Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't You Just Hate When that Happens

This past September, California high school teacher Steve Cuckovich caused a stir when he banned the phrase “God bless you,” in his classroom. I caught a TV interview with Cuckovich and heard him explain that the phrase no longer had any meaning, since it was meant almost as an “incantation” against evil when it started back in the Middle Ages. He said he was using the ban as a “teaching opportunity” to make the students think.

Making people think. If you’ve logged on to my Web site: you know that making people think—especially young people—is right down my alley.

But shortly after I saw that interview, Cuckovich “modified” his story, saying that his ban was issued as a result of students being disruptive. It seems they got into the habit of broadcasting loud “God Bless Yous!” every time someone sneezed in class. It’s easy to see how this kind of puerile behavior could snowball, prompting bogus sneezing fits throughout the school day. Believe me; most adolescents walk into a classroom every day looking—not for knowledge—but for the latest method of getting over on the teacher.

When I quit teaching junior high grades, I was often asked why. I had a pat answer: “Imagine,” I used to tell people, “that just about every person you worked around, did everything they could, every day to prevent you from doing your job. That’s what it’s like teaching junior high.”

I have no doubt that Cuckovich had a behavior problem of some sort on his hands. But why did he at first say that he was banning the phrase “God Bless You” because it was archaic and superstitious? Why not just admit that his students were using the phrase as a tool to disrupt his class?  Anyone who has spent several hours locked in a room full of adolescents would have understood.

So I have my suspicions about this second explanation, and I wonder if Steve Cuckovich would  have reacted so forcefully if the students had used a phrase such as, “Allah be praised” to unsettle the classroom. Would he have “banned” that decidedly non-Christian exclamation?

That ban would surely have annoyed the Islamic community. In my experience, Americans are free to annoy Christians any time they please, and in any manner they please.  You might get a reaction, but I doubt it would be belligerent. Quarrelsome maybe; argumentative—most probably, but not much more.

But step over that imaginary fence of faith and start annoying other religious beliefs…  Does the phrase “hate crime” sound reasonable?

And if Mr. Cuckovich really wants to make his kids think, he can always have them log on to my Web site, or listen to Lorraine Ranalli’s Cucina Chatter radio program every Tuesday at for my vocal commentary.

But he’d probably think that I was just being archaic and superstitious, and I would hate that kind of reaction.

Or is there a crime against that kind of hate?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stop Making Crime Pay

I recently read how another drug company—I forget the name, but it doesn’t matter—has just been fined some outlandish-sounding sum, by the Justice Department. I think it was $46 million.  And of course, it was for some false claim or other that the company perpetrated upon the consumer.

That 46 million ought to teach them a lesson! You think so? Forty-six-million dollars is a tidy sum to you and me, but to a drug company? It may take years, or maybe only months, but I have a feeling that the fine will simply be factored back into their pricing structure, and the company—plus its stock holders—will eventually reclaim that money.

So the consumer gets it coming and going. Where’s the justice?

It’s not there. You see, as one of my instructors at the Police Academy used to say, “We don’t have a justice system; we have a legal system.” That’s why, whenever young college grads enter law school, we don’t say they’re going into the justice system; we say they’re going into the legal system.

And this all reminds me of something my publisher told me a few years back. It’s about Prohibition during the 1920s, and how most states that bordered on water—oceans, lakes, bays, gulfs—had continuing trouble with smugglers bringing contraband liquor into the state. But not so with Delaware. Delaware had less smuggling than any other state along the coast.

Delaware, he told me, still had flogging as a legitimate punishment back in the twenties. Smugglers didn’t mind spending a little time in prison with their professional colleagues, or paying a fine that they would just pass on to their customers, but they sure wanted no part of flogging.

So what am I saying here? That drug company execs should be flogged? As tempting as that may sound to some, I’m actually advocating a far less stringent penalty…but still something that cannot be passed on to the consumer.

Our legal system need only fix responsibility within the culpable company, and then deliver a prison sentence—not a fine! Deceitful company executives will do more than hesitate if they believe a possible six-month or one year term behind bars awaits them. And no de facto penalty is then passed on to the consumer in the form of a “company fine.”

If we administer regulations by enforcing penalties on those convicted of ignoring said regulations, then we force large companies to advertise legally…market legally…and price their products legally.

And by imposing those legalities on the responsible parties, we ironically start to change our legal system back into a justice system.

Folks, do yourself some justice by tuning in to “Cucina Chatter” every Tuesday between 1-2 p.m. on It’s great talk radio hosted by Lorraine Ranalli who still lets me do a weekly commentary.

And as long as there’s no law against it (yet), log on to, and consider my latest short story—Bread of Deceit.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oh Baby You Know What I Like

As I waited in my doctor’s office last month for a flu shot, a young man—perhaps in his twenties—walked in wearing those baggy shorts. You know the kind: low-hanging, below-the-gut pantaloons that make a guy look like he just shoplifted a dozen corn muffins from Acme by shoving them down his pants.

To that he added matching gold hoop earrings, a ponytail (some of which stuck out of the little band he had tied around it) and of course, he was sporting the requisite rubber flip-flops on his big, bare, clown feet.

I’m sorry guys, but bare feet anywhere—outside of your home or a swimming pool—is NOT a good look for us. And when we were teens, we did like girls in ponytails; I remember it as a decidedly attractive feminine hairstyle.

It was so much more acceptable to us guys than say, a beehive, or pageboy cut: the former was a bit over the top, and the latter a bit too…well…masculine for a girl. Even though it didn’t look that good on Prince Valiant. He was a 1950s comic book hero whose escapades were set in the days of King Arthur. He had that pageboy style that always had me confused whenever I read his comic strip—Is that a guy?

Well, that young man in the doctor’s office reminded me, not of Prince Valiant, but of a time back in 1970 when we were on duty in front of a line of Viet Nam War protesters—mostly young men—who were attempting to hand all of us cops a flower. Flower children are what they called themselves. We of course, were in uniform. But so were they, in that just about every one of those guys wore a ponytail.

Later that day, my lieutenant waxed philosophically to us and declared that the Soviet Union was trying to turn the young men of this country into women. That, he announced, was their ultimate goal.

Hmmm…baggy shorts, earrings, flip-flops (worn by certain men even in the winter for some bizarre reason) and ponytails…could the Soviet Union, some 20 years after its demise, have actually accomplished their objective?

It was more than 50 years ago that the Big Bopper sang, “Chantilly lace and a pretty face, pony tail hangin’ down…”  I’m relatively sure when he wrote those lyrics, he didn’t mean us guys, because along with those big, bare, clown feet walking through a shopping mall in flip-flops, ponytails—and Chantilly lace for that matter—just don’t make it for a guy.

Much of this chic trendiness has infiltrated the National Football League, perhaps the most (at least previously) macho organization in our culture. Many NFL players like to sport diamond earrings, and some even do so under their helmets on game day (Freud would have a ball with that).

Few activities are more virile than a muscular man fiercely barreling his way past several hulking adversaries intent on tearing his head off. It’s quite exhilarating to watch this mano a mano exchange as a runner scores an NFL touchdown. It’s the essence of raw masculinity.

Why then must the runner immediately get in touch with his feminine side by segueing into ballet via a sweet little ‘pirouette’ (or is that an Arabesque move?) with some dainty ‘hip-shaking’ added for good measure? What the hell is he celebrating, his touchdown or his duality?

I hear more earrings are lost on the football field that way.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Righting the Written

A While back when I was watching a program on the History Channel about the Civil War, I was surprised by the quality of some of the letters that were written home by the soldiers. The writing was downright inspirational—on both sides: Union and Confederate.

These were young men who were not particularly educated. Many were right off the farm. They would likely be considered “educationally challenged” by today’s politically correct standards, with most having never achieved the equivalent of a high school diploma.

But they nonetheless knew how to handle the written English language—properly…and beautifully. I have no choice but to believe they handled the spoken word just as well.

It may not be a strict scientific comparison, but I compared that 1860s dialogue to what I hear any morning from the young professionals on my local TV newscast…the newscasts that we can all listen to any morning as we have our coffee. I’ve decided that our early 21st century language and communication skills are dreadful. They’re unspeakable!

How could a mid-19th century American farm boy write with eloquence that outshines today’s professional?

Here’s one more quick comparison: In 1966, the Academy Award for the best screenplay was given to “A Man for all Seasons,” a beautifully written script about the condemnation and death of Sir Thomas Moore at the hands of King Henry the Eighth in 16th century England.

Jump forward 28 years. The 1994 award for best writing went to “Pulp Fiction,” two-and-a-half hours of profanity, depravity, and gratuitous violence.

In the space of one generation we went from lines such as this: “I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

To lines such as: “I hear they got some tasty burgers. I ain't never had one myself. How are they?”

We nose-dived from the heights of Sir Thomas Moore’s sophistication, to the netherworld of the glorification of the corrupt. We accomplished this in one genealogical generation.

Why did we take this plunge into the precipice of mediocrity? And did we take it willingly? Or is this the level that the entertainment industry wished upon us?

I’m not proposing an answer to these questions. Not at the moment. For now, it’s enough that we at least start asking ourselves why this happened. Anyone reading the first three sentences of the home page of my Web site can understand what I’m trying to do here.

It’s the same thing I try to do every week with my commentary—Tuesdays between 1-2 p.m. on “Cucina Chatter,” hosted by Lorraine Ranalli at

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Would Be Wise To Bring the Bats

I once wrote a column wherein I challenged readers to think about certain subjects that our culture (in general) refuses to put on the table for discussion. I referred to the latent denial of these topics as the “air of dare,” that seems to surround any suggested debate about them.

“How dare you even discuss such a thing!”

A subject need not be serious, life-threatening, or even life-altering to be considered. Baseball was one example that I mentioned, and surprisingly (or maybe not), it got the most response from readers. And all of them missed the point.

All I did was ask readers to consider—or reconsider—the presumption that good pitching will always overcome good hitting. Well, you would have thought I asked them to sacrifice their first-born.

In essence, all the responders said that I was wrong, that pitching was more important, and that it wasn’t even worth discussing.

Bingo! My argument exactly—you won’t even discuss it. The point of the column wasn’t that hitting was more important than pitching, but that some subjects were exempt from dispute. Now, with the Phillies a scant one game away from possible elimination from the post-season, I’m daring to once again introduce the subject.

Few will argue that they don’t have baseball’s best starting rotation. No one can argue that they didn’t have baseball’s best record. Their season was record-setting, in that for the first time in the club’s 128-year history, they won 102 games.

But during the times that they faltered this season, it was normally because they apparently left their bats in the dugout when they went up to the plate. You see, pitching cannot win ballgames; scoring runs wins ballgames.

The Phillies could have Roy Halladay pitch another perfect game tomorrow, but unless and until a Phillie picks up a bat, gets on base, and manages to come around and score, the best the team can do is come away with a nothing-nothing tie after nine innings.

Unlike football, defense cannot win you the game in baseball. It can only keep you in the game. Unlike football, the defense cannot score in baseball. It can only prevent the other team from scoring. Pitching—being part of the defense—cannot win you the game. A hitter has to do that.

Too often, self-proclaimed (what other kind is there; yours truly included) baseball aficionados look only at the defensive side of the score: “The Giants’ pitching staff shut down the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS.”

In fact, the Phillies’ bats had gone into the doldrums at the end of the regular season last year. They would have had trouble with even a mediocre pitching staff. So this self-proclaimed baseball expert said, “The Phillies almost refused to hit in the 2010 post-season.”

I’ve followed this team since 1957. I remember the day my dad told me the Philadelphia Athletics were leaving for Kansas City. As a kid, my idol was Phillies’ centerfielder Richie Ashburn. The first game I ever attended was not in Connie Mack Stadium, but Shibe Park.

True, as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that many other things rank ahead of baseball in importance—family, health, economics, morality, the transmission in the Chevy…

And I truly want the Phillies to beat the Cardinals in the decisive game five of their series. And it would be nice to see another parade. Hopefully, Chase can act a bit more maturely this time. (Hey, maybe we’re cursed—literally and figuratively—by the 2008 Utley Uh-Oh! But that’s a subject for another column.)

If the Phillies win tomorrow, it won’t be due to Roy Halladay. Unless, of course, he belts one out of the park and the final score is 1-0. The pitcher can help by keeping the Cardinal batters at bay, but the Phillies have to hit the ball.

Back in 1971, the Phillies ace was Rick Wise. Because he got so little hitting support from his teammates, he made the statement that…The only way you can win with this team is by hitting a homerun and pitching a no-hitter.

His prophesy came true in June of that year. Except he hit two home runs while pitching his no-hitter. And later that same season, he retired 32 batters in a row, and then drove in the winning run in extra innings. I watched both those games on TV. I could almost feel his determination every time Wise came to the plate.
Hopefully, the Phillies will take their bats to the plate tomorrow, and Halladay won’t have to duplicate Wise’s feat.
But it would be OK if he did. Think about it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Judge Not? How Would You Survive?

Writer’s block isn’t always bad. In fact, this is a good writer’s block, and I always have something to say…or write.

It would be too easy to spout off about how the weather forecasting fraternity put on a lavish Broadway musical this past August when Tropical Storm Irene passed through most of New Jersey. That’s what it was—a tropical storm, even though the actors in the musical referred to it as “Hurricane” throughout their performance.

I had enough knowledge about storms to realize that when a storm passes through your area with a wind speed that peaks at 67 miles per hour, it can’t be a hurricane.

So, despite what was being pitched to me, I made a personal judgment while the storm alternately raged and sputtered down my street. And I decided that we weren’t getting a hurricane; we were in the midst of a tropical storm.

And I could do this because I am a judgmental animal—a human being. We are the only animals that make judgments. That’s how we survive.

All other members of the animal kingdom survive by instinct. They make instinctual decisions; not conscious ones. Only Homo sapiens evaluate the situation, and then make rational judgments regarding what they should do next.

You make a judgment every time you approach a changing traffic light—Can I make it in time? Should I stop?

You make a judgment every time you go shopping—Can I afford those shoes? Do I really need a new cordless drill?

We could not survive very long without making judgments—which are nothing more than conscious decisions, made by (hopefully) rational beings.

A co-worker once gave me his unsolicited opinion of all Christians, fully aware that I was one. “I don’t care for them,” he said. “They’re sooooo judgmental.”

I asked him simply, “Is that your personal judgment?”

“Why yes,” he replied, clearly not seeing the irony of his position. He walked away quite pleased with himself.

And I get so tired of hearing people claim they prefer the company of their dog or cat to that of a fellow human. “They never judge me,” is the reason I most often hear.

That’s because they can’t. They can merely react instinctually. Only the human beings you interact with can judge you—just as you judge them, whether you want to admit it or not.

And I know some people think they are just sophisticated apes who walk upright, have opposable thumbs and just happen to possess a larynx. So people like that, I guess, are little more than baboons with vocal chords. At least that’s my evaluation.

God, but I can be sooooo judgmental at times.

Well here’s a judgment I’d like you to make. Tune in to Cucina Chatter and hear my commentary every Tuesday between 1-2 p.m. Hosted by Lorraine Ranalli, you can listen at

And of course you can make judgments any time you want by logging on to

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rather Correct than Politically Correct

Writers —American writers at least—must, of a necessity, have a love of and respect for the English language. As a long time journalist, I aspired to have my columns and articles written correctly—meaning accurately, with not only grammatical correctness, but logical correctness as well.

I’ve always felt that a writer’s first duty was to be kind to his readers, and to me, that means being understandable.

Being concise.

Being correct—not politically correct.
And there is a difference.

To be politically correct—by its very connotation—means to be incorrect.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to license the term with the adverb “politically.”  We would just say, “It’s correct.”

When I sat on the Historic Preservation Commission in Cape May County back in the 1990s, one of the members remarked that she was glad that a recently published history book referred to the Lenni-Lenape tribe as Native Americans, instead of Indians.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Well, you wouldn’t understand,” she said. “You’re not a Native American.”

“Oh no?”  I answered. “I was born in Pennsylvania, as were both my parents. If I am not therefore a Native American, can you please tell me of which country am I a native?”

She just stared at me, so I continued, “Or do you believe that I’m a man without a country?”

Again, just a stare, so I added, “There are only two kinds of Americans—Native and naturalized. My grandparents emigrated here from Europe, so they would belong to that latter group who became naturalized Americans. My parents and I are Native Americans—plain and simple."

Still, the stare, and a noticeable creasing of her brow. So I went on, “By calling American Indians 'Native' preclusively, you’re insulting the hundreds of millions of the rest of us who were born here. And by the way, do you know what the word ‘Indian’ means?” I added.

This woman still wasn’t speaking; she was just glaring at me. So I explained the etymology of the word to her.

“It comes from the ancient Sanskrit language, and translated literary it means, ‘original people.’ From its root we get the word ‘indigenous.’ So in miss-naming the people he found in this hemisphere, Columbus could not have been more accurate. Could he?

“Call them original Americans…” I continued, "call them indigenous Americans; call them American Indians…all those terms are accurate. But don’t insult me by telling me I’m not a Native American.”

So I’ll close by saying you’ll have to excuse me if I offend your sensibilities by preferring correctness over political correctness.

And remember, you can hear my commentary every Tuesday between 1-2 p.m. on “Cucina Chatter,” hosted by Lorraine Ranalli at

Oh…and that member of the Historic Preservation Commission? She never appeared at another meeting. Veracity, exactness, accuracy, correctness…now and again these things just don’t sit well with some people.

In short, I’d rather be correct than politically correct.

For more politically incorrect literature, check out