Thursday, April 29, 2010


You can learn a good deal about someone when you play a game against them. This thought often comes into my mind when I play racquetball or tennis. Is your opponent inclined to call an outball in, will they make comments that are allegedly supportive but really are intended to diffuse your attention, will they call a "let" when they could, but a mensch knows that the alleged reason for the let is a technicality that should not be considered.

For a while in the late 90s I played tennis regularly with a fellow named Bob Whitaker. We had some great matches. He was as tenacious as I was and we both played fiercely but by the rules. Once after splitting the first two sets of a match, I said that the third one would be something. "It's going to be a war" he said. And it was, in the most positive sense of a competitive battle. Unfortunately, after a spell he got better and I could not compete with him. So then we played squash, a game that I had come to a little sooner than he, so I had the edge. Every one of our matches was a fun war. And every one was cleanly played. He would rather chew on a razor blade before calling an in ball, out, or taking an advantage that he had not earned. Since I like to think of myself as playing similarly, it was a gas to have these contests.

Because I know this about Bob, because I know he is thorough, prepared, and a person of conscience, I was shaken by a book he just wrote. The premise was not startling. I have thought that what he posited was indeed the case. But the thorough nature of his research and the comprehensive breadth of the book, have (further) reduced my respect for humankind.

The book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, argues that the psychotherapeutic profession and the drug industry have perpetrated a willful hoax on many Americans. In an attempt to justify a desire to claim that mental illness is akin to other biological illnesses, psychiatrists have declared that drugs can be used to address psychological disorders. In fact, what Bob unearths in his book is that drugs used to combat mental illness actually exacerbate, and in some cases, manufacture mental illnesses. Most disturbing is the documented claim that the perpetrators are aware of the deception, but the pecuniary rewards are such that--at the expense of the welfare of duped patients-the perps are willing to perpetuate the hoax.

I learned a new word reading the book. Repeatedly Bob refers to mental illnesses as being iatragenic--the illnesses are brought about by the alleged cure.

There is probably a metaphor here for other "illnesses" in life. How often does what we pursue--in a short sighted attempt to cure a problem or fill a void--create an "illness." I think it may happen more often than we are consciously aware. But metaphors aside, the argument that Whitaker makes about the drug biz is powerful and courageous.

And I believe him. I know how he plays sports.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Deis Rugby

I did not get it going this evening to make it to the health club before my arrival time there would have precluded any meaningful exercise. So, instead, I drove to the Brandeis track which is a short distance away and decided to walk around it for an hour or so.

The track encircles a soccer field. There was something happening on the field when I arrived. A group of loud blue clad college students were warming up on one side, and a bunch of loud white clad students on the other. They were shouting to rev themselves up and tossing around something that looked like a football. When I got close enough I saw that the white clad players had the words Deis Rugby on their jerseys and the teams were doing pregame drills for a rugby match.

I know next to nothing about rugby so I was curious. The drills were strange to me and the chatter different from what I am used to. The teams continued to warm up during my first, second, and third trips around the track. This was a low budget operation. The players apparently got dressed right on the field as bags and sweatshirts were strewn all over. There was no bathroom. And I became aware of this because as I would circle the far end of the track I saw that the designated urinal was the right field foul pole of the adjacent women's softball field. It was tucked away from the crowd of say 55 who had come to watch the match.

Here's how the game seems to work. A team drop-kicks off. A player from the other squad gets the ball and is pummelled until he relinquishes the ball. Then another player picks it up and he too is mauled. When the ball is relinquished a johnny on the spot picks up the ball and heaves it backwords to fleet runners who attempt to get to a goal line by continuing to lateral the ball backwards until someone tries to go forward without being tackled by the opponent. Eventually, the stronger team is able to advance the ball over a goal line and when it does, they score what is called, I overheard, a "try".

It didn't take long for the blue team (which I found out was from nearby Wheaton College) to show that they knew what they were doing. The Brandeis team while vocal and energetic during warmups seemed completely overmatched. The Wheaton team had several fellows that nobody on Brandeis could tackle and, on a few occasions, nobody on Brandeis seemed to want to attempt to tackle.

Nevertheless after each "try" scored by Wheaton, Brandeis gathered itself together and rah rahed saying this time they were going to score.

I went around the track 10 1/2 times before I sat down to watch the remainder of the game. These guys had no protective padding and they were really getting whacked. A couple to my right were watching their kid play and I thought that if that was my kid I could not watch this.

At the end I lost count of how many times Wheaton scored. Brandeis scored once. When the horn sounded though, it did not seem as if Brandeis was dispirited. They shook hands with the winners and looked at least like they had earned their beer for this Saturday night.

55 fans tops, no pads, getting their innards pummelled, losing by at least 8 "trys". It appeared to be, and really was for them, fun.


This morning while sitting by myself in the living room with my cat I heard myself shout "shut up" at the radio that sits on a table in the living room. I startled both the cat and myself at this outburst. I wondered if the accrued tensions of the week was not the source of this admonishment to the inanimate object nearby. Nevertheless, after the outburst I looked for the tiny remote control that allows me to change the stations on the radio. It was out of reach so I got up, shut off the radio and popped on a cd of Tony Bennett crooning oldies.

The impetus for my wrath were the words of a professional shnorrer. I tend to listen to three kinds of stations when using the music as background for reading or random contemplations. Either it is the local classical station, a college station that plays show tunes at certain times of the week, or an easy listening spot on the dial which plays the kind of tunes that cause my contemporaries to roll their eyes when they discover that I sort of like these songs for background.

It seems to me that in the past months, each of these stations has hired a bevy of shnorrers to interrupt the programming to try to make me feel guilty for not paying their salaries. I am told that if I like the kind of programs they have, I should send in some dough and get a calendar or some sort of magazine or, better yet, a judo type certificate suitable for framing that would let anyone who visits know that I am a bonafide member (read, "sucker") for station XYZ.

I find these shnorrers offensive partly because they interrupt the programs to which I have desired to attend without interruption. Also, I don't believe them. That is, I don't believe that without my check they will go belly up. I think their bellies are full and, I wonder, if I compared my professor's paycheck with programmers and directors there would be a glaring contrast and it would not be in my favor. I have some background knowledge with this. In Buffalo, I had a buddy who worked for a public television affiliate and she was adamant about the deceptive nature of the begging. For a stretch I served on a board that met periodically at the Boston public television offices. Nice digs, there. It did not seem as if anyone there had to take up a collection for much of anything.

I figure that if you make a deal with a public to do something, like teach, deliver mail, or broadcast show tunes, you should not make the deal if the only way for you to survive is to beg for sustenance. I make a deal with my administrators to teach for certain compensation. Can you imagine if after a course session I say that "If you liked the class you just took, then please donate to the teacher's fund."

I feel similarly when after I purchase a doughnut at a counter there appears a TIP fund for the person who has plucked the doughnut out of a case. I sort of figure that the cost of the doughnut includes the plucking. I sort of figure that my tax dollar is already supporting public radio. Play the music and stop with the shnorring.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Next Tuesday, April 20th, is my last day of classes before final exams that run until the end of the month. My teaching evaluations tend to be supportive, but if I were to announce on the 20th that I had decided to extend school for an extra week there would be an uproar approaching a riot. Few students, if any at all, would think this was a good bang for their buck--an extra week of classes for the same tuition dollar. There would be a petition and I would likely have to answer to someone at the university who is in a loftier position.

I had a Statistics professor in graduate school who commented that education was the one thing that people are willing to pay for, but don't care if they get. The quip was funny, and in many ways right on target. Some other time I might write about why his remark is on target in many, but not all, ways.

On Sunday night I watched a replay of the shootout between the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Their game was the last one of the regular season and as it turned out, the contest determined which team's season would continue.

The Rangers and Flyers were deadlocked prior to the game. The winner would make the playoffs. The loser would go home. End of season. The score at the end of regulation was 1-1. There was no score at the end of the 5 minute overtime. When this occurs during the regular season, the NHL determines the victor by conducting what is called a shootout.

A shootout in hockey means that each team selects three players and each of these players is allowed to skate toward the opponent's goaltender undefended in an attempt to score a goal. After each team has three attempts, the team that has scored the greater number of shootout goals is determined to be the winner. If the score is still tied after three players have attempted to score, then another player is selected from each team and the shootout continues until one team has scored more than the opponent.

The shootout, in my opinion, might be exciting, but it is idiotic. It is like deciding the winner in a baseball game that ends in a tie, by deciding how many of three selected players can hit a fungo out of the stadium.

But a shootout is the way ties are broken in the regular season in hockey. So that is the way the Rangers/Flyers game was decided and it determined whose season would continue and whose season would abruptly end.

The Flyers scored two out of their three times. The Rangers scored one out of their first two. When the third Ranger was unable to score a goal something predictable happened.

The Flyers erupted in joyful celebration. The Rangers sagged knowing the season was over. They would have to stop working. The Flyers could continue to work.

My students would riot if I extended their work. The Flyers exulted.

Something about sport and the joy of competition in this contrasting dichotomy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Deborah Togut

I remember exactly where I was on August 20, 2000. I was at Temple B'Nai Israel in Rockville Maryland. My 48 year old cousin Sammy, born April 8, 1952, was getting married. I have never seen anyone happier than Sammy was that day. Except maybe for Deborah, his bride.

Deborah was not only a prize in terms of beauty, intelligence, and class, but she was also the beloved cantor at the synagogue. No wonder Sammy was beaming. He had hit the jackpot. And Deborah: She too was elated. I have never attended a wedding where there was such joy. Yesterday I heard someone describe Deborah as being radiant on that day. Anyone who was there knew that radiant was the word.

And there were plenty of Zarembas there that day. I have this great photo of my clan standing on the bema. About forty of us gathered for a family photo right in front of the ark. I'm not sure if we were supposed to group up there, but knowing my clan any prohibition was not really taken seriously. I remember my cousin Neil trying to round up the clan. Finally we were in place surrounding the delighted bride and groom. We were kibbitzing and kidding back and forth. "Hey" shouts a cousin standing next to my father. "I don't want to be near Meyer Zaremba". Instantaneously my dad quips, "I second that." We all laugh. What a simchah. We are beaming in the photo, noone radiating more than Deborah and Sam.

I find out yesterday that Deborah spoke 7 languages; graduated from high school and Hebrew College in the same year; studied in Japan, and at the Jewish Theological Seminary; and influenced the decisions of three other women who became cantors. Yesterday her brother told us that Deborah came from a long line of women who would not take no for an answer. Apparently, her grandmother approached a rabbi and asked to learn Hebrew. The rabbi responded with four words that spurred her descendents to become the incredible achievers they turned out to be.

"Goils we don't teach" said the rabbi. This rocketed three generations of women to breakdown barriers, become physicians, lawyers, and in Deborah's case a cantor in a field dominated historically by men.

Sammy and Deborah have two beautiful young sons imbued with the love of this couple that began their journey together on August 20, 2000.

Today, I keep staring at the photo of our clan surrounding Deborah and Sammy. Because yesterday on that same bema, in front of that same ark where the Zarembas kvelled, joked, and beamed, in front of at least four hundred congregants whose lives had been touched, I heard 7 eulogies for Cantor Deborah Togut who perished from brain cancer on Friday April 9th, 2010.

Deborah made an indelibly strong positive mark on our universe. I know readers are unlikely to know my cousin Sammy, but I'll ask you, nevertheless, to wish him and his two sons comfort during this difficult time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


There is probably something symbolic about the names of the combatants in Monday's championship game. The regal dukes against the lowly butlers.

Yet, this game proved itself to be egalitarian. Butler played Duke toe to toe and if only some magic could have been employed by a celestial force, the long shot from Hayward at the end, would have created a storybook finish.

Still it was fun to watch. I lost twice on Monday. Once when Duke won the game because I was rooting for Butler, and once when Butler came within 7 because I had offered my wisdom to any readers for Duke to cover that 7 point spread. For the tournament I finished 32-29-1, a rate of about 53%. I will keep my day job.

Monday, April 5, 2010

weltschmerz//tikkun olam

I've been looking for a week and I can't find my watch. That is the bad news. The good news is that I have been unearthing great things that have been buried here and there as I have been searching for the watch.

Just yesterday I came across two items within minutes. The first made me smile. The second made me smile, but differently.

The first item is a photo my brother snapped on a trip we took through Wisconsin several years ago. We were driving from Madison to Green Bay and came to the town of Oshkosh which sits on the shores of Lake Winnebago. I like lakes so we pulled over and drove toward the water. We found ourselves on a suburban looking side street and could see the lake in the distance. We drove to water's edge and then saw a sign that made us stop and get the camera. Not more than 15 yards from the water, we saw a sign that read "Dead End."

Really. No kidding. Dead End.

What city planners thought that that sign was necessary? Maybe they figured that at night someone might not see the lake. Then how about a fence, or a lamp-post. No fence, no lamp post. Just a sign for anyone who, from 15 yards away, could miss the state's largest lake that covers, I just looked up, over 200 square miles.

So we got out and took a picture, and yesterday I smiled thinking about it.

I put the photo down, kept looking for the watch, and a moment later I came across a card sent to me by my teenage camp sweetheart. She had pasted a copy of the moon in the shape of a heart in the card. In the card she wrote that she was considering painting the heart with the words "tikkun olam" written underneath it and sending the painting to me.

The thought was sincere but I never received the painting--so perhaps there is something symbolic about picking up the dead end photo seconds before finding the card. Yet, reading the card made me smile.

Tikkun olam is a phrase that means repairing the world. If you subscribe to tikkun olam you assert that our world has been ruptured and it is our responsibility as those who inhabit the planet to repair that rupture. Weltschmerz means a state of depression or apathy that comes from comparing the ideal state of the world with its actual state. If you buy the idea of tikkun olam, there is a cure for weltschmerz and that is doing what is necessary to repair the rupture. My erstwhile camp sweetheart thought, apparently, that what fueled tikkun olam was the heart. I smiled when I reread the card.

In the second game on Saturday, Duke was ahead, yet its opponent West Virginia was valiantly attempting to come back from a deficit. In the middle of the second half a player named Da'Sean Butler, the spiritual leader of the team, drove hard to the basket. He collided with an opponent. Butler then began writhing on the floor in what appeared to be tremendous pain. He looked to be in agony as he flailed away on the floor.

What I saw next was something I have never seen in college sports. As Butler was jerking about, his coach--Bob Huggins--came out onto the court and kneeled over his player. He got as close to Butler as lovers do when they are about to embrace. What he said, we will never know, but he was speaking to his player attempting to console him. Doing what he could to comfort him, repair the rupture to whatever extent he could. The doctors were working on his leg, but Huggins was working on the players heart. It seemed natural and sincere.

There is balm in Gilead and that balm is the amalgam of concern, consideration, and a natural willingness to come out of your comfort zone, to love. Noone would have blamed Huggins for coaching his players instead of consoling Butler. Noone would have blamed him if all he did was stand up and shout platitudes. But instead he got in his player's face and whatever he said could be translated as, I love you.

What is the cure for paralyzing weltschmerz? Tikkun Olam. And love. And if you are willing to do that, work toward repairing the world, there are fewer dead ends and watches do not report time spent as much as time enjoyed.

By the way, Butler stays close tonight, until the end. Then Duke wins in double figures.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Final Four

I have been picking the games against the spread for the entire tournament. If the NCAA expands to 96 it will be more labor than love to follow the games. I think that decision to increase the participants would be a good example of attempting to fix something that is not broken and then, being content when the fixed item is more lucrative than it had been, but not as alluring either. So, it depends on what drives your enterprise: Shekels or your ostensible values.

Right now I sit at 31-27-1 for the tournament. Took a hit last weekend going 0-4, but still am in a position where the worst I can do is finish one game above .500. Today I like Butler and West Virginia. I hate to bet against a coach like Michigan State's Izzo, but I think he has done it with smoke and mirrors so far. Butler is giving a point, still I think they will win and then would cover (or at worst push/tie). I am going with West Virginia because I think the "stupid money" (a phrase that readers will know was used by a pundit with whom I conversed while I researched the book) has come in for Duke creating the 2 1/2 point spread. WV is geting the points and I think they are just too tough for Duke. WV can wear you out the way they keep grinding.

These predictions are guesses, but I am not guessing when I write that increasing the participants in the tournament to 96 will dilute the joyous madness of march.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jerald terHorst

I keep lots of memorabilia. I will, on occasion, open a storage bin with a label, "assorted paraphernalia," and take a pleasant trip along the backdrop of my life. I'll pick up an item that summons the memory attached to it; stare at a photo that recalls a day and summons the events surrounding it; and read notes I received as I've travelled around the track.

The irony is that sometimes I don't know where the bins are that have all these keepsakes. Most of the time that's fine. I enjoy stumbling across a box in the basement and spending a few hours unearthing its contents. But sometimes there's actually an item I'd like to find, and the chances of locating it without dedicating a weekend or two to the task are minimal.

Today I thought of something I have somewhere that I'd like to locate at some point. I read in the Boston Globe today that Jerald terHorst has passed away. I think there are people in every generation who have done small things that are not registered in the archives, but are significant. Jerald terHorst did something in the Fall of 1974 that I think was very significant.

I was in graduate school in Buffalo, New York at the time. The previous summer Richard Nixon had resigned and Gerald Ford had become the president of the United States. In September President Ford, a politician I liked on balance, did something I considered reprehensible. He pardoned Richard Nixon before he could be prosecuted for the charges of obstructing justice and lying to Congress during the Watergate matter.

By pardoning Nixon, Ford thought he would be healing a nation that had become divided by the crisis. His error, I believe, is that the pardon aborted a natural process and artificially provided closure. Any cut that requires suturing must first be cleaned, lest the stitches secure an infection that inevitably will surface.

The pardon denied the people of this democracy an opportunity to discover the truth. Consequently there are people today who are sincerely unaware of any transgressions perpetrated, and others who are delighted that there is ignorance so they might promulgate an inaccurate narrative that fits their agenda.

Jerald terHorst was President Ford's press secretary. Press secretaries are supposed to be the link between the chief executive and the press who in turn are supposed to transmit information to the public. Press secretaries are vital and their credibility is essential for a democracy to work as it is designed to work. Yet, prior to terHorst press secretaries had been, particularly during Watergate and the Nixon administration, nothing more than spin doctors. People who took reality and skewed it to present an image that was inconsistent with reality. Nixon's press secretary Ronald Ziegler was notorious in this regard and, though few know it, Diane Sawyer was an assistant to Ziegler during this time.

Gerald Ford was supposed to be a breath of fresh air after Watergate, and in many ways he was. His selection of terHorst was consistent with the objective of being credible and shooting straight with the public. But when Ford pardoned Nixon, many who had hoped for the end of a coverup, were disappointed.

When Ford pardoned Nixon, Jerald terHorst did something which few should forget. He resigned. He wrote to the president and said that this was unfair. Individuals who had committed lesser crimes were being prosecuted and sent to jail. "Try as I can" wrote ter Horst "it is impossible to conclude that the former president is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national well-being."

We all come to a fork in the road at least once in our lives. One route takes us to what will be attractive and perhaps lucrative, but the other fork, we know, is really the right one to take. Jerald terHorst had the opportunity to be famous every day, be a representative of the most powerful person in our world, a very alluring opportunity. But he couldn't continue, credibly, defending an act that he knew--or at least felt--was not in the interests of our evolving democracy.

I thought terHorst's decision to resign was right and courageous and important. So I wrote to Jerald terHorst and I told him how important I thought it was for him to do what he did.

Somewhere in my house is a letter he sent back to me, thanking me for sending my note. I remember that he signed it personally and actually addressed somethings I'd written. I saved it. It's somewhere around here.

Jerald terHorst is unlikely to be in history books that our grandchildren will read. But he should be.