Friday, November 29, 2013

Stanislaw Maczek’s Vindication

Stanislaw Maczek was born in 1892 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Ethnically, he was a Pole and when Poland became an independent country again in 1919 (after more than a century hiatus), he joined the Polish Army.  By 1939, he was commander of the only mechanized infantry regiment in the Polish Army.  When the Germans attacked his country in September of that year, his was almost the only unit in the Polish Army that could fight against German troops on with the benefit of modern weapons.  At the end of the campaign, he and the survivors of his unit managed to make it across the border to Hungary where they were interned before ultimately making their way to France. In 1940, Maczek and his men again fought resolutely against the Germans, but soon found that the entire French Army was disintegrating all around them. So Maczek and his surviving troops once again had to withdraw through Vichy, France, then Spain to reach Portugal where they ultimately made it to the United Kingdom.  There they joined the Polish army in exile.  Over the next 4 years, Maczek’s command was organized into the first Polish armored division.  They received the latest tanks and equipment and trained hard in the hopes that they would be able to fight their way back to Poland.  In the Normandy campaign, the men of Maczek’s division had the extraordinary good luck of being almost the only Poles who had a chance to fight against the Germans on anything like even terms.  After the victory in Normandy, Maczek’s command managed to liberate the Dutch City of Breda with a minimum of civilian casualties.  For that fete, Maczek received honorary Dutch citizenship.  The war did not end happily for the Polish army in exile.  Stalin imposed a puppet regime of Polish communists in power.  Those Polish quislings declared the Polish army in exile to be traitors and counter-revolutionaries, and 99.5% of those men chose to remain in the west rather than to live under communist rule.  Now, how’s that for a statistic?  When the Polish army was demobilized in 1947, Maczek found himself a 55-year old exile with no pension.  Granted Maczek was a great deal luckier than a great many of his contemporary polish officers; thousands of whom were shot and buried in Soviet mass graves.  Even so, I can only imagine the sadness he must have felt knowing that, for all of his courage and sacrifice, he was destined to spend his old age working as a bartender in Edinboro. 

Ironically enough, General Maczek managed to outlast the communists.  The General was 97 when the Polish communist government lost power in 1989 and, in 1994, at the age of 102 — only a few months before he died — he received Poland’s highest decoration: the Order of the White Eagle.

Phan Thi Kim Phuc

You almost certainly don’t know her name, but you’you've seen her.   Back in 1972, South Vietnamese Aircraft dropped napalm onto her village and some of the napalm landed on her back.  She tore her clothes off and ran down the road to get help.  The picture of Phan running down the road naked won photographer Nick Ut a Pulitzer Prize. 

She was so badly burned that, at first, the doctors did not think she would survive.  However, she did recover; although it took 17 months of hospitalization and 17 different surgeries to do the job. Her fame made her a favorite of the Vietnamese Communist Regime, affording her privileges unknown to her fellow-Vietnamese.  In 1992, she married and was allowed to honeymoon in Moscow.  At some point in her world travels, the plane she and her husband were on landed in Canada and the young couple took advantage of the opportunity to defect. Phan Thi Kim Phuc is now the mother of two children and living in Canada.

A True Happy Story

This is a story I share with my fellow-lawyers at Juvenile Court. I asked them if they want to hear a “True Happy Story.” 

Once upon a time, there was little girl named Barbara who grew up in Pennsylvania in a family that was huge both numerically (3 sisters and 4 brothers for a total of 8 kids strikes me as a very large family) and physically (Barbara grew up to be 6’ tall barefoot and I hear that she’s the runt of the litter).  Sadly, Barbara’s father was, from everything I’I've heard, a total no-goodnick (there are quite a few other terms that come to mind, but whenever I talk about Barbara, I really try not to swear).  Barbara has told me that her most vivid memory of her father is running and hiding from him because he would beat his wife and children.   I note that this guy didn’t even have the alibi of being a drunk or a druggy.  A great many women from that sort of family grow up and spend the rest of their lives marrying carbon copies of their abusive fathers.  Barbara proved a dramatic exception. I kid Barbara frequently that, if I could convert her life-choices into a chemical formula, I’d put it in the water supply for the entire world.

After graduating from high school, Barbara went off to college and earned a degree. Then, relatively late in life, she enlisted in the United States Navy.  At this point, I’m sure many of my readers are wondering when her handsome prince is going to show up. Ironically enough, she hooked up with a guy who used to brag about how ugly he was.   One of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children. USMC.  It is common knowledge that United States Marines have a well-deserved reputation for being very tough customers; Barbara hooked up with a guy who was known to be The.Guy.You.Did.Not.Mess.With. PERIOD.  After they became an item, they acquired the unofficial nickname of the Beauty and the Beast. Barbara had achieved many a tall girl’s dream: a significant other she could wear her high heels with.  The best joke I heard about them was, that when Barbara was a little girl she was badly frightened by a grizzly bear.  So, when she had a suitor that grizzly bears were scared of, how could she pass that up?  I have heard that at first the Sergeant told her, “Let’s not get too serious about this;” three months later he was proposing.  Barbara did not rush into anything; she made him propose three times.  She told me that what sealed the deal was when the Sergeant took her home to meet his mom and dad and she discovered that the Sergeant’s father was what I would call a XXXL teddy bear.

Some of the people with whom I have shared this story say that any man that proposes only three months after meeting a woman is crazy.  To which the Sergeant replies, “Crazy? Crazy like a fox!”  I’m happy to report that this next Valentine’s Day will mark their 31st anniversary, and they have three completely off-the-charts terrific children (the youngest of whom is about to graduate from San Diego State).  

I heard that while planning their wedding, Barbara told her fiancé that she did not want to invite her father to the wedding.  When her fiancé asked why, she explained what a dreadful parent that man had been. The Sergeant considered this for a moment then asked, “Do you want me to straighten him out?”  It’s a good thing for her father that Barbara is a kind, gentle, forgiving and absolutely exemplary Christian woman.   If she were not, her nasty old father would have gotten a Book of Revelations ass-whooping.

J.D. Tippit

J.D. Tippet was a Dallas police officer who got a radio call shortly after noon on November 22, 1963 to be on the lookout for a white male of about 30; 5’10” tall approx. 150 lbs., named Lee Harvey Oswald.  When he saw a 24-year old white man who was 5’9” and weighed 150 lbs., he stopped to investigate.  When Tippit stepped out of his car, that man drew a pistol and shot him three times in the chest.  As Tippit lay on the pavement bleeding, the man walked over to him and fired a forth shot directly into his right temple.  J.D. Tippet left a wife and three children.

In less than half an hour later, Dallas police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald in a movie theater, which Oswald had entered without buying a ticket.  Oswald had drawn a 38 caliber pistol and almost certainly would have shot another policeman, but he was overpowered and disarmed.  By the evening of the 22nd, five different witnesses had identified Oswald as being a man they’d seen by the crime scene in possession of a pistol (only one of them had actually seen the shooting).  By the next day there were five additional witnesses. Speaking as a defense attorney, I would have not envied the task of any lawyer tasked with defending Oswald on the charge of murdering officer Tippet.  I am not prepared to argue with JFK conspiracy theorists on every bit of Dallas minutia, but I fail to see how any reasonable person can doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald was a cop-killer and almost certainly a presidential assassin as well. 

Khrushchev’s Kid

In 1960, Nakita Khrushchev, then in his late 60s, declared that, as old as he was, he hoped to see communist rule be established throughout the world.  Then Vice President Nixon retorted that Americans could hope that Khrushchev’s grandchildren would live long enough to see freedom.

In September of 1971, the man who said to the west, “We will bury you,” died and is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.  Two decades after that the world buried the Soviet Union (editorial comment: good riddance!!!)

P.S. Khrushchev’s son, Sergei Khrushchev, is a professor at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Bryant’s Columbus “Twin”

Yesterday marked the birthday of Bryant Edward, the son of some dear friends of mine, who gives a whole new meaning to the word highly intelligent (I can no longer refer to that young gentleman as a kid, since he’s about to graduate from San Diego State and has reached the midway point between 6’ tall and 7’).  

Several years ago, I represented a defendant in juvenile court who, I learned when I looked at my client’s information sheet, shared Bryant Edward’s birthday.  That particular young fellow was appearing before a judge on his 18th birthday after he had already plead guilty to having repeatedly fired a nine millimeter pistol into an inhabited trailer.  I thought to myself that my client was fortunate that he was not facing at least one murder charge.  When I asked my client what he’d been thinking of to do such a thing, his reply was, “the girl I was with told me I could only get a couple of months of reform school.”  I did not bother asking my client from which law school his paramour graduated.  Almost three years later, I again represented that fellow.  He had been “permed” to the department of youth services and was just short of his 21st birthday. I managed to get him out a few months early and actually established a fairly good report with him.  When I asked him if there was anything else he wanted, he replied, “Yes.  Can you help me find a job?” I said, “Buy a long sleeve shirt that will cover up those tattoos on your forearms, buy a necktie and learn how to tie it, get some long pants that fit you and not Dumbo the elephant, wear dress black loafers rather than basketball shoes, lose the nose ring, lose the doo-rag, and shave!”  I thought that was some pretty decent advice, but I pretty much suspect he will spend most of the rest of his life making license plates anyway.  

I’m passing this story along to Bryant Edward’s parents to remind them that, while I’m sure their son has, on occasion, gotten on their last nerve, he is an outstanding young gentlemen and I am very pleased to be his honorary “Uncle.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Mitzvah at a Bar Mitzvah

For my readers not fluent in Hebrew, Bar Mitzvah is the ceremony a Jewish boy undergoes on the first Sabbath after his 13th birthday, accepting him as a member of the Jewish community.  A Mitzvah, can mean a commandment of Jewish law or it can mean a meritorious act.  I am happy to report that a while back I performed a Mitzvah at a Bar Mitzvah,

Several years ago a woman I’d met on Notre Dame’s summer London Law Program invited me to her son’s Bar Mitzvah in Miami, Fl.  

I went and had an absolutely wonderful time.  Hedy is a great lady.  She’s married to a fine gentlemen and they have two wonderful children, Rachel and Alexander (who I call Alexander the Great.  He is Alexander, he is great, so who says he isn’t Alexander the Great?).  At the reception that evening, I discovered that they had laid out an absolutely incredible buffet, which included bowls of shrimp.  It went through my mind that somebody might take Hedy to task for her choice of refreshments.  For what it’s worth, I want to advise anyone that, regardless of your race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, party registration, astrological sign, alma mater or brand of toothpaste — if anyone says an unkind thing to Hedy, I'm likely to kick someone’s tuchus.  It went through my mind that it might be a bad thing that there would be some Jewish folks being tempted to violate Jewish dietary laws.  I thought to myself, “I am a Gentile and really try to be a righteous one, so is there anything I can do to help in this situation” and then I thought, “Jews will not be tempted to eat shellfish if I eat it first.”  So I am not just eating like a pig at a buffet (tell me Rabbi, is it a bad thing to eat like a pig at a Bar Mitzvah?) I went after those shrimp with even more gusto than I usually do at the prospect of free food.  (I keep forgetting: is it 18 shrimp per handful or is it 20?).  After half an hour, the ocean called and said they were running out of shrimp.  After an hour Stephen Spielberg called to see if I wanted to play the shark in the next remake of Jaws.  By the time I made my exit, I could imagine some friend of Hedy’s saying, “I can’t believe you would serve shrimp at your son’s Bar Mitzvah.”  To which I would replay, “WHAT shrimp?”

“It was on the table over there.”
Me: “What table?”
“There was a table over there a minute ago.”
Me: “Belch!”

P.S. I want to take this opportunity to make an ecumenical statement to all my Jewish friends.  If you are confronted by temptation in the form of shrimp, scallops, lobster or bacon, call me 24/7 and I will do everything in my power to assist you.

Mr. Ryerson’s Story

There’s an attorney I occasionally see at Juvenile court named John Ryerson, and I’d once asked him if he caught much flack over the character Stephen Tobolowsky plays in Ground Hog day, the obnoxious insurance salesman, Ned Ryerson.

He told me that he and his brothers had attended high school with Bill Murray and, apparently, Bill Murray decided that Ryerson was the perfect name for a total dweeb.  No word on whether the Ryerson clan plans on attending Bill Murray’s 50th reunion to waylay him in the parking lot.

David Worrell: A Case of Blind Justice

Back in1985, a 25-year-old Londoner named David Worrell decided that he wanted to become a bank robber, and he was not going to let the fact that he was completely blind in one eye and had only 15% vision in the other stop him.  He walked into a London bank and handed a teller a note demanding 2,000 pounds.  When the teller screamed, Mr. Worrell lost his nerve and tried to make a getaway, running smack into the bank’s doors before managing to get outside.  The police very quickly apprehended him. (Apparently he did not try to be his own getaway driver.)  The sentencing judge gave Mr. Worrell one year’s probation.  Ironically enough, I was in London in November of 1985 and I distinctly remember not only reading about the case, but also reading a newspaper columnist bemoaning the fact that Mr. Worrell received such a light sentence.  My law school classmates regarded me as having quite draconian views on issues of crime and punishment, but I really fail to see what could have been accomplished by locking up Mr. Worrell.  I recently did an internet search on Mr. Worrell, and he has managed to stay out of the news for the last 28 years.  Maybe he has seen the light?

Mongolian Tax

As some of you know, I spent 5 months in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  While I was there, I learned something very interesting about the Mongolian tax code.  It is a 20% flat tax.  No exemptions.  No subsidies. No fine print.  And no H&R block offices anywhere.  Is the Mongolian tax code far more sensible than its U.S. counterpart? (Discuss amongst yourselves.)

War on Religion? NOT

Earlier this year, I heard Sean Hannity state, “there is a war on religion in this country.”  I thought to myself, “Did I miss something dramatic? Did some church/synagogue/mosque/temple get fire-bombed? Did anyone get killed?” Hannity continued, “and it *IS* a war.  Any person who expresses their religion is likely to be *mocked*.”

I thought to myself, “This is vintage insanity from Sean Hannity.”  A little bit of historical perspective for my readers: of Jesus’s twelve disciples, only one of them, St. John, died of old age in his own bed.  The other 11 were martyred.  Catholics believe that St. Peter was crucified head down.  Please forgive my warped sense of irony when I imagine the roman Centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail informing St. Peter, “Hey Peter, we just got a commutation for you.  Instead of crucifying you head down, we're going to mock you.” 

St. Peter, “Oh no! Not mockery! Anything but that! Just crucify me!”

A Jewish friend of mine has told me that her Ukrainian Grandmother’s parents lived through some horrible pogroms during Czarist times.  I seriously doubt that my friend’s ancestors spent much time worrying about Cossacks saying catty things about the colors of their yarmulkes and the furnishings of their synagogues.  After the death of the profit Mohamed, both the founders of the Shiite branch of Islam, Ali and his son Hussein were killed by proponents of the Sunni branch of the faith.  Anyone with the slightest bit of awareness of the horrendous religious wars in Europe between Protestants and Catholics, or of the Hindu/Islamic conflict in the Indian subcontinent can be profoundly grateful that in America we have never had anything approaching that kind of horrible bloodshed. I thought Sean Hannity’s’ comments were so idiotic that I briefly thought, “Anybody that stupid ought to be nailed to a wall. Instead, I’m going to do something far worse and mock him.”

Something I Learned in Jerusalem

Since this story touches upon a religious matter about which feelings can run very high, I want to make a couple of points very clear.  As far as the Church of Latter Day Saints goes, it’s a good news/bad new situation.  When I was on the isle of Yap in 1999, I read the book of Mormon cover to cover and for me, it fails the giggle test.  According to it, around 700 BC a group of Israelites got onto a ship and sailed through the Mediterranean and, passing up the chance to stop in Greece, Cicely, Tunisia, Spain or Morocco, continued on to the new world where they founded civilization which lasted for about 1000 years; a civilization which Jesus of Nazareth visited in a second ministry.  Folks, if the book of Mormon floats your boat.  I have no problem with that, I’m just not buying any of it. That is exactly what I told the very polite young Mormon missionaries I met while I was on Yap and they very politely honored my request.  

The good news is that I have met Mormons when I was in the Navy, when I was on Yap and when I was a public defender in Bethel, Alaska.  Somewhere in this world I imagine there are Mormons that are not good people, but at the age of 58 I have not met one yet. (A bit of Utah trivia: that state has the lowest per capita rate of alcohol consumption in the country, which tends to indicate to me that they practice what they preach).

I’d also like to say that, while I am not Jewish, I have quite a few Jewish friends and I have the utmost admiration for the contribution that Jews have made to America and to civilization as a whole.  In recent years, there’s been considerable controversy about the Mormon Church performing “posthumous baptisms.”  And I can completely understand that some Jewish folks have gotten quite upset about this.  Jewish communities have a long history of withstanding attempts to convert them and some of those attempts have gotten extremely unpleasant.  With the utmost respect to my Jewish friends, you might want to take a look at the fine print of the Mormon program.  It states that anyone who is posthumously baptized will have the OPTION of becoming a member of the Latter Day Saints and the great beyond.  For the Mormons, free will is everything.  My personal reaction is far more bemusement than hostility.  I read recently that Mahatma Gandhi’s Grandson’s reaction was that it was a well-intentioned act that did not bother him one way or the other.

When I read about this whole controversy, I remembered something I saw when I took a tour of Jerusalem almost 20 years ago when the U.S.S. Inchon made a port of call in Haifa.  I took a number of bus tours and one of them was to the tomb of King David in Jerusalem.  Our tour guide was a retired Israeli army officer named David Jacob, who was an extraordinarily knowledgeable fellow.  As we watched an orthodox gentlemen praying over a stone tomb covered with a cloth baring the Star of David, Mr. Jacob commented to me, “They call this the tomb of King David, but on the stone underneath that cloth, there is a cross that is a crusader King’s grave.”  Even 20 years later, I greatly appreciate the irony.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Yorker/Mongolia Article

For anybody interested, the Nov. 18 issue of the New Yorker magazine contains an article about a woman who visited Ulaanbaatar. (Warning: sad story). Mongolia is known as the Land of the Blue Sky, and Ulaanbaatar‘s most avant guard hotel is the Blue Sky. Anyhow, the author stayed at the Blue Sky (which I've been in quite a few times) and was treated by a doctor from South Africa. The article did not mention the doctor's name, but I think he was a fellow I once met. Small World.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Clinton Gets a Slice

Back in July of 1994, I arrived on board the U.S.S. George Washington CVN-73 to teach English and History as part of the U.S. Navy’s “college education.”  Just one month earlier, President Clinton had been on board taking part in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day.  One of my students was a very sharp Chief Petty Officer who was the personal cook for the Admiral who was on board commanding the George Washington’s battle group.  This guy took quite a bit of ribbing because a few months before Steven Seagal had come out with one of his most dreadful films, “Under Siege” in which he played the Captain’s cook of the U.S.S. Missouri (who happens to be a Navy Seal) and proceeds to foil a terrorist plot.  

I heard a great deal about the Clinton entourage, especially their assumption that George Washington towels and bathrobes left in their staterooms were complimentary souvenirs.  The standing joke on the George Washington was, “at least we could eat because Clinton’s people didn’t steal all the silverware.”  I once heard the Chief mention that he had cooked a meal for the Clintons and had even baked three pies for the President.  I thought to myself, “That’s an interesting bit of trivia.”  So I asked, “Which pie did Clinton eat?”

The Chief replied, “He took a big slice of all three and the last I saw he was reaching for Hilary’s.”

Well, I had always known that Bill Clinton had very little control over his appetites. 

Nanuq’s New Nook

Last year I read a news item that a polar bear named Nanuq’s was going to be relocated to the Columbus Zoo as part of a polar bear breeding program. I imagine there was a conversation that went something like this:

“Okay, Nanuq.  Rise and shine buddy. It’s moving day.  You’re going to another zoo.”

“No, you are not going to the Bronx Zoo …. No, you are not going to the San Diego Zoo… Okay, I’ll tell you where you’re going: you’re going to Columbus, Ohio.”

“Settle down.  Nobody likes a whiny polar bear … seriously, get a grip on yourself. The grizzly bears are going to start teasing you about being a cry baby.  Look, Nanuq, you are going to Columbus, Ohio whether you like it or not … well, the jokes on you buddy I didn’t ride a horse in here.”

“What do you mean, ‘come back in three months?’ Polar bears don’t hibernate.”

“Now, come on.  Settle down.  You’re going to like the Columbus Zoo.  They’ve set you up with a nice apartment, and your roommates are going to be twin sisters.  No kidding! Their names are Anana and Aurora.”

“Hey, where’d that polar bear go, anyhow? How did he get into the cab of the truck?  No, look Nanuq, stop that.  You do not have a license to drive and stop pulling the air horn while you’re at it.”

Nanuq Post Script: Elvis and the Polar Bears

Since Nanuq arrived in the Columbus Zoo a year ago, apparently he’s been putting his time to good use.  There are reports that both of his roommates – polar bear twins Anana and Aurora – are in a family way.  The Columbus Zoo has an unlikely expert on detecting polar bear pregnancies; a beagle named Elvis, who has been trained to detect signs of pregnancy by sniffing polar bear scat.  My best guess is, that Columbus zookeepers present Elvis with scat samples from the polar bears cages.  Because if he sniffs out the scat in the usual canine style, then Elvis is one incredibly brave beagle!  No definitive word on whether we will be hearing the pitter patter of little polar bear paws anytime soon, but the word from the Zoo is, “Elvis definitely knows his S#*t!”

Happy Birthday USMC

Today, November 10, 2013, marks the 238th anniversary of the establishment of the United States Marine Corps. Happy Anniversary to all my Marine friends!

November 5th: American Amnesia

I wonder how many people reading this who are not history professors are aware of the significance of November 5th.  Over in England, I understand it is a pretty big deal as Guy Fawkes Day.  Clear back in 1605, a disaffected Catholic named Guy Fawkes had placed gunpowder kegs beneath Parliament and planned to blow up every member of that body in an attempt to restore Catholic rule to England.  He was caught in the act, tried and executed for treason.  This gave rise to a popular rhyme:

Remember, remember
The 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason & plot
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

This was also the unofficial celebration of lets bash Catholics day in England.

In American, however, Guy Fawkes and his treason are pretty much forgotten. While I’m frequently exasperated at the average American’s lack of historical knowledge, in this case, I think a bit of national amnesia can be a very good thing.

November 9th: A very big day in Germany

I vividly in remember 1989 — 24 years ago today — when the Berlin wall came down.  I was old enough to remember when the Berlin wall was built. That structure has always impressed me as an essential reminder of the evil nature of the Soviet system.  What kind of society has to be ready to shoot people to keep them from leaving?

A professor of German history once pointed out to me that there have been a number of landmark events in Germany that took place on November 9th: in 1918 Kaiser William abdicated the German throne and German liberal politicians proclaimed a German republic (sadly that didn't work out very well). In 1938 was Kristallnacht, when the Nazi’s organized brutal attacks on Jewish businesses and synagogues throughout Germany.  It was a terrible omen of what was to come. I’m glad I was alive November 9, 1989.  It was an event that gave me hope for the future of mankind.

Smokin’ Joe in Tokyo

Joe Frazier soon established himself as the best amateur heavy weight in Philadelphia.  Since Frazier was under 6’ tall, he couldn’t dance and jab like taller fighters.  He had to bore in and pummel his opponents’ midsections until he saw an opening for a left hook to the jaw.  In 1964 his manager, Yancey Durham commented that, when Frazier threw a combination, it was as if his gloves were smoking and that’s how Frazier got the nickname, Smokin’ Joe.  By early 1964, Joe Frazier had established such a fearsome reputation, that he was invited to participate in the United States Olympic trials where he cut a swath through the opposition and reached the finals.  His opponent in the final match was a man named Buster Mathis, who was about 4 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Frazier, and was known by the nickname, the Dancing Bear.  Mathis had heard all about Joe’s reputation for launching devastating body blows and had taken precautions.  Years later, Joe commented with complete disgust, “Mathis had his trunks pulled up to his titties!” (I wouldn't have blamed him if he tried to hold the hem of his trunks between his teeth!).  Early in the fight, Frazier landed a punishing blow to Mathis’s midsection and the referee penalized him a point for hitting below the belt.  Frazier was infuriated and disgusted that he lost the three-round decision and was ready to go back to Philadelphia.  Yancey Durham, however, encouraged him to make the trip to the Tokyo Olympics as an alternate because “you never can tell.”  Once Mathis and Frazier got to Tokyo, they established themselves as the pugilistic equivalent of the grasshopper and the ant.  Mathis developed a reputation for running a minute or two and then saying, “I’ll catch up with you guys later.”  Frazier, on the other hand, ran hard every morning and made himself available to any other fighter who wanted to spar.  Even wearing 16-ounce gloves, nobody ever took him up on the offer twice.

Then fate took a hand. Mathis broke his hands in a training session and Joe Frazier stepped up.

In his first bout, Frazier fought a Nigerian.  Less than midway through the first round, Frazier hit the Nigerian with the left hook and he went down for a 10 count.

In his second bout, he fought an Australian boxer who was several inches taller and about 30 pounds heavier.  In the first round, the Aussie hit Frazier with a very solid right and Frazier hit the deck.

 Unfortunately for the Aussie, he got back up again.  In the second round, he landed a left hook and the Aussie did not beat the count.

In the semi-final bout, his opponent was a Russian.  Again, he was facing a fighter far taller and far heavier than him.  Joe was getting the better of the fight in the third round and landed a great left hook and he felt a sharp pain in his left thumb.  Frazier won the decision and later visited a Japanese doctor (*not* the U.S. Olympic squads physician) and the doctor told him he’d broken his left thumb.  I don’t think anybody could have blamed Joe Frazier if had simply announced that he had a broken thumb and he could have gone home with a silver medal.  Joe Frazier however was made out of very tough stuff.  He wrapped his thumb up and climbed into the ring with a German fighter, again, far taller and far heavier than he.  By this time, that German had heard all about Joe’s awesome left hook.  I've seen clips of that bout.  The German spent a great deal of time moving to his left to avoid Frazier’s hook.  Frazier fought the gold-medal bout one-handed landing some punishing right hands and feinting with his left.  At the end of the bout, Frazier learned that he earned a very narrow 3 to 2 decision and he took his Olympic gold medal home to Philadelphia.  Things were still tough for Joe and his family.  Word got out that he couldn't even afford Christmas for his kids, so Philadelphia fight fans took up a collection for him.  Shortly thereafter, Joe Frazier turned pro and his fortunes and finances were going to take a dramatic turn for the better.

Joe William’s Early Years

Joe William was born in January, 1944, the 13th of 14 children of a black sharecropper living in Buford County, South Carolina.  At the time, Buford County had the highest infant mortality rate of any county in the United States.  Life was tough.  Joe’s younger sister died of rheumatic fever as an infant.  Joe’s family simply didn't have any money to pay a doctor.  The family “farm” was 40 acres of what was called “white dirt” – good only for raising cotton and watermelons.  Just when you think a family couldn't have it any tougher, when Joe was a very small child, his father objected to another man making a pass at his wife, Joe’s mother.  The other man got a shotgun and blew off Joe’s father’s left arm below the elbow.  So when Joe was still very young, he had to help his father plow their land.  The family did manage to keep one large bore hog in a pen near their house and Joe one day just had to tease that hog.  By a bad stroke of luck, somebody had left the pen unlocked, the hog got loose, and mauled Joe badly enough to break his left arm.  Again, Joe’s family was so poor they couldn't afford a doctor, so Joe’s left arm healed on its own.  

Before Joe was even in his teens, his family had to hire him out to other farmers in the area.  Many years later, Joe said he had a great many conversations with a plantation owner that usually went like this:

Joe: “Mornin’ boss”Boss: “Morning Joe, at noon.”Joe: “It’s noon, boss.”Boss: “In an hour, Joe.”And much later in the day Joe would say: “It’s dark, boss.”Boss: “In the morning, Joe”

When Joe was sixteen, he witnessed something he’d never forget.  A younger black kid made a mistake that damaged a white man’s tractor, and that white man took off his belt and gave the young boy a terrible whipping.  Joe commented then, and later in the day, that that was a horrible way to treat another human being.  The next day that white man confronted Joe and demanded to know where the hell he got off using that kind of language, even made a gesture that seemed to indicate he was about to take his belt off. Joe was only sixteen years old and, even as a grown man, he didn't quite reach 6’ tall. However, even at that young age he had a reputation of being someone you did *not* mess with. He stood his ground, looked his overseer in the eye and quietly said, “You best keep your belt on.”  That night when Joe’s mother heard about what had happened, she broke down and cried and then tearfully told Joe, “You’re going to have get on the Dog.” (That was the local term for riding a Greyhound bus to the north).  Joe got on the Dog up to Philadelphia where he managed to get a job in a slaughter house.  Shortly thereafter, he had a pregnant girlfriend who he married (how old fashioned!).  He also found he definitely needed to lose some weight.  If Joe had signed up for aerobics classes, American history would be quite different.  Instead, he went to Yancey Durham’s gym and started working out on punching bags and eventually did some sparring. He was short and chubby and one more experienced fighter enjoyed making Joe look foolish for a few minutes until Joe hit him flush with a left hook.  The apocryphal story is, that guy regained consciousness the same time the paramedics arrived at the gym.  (The apocryphal story relates that when Joe’s first tormentor regained consciousness, he was not getting in the ring with Joe ever again under any circumstances.  The paramedics replied, “We can go now.  This guy’s making sense.”)  Yancey Durham took Joe under his wing and told him he might have a real future as a boxer. Durham told Joe that when he put together a combination of punches, he was smokin’. With apologies to Paul Harvey, the world was going to hear from Joe William … Frazier.

The Meaning of Tallis

A few years ago, a law school classmate of mine: an absolutely delightful lady named  Hedy Feder Glaser, invited me down to Miami to attend her son’s bar mitzvah.  I went, and I’m glad I did.  It was a wonderful experience.  Great people, beautiful synagogue — I also learned the meaning of Tallis and I will never forget that word for as long as I shall live.  I do not spend a whole lot of time in synagogues, but I do know the drill.  Before entering the sanctuary, place a prayer shawl over your neck and put on a Yarmulke. After the service, which was excellent: it lasted over 2 hours and nobody was leaving (I kid Hedy that her Rabbi is to religious speakers as Sandy Koufax is to baseball pitchers), I shook hands with the Rabbi.  Then, I wasted absolutely no time getting to the men’s room, dropping off my prayer shawl in the prescribed box outside the sanctuary.  When I opened the men’s room door I saw a sign that read:  “Please remove Tallis before using the men’s room.”  At that point, I thought to myself, “What in the Billy blue blazes is a Tallis anyway?” I don’t want to commit some goisha gaff in Hedy’s beautiful synagogue. Seriously, I would just about rather die.  I saw that two gentlemen made it to the urinals ahead of me.  Normally, I do not engage in conversations with men standing at urinals.  However, in this case, I thought it appropriate to call out, “Excuse me gentlemen, but what is a Tallis?” I can’t tell you how totally relieved I was when I heard the reply: “the Tallis is the prayer shawl,” (the prayer shawl which I had already removed and placed in the appropriate receptacle provided).  Oh, thank goodness!  I will not have committed the gaff of the decade. Hedy’s friends will not tease her about her uncouth gentile friend from Ohio, and I will not die of uremic poisoning like Tycho Brahe.  I was so relieved and, about a minute later, I was even more relieved. 

P.S. Hedy, please tell your Rabbi that I think he’s the Sandy Koufax of Rabbis.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Moshe Dayan's Parrot

The (entirely fictional) story goes that after the '67 war, Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, came up with a bit of psychological warfare to mess with Egyptian President Nasser, using a talking parrot. One day, while Nasser was sitting at his desk, the parrot flew in his office window, defecated on Nasser's head, squawked "RAAAAWK! Moshe Dayan says, ‘F*** you,'" and flew out the window.

The next day, Nasser had all his air defense generals in for a conference, and was demanding to know how a parrot got past all their radars...when the parrot flies through the window, defecates on Nasser's head, squawks, "RAAAAWK! Moshe Dayan says, 'F*** you!'" and then flies out the window.

The next day, the Egyptians had set up an ambush. When the parrot flew in the window, Egyptian generals slammed the window and set about catching the parrot. Four and a half hours later, after suffering some very heavy casualties, they captured the parrot and cut his tongue out, and President Nasser shouts, "OK, what have you got to say now, you damn parrot?"

The parrot squawks, "RAAAWK" (at this point in telling the story, place your left palm over your left eye, raise your right hand, and extend your middle digit).

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Wonderful Ecumenical Story

This is a true story that should make every American that reads it very proud.  Back in late September of 2009, a Brooklyn synagogue, Beth Elohim, found that they had a serious problem. A large piece of plaster fell from the ceiling of the 100-year old building.  Investigation revealed that the roof of the synagogue was in danger of collapsing. Talk about absolutely rotten luck.  This took place just three days before the celebration of Yom Kippur. Fortunately, (only in America) the synagogue’s Rabbi, Andy Bachman, was very good friends with the Rev. Daniel Meeter of the Old First Reformed Church located just one block away.  The good Reverend Meeter told the Rabbi that the synagogue’s congregation was welcome to use the church for a Sunday night service, and about 1,000 people were in attendance that night.  I understand that these two fine clergymen are the very best of friends and I think that is a very good thing.

In case anyone doesn't fully appreciate what an extraordinary thing that is; you might want to read about repeated incidents in recent years in Egypt and other Muslim countries. Under Sharia law, Muslims may *tolerate* Christians and Jews (the “people of the book”), but one of the restrictions placed on them is that no church or synagogue is to be repaired in any way, *ever*.  Sadly, quite a few Muslims are willing to use lethal force to prevent the repair of non-Muslim houses of worship.  

I’m not a religious person, but if I were I think it would be appropriate to say, “God bless America!”

Taunting Gisele Bϋndchen

Football fans may know that the New England Patriots lost the 2012 super bowl and, for reasons known best to themselves, some fans of the winners, the New York Giants, saw the wife of New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady — the resilient super model, Gisele Bϋndchen — and proceeded to taunt her about her husband’s team losing.

Personally, I think taunting the fans of a losing team is a very unsportsmanlike thing to do and I would especially not taunt Gisele Bϋndchen.  (I would be much more inclined to ask her to introduce me to her twin sister, Patricia.) Furthermore, I think it is a very bad idea to taunt somebody who makes 30 million dollars a year.  I would be afraid that I would someday get run down by a Brinks truck or crushed under a pile of gold ingots or, most horribly, devoured by a pack of 900 starving chinchillas. Post script to this story is, apparently Ms. Bϋndchen lost her temper at her tormentors and yelled something to the effect of her husband couldn't get his team to win if his teammates kept dropping his passes.   Seeing as how Tom Brady passed for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns, I would say his receivers did quite well.

Am I the only person who thinks that SNL missed out on an opportunity for a great skit in which three of Brady’s Patriot teammates could give an editorial reply?  After all, if she’s going to criticize how they do their jobs, why can’t they criticize how she does hers (remember she’s a super model)?  

I could hear it now: “Gisele, girlfriend, do you really think those shoes go with that purse?”

“Gisele, where did you get those earrings, out of a Cracker Jack box?”

And finally, “Lady, who does your make-up, Bozo the Clown?”

Mink Farming

Many, many years ago a distant relative of my father owned a mink farm.  My father told me that the question that mink farmers get over and over and over again is: “How many pelts can you get off a mink.”  The answer that mink farmers have developed to this query is: “Only two.  After you skin him for the second time, he gets so damned irritable.”

Friday, November 1, 2013

Heisenberg’s Mommy

I recently had lunch with Allen Byerton who is one of my two favorite professors at Ohio State.  His specialty is German History.  When I read his book “Scientists under Hitler” I learned a true story that proves that truth is much stranger than fiction.  Werner (I checked) Heisenberg was Germany’s foremost authority on quantum physics in the 1930s and in the early days of Nazi rule, he managed to get himself in serious trouble with the SS.  Heisenberg got in serious trouble with the SS in early Nazi rule for making favorable mention of Albert Einstein who, as a Jewish exile from Germany was totally persona non grata, in his papers.  Some SS publications went so far as to refer to Heisenberg as a “white Jew.”  That sort of language could mean very serious trouble in Germany in the 1930s.  It could get a man imprisoned or worse. 

The way Heisenberg managed to get out of trouble is one for Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  By an extraordinary coincidence, Heisenberg’s mother was acquainted with Heinrich Himmler’s (head of the Gestapo) mother. The two ladies of a certain age had lunch and Frau Heisenberg prevailed upon Frau Himmler to ask her son to ease up on Professor Heisenberg. 

A few days after the ladies had lunch, Heisenberg got a letter from Himmler informing him that he was officially exonerated from being a “white Jew” that he was back in the good graces of the German government and admonishing him not to make any more favorable references to Albert Einstein in his papers. While I think it’s a good thing that Prof Heisenberg managed to get out of trouble. It boggles the mind to think of how many other helpful suggestions Fraulein Himmler might have had for her son. 

My Theory about Methodists

Based on the Methodists I've known I've come up with a working theory about those folks.  #1 the Methodists I've known have been very fine people.  #2 I have a theory about why the Romans never threw Methodists to the lions.  There are two reasons for this: #1 the denomination of Methodists did not get started until the early 19th century so they missed out on all the insanity in the coliseum; and, secondly, if anybody had ever tried to throw the Methodists I know to the lions, the lions would have called in sick.  Seriously, the lions would have gone out on strike with or without approval from their union.  Yes, I am saying that rather than face the Methodists, the lions would have called a wildcat strike.

A Sweet Dream

I’ll say right up front this is a “G-rated” story.  In ancient times, people regarded dreams as omens or as prophesy.  I tend to see dreams as a waste-product of the mind or as a coded message from the subconscious.  I very rarely remember my dreams.  I will be in the middle of a dream and when I wake up, it vanishes from my mind like a puff of smoke. If I remember a dream, usually it’s about something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. 

A very happy exception to this trend took place earlier this year while I was in Mongolia.  In the dream I saw my friend, Barbara, and she was standing in the doorway of a house (1844 Wyandot Road) that was located exactly 3 doors south at 1868 Wyandot Road.  Barbara was standing in the doorway of the house.  There was snow on the ground and Barbara was smiling as she almost always is in real life.  When I woke up, I thought to myself, “What the heck does that mean?” Barbara will probably be quite mystified and amused to hear about that dream since she grew up in Pennsylvania, grew up in California and has never been in Ohio in her entire life. After a while, an interpretation occurred to me that makes sense:  Barbara has been a friend for many years and, even though she lives 3 times zones west, when I talk to her it’s like catching up with a next door neighbor.  She lives a couple of thousand miles away, but she might as well be a few houses over. Since then, I’ve often wished I could find the reset button on my pillow so I could just have nice “G-rated” dream about my good friend Barbara.  

Who Hates on Charlize?

I imagine everyone has heard of how Lonna Lane was discovered at Schwab’s Drug Store way back when.

I wonder how many people are familiar with the story of how the South African actress, Charlize Theron, got her start. Apparently, she had relocated to Hollywood to pursue an acting career when she tried to cash an out-of-state check at a local bank which the teller refused to do.  Evidently, Miss Theron pitched quite a conniption fit and one of the other customers in the bank that day happened to be an agent who gave Ms. Theron his card and — as they say — the rest is history. Charlize Theron has attained a great deal of success as an actress.  A few years ago, she even won a best actress Oscar in the film Monster.  I imagine just about everybody thinks highly of Charlize Theron, except perhaps the tellers at that bank.  Can you imagine what it would be like if every aspiring actress went to that bank and tried to cash an out-of-state check?  I suspect the tellers in that bank are not fond of Charlize Theron.