Saturday, October 31, 2009

Alzheimer's Loss and Gain of Memory

UH-1D helicopters airlift members of the 2nd B...

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Glancing through my bookshelves I noticed a book entitled, The Things They Carried. This is a book about GIs who served in Vietnam and in which the author captures the spirit of the nation by the artifacts the soldiers carried into battle.

To fix the remembrances we most value we carry or keep our favorite things. In my case, I value a 100-watt burnt out light bulb more than anything else I can think of. I will explain in a moment.

In the mid-sixties, as both Mary Patricia and I were pursuing our separate careers, we had to juggle our time to hold our marriage together and to spend quality time with our first-born daughter. As a budding concert pianist, Mary Patricia's schedule was filled with auditions, recitals, and long practice hours. To pay bills I took a break from school and got a job. We needed help-desperately.

One good day, it occurred to me that my mother-in-law -a widow for many years- who lived all by herself in a big house in Boston, perhaps should move in to live with us here in Manhattan.

"With Jim now in the Marines," I said to Mary Patricia, "she must be lonely."
"Mom misses Jim a lot." With a melancholy voice Mary Patricia went on, "I must admit she favored my brother. Sometimes I felt like I was a glass pane-that she'd look through me. But not with Jim-oh, no. Her gaze would always linger on him."
"You're imagining things," I would say to soother her. "Moms love their children equally."

Mary Patricia agreed to talk to her mom. And to our relief, Portia welcome the idea and soon she moved in with us. For fourteen precious years Portia enriched and sweetened our lives, for in my long years of existence besides my wife I haven't met anyone as noble and kind-hearted as my mother-in-law.

Endowed with an eye for colors and patterns, in her mild manner, she would suggest that I change ties, that a particular jacket or shoes were more appropriate. Never for a single day or moment did I have to worry about loose buttons, frayed cuffs, or soiled or spotted garments. Portia inspected and maintained my personal attire, just as she had with her husband's (a distinguished and famed Boston attorney).
While the war in Vietnam was raging and seemed distant to many, in our household it was a daily threat. Jim --Mary Patricia's brother, Portia's son-- was in the thick of the war. An occasional letter from Jim would relieve Portia's anxiety. But the specter of doom filled her days.

Having lost my student deferment, I had no choice but to accept a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army. After advanced training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Lawton in Oklahoma, I soon received my orders and shipped out to Vietnam.

I came back from the war, but Jim never did.

Yet Portia never begrudged her loss. She accepted Jim's fate and his memory became a constant source of pride, for Jim had fallen with the gallantry of a true American hero in the battle for Khe Sanh. And many were the posthumous citations and medals that the Marines awarded him.

With my nerves shattered and suffering from hallucinations and nightmares, for a couple of years, Mary Patricia and Portia nursed me back to life. Like a divine angel of mercy Portia ministered to my shredded soul and body. My return to civilian life wasn't easy, and had it not been for Portia, God knows what dark impulses would have seized my feeble reason.

When I got well and started working again, Portia once again looked after me with motherly love, respect, and sweetness. It seemed to me that she waited for the hours of the day to pass so that when I came home from work, she could greet me with a cup of hot tea and cookies.

At times I felt bad for Mary Patricia, for Portia's attentions to her were not as expressive. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Portia was thrifty and not given to frivolous spending. Many a time, as I saw Portia use her 100-watt burnt out light bulb to mend my socks, I would ask Mary Patricia: "Wouldn't it be more economical if I buy new socks? In today's economy no one mends socks anymore."
"She did that for that dad. Let her be," Mary Patricia would reply.
Then one ill-starred day an incident happened that was the harbinger of bad things to come.
Hot tea and cookies on the table by my side, I watched the 6 PM news. In the next instant, Portia walks in with another tray with cookies and hot tea. An awkward moment it was, for I was just as confused as she was. Realizing her duplicate action, tears came to her eyes. Portia retreated to the kitchen carrying the tray, and I never gave it another thought until other little things started to become obvious that something was amiss.

Faced with the unmistakable facts that Portia wasn't well mentally, we took her to a specialist. The diagnosis was 'dementia caused by Alzheimer's loss of memory.'

Portia became adamant and wanted to return to Boston to live in her own house again. But she no longer owned that house, for she had sold it when she moved in with us. And since her illness was progressing at a rapid pace, we had no choice but to install her in a facility that specialized in Alzheimer's patients.

Many a weekend we would drive out to visit with her. And our visits seemed to cheer her up. But the decease advanced with unremitting force, and one day we got word that she had been taken to the hospital. We rushed there.

"Jim, Oh-Jim!" Portia exclaimed when she saw me, her eyes wide with motherly love. "You're back!"

Taken aback for one second, my initial reaction was to correct her, I'm not Jim-I'm Marc, I wanted to say. Still surprised, I turned to Mary Patricia to take a clue from her, but she wasn't about to help since her eyes were filled with tears. So I leaned over and hugged Portia and then kissed her withered and lined faced.

"That Army major said you were killed... I knew it was a mistake. Oh, Jim-my son!"

Though this scene happened more than thirty years ago, I can still feel the lump in my throat occluding my air way, slowly descending to my stomach where it hit me with physical pain as when the wind is knocked out of you. Not having the heart to burst Portia's bubble of happiness, I simply said,

"Mom," as I kissed her face once again.

Her eyes lids fluttered and she seemed to drift into sleep. But in the next instant she focused on Mary Patricia and addressed her: "Why are you crying my dear? Jim never brought a girl home before. He must be serious--he's a good boy. What's your name, dear?"

As if fatigued by a strenuous task, Portia drifted into sleep, or so it seemed. Moments later, the senior resident doctor leading a retinue of interns came into the room. After looking at Portia's chart he said, "...we're all billionaires and millionaires; the brain holds more than 100 billion neurons, but a few million will burn out affecting not only our senses, but also our memory banks."

Although the doctor kept his voice low as he went on with his ambulatory lecture to the interns, we could hear parts of it: "In advanced cases...no current cure...God's mercy."

Suddenly Portia opened her eyes, and seeing the group of doctors, said: "Doctor, Jim's back! My son is back from the war...I'm so happy--and now I can go...yes?"

Confused and bewildered by what Portia was saying, I looked at the doctor who seemed to be decoding her words. Beaming like a child with new shoes, Portia looked at me,

"Jim, remember those verses your dad used to recite and--I could never remember to save my soul? They just came to me, just now. Listen!" Clearly, I heard her say:

The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath


Later that day, Mary Patricia told me that the doctor called and informed her that Portia had passed away in her sleep.

Benumbed with grief, my mind filled with impossible-to-bear-sadness, all I could think of was Portia's 100-watt burnt light bulb. Thirty years later I wonder whether the "things we carry" in our hearts and minds are more substantial than the objects we carry in our daily lives.
The writing techniques I use in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual--an indispensable guide:

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How To Acquire a Warhol and a Rauschenberg

:en:Ellen DeGeneres at :en:Hotel Bel Air in :e...Image via Wikipedia

One night, upon returning from a “Musica Sacra” concert at Carnegie Hall, we saw our doorman propping up against the front wall a tall, drunken young lady. Mateo (the doorman) is a small man and was in bad need of help.
“It’s Amy—In 10E!” Mateo said.
Needless to say, we —my husband and I— immediately lent the poor doorman a hand, and in no time we walked Amy into the lobby and settled her in the wooden bench right across from the reception desk. In a while, Amy sobered up a little, letting us know that she could now walk. Since Mateo could not abandon his post, we decided to accompany Amy to her apartment. The rocking motion of the old elevator must have made her sick, for an abrupt avalanche non-digested hors d'oeuvres soiled her black taffeta cocktail, divinely deep-d├ęcolletage dress and my sequined sweater and white silk pants. Even my husband’s Armani tux got speckled.
The next day, Amy called.
She apologized profusely and I told her the same white lie my beloved grandfather had told me when I threw up on his new suit on Christmas Day when I was five:
“Marc’s tux was new and a man’s suit never really hangs right until it has been dry cleaned once, Amy. My grandfather taught me that, and, as for me, I am way too messy to wear white pants without spilling something on them. Red wine this time. Not to worry, sweetie—been there done that!”
A couple of weeks went by and I forgot about the incident. I would have forgotten it altogether had it not been for my husband’s eagle eye.
“Mary Patricia!” I heard my husband yelled with definite urgency. “Hurry, come see Amy.”
Being addicted to the TV series “Law and Order” —and all their spin-offs— we tape them all and watch them every day. When I reached the living room, my husband, standing, was poking at the TV,
“Right here—there she is!”
“Oh, yeah! She looks pretty. Is she a member of the jury?”
“No, she’s the court recorder.”
Amy was a young actress, tall, pretty, a sweet voice, and what one would call ‘stage presence.’ Was she from Boston? Did that well-mannered sweetness say Boston? Although we were never close friends of hers, we loved seeing Amy play many roles in TV shows. We saw her being interviewed by Oprah on a piece about struggling actors. Later in the week, billed as the nameless face you’ve seen in so many TV shows, we even saw her do an impromptu dance with Ellen DeGeneres. For a while, she seemed to be in every talk show and situation comedy; never a big star, but always busy.
That summer we gave an evening party in her honor.
Marc and I live in a penthouse apartment and we used to have a terrace, but I convinced my husband, the co-op board, and the city to let me seal it in. For many years, Van Johnson —a mega movie star of the fifties— lived in our building before he moved to Sutton Place; something that made us proud of living in this building. And now that Amy’s career was taking off, gave us even more reason to feel pride once again.
Amy was the belle of the party.

2

One evening as Marc —my husband— went for his walk, he told me that he had seen Amy in the lobby and that she was a nervous wreck; that she looked bad: red-eyed, shaky hands, twitching lips. Men can be so curt. Not only do they tell you half a story, but in the next instant they turn on the news, leaving you dangling, eager for details. Try as hard as I might, I couldn’t get a good idea of what he meant. But going around and around, finally between him and the TV, I got the whole story. Amy —because of her drinking— had been fired from different shows. And that was true, for we no longer saw her in TV; at least not with the same frequency as before.
“Going through a rough patch, isn’t she?” I said.
“She said she couldn’t afford to live here anymore.”
“Maybe she should move into one of those empty studios—temporarily,” I said.
“She’s broke.”
A couple of weeks later, since Marc was running out of his Merlot, I went to the Lexington corner store to order a case of Chilean wines that he likes so much. Amy was there. How can one miss a tall, gorgeous young lady in stretch pants, Hermes scarf casually draped, and oversized dark Coco Chanel sunglasses on top of her head. What a pity, I thought, such lovely features being ruined by booze.
Yet, an aura of class, chic, and mystery seemed to glow around her. The mystery part of the equation disturbed me a lot because I, without reason, attributed it to an unnatural dread, an impending gloom. Though I am practical woman, I’m also quite intuitive and can sense tragedy and disaster before they hit.
Amy and I chatted for a while. She intimated that her brother in Connecticut had been helping her with the maintenance payments, but that he couldn’t do it anymore.
“The cupboard is bare,” she said.
I admired her candor.
“Now I have to scrape some money to fly to L. A. I have a screen test next week,” she said, her sweet voice cracking a bit. “It’s a small role,” she added. “But like Maggio for Sinatra, it could be my ticket to the big leagues.”
Of course I didn’t offer to help since this is only the second time that we’ve talked. When I saw that Amy’s eyes clouded with, what I took to be, frustration and despair, I must declare though, that the thought of giving her a loan crossed my mind. Filled with excitement I ran home to tell Marc about Amy’s possibilities in the ‘big leagues.’ Naturally, my telling was laden with hints that perhaps he should open up his wallet. Marc, who has a soft spot for damsels in stress and distress, without any direct prodding, agreed quickly that we should help; monetarily, that is.
“Below that rough exterior there’s a velvet heart,” I said as I planted a loud kiss on his wide and ample forehead.

3
Marc called Amy and congratulated her on her screen test and asked her if we could take her out to dinner and celebrate.
“No dinner, please!”
Instead, Amy insisted that we should come to her apartment for cocktails.
“An extra pound, and there goes the screen test,” she explained.
Weight, nutrition, eating well, feeling good about one’s body is something I truly understand. So I spoke over Marc’s voice: “Drinks is fine!”
Moments later, down we went to see her.
“What are you going to wear?” I asked Amy, my mind racing ahead, already envisioning her reading her part.
She brought out an outfit that was mostly black, way too New York in my opinion and wrong for her coloring. Launching into my favorite prattle on the power of color, especially on film, I knew I had Amy’s complete attention when I told her she was a “Spring” and that black made all Springs look old.
While Marc got busy with the TV to find a soccer channel, Amy and I went to her bedroom, straight into her closet.
In a New York minute, I suggested to Amy that she wear a peach open weave Jacket, a periwinkle silk tailored shirt, a rust linen knee-length skirt that was the color of her hair, a cream Prada bag and fabulous creamy beige Chanel sling backs.
“I’d never thought of that,” she said, a semi-tone of caution and doubt in her voice.
I smiled to set her at ease. “You realize this combo reflects your coloring: peaches and cream skin, bright blue eyes and auburn hair?”
Then I explained to her the concept of ‘signature’ to a woman, and suggested we look for some ‘signature’ jewelry.
She paled and gave me distraught look.
Given her dire financial straits she had sold everything of value. I ran to the penthouse and returned with a peach pearl freshwater 18” necklace, graded for 4-8 mm and matching 7 mm studs. When she put them on, they were just perfect for her for they enhanced the exquisite peach-like texture of her angelic face.
“Now, that is elegance!” I exclaimed.
Yet a definite nervousness shone in her eyes.
“Doesn’t borrowing real jewelry bring bad luck?”
“Who’s borrowing,” I said. “This is a gift.”
Confused, she kept quiet.
“These pearls are all wrong for me. I have a pink set which are much better for me. So I want you to have them. Peach will bring you good luck.”
For a second I thought she would not accept the gift. But she did.
Amy hugged me and thanked me as we ambled into the living room to join Marc.
The furniture in Amy’s apartment was sparse. “Minimalist,” Marc said later. Somehow I got the impression that Amy did not wish to be anchored to the place; “weighed down,” would be a more apt description. Yet, her long wall in the living room had a few pieces of original art. An original graphic by Andy Warhol and a small canvas by Robert Rauschenberg caught my attention. Unable to contain my admiration I let her know how envious and covetous I felt.
“Both artists freeze time with their icons,” she said casually.
“You’ll be an American icon—soon,” Marc (Mr. Amiability) added.
“I’ll tell you how I came to own those two pieces some other time—not today.”
That laconic remark made me think that perhaps such event would account for that veil of melancholy that seemed to shroud her divine countenance.
Marc is now retired from business, but during his long career, he’s handled many individual and institutional investments. He’s never embarrassed to talk money. So, as I expected, in no time he had the situation under control. Placing a check on the coffee table all he said was:
“This will get you to L. A. and back.”
Amy nodded, and whispered what I took to be ‘thank you.’
That was the last we time we her; in person—that is.


4
A month went by and we never heard from her. One day, when I went to pick up the mail I asked Mateo if Amy had returned from L.A. Shocked, perplexed, and ice-cold, I learned that she had moved out. Moved out! I kept repeating to myself as if the echo would somehow deny the fact. Neither a telephone number nor a forwarding address had she left with the front desk. For some time Marc and I were a little disappointed that she had scamped without saying goodbye to us. We felt sorry we had befriended her, not because of the loss of the money ($5,000) we had loaned to her, but because of the breach of trust and cruel indifference.
To add insult to injury, one day the super —a plump wide-girthed Irishman— asked me point blank,
“When are you going to pick up that crate?”
“What crate?”
“10E left it. It’s marked ‘To be stored in PH.’”
Finally, I couldn’t hold my disgust much longer, and I exploded:
“What am I—a storage facility? Isn’t it bad enough that she ran out in the middle of the night without even saying, adieu, so long, auf viedersehen!”
The next day, one of the porters brought a crate half as tall as I was and about as wide as the door, but it was December and, up to my neck in the usual festivities. I put it away in the pine closet. But time that heals all wounds healed our wounded pride and never gave the crate another thought.


5
When the movie for which Amy had tested and gotten the part came out, Amy became an incredible success. We went to see it and Marc all but took credit for the acting performance, and with puffed up chest, much like a father who is proud of an accomplished child, he lavished praise on Amy for days on end. Other movies followed; all successful to say the least. At Oscar nights, Marc and I would see her on the red carpet posing gracefully —sweet, articulate, gorgeous— yet melancholy. During the awards ceremonies, when the cameras panned and focused on her, Marc and I would swoon and become intoxicated with her success.
Nothing gave me more pleasure than to see Amy always wearing my pearls. She hadn’t changed in that respect—she wore no jewelry other than the necklace and earrings I gave her for the screen test. That detail didn’t escape my attention; and in moments of solitude I would entertain the thought that she really never forgot us.
With much awe, love, and adoration we followed her career. Amy’s mega star fame and success spilled over to us, for we felt that we were the partial architects of her fate.
This last year, she was nominated for supporting actress. Dressed in a Dior Periwinkle strapless chiffon with a slight Grecian drape, and my pearls, she was a vision reminiscent of Grace Kelly —the star who became a princess— and that night we prayed fervently for her to win the Oscar, but to no avail.
“Close, but no cigar,” Marc remarked with obvious disappointment in his voice.
“Next year she will—for sure, maybe she will wear an American designer,” I said.
But there was no next year.
By now, newspapers, magazines, and TV, have well recounted all the gruesome bits of the accident that took her life—an insane fatal DUI. Despite the abundant coverage in the media, no written article or TV piece did ever capture that mysterious beauty that seemed to emanate not from her looks, but from her soul: the sweet lilt of her speech; the languor of her hesitant smile; the dreamy mystic stare of those who linger on visions of the other shore.
She was buried in her signature periwinkle blue and peach pearls; she had not reached 30.
We were devastated.
When the torrential news cycle wore down to a trickle, Marc asked me,
“What are we going to do with that crate?”
“She had a brother in Connecticut,” I said. “We could ship it to him, if we knew his address.”
Amy’s name was a stage name and we didn’t know her real name. The managing agents for our building were useless; she had sold out her co-op and were reluctant to help.
So one weekend, we opened the crate. An envelope contained a brief note:
Dear Marc and Mary:
It makes me happy to know that you love these two pieces.
Enjoy them. I never did because they came to me as part of
the division of assets of my failed and much painful marriage. My ex husband purchased them for $5,000—a long time ago! Thanks for the loan.

Amy.

The Warhol and the Rauschenberg now hang in the long wall of our living room, next a small shrine that honors Amy’s loving memory.
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Marriage Counseling: Hidden but Always Visible

An arranged marriage between Louis XIV of Fran...Image via Wikipedia

When Mary Patricia and I were graduate students -and married-we went to a party given by another married couple and for married couples; although a few single students drifted in. And like in most college-students parties way after midnight (curled up on sofas, or forming a circle on the floor, legs crossed) we discussed the hot topics of the day.

Peter and Marcella -Peter a native of Iowa, and Marcella a beauty from Peru-had met while Peter was serving in the Peace Corps. Marcella had been an exchange student here in America and spoke English perfectly. Mary Patricia and I were fascinated with this couple, for while Peter was a plain man; or perhaps unhandsome may be a better adjective, Marcella was a striking beauty. Behind their backs our friends would refer to them jokingly as, "the beauty and the beast."

Inevitably, that night the trite question of the night came up: "Suppose your mom, your wife, and yourself are in a boat in middle of the ocean; and if the boat capsizes-who would you save?"

Entrapped by such a dull question that is designed to stoke disagreement, Peter got himself in trouble with Marcella, for he blurted out: "My mother of course!"

Muffled mutterings and harsh stares of disappointment filled the room.

Shaken but not stirred, Marcella shot back: "Have you forgotten your marriage bows, Peter?"

Ned Van Park, the resident Marxist at the university and a good friend of Peter's, came in Peter's defense: "You have to understand, Marcella," he said, "Peter's dad died when he was an infant, and he was raised by his mother."

The fire in Marcella's eyes flickered with disbelief and embarrassment. Had she married a man who'd leave her behind?

Other men chimed in agreeing with Ned. The influence of a mother, her continuous presence, her indelible image, and inviolable trust, fills a man's life. That intra-history isn't something that can be ignored just because a man marries a woman. While a husband has established a bond with his mother for many years, a wife comes into the life of a man and his mother and family-a later arrival so to speak. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that is general tenor of the remarks in Peter's defense.

Women interjected other points, but for the sake of brevity, I want to bring up what Mary Patricia said that night. This is something that I gladly share, for it was a lesson that I have never forgotten and a lesson that has guided my thinking and attitude in my marriage.

Cool and collected, Mary Patricia, spoke slowly:

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

No sooner had she finished quoting the passage from Genesis, than another current of muffled mutterings circled the room. This time it was the murmur of assent.

"Did you hear, Peter? Marcella asked her husband. "... a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

Not only did Peter apologize to Marcella but he openly hugged and kissed his wife, and turning to the audience of half-asleep students, he said: "From this day forward, my wife is and will always be my first love, my first duty, and my first obligation as long as I live."

With that out of the way Ned Van Park, took over, lecturing us about the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

When we got home, I told Mary Patricia that I really liked the way she had settled the argument with that quote. Turning, she asked me pointblank:

"Who would you save?"

My answer was straight forward and simple

"I only have you-'To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.'"


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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Insurance Companies Enjoy Exemption From Antitrust Laws – Why?

Comic of trust barons

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Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) and Patrick Leahey (D, Vermont) seem to be gaining ground in their efforts to pass an amendment to remove insurance companies from the protection of antitrust laws. The ongoing health care overhaul currently being debated has brought to the fore the privilege the insurance industry has enjoyed for the past 64 years: Insurance companies, like Major League Baseball, have been exempt from federal antitrust laws. Monopolies stagnate markets by preventing others from engaging in healthy market competition.

Is the exemption a dying dinosaur?

Brief history of antitrust laws

Given the fears of monopolies in the late 1800s and to preserve America's free market economy, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890; its aim being to combat anticompetitive practices, reduce market domination by individual corporations, and preserve unfettered competition as the rule of trade. Soon the courts found certain activities to fall outside the scope of the Sherman Antitrust Act. To plug this loophole Congress passed the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914. The Clayton Act added the following practices to the list of impermissible activities: price discrimination between different purchasers, if such discrimination tends to create a monopoly; exclusive dealing agreements; tying arrangements; and mergers and acquisitions that substantially reduce market competition. The Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 amended the Clayton Act. The amendment aimed to outlaw certain abuses in manufacturers’ practices.

Brief history of the insurance exemption

Before the 1940s, insurance regulation fell under sole province of the states. A Supreme Court case by the name of United States v. South-Eastern Underwriters challenged that in part on grounds of antitrust. The Supreme Court rules that the federal government could regulate insurance companies under the authority of the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution. The McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1944 provides that federal anti-trust laws will not apply to the "business of insurance" as long as the state regulates in that area, but federal anti-trust laws will apply in cases of boycott, coercion, and intimidation.

The intention was to return the legal climate to that which existed prior to South-Eastern Underwriters by specifying that the states retained the authority to continue to regulate and tax the business of insurance. According to Senator Patrick Leahey, Judiciary Committee Chairman, the antitrust exemption in the 1944 McCarran-Ferguson Act was meant to be temporary.

Senator Trent Lott and others have argued that the exemption has led to collusion by insurance companies on setting rates and denying claims, as witnessed by the experience of hurricane Katrina. McCarran-Ferguson, in other words, is obsolete, and potentially damaging.

Department of Justice position

Christine A. Varney, Assistant Attorney General (Antitrust Division), testified before the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate hearing on “Prohibiting Price Fixing and Other Anticompetitive Conduct in the Health Insurance Industry.” The following points can be gleaned from her testimony:
Health insurance reform, she argues, “should be built on a strong commitment to competition in all health-care markets, including those for health and medical malpractice insurance. Repealing the McCarran-Ferguson Act would allow competition to have a greater role in reforming health and medical malpractice insurance markets than would otherwise be the case.

The House health-care reform bills contemplates quasi-national exchanges, the Senate Finance bill contemplates national health insurance plans, and all the bills contemplate interstate compacts that would allow insurers to sell a single product across an array of states. These moves are all likely to increase competition and make it less likely that antitrust enforcement is necessary, but they also make the presence of the exemption more dangerous.

Conclusion

When the top lawyer of the Justice Department identifies the exemption as “dangerous,” to the functioning of quasi-national exchanges [this is the public option, really], it’s high time to remove the exemption. By spending countless millions of dollars lobbying Congress, the insurance industry might still have the upper hand in influencing the health-care reform. So, let’s keep our noses and ears to the ground and track down and expose the politicians who will vote to maintain the antitrust exemption for the insurance companies.
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

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Friday, October 23, 2009

What is it with Argentinean Firecrackers? Will Gabriela Pochinki Be Singing Behind Bars?

In 1974, Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D-Ark.), Chairman of the Means and Ways Committee, was involved in the Tidal Basin scandal which splashed him out of Congress. Drunk and driving, he was found cut and bloodied as he tried to rescue a stripper —Fanne Foxe, billed as the “Argentine Firecracker.”— from the cold waters of the basin.


A few months ago, South Carolina Governor Mark Sandford, in front of live TV cameras, revealed his love affair with an Argentinean woman (“Maria”). The media frenzy that ensued wasn’t pretty. Emails followed:
"You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty," Sanford wrote on July 10, according to the e-mails published on the newspaper's Web site. "I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light -- but hey, that would be going into sexual details."

Well, there’s no fool like an old fool—or a man in love.

Today the Big Apple newspapers are filled with Opera star Gabriela Pochinki’s display of violent behavior against the manager of “Nice Matin,” a restaurant next to the Lucerne Hotel, on the Upper West Side. The fiery singer is accused of shoving the manager with such force that the police had to be called. Issuing her summons for criminal trespass, she was released on her own recognizance and asked to appear in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Let’s hope she can settle this embarrassing incident and continues with her career. After all Gabriela Pochinki is a talented soprano who has much to offer.

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Panic Attacks From the Sufferer's (Not the Therapist's) Perspective

A painting of God watching as an angel and a d...

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If I could speak I could tell Mary Patricia why I’ve been so weepy for the last few days, but since I can’t I’ll go on as usual. I suffer from an illness I barely understand; I’ve heard people say it is autism. Since I can’t talk I like to listen and I learn many things, and I love to master new things that require putting two and two together; God has a way of making up for my muteness with good understanding.

Maybe one day I’ll grow out of this speechless stage since I’m only three and a half (not quite four yet) years old. I can tell you all this because I can count to five. About a month ago I had a frightful experience that left me ill for a few days.

All of a sudden and for no reason at all I felt a temporary disconnection from reality made worse by a bout of claustrophobia. The walls in our apartment seemed to close in on me, trapping me with no exit anywhere. So vivid and irrational was the sense of doom that I burst into loud and inconsolable cries. My tongue felt large and engorged and I couldn’t control it, causing me to leave it out, as I panted like a runner out of shape.

Was I going over the edge?

When I first came to live with Mary Patricia and Marc I let them know right away that I disliked games and even worse, that I loathe watching television. They thought it strange, but they got the point. I love Mary Patricia. Marc? Well, I can’t say I dislike him—I tolerate him; it’s just that he’s rough. And I wish he’d stop calling me, “My boy,” or “Son,” for I am not really his son—my pedigree is that of royalty.

Again, out of the blue, and just when I had almost gotten over that ghastly experience, it hit me again. This time it was rather severe, at night time. I was seized by a lack of identity: I had no idea who I was or what I was doing in this world. Within seconds my breathing became shallow, a huge weight seemed to have set on my chest, my heart-rate accelerated, and I broke out in a heavy sweat, and I felt clammy. An irrational frenzy to run away overcame my good sense. I wanted to jump out the window, and I managed to communicate to Mary Patricia that I needed cool air, that she should open the window or I would suffocate. She did open the window and I felt instant relief. Within seconds the room became a safe haven for me. Mary Patricia held me and talked to me for a while, and in a little while I regained my soul which seemed to have been severed from me.

“You poor baby—something scared you. Why you’re shivering out of your skin,” Mary Patricia kept saying. “What is it, my angel?”

Not knowing how to explain my feelings I started crying hysterically. Soothing, gentle, and most comforting is Mary Patricia’s voice. She sat on the recliner and held me for several hours after the attack. Faced with the same problem, I often wonder how others cope with it since not everyone has someone who can “bring you down.”

Having had several of these panic attacks, I am more or less resigned to the idea that they won’t stop and perhaps they may get worse. They just happen. I have no idea what causes them; all I know is that they come and go. Perhaps this is a good thing to know: that the attacks don’t linger forever—they get dispelled; they burn off like the morning fog when the sun comes out.

To suffer a malady one doesn’t understand can take its toll. That is why I’ve been so weepy lately. When in the throes of a full-blown attack I don’t recognize people; I flail about and I’m afraid I could hurt someone. And I can’t bear the thought of hurting Mary Patricia; even thinking about it I become scared to the point of hysteria. I will babble and moan not because I am just panicky, but because I am scared to death. These attacks have the snowballing effect of cornering me and reducing my space so that I feel there’s no safe haven left for me.

Living with the fear that one good day a tsunami-sized panic attack might hit me, I’ve been trying to get close to Marc, hoping that perhaps he can help me, too. And lo-and-behold, just as I had anticipated, the attack came. And came it did just when Mary Patricia was out to get her nails done. Impatient, short-tempered, and profane, Marc didn’t know what to do with me other than curse:

“Now, wassamadda with ya— boy?” the insufferable man yelled. “Settle down …[expletive deleted.]”

For a moment my whole world came crashing down on me: out of the debris came pain, of the pain came hurt, of the hurt came paralysis, of the paralysis came numbness, of the numbness came total eclipse of the soul. “This is the end,” I mumbled. But my wails must have touched the hard man’s heart that he picked me up and held me and whispered in my ear that there was nothing in the world that could hurt me; that no evil force in this world could ever take me away from him.

“Don’t you know that I love you more than I love Mary Patricia?”

That floored me. And the god-Lord smiled on me for Marc’s gesture of love loosened the panic attack’s grip and I felt whole again. What a few words of love can do for me!

“Let’s go for a quick walk,” Marc said. And out we went to the local deli —Tal Bagels— where he bought a roast beef sandwich with mustard and French dressing. “And put a little extra beef,” he told the attendant. “And charge me for it.”

A man who can share half of his roast beef sandwich with me can’t be that bad.
“Come here, Pucci,” he called me as he pointed to my bowl. “Knock yourself out, boy—hmm, that roast beef smells good, doesn’t it, my boy? For a tea-cup shih tzu you can surely eat a lot.”
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Interview with Seth Goldin: Success with Blogging

Far be it from me to attempt to influence you, but I can't resist to add my two cents: Two intelligent individuals held me mesmerized for 20 minutes! Seth Goldin's wisdom: (1) Be consistent (2) Be generous (3) Beat luck = you beat luck by showing up! How true this is. If I am an actor and show up for many auditions I will get work. You make your own luck. Thanks, guys.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What is a hedge fund?

PFAEFFIKON, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 05: The offi...

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Definition

A hedge fund is an aggressively managed portfolio of securities set up for investors who have a net worth of over one million dollars. Investors who participate in a hedge fund must sign a letter of agreement specifying that they are knowledgeable investors and that they are aware of the risks. The hedge fund managers use advanced strategies to maximize the return on investment to the fund. The strategies employ highly leveraged positions in long and short derivative positions in both domestic and international markets. Derivatives include options (puts and calls), futures (contracts), and swaps, which they combine to protect the bulk of the portfolio. Most hedge funds (but not all) use sophisticated mathematical models to design protective “collars.” A normal requirement for hedge funds is that the investor must leave their investments in the fund for at least one year. To withdraw funds investors must notify the hedge fund manager within a narrow window (one or two months) and at no other time.

Regulation

Since hedge funds don’t deal with the regular public but with sophisticated “accredited” investors, they aren’t regulated. Therefore, managers have great flexibility in their choice of instrument. Although hedge funds resemble mutual funds, they aren’t considered mutual funds (which are regulated and banned from using derivatives). Yet, since hedge funds participate in organized and regulated markets they become subject to US law, and they may be scrutinized by the SEC and the Fed. In this respect, despite the fact that hedge funds aren’t regulated, “insider trader” laws and other laws also apply to them.

Return on investment

Because sophisticated investors demand higher returns for their investments, hedge funds are created to fill that need. Once a hedge fund can show a steady track record of high performance (much higher than the regular markets), money begins to flow in. The more explosive the return on investment the greater the allure of the hedge fund.

Cash Flow as a measure of liquidity, profitability, and future returns

No two hedge funds are alike; they all function independently and in general they become a reflection of the personality of their managers, but in particular of the personality of the general partner. Some general partners with cowboy personalities will ride over all open fields: buyouts, IPOs, stock splits, arbitrage, and foreign currencies. For many stock investors, the index “earnings per share” (EPS) is the absolute measure of profitability and an indicator of future corporate performance. For the hedge manager, however, a much better crystal ball is the corporation’s statement of cash flows. Why is the statement of cash flows preferred by the hedge fund managers over the EPS? Hedge fund managers know that EPS can be ‘doctored up,’ manipulated, disguised, and shaped to look good, when the underlying reality may be different—even grim. Cash flows on the other hand can be double checked with the banks that hold the cash accounts. The pieces that go into the preparation of the cash flows statement must fit perfectly and harmonize with the balance sheet and the income statement. From the top section of the statement we read the inflows and outflows from the main line of business—operations. From the middle section we read the investing activities: what cash was generated and used by non-current assets and non-current liabilities. From the third section we can see the inflows and outflows due to dividends, and bond and stock issues. The Statement of cash flows paints a detailed panorama of all the significant activities that management engaged in during the year. Of most importance are the clues that the figures give to hedge funds managers as to the direction of the company: what plant expansions are taking place, what restrictions are being placed on retained earnings, and so forth. And if the company is having difficulties with liquidity, this can be gleaned, too. Hedge fund managers value fresh, current, timely, and accurate information. Not only do they value information, but they also cultivate good sources of information and connections. In this respect, hedge fund managers must tread lightly so as not to become prey to “insider trading.”

Multiple Brokers and Arbitrage

To squeeze the maximum return on investment, hedge fund managers employ several brokers, always seeking to make economies on broker fees and commissions. Given the volume and large amounts of money their savings can be significant, which in the end will add to the fund’s bottom line. Again, given the large investments hedge funds can dump on brokers, they aren’t too proud to engage in arbitrage. If they see that there’s a price disparity between exchanges, they will capitalize on it by crossing markets. Of course, most of these mispricing can be detected by computer programs that crawl the internet, pouncing on every opportunity and thus eke out gains with no labor investment.

Conclusion

Investors with cold blood in their veins, strong hearts, and strong stomachs will entrust —risk, may be a better word— their money to hedge funds. Is there any protection? None. They go into the funds with open eyes, trusting only the personality of the general partner. May universities, hospitals, museums, art organizations, and other non-for profit organizations invest in hedge funds? Yes, they may. The overseers, trustees, directors, and in particular those in finance and investment committees will be considered ‘accredited’ investors. And in keeping with their fiduciary responsibility they will follow the “prudent man” philosophy of diversification, investing only a fraction of their endowments.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

How to Begin Your Novel: Great Sentence Openers

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

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Let philosophers look for the substance that underlies all of creation. Let mathematicians and physicists construct axioms and build a cosmos and so interpret reality. Let linguists search for the Adamic language—but let master writers be free.

The fiction writer must be free to explore the depths of humanity. D. H. Lawrence said, “Being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher and the poet. The novel is the one bright book of life.”

Yet, as disparate and chaotic as fine writers might seem to be, we can see that there’s some method to their madness. Master writers will tell the reader
what their novel is about right from the very beginning; they may not say it openly, but the hint is there for the reader to catch.

Tongue in cheek

Whether we like it or not sometimes we just have to go on reading and say to ourselves, “Let’s see where this is going to…” If Jane Austen in her opening of Pride and Prejudice uses the language of axioms and mathematics —“a truth universally acknowledged”— we have no choice but to assume that she is being not only lighthearted but also playful. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Right away we feel that the novel will be humorous, light, and that the main theme will be about fortune and marriage.

A Sunday sermon

Having written his masterpiece, Ana Karenina, Tolstoy proceeds to write an opening sentence that would encapsulate what the long monster of a novel will be about. This is what he came up with: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And unhappy families are the main attraction. I can just hear Tolstoy saying, “Anyone can write about happy families; there’s nothing interesting about them. But since unhappy families are unique in their own ill-fortunes—let’s be on our way, let me tell you about the Oblonsky’s, the Levin’s, and the Karenina’s.”

More than a dream—a nightmare

The Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez once declared that Kafka’s opening of his novelette The Metamorphosis, convinced him that he could write equally —if not better— fantastic stories. To dare to write the following sentence opener and book opener, Kafka must have felt total intellectual freedom: “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Lesser writers beg for the readers’ indulgence and suspension of disbelief. Faced with the problem of verisimilitude most fiction writers agonize over this speed bump. Not Kafka. With one stroke of the pen he dunks his readers into the depths of a hellish nightmare.

A flash-forward and a flashback

Years of solitude, firing squads, colonels, the Buendias, ice, fathers, and distant afternoons is what Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is about. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Not only is the tone just right, but also laden with the coldness and violence of distant remembrances that no one else has bothered to tell.

A nameless narrator dreams

Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca is a Cinderella’s dream —converted into nightmare and at times deliriums— in which the nameless narrator faces formidable entanglements. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The novel is told as a suspenseful recollection where the ghost of Rebecca (the first wife) is more present and pernicious than the madwoman in the attic. And we read with futile passion till the very end, and nowhere do we see the young wife’s name.

Conclusion

Many fiction writers —in their effort to be engrossing and entertaining— will begin a novel and move on to the thick of the action, subjecting the reader to all kinds of adventures, digressions, dramas and sub-dramas, and often unrelated events. Yet, the main theme of the book isn’t treated until we are midway into the story. By paying attention to the above openings, story tellers can learn the technique of revealing the thrust of the story right in the opening. This detail will show that the author is sincere, honest, and that there’ll be no sleight of hand, deus ex machina, red-herrings, withholding of information, or other technical tricks.



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Friday, October 9, 2009

Plant Assets, Long-Lived Assets, Fixed Assets, Plant-Propety-and-Equipment (PP&E)

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Plants Assets Plant assets are properties that have a physical substance (they occupy space and own a definite size and shape), and are used in the daily operations of a business. In contrast to merchandise, plant assets are not intended for sale to customers. In the development of Accounting, accountants have called these assets by different names: Long-lived assets, property, plant, and equipment (PP&E); plant and equipment; or fixed assets.

Historical Cost of Plant Assets

Plant assets must be recorded at cost --the initial price for which they were acquired-- in accordance with the cost principle of accounting. Once the historical cost in posted to the ledger, it cannot be changed, altered, deface, or distorted in any way. Cost includes all expenditures necessary to (1) acquire the asset, and (2) get it ready for its intended use.

Land

Land is a plant asset that includes the cash purchase price, closing costs such as title and attorney’s fees, real estate brokers’ commissions, and accrued property taxes and other liens on the land assumed by the purchaser. The peculiar feature of land is that it doesn’t depreciate.

Land improvements

Land is seldom a barren asset. Businesses make structural additions, such as driveways, parking lots, fences, landscaping, and underground sprinklers. The cost of land improvements includes all expenditures needed to make the improvements ready for their intended use.

Buildings

Buildings are assets that include all necessary costs related to its purchase or construction. 1. When a building is purchased, such costs include the purchase price, closing costs, and real estate broker’s commission. 2. The costs of remodeling and replacing or repairing the roof, floors, wiring, and plumbing must be counted and included in the total cost of the asset. 3. In the case of a new building is constructed, cost consists of the contract price plus payments for architects’ fees, building permits, interest payments during construction, and excavation costs.

Equipment

Equipment includes tools, furniture, and machinery. The purchase price, sales taxes, freight charges, insurance, cost of assembling, installing, and testing must be included as part of the historical cost.

Depreciation

Depreciation is the allocation of the cost of a long-lived asset to expense over its useful (service) life in a rational and systematic manner. a. The booking of depreciation expense provides for the proper matching of expenses with revenues as required by matching principle. b. During the physical life of a plant asset its usefulness may decline because of the fair, wear, and tear or obsolescence. c. Depreciation expense is an operating expense and it should not be viewed as a cash inflow for the replacement of the asset. Three factors affect the computation of depreciation: (1) cost, (2) useful life, and (3) salvage value; other names for salvage value are trade-in value, and scrap value.

Methods of Depreciation

The three most popular methods of recognizing depreciation are (a) straight-line, (b) units of activity, and (c) declining-balance. a. Each method is acceptable under generally accepted accounting principles. b. Once Management selects the method, the same method must be used year after year. However, should the company see that a different method is more convenient and favorable, the owner should apply to Internal Revenue Service for a change. c. The use of the same method consistently conforms to generally accepted principles and allows for comparability. In a classified balance sheet, long-lived assets appear under the title, “Plant, Property, and Equipment.”
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don Draper in Madmen



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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Zeugma - A Rhetorical Tool Used by Master Writers

What is a Zeugma?

Zeugma is a rhetorical device where a single word is made to refer to two or more words in a sentence, often playing on the words’ literal and metaphorical meanings.
Smiling with a crooked smile that did little to hide his crooked intentions and crooked teeth, he said “Trust me.”
The verb ‘To hide’ controls two other words: intentions and teeth. But what is worthy of note in this zeugma is the juxtaposition of an abstract noun (intentions) to a concrete one (teeth).
Now, however, sloth triumphs over diligence, idleness over work, vice over virtue, arrogance over valor, and theory over the practice of arms which lived and shone only in the Golden Age and in the time of the knights errant (Cervantes 465).
I found her enchanted, transformed from a princess into a peasant, from beautiful to ugly, from an angel into a devil, from fragrant into foul-smelling, from well spoken into rustic, from serene into skittish, from light into darkness, and, finally from Dulcinea of Toboso into a lowborn farmgirl from Sayago (Cervantes 671).
With this simple device Cervantes adds delight and color to the narrative—by means of antithesis—at the same time that cultivates the reader’s attentiveness, forcing him to put two and two together to grasp the intended meaning.

Zeugmas used in a humorous vein:

Lenox said, “Hog, the only thing you save is your breath when you eat.”
After two unsuccessful marriages, I find myself keeping my guard up, along with my underpants (Grafton, C is for Corpse 15).
In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, we note Portia’s saucy speech:
How oddly he is suited [outfitted]! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behavior everywhere. (Act I, scene ii, line 72-72).
Zeugmas used to set the tone of a book, as in the Vicar of Wakefield:
From this motive, I had scarce taken orders a year before I began to think seriously of matrimony, and chose my wife as she did her wedding gown, not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well (Goldsmith 4).

Zeugmas in Dialogue:

“Eliot, Michael’s untimely departure leaves us with a space both in our house and in our hearts” (Segal 112). “To our beloved new leader Jason Gilbert, ace racket-man and incomparable ass-man. May his shots in court drop as often as his shorts in bed” (Segal 143).
The governing word may be a noun as well as a verb, as we see in the following examples from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, where the controlling word is the noun ‘hand’:
Calpurnia was something else again. She was all angles and bones; she was nearsighted; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard (7).
and the controlling word is the verb ‘lost’ in the following example:
Mrs. Radley had been beautiful until she married Mr. Radley and lost all her money. She also lost most of her teeth, her hair, and her right forefinger (Dill’s contribution) (39).
From the above examples we infer that zeugmas may be employed to give the narration an air of lighthearted humor or banter. Just as the fool in Shakespearean dramas breaks the solemnity of the scene with parody and foolery, so does Cervantes in Don Quijote:
At this moment a gelder of hogs happened to arrive at the inn, and as he arrived he blew his reed pipe four or five times, which confirmed for Don Quixote that he was in a famous castle where they were entertaining him with music, and that the cod was trout, the bread soft and white, the prostitutes ladies, the innkeeper the castellan of the castle, and that his decision to sally forth had been a good one (Cervantes 29).
When zeugmas join concrete and abstract nouns, the combinations can stir up the reader’s emotions. Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried is replete with this type of zeugmas:
As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet (3). He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men (5). But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear (6).
See how Gabriel Garcia Marquez creates atmospheric tension with the use of one governing verb, ‘listening’:
He got dressed by feel, listening in the dark to his brother’s calm breathing, the dry cough of his father in the next room, the asthma of the hens in the courtyard, the buzz of the mosquitoes, the beating of his heart, and the inordinate bustle of a world that he had not noticed until then, and he went out in the sleeping street (Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude 27).
We haven’t exhausted the topic, for there are other zeugma derivatives that depend on what slot of the sentence the zeugma is placed in; but their sophistication can cause ambiguity and confusion; therefore we do not recommend their use.

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Karen Brown at The Rum Bar - Piano Bar

Last Saturday night a friend of ours had some visitors from out of town, and asked us to meet with them at The Rum Bar for a ‘fun night.' And a fun night it was!

The Rum Bar is located in the lobby of the Edison Hotel, right off Broadway, on 47th Street. Although I’m not familiar with the hotel facilities —and I understand the place has many that they are proud of— I am much acquainted with the Rum Bar, for over the years I’ve spent quite a few nights there.

For those of you who might be wondering why I’m writing this piece, let me set your mind at ease: I’m in no way connected, get paid, or receive gifts from the either the hotel or the bar. To inform my readers of what a New York City fine time is, is my motivation.

Two sections are immediately discernible as you walk into the joint; the largest piece of real estate belonging to the long bar —the altar— where the serious worshippers of the god Bacchus not only offer their libations, but also they make them disappear faster than I can change channels with a remote. A piano/organ occupies the smaller remainder of the space.

I’ll talk about this: the piano bar section.

Karen Brown, the resident musician and gifted pianist-organist, plays and sings just about any song anybody can think of and request. Her repertoire is just fabulous. And if she doesn’t know a song by heart, she will dig up her indexed music books and in no time she’ll produce the sheets. Since I don’t sing, I pretty much observe and enjoy watching Karen accommodate requests and those who wish to sing.

Besides having a prodigious musical memory, Karen also seems to be endowed with name recall and ‘face recognition’ virtues, for she never gets a name wrong.

For a while she sings the crowd’s favorites, which range from Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein to Broadway Show songs, and on to more contemporary songs made famous by Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Streisand, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Patsy Klein, Elvis Presley, etc.

Around 10 PM, the real troopers —including some big name celebrities— from the Broadway shows begin to filter in to regale the audience with some of their own personal favorites. Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of listening to “Sam the Drummer,” who not only sang some oldies, but also told some jokes with such perfect delivery that would put to shame Jerry Seinfeld, or even Jay Leno. And should I mention that Sam is 89 years young? Who cares? The man showed the younger set what laughter and music can do for the soul and the body! Anyway, for anyone to follow him would have been a tough go indeed. But his wife followed him, and she outdid him! She sang some delightful comical songs that were even more hilarious than Sam’s jokes.

As I walked around and mingled a little, I met lots of people from Europe: a couple from Wales, a group from London, and another from Norway. And of course there was a contingent of Chicagoans, who were drowning their sorrows away at having lost their bid to Rio de Janeiro for the 2012 Olympics.

For the price of a few beers and drinks (no cover), New Yorkers and visitors can have a grand time. The Rum Bar is a smoke-free facility and safe to boot. No one hassles you and if people get loud and obnoxious, the waiter —Thai, who also sings by the way— will escort them out.

For 14 years the gorgeous Karen Brown has entertained her crowd of faithful followers five nights a week from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. The wood-walled bar is just right for this kind of open-mic entertainment. Even if you don’t sing, soon you’ll be joining in and mouthing “Crazy,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” or “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Whether you are an American or a visitor from other lands, and are coming to New York City, and if you ever want to see and hear a woman with perfect pitch—come to The Rum Bar: Karen Brown will welcome you and your guests. Just make sure you tell her Marc sent you.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

The Letterman Should Get an F for Humoring the Staff

Funny men have been making fun of others for thousands of years. In classical Greece Aristophanes, the playwright skewered Socrates and other philosophers in several of his plays. Nothing wrong with that, except that no one dared skewer Aristophanes who was a mean fellow.

But shouldn't ‘turn about’ be fair play with comics and entertainers? Leading a double life seems the acceptable norm for notorious comics, to wit: Roman Polansky, Jerry Seinfeld, Peewee Herman, Woody Allen, and other notorious funny men. They exploit their public persona --the false image of a sanctimonious and pious individual-- not only to get laughs, but often to torture their targets.

To malign Sarah Palin's daughter was not only cruel but low and mean and despicable.

It seems that the public tolerates their abusive behavior as long as they get decent entertainment. But we are beginning to realize that their personal acts are neither entertaining nor decent.

Sexual harassment

David Letterman comes across as a fellow who never does wrong; hence the license to abuse the vulnerable. Now it turns out that the "letterman" is a fellow who does do wrong: he's a predator. A sexual predator indeed. How can a staffer keep her job, and ward off the advances of the boss? Not funny at all. No way.

In other places of work, this is called coercion and 'sexual harassment.'

And where is the moral outrage? The advertisers aren't pulling out and the network hasn't condemned such abusive behavior.

Women’s rights

Not a single women's rights organization has expressed indignation at Letterman's behavior. What are they waiting for? Are we to believe that the females employees' sexual participation was part of the job description? Yeah, right! David Letterman’s sordid affairs has set back women’s rights back the pre-Anita Hill era.

So what makes David Letterman different from our former fallen New York Governor Eliot Spitzer or even our former president Bill Clinton? Well, you might say one is a comic and the others are hypocrites. But does the moral law apply to one and not the others?

While Eliot Spitzer was run out of office, and Bill Clinton was impeached, David Letterman might negotiate an even larger contract. And a larger staff to satisfy him? Go figure.

Meanwhile, that poor soul, Robert J. "Joe" Halderman, the alleged extortionist has been arraigned. And David Letterman has been given a pass--but shouldn't Halderman be protected under the "Whistle-blower" law?

The AP said that Letterman had created a "brilliant, unsettling hour of TV." Linda Stasi of the New York Post, said Letterman's "explanation-as-monologue was nothing short of brilliant." Of course the AP is a faceless bureaucracy, but Linda Stasi isn't. She's a woman who defends sex predators. "Brilliant" indeed--not shady is the language of choice to describe this comic janus.

Let's see how this plays out. For once I'd like to see justice upright and not upside down, where the sex offender is the victim and the whistle-blower is the villain.

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