windshield. Our eyes locked, and he began to shuffle toward my car. My mind burst into a cacophony of thoughts.

“Why did I look at him?”

“I should have glanced elsewhere”.

“Should I give him money? He’ll only use it for booze or drugs”.

“What about your Zen Buddhism practice?”

“What about the Course in Miracles?”

“What about your metaphysical studies?’

“What about Mother Theresa? The Dalai Lama?”

Suddenly, a very different thought burst in. “He reminds me of a Hindu holy man or Buddhist Lama going about with nothing but a begging bowl.”

I watched myself lowering my window and motioning for him to come over. As I did so, some other part of me was screaming. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Hi,” I said, “Get in the car, and I’ll take you to get something to eat.” He scampered around to the passenger seat and scrambled in just as the drivers behind me began honking to alert me to the light having turned green.

“Would he stain the seat? Would he rob me?” flashed my thoughts.

“Thanks pal”, he said. “My name is Josh, What’s yours?” Surprised at the clarity and crispness of his speech, I answered, “Sid, my name is Sid.”

We sat in silence on the ride to Denny’s. After we were seated across from each other in a booth, I asked, “Where are you from?” He stared at me without answering. I was taken aback by the clarity of his intense eye-to-eye contact as he looked at me and asked, “How’re you doing at the Zen Group, Sid? Do you enjoy your practice? Is it better for you than Kabbalah?” I gaped open-mouthed at Josh. “How do you know about my esoteric pursuits?” I almost shouted.

“And how did you enjoy your study group last night with the Course In Miracles group at Rose’s house?” he continued. I shivered with an eerie deja-vu as I instantly recalled a similar encounter with his guru in India that my friend Ram Das had recounted in his New Age teachings. There was no way that Josh could know what he was talking about; yet obviously he did. He was a vagrant, a homeless nobody hanging out on roadway median strips begging at the stoplight. Our paths had never crossed. It was only by chance that we had met and an even greater happenstance that I had invited him into my car. More thoughts flashed into my mind.

“What about Della Reese in Touched by an Angel?”

“What about In Search Of, Leonard Nimoy’s TV series on the paranormal?”

“What about Jimmy Stewart’s encounter with an angel in It’s A Wonderful   Life?”

“Could I be having my own Outer Limits event?”

I’d always wanted to have a religious encounter, a supernatural revelation like the Mystics I’d read about. After all, Kabbalah does teach that angels are everywhere and can be any one that we meet.

Josh’s chuckle brought me out of my reverie. “Sid, all your metaphysical studies have described encounters such as ours. You’ve always wanted to have one. Relax and enjoy this.”

I settled back against the booth’s bench and contemplated my companion. His clothing was filthy, threadbare and disheveled. But now I saw that his skin was clear and clean with an almost translucent quality. His blue eyes were astonishingly bright and just this side of glowing. The twinkle within them was mesmerizing. And his smile reminded me of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

My mind careened. “This can’t be happening. I can’t possibly be sitting in a Denny’s in Florida chatting with a cold and hungry vagrant who says that he’s an angel. As much as I’ve yearned for such an experience while exploring esoterics, I’m hesitant. Is this real? Is this a mind-only event ala John Nash’s in the movie, A Beautiful Mind? Is my medication producing a hallucination?”

At that moment the waitress brought us our coffee, and Josh said, “Excuse me, Sid. I have to go to the john.” He left the booth and wandered off toward the rest rooms.  “Why does an angel need the john?” I wondered. “Am I totally nuts?”

I sipped my coffee as I pondered the questions that I would ask Josh when he returned. Angel or not I needed to proffer all my pent-up questions and wonderings to my unusual guest. I slipped into a meditative state as I pondered queries like:

“Who am I?”

“Why am I here?”

“Where am I going?”


Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw the waitress rushing toward me, yelling, “Sid, Sid get up, get up, Josh is calling for you. The smoke detector in the john is going off.” She poked my arm and repeated her plea, “Get up! Get up!”

I groggily left my musings and struggled to free myself from the confines of the booth’s table as her shouts of, “Get up! Get up!” got louder and more desperate.

With a forceful lunge I leapt free of the table and saw my wife, Barbara, who was screaming, “Get up! Get up! You’ll be late for tennis. The alarm’s been ringing for fifteen minutes.”


Return of the Vargas Girl

For years, the idealized paintings of Alberto Vargas graced (?) the pages of Esquire Magazine and its calendars.  They were very popular during the Second World War and through the 1950s.   Well, it is more than half a century later and they still are stunning.  They are reproduced here purely as items of historical interest. Here is an example.  Note the out-of-style hairdo. Otherwise, enjoy.





Professional Football Players


                                Needless Deaths?  Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau

Back in December of 2010, the following item appeared on this blog.  I was reminded of it when I read Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times column about professional football, prompted by the tragic murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.  Bruni quoted the San Diego Union-Tribune’s comment (on the suicide of former Charger linebacker Junior Seau earlier this year) as saying “within two years of retiring, three out of four NFL players will be one or more of the following: alcohol or drug addicted, divorced, or financially distressed/bankrupt.  Junior Seau was all three.”  And this brought me back to my 2010 posting, in which I said:

“While I cannot deny that the games on TV are very enjoyable, I really cannot bring myself to root for, or be a fan of, any of the professional football teams. Why? The bottom line is that professional football has crossed the line from being a sport, like basketball or baseball, to what amounts to an exercise in controlled violence. Sure, the players are so highly skilled and such magnificent performers that almost any team can come from behind and win a thrilling victory! That’s why they are fun to watch. But I cannot see why anyone would enthusiastically root for, or be a “loyal” fan of any team made up of overachieving, overweight and overpaid professional athletes whose stock in trade, when you get down to it, is violence. These players are out to win, and to do so, they must physically attack their opponents. They are well versed in precisely how far they can go in hurting an opposing player without incurring a penalty. Life expectancy for retired professional football players is turning out to be diminished and the controlled violence of the sport is the reason.

College football at the BCS level is no different. Teams from major conferences such as the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big Twelve, etc. are really training grounds for the professional teams. Their games are just as violent as those in the professional NFL and that is what the pro scouts look for. The major difference between fans of the pro game and fans of the BCS college game is that the latter have some justification for their enthusiastic support of the sport because they attend or once attended the institution fielding the team. On the other hand, merely residing or coming from the Oakland area, for example, is not a real justification for someone being an avid Raiders fan.

Drop down one level, however, to teams like the Mid America Conference’s University of Toledo and the Sun Belt Conference’s Florida International University. These teams, from which the professional teams will probably draft few if any players, recently met in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl game, won by FIU, 34 to 31 with a last second field goal. Although the players weren’t at the proficiency level of the pros or the BCS teams, it was by far one of the best games I have ever seen and I found myself rooting for both teams interchangeably, as the lead changed hands repeatedly in the last quarter. I’ll take FIU versus Toledo any time over the New England Patriots versus the Philadelphia Eagles or Oregon’s Webfeet versus Auburn’s Tigers. In fact, other than not being able to view them on TV, even watching a small college like Muhlenberg take on another small school like Franklin and Marshall or Gettysburg can be very enjoyable too, particularly if you don't mind driving to Pennsylvania.” 

Football at Susquehanna University 

Football at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium


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Jack Lippman
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