OUT LIKE AN ANGRIER LION

It’s Monday, March 30, 2020.

On this day 39 years ago, President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest in Washington.

A politically divided nation came together in support of the wounded president. It celebrated his recovery and the skilled men and women who abetted it.

By the way, the shooting also led to serious gun control legislation, the Brady Bill, named for Reagan’s news secretary who was wounded and died in 2014 as a result.

The lesson is that there once was unity in adversity. That concept is one of Trumpism’s many casualties – as this crisis amply demonstrates.

Webster’s New World Dictionary doesn’t need its definition of “idiot” anymore.

It should just point to this New Yorker article and say “The subject of this interview.”

If you want to read about the stupidity that feeds into the narcissism of Trump, this interview with this “legal scholar” is a must.

I know a lot of really bright people who went to NYU. My wife is among them. 

What a stain this guy is on that school!

In 1980, I discovered Misquamicut Beach near Westerly, R.I. 

I discovered running on the beach. I discovered whole-belly fried clams. I discovered Rhode Island clam chowder, which is a clear broth, which I soon made a point of disdiscovering because creamy New England chowder is so much better. 

In 40 years since, I’ve visited the state countless times. I’ve seen basketball games in Providence and toured mansions in Newport.

So imagine my disappointment when the governor and the state embraced the idea of forcing New Yorkers visiting the state from self-quaranting for 14 days. 

A story in the Providence Journal tells of state troopers going door to door hunting people with New York license plates. A incredible waste of resources in a medical emergency.

I understand that Rhode Islanders don’t want the coronavirus – and that the state doesn’t have quite the outbreak that we have in New York.  

But the policy assumes that New Yorkers who drive to or through your state are too stupid to understand the situation. It assumes that residents of other hard-hit states – including its neighbors Massachusetts and Connecticut – are smarter.

It assumes they are going to flaunt the state’s stay-at-home order – which, by the way, the governor freakin’ waited until yesterday to declare.

And it assumes that we’re all some sort of amalgamation of the stereotypical self-obsessed New Yorker who doesn’t think that anything happening outside Manhattan or the five boroughs or the metropolitan area matters. As if the fatalities and heartbreak we’re seeing in the rest of the country is any less painful and heartbreaking than ours.

So, here’s my message to the folks in Rhode Island who support this stupid and unconstitutional idea:

This is going to end some day.

And when it does, don’t dare try to market your state to me or other New Yorkers as a place to spend a vacation, purchase goods and services, or do business of any kind.

Because I guarantee, as much as I love whole-belly clams and beautiful beaches and Del’s frozen lemonade, I’m not spending another goddamn dime in your bigoted, narrow-minded state.

And, believe me, I know how to hold a grudge. That’s one thing New Yorkers are really good at.

That goes for you, too, Florida.

March supposedly goes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

In 2020, most people want March to just go.

When this month began, most of us were still out and about. We went to work, the supermarket, the mall, wherever.

That seems like a long time ago. March 2020 feels like it has lasted a whole year.

So, yeah, good riddence to March.

Here’s the problem:

April’s gonna suck. Probably worse.

We are going to spend the entire month – all 30 days – cooped up at home. 

Our fear of getting this virus isn’t likely to diminish. The isolation is going to make it seem worse.

And the death toll – 2,600 at the moment – is going to be a multiple higher. We might be using the word million – or millions – in talking about the number of cases.

So, good riddance, March. The madness this time had nothing to do with basketball.

But as much as I love April, can we just fast forward to the month when it’s safe to see other people again?

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RAINOUT THEATER

It’s Saturday, March 28, 2020.

I’m supposed to be going to see the Mets raise their record to 2-and-0 by beating the Washington Nationals at Citi Field. It’s Pete Alonso Rookie of the Year Bobblehead Day.

But, by 4 p.m. ET, it’ll be raining too hard to play. Also, the season is delayed by COVID-19.

The rainout means the Mets’ No. 2 starter, Noah Syndergaard, won’t throw the second no-hitter and first perfect game in franchise history. 

That, and the elbow surgery he underwent Thursday that keeps him from pitching until next year.

A lot of folks seem miffed, shocked or amused by the report that Trump sought guidance on the coronavirus crisis from Alex Rodriguez.

My thought: A-Rod knows more about how to deal with this than Larry Kudlow or Peter Navarro. How much worse can he be?

When this is over, there should be a few things:

— A ticker tape down Broadway for the people who work in hospitals, supermarkets, take-out establishments, drug stores. As well as the police, firefighters, EMTs and – often forgotten – sanitation workers.

— Awards for the most clever short videos created during this crisis.

Here’s my nominee for today. It helps if you’ve seen “The Irishman.”  https://twitter.com/FrankCaliendo/status/1243696008325816320?s=20

Here’s what’s playing on my iTunes playlist right now: “The Heat Is On,” by Glenn Frey.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZD8HKVKneI

Today should have been the 52nd birthday of Iris Chang. 

She’s the New Jersey native who wrote two seminal books about China – “The Rape of Nanking,” a brilliant work that revealed atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II, and “The Chinese in America.”

Chang was working on a book about another horrific event of World War II, the Bataan Death March, when she became ill with depression. 

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital, she returned home to the West Coast – but committed suicide in November 2004.

My point in bringing up this – instead of the other cute things I could point out about something that happened on another March 28 – is a reminder how fragile we all are.

Especially now. Especially when we can’t get out as freely as we’d like and see people who can reaffirm us and help. 

Especially when we’re faced with so much pain and sickness and death that sometimes it feels apocalyptic. 

Success and fame – such as Iris Chang attained – are no cures. 

Talking it through with a loved one, a professional therapist or a minister. Looking for beauty – even on a gray March day with a lot of rain. Understanding that you’re not alone, even in this time of self-quarantine.

This is hard. Don’t minimize that. Try to understand how others are feeling but, as important, try to understand how you’re feeling. 

We’ll get through this. But not without a few rainouts.

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WA

It’s Monday, March 23, 2020. 

Today is Pakistan Day, the 64th anniversary of the nation’s becoming the first Islamic republic in the world. 

This mention is a gift to any of my future news editing. March 23, 1956 is the correct answer to the fact-checking assignment question about when Pakistan became a republic.

Tetsuharu Kawakami was born on this day a century ago.

Kawakami’s claim to fame was managing the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League to 11 Japan Series baseball championships – including nine in a row.

According to Robert Whiting’s three-part 2013 obit in the Japan Times, Kawakami was what Americans would likely sum up as a Zen hardass.

He believed in teamwork over all and pushed his players’ training to the limit. And he messed with the minds of players he thought didn’t display the proper respect and dedication.

One example: A star pitcher whose attitude Kawakami found lacking was on the mound when the Giants had a 10-0 lead with two out and nobody on in the fifth inning – one out from getting credit for the win.

Kawakami took him out. No W.

The lack of “wa,” the team harmony that was Kawakami’s guiding principle, is profoundly felt in the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020.

In some ways, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings on the crisis are an attempt at achieving that harmony.

The idea is that, by giving people facts and leavening them with his wit and being straight forward, Cuomo tries to unify the people of the state in combatting the biggest crisis we have ever faced.

Does it work?

Somewhat. Cuomo wasn’t a particularly popular governor before this crisis, but even his critics believe he’s done a good job.

The problem is that we are addicted to polarization. It’s the operating engine of our society.

It’s why Trump is useless in a situation that requires the nation to be united. 

Forget the fact that he failed the nation by not heeding the warnings about the coronavirus when this year started. 

He could have overcome that by being a unifying force. By doing the hard stuff like making sure the government was actually functioning. 

A competent president would have coordinated testing for the virus. He or she would have commanded American industry into making the stuff needed to keep people alive.

Trump also failed to do the stuff that makes legendary presidents – bringing the country together in a crisis to defeat a common enemy.

Leaders inspire. I thought Ronald Reagan was a godawful president, but his speech after the Challenger disaster is a brilliant example of bring a nation together in grief.

Trump’s incapable of any of that. The constant effort to be the one to come up with the heroic solution for which he has no training or aptitude. 

The attempt to link this virus to being Chinese – it’s not just to China. It’s the suggestion that there’s something about these people – and, by extension, people from that part of the world – that creates these viruses that kill.

In the process, he creates the disharmony. The anti-wa. He thinks that what his supporters want – and he might be right.

But the price is ultimately failure. A situation that’s far worse than it needs be – and threatens not hundreds of lives but thousands and maybe millions.

There has never been a time in our life – and maybe only twice in American history, the Revolution and World War II – when our nation has been more in need of unification, of coordinating help for every single American with the force of every single American.

It’s why there’s such opposition to the solution offered by Trump and the Republicans. 

Instead of giving aid to everyone, regardless of economic status – instead of committing to the whole team – they’ll see if the business gods they worship want to step up and help. 

Which they’ll do – but many of them only when it’s 10-0 with two out and nobody on in the fifth inning.

Alas, there’s no Tetsuharu Kawakami to take out the pitcher. 

That’s going to have to be our job. November can’t get here fast enough.

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GODDING UP THE CEOS

It’s Saturday, March 21, 2020.

It’s the 58th birthday of Matthew Broderick – a man with the good fortune of having everyone think of him as a teenager even on his 58th birthday.

It’s the 14th anniversary of Twitter. Jack Dorsey and his colleagues supposedly created it after a day-long brainstorming session on March 21, 2006.

Twitter is one of those things people love to hate. I thought it was really stupid when I first encountered it. 

But because it was becoming an important source of information, I was compelled to join it when I worked at CNNMoney. And now, like lots of other people who were initially skeptical, it’s a regular part of daily life.

So much so that I suspect it would be harder for health experts to say don’t look at Twitter than it is to not touch my face during this pandemic. 

The problem is that it’s hardly an untarnished public good. 

One handle says that best: @realDonaldTrump.

So is the world better because of that March 21st in 2006? 

The tweet is out on that.

Song of the day: “Dreams” by the Allman Brothers.

Red Smith, one of my sportswriting heroes, told the story of the year he was at spring training writing feelgood stories about the baseball players getting in shape in Florida.

The pieces drove his boss, New York Herald-Tribune sports editor Stanley Woodward, to almost send a wire saying “Will you stop godding up those ballplayers?”

Ballplayers still get godded up – my Pete Alonso Polar Bear t-shirt is testimony to that.

Unfortunately, even more so, so are business moguls.

Since the 1980s, the people who’ve been held in awe by media and – to some extent – the general public are the mostly men who run companies or make shrewd investments and become wealthy.

Think about how people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk have been lauded over the years.

Think about how Jamie Dimon of Chase, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and other financial services leaders never spent a day in prison for what they did to the U.S. economy in 2008.

Think about Jack Walsh, the recently passed former CEO of General Electric. At the turn of the century, I remember watching him on CNNfn – and the interviewer treated him as if what he said was the equivalent of the tablets from Mt. Sinai. 

Walsh and CNNfn are both gone. Thanks to the way Walsh ran it, General Electric almost is.

Finally, think about Donald J. Trump. 

He cultivated an image of business mogul extraordinare. “The Art of the Deal.” “The Apprentice.”  The gawdy hotels, the gold-plated offices.

Before he became president, Trump was a fixture on TV networks – even the ones he now labels “fake news” – as some sort of business expert. 

Didn’t he have a weekly appearance on CNBC? And I remember seeing him oozing through the newsroom at CNN.

The problem with Trump was that he was a fake. He took his father’s real estate fortune and ran it into the ground, needing help from other business moguls to stay afloat.

There were people who saw through him – in fact, more people did than didn’t in 2016.

But there were a lot of people who didn’t. And in a nation where making money is primary – it’s gospel to some – Trump seemed like the answer to their own financial crises.

And yet, if Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or even Warren Buffett had run against him four years ago, they might have beaten him.

Because business moguls make money and that commands a godlike amount of respect.

You know what doesn’t respect these folks’ ability to make money?

The coronavirus.

That little bug floating ominously around all of us is about to leave thousands – and possibly millions – of us dead.

And yet, the Republicans led by the U.S. Senate – led by Mitch McConnell, a strong candidate for the most infamous person in American history – think that helping corporate America, business moguls, are the ones who have the answers to this crisis.

They see the gods of industry – who certainly lubricated their cause with millions in campaign contributions – as having the wherewithal to pull us out of this. Give them money and their supposed acumen will solve everything.

No.

They’re one of the reasons why we’re this messed up right now.

If Trump had been less concerned about the stock market and corporate well-being, and more focused on what was needed to stem this outbreak, both the outbreak and the economy would have been better controlled.

And where were the business leaders, these so-called wizards of finance? If they were as astute as they want people to see them, they would have waived red flags like the color guard team in a marching band.

So if the federal government is going to act to solve the health and financial crises – IN THAT ORDER – it needs to focus on individuals. 

It needs to mobilize American industry in the same way this country did that after Pearl Harbor. 

Apple and General Motors can stop making iPhones and GMC trucks, and start making ventilators. Drugmakers can focus on vaccines and treatment instead of erectile dysfunction and age spots. Small businesses can make millions of masks and gowns, and gallons of hand sanitizer.

Congress and the administration need to stop worrying about bs like means testing and whether people who earn very little money get less than people who earn little money.

We’re not getting out of this until we stop godding up the CEOs, the hotshot investors, financial services companies. Focus on helping everyone and not the guys who are good at making – or, in the case of Trump, faking making – a buck

And let’s go back to godding ballplayers. Right now, that seems pretty wonderful.

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NOSTALGIC FOR LAST WEEK

It’s Thursday, March 19, 2020. 

Spring begins at 11:50 p.m. ET, the earliest start to the season in 124 years.

What a waste!

It’s the 84th birthday of Ursula Andress, one of the screen sex goddesses of the 1960s.

She was the first Bond girl, showing up on a beach in a white bikini in “Dr. No.” That was the only film I’ve ever seen her in that I’ve – at any time – thought was good.

Mostly, I associate her with crappy movies.

I’m thinking in particular of something call “She” from the mid-1960s. It was one of the movies my family saw at the drive-in – we went to the drive in every weekend in the summer – and it made the running list of spectacularly bad films my mother and I compiled over the years.

Being 11 years old when “She” came out, I might not have been that impressed with Andress’ physical attributes. That leaves the acting ability – although I guess that is not why people went to see films like that.

Anyway, I hope Andress – like everyone else – is safe on her birthday.

Speaking of the ’60’s and ’70’s, I watched “The Irishman” last night and was impressed with its depictions of some iconic American roadside establishments.

When we traveled, Howard Johnson’s were a must stop. The motels were considered state of the art – and the restaurants, way before McDonald’s, marketed to kids with characters and tchotchkes.

There was also a Stuckey’s – we lived on those pralines during our 1972 cross-country drive – and a Lum’s, where I ate once a week during my internship in Jackson, Michigan.

HoJo and Lum’s are gone. Stuckey’s is trying to make a comeback – now that I know there’s one in North Stonington, Conn., I’ll try to get there this summer.

If we can travel by then.

My friend and former colleague, Jessica Dickler, writes for CNBC.com that state schools could see a surge in enrollment.

That’s because families, crushed by what could become the great depression of the 21st century, look for more affordable college options than the really expensive private universities.

As someone who teaches at a state school in New Jersey, I worry more about the kids already in my class.

Even though a state school is a fraction of the cost of a private one, it is very difficult for many of these young people to afford. Just about every single student I’ve had works a full-time job or close to it to be able to pay for tuition. 

Now, with talk of 20% unemployment, are these students going to need their jobs to help support their parents – making a class in news editing a luxury for which they’ll wax nostalgic?

My iTunes playlist today is songs played between 30 and 39 since 2010.

The current song is “Confirmation” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

In addition to all the stuff at the top, today is St. Joseph’s Day.

It was my paternal grandmother’s favorite day of the year. Unfortunately, she would spend it making a Sicilian dish that combined spaghetti with sardines.

Mercifully, there are better things one can eat. Like this recipe online for St. Joseph’s zeppole – including the ricotta-filled ones known as sfingi: https://olives-n-okra.com/saint-josephs-day-zeppole/

Buona festa di San Giuseppe!

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It’s Tuesday, March 17. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Today is the 135th birthday of Ralph Rose.

He won gold medals in shot put in the 1904, 1908 and 1912 Olympics, as well as a silver in discus and a bronze in hammer throw at those 1904 games in St. Louis.

In the 1908 Olympics, he competed in tug-of-war. That was an Olympic sport until 1920.

Also in 1908, he carried the flag into the arena for the opening ceremony in London. And, being of Irish extraction, he refused to dip the flag for King Edward VII.

Rose was expected to compete in the 1916 Olympics – which never took place anyway, thanks to World War I. But he died in 1913 of typhoid fever at the age of 28.

Why does that seem so relevant?

  1. Normally, a Republican governor’s effort to stop a Democratic presidential primary would infuriate anyone with a smidgen of a belief in democracy.

But I understand why Ohio governor Mike DeWine wanted to stop today’s vote in his state.

We’re telling people not to get together in groups of more than 10 in this COVID-19 crisis. Then we send them to interact with the – usually – senior citizens who operate polling stations, sometimes waiting on line with other potentially vulnerable people.

Now, should DeWine have overruled a judge’s decision to let the primary take place?

No.

I know this is an emergency, but maybe we can try to abide by the rule of law as much as possible.

I think an expedited appeal would have been a better course of action. I think there are ways to delay the vote without compromising Ohioans’ rights.

2.   I’ve seen a couple of polls showing more people support Trump’s handling of this crisis than think he screwed up royally – which is the objectively correct answer.

Why?

My guess is that if you think Trump is doing a good job with this, you live in a place that hasn’t really been affected by this yet. You don’t live in New York or Washington states, New Jersey, California or any of the states with hundreds of cases.

And, if you live somewhere like Wyoming or Oklahoma, where social distancing is just plain distancing, what’s the big deal?

Folks, if you think – as you might be inclined to – that this was the thing that would undo Trump with those infected by the virus that attacks their brains, think again.

3.  Today’s iTunes playlist is songs whose title begin with “Bac…”

Right now, the song is “Back Off Boogaloo” by Ringo Starr. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXg1AxBXN5g)

4.   Because all these streaming services are chockablock with documentaries, I’m trying to watch one a night.

Last night’s was “If These Knishes Could Talk,” about New York accents.

It was fine. But the premise was a little far-fetched.

What accent?

5.   Grocery workers are rightly getting many kudos for the vital function they’re performing in this crisis.

They’re being equated with health care workers and first responders, and given all that’s transpired in the last week or so, that’s understandable.

So let me throw in my nominee for people who deserve appreciation in this crisis.

Sanitation workers.

I just watched them take two pails of refuse from the curb. They’ve been doing that all morning – and even here in a part of Rockland where there aren’t a lot of reports of positive virus tests, who the hell knows what’s in those pails?

And yet, they’re out there taking it on.

I’m thinking of them as heroes of the Great COVID-19 Crisis, too.

DISINFECT YOUR SHAMROCKS

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Ho, Ho, Ho

It’s Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Today is Santa Claus’ 1,750th birthday.

Really. (Or as really as these things are, given the lack of digital – or analog – data in the third century. The history is a little fuzzy.)

Nicholas of Myra’s most famous trait was generosity, but he wasn’t looking much for publicity. According to lore, he secretly threw gold into a house so that a poor man’s three daughters could be married rather than become prostitutes – the sex workers’ rights movement not having caught on yet.

The poor man supposedly caught Nicholas in the act. But Nicholas told him not to tell anyone.

Obviously, the guy couldn’t be trusted. Hence, “Miracle on 34th Street” et al.

Nicholas became a bishop of the early Catholic Church who lived until Dec. 6, 343 – for some reason, Catholics decided to celebrate the day he died, not today.

Alas, Santa is likely spending the day social distancing from the elves at the North Pole.

It’s also the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was shot to death in the Roman Senate.

Just checking to see if you’re awake.

I haven’t done one of these in a while. But given our peculiar circumstances, it seems a great idea for all of us  to share what we’re thinking.

It would at least reduce the sense of isolation.

Because we’re going to be at this for awhile.

I’ll try to do this every other day. But here’s five quick thoughts I’ve had in the past day or so.

  1. When I was at CNNMoney.com, one of my responsibilities was contingency planning.

Two or three times a year, I’d be pulled from editing copy to take part in a company-wide drill. Somebody would plot some disaster scenario and I would go to another building in Manhattan or a remote truck on a Hudson River pier and see if I could run our website from there.

The scenario would be a bomb somewhere in the city – that one came dangerously true at CNN itself in October 2018 – or a disgruntled employee stabbing my boss or other things that involved terrorists, madmen or weather.

We never, ever planned for this.

Not even close. If somebody had come up with this idea, it would have been laughed out of the room.

To their credit, the people at CNN and other newsrooms around the country have become much more proficient at scrambling. My former colleagues are working at home – the CNN exceptions are the people who have to go on air and the people who have to put them on it.

No, they don’t want or expect the plaudits rightly being given to the frontline people in this crisis: medical workers, first responders, the employees at grocery, drug and warehouse stores.

But telling people the facts about what’s going on is an essential part of how we’ll get through this crisis.

So, as always, my best to my friends working hard to report what might become the biggest story of our lives.

Maybe we didn’t see this one coming. But you folks are ready. Of course.

2.   Is there going to be an extension on income tax filing?

Because I thought my website had $$$ potential, I have a business. My tax deadline is tomorrow – and I took my business and personal tax information to my wonderful accountant last week. Once she does my personal return, I’m done.

But I also have to do the return for my mother, who passed away in November. And I really don’t think I can deal with the intricacies of this without seeing my mother’s accountant – in her hometown 50 miles from here.

The tax deadline doesn’t account for accountants. This is the advantage people who do their own taxes have over the lazy rest of us.

So will the deadline be extended? Or will those of us who use accountants and haven’t gotten started on their return need to file the usual extension request?

3.  Here’s an idea I’m offering ESPN:

Make a deal with a video game maker and form a league.

The players would consist of a mix of athletes idled by the suspension of play in their sports, entertainers barred from the stage and some people drawn in a lottery among people who have registered their software.

Run the contests on air to make up some of the lost hours.

And use the proceeds to help people in need. Maybe stadium and arena employees not getting paid.

You’re welcome.

4.   If Ben Carson and the rest of the clowns in this administration think the answer to this crisis is for them to declare a national day of prayer, I have a weather advisory for the Washington area:

Beware of lightning.

5.   Perhaps, in isolation, we’ll discover things about ourselves we didn’t know before.

The most important thing I hope is that we’re stronger than we thought we were.

Once the seriousness of this crisis became aware to most of us – obviously, there are still dopes who think this is overblown – we became a little panicky.

Witness the Great Toilet Paper Run of 2020.

But now we’re going to have time to hunker down and deal with this. We have to man/woman up and deal with this virus-enforced solitude.

It’ll be easier for some than others. I’m here with my wife and my son, who’s home from South Korea. My daughter is safe three miles away. That’ll be a blessing.

We’ll find ways to engage without getting in each other’s hair. And maybe we’ll learn something new – something hard to imagine after all these years.

Those of you alone or worried about family will have it harder.

Don’t be afraid to reach to friends and acquaintances. Focus on what’s interesting about them and find something new.

This crisis is the opposite of the famous Benjamin Franklin quote about hanging together.

This time we must, indeed, all hang separately – or face catastrophe together.

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