Friday, October 31, 2008

Republicans, Israel and The Jewish Vote

Well we are almost at the homestretch of the election now.. as Tuesday we head to the polls to cast our votes for our next president. Gosh, I wonder who I'm gonna vote for. Hmmmm.

I am pretty oblivious to election advertising. I already knew from day 1 that I would not vote for a Republican... so whatever the ads say basically goes in one ear and out the other. In addition, since I live in NJ, I don't get to see the rough and nasty anti Obama ads that the Republicans have been buying throughout the country since they already have conceded that NJ and NY are going to vote Obama... so why spend the money here?

Even Frank Lautenberg isn't spending a lot of money on his re election campaign. One campaign that caught my attention is the Republican hot bed in Northwest NJ where a blind Rabbi named Dennis Shulman is running for Congress against incumbent Scott Garrett. Hey, I'd rather have a blind Rabbi than a blind mohel.

I remember Garrett when he was in the NJ State Assembly in the early 90s.. and you have never met a person more Conservative. His blood is redder than a red state. This guy earned the title of most right wing voting Congressman from NJ, based on his Brad Lidge-esque consistency of voting for all things Conservative. That is how he earned a perfect 100 percent score with the American Conservative Union. Some of the things he has voted against include unemployment benefit extensions, stem cell research, aid to Katrina victims, and amazingly child safety locks on guns. What happens if somebody in his district has a problem and needs to "call his Congressman?" Do they really think he is going to actually help somebody if it is going to go against his Republican mantra of "Don't spend taxpayers money".

I also see that my new fellow Hebrew John King (he recently converted after marrying his fellow CNN colleague Dana Bash) is getting a lot of attention for his amazing CNN map. It's not that the map is so impressive... it's his amazing knowledge of geography, a subject we Americans are very weak in. As much as I am aware of how voting goes around NJ and NYC, his map can pinpoint local markets all across the country and predict how people will vote. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to see Obama win, I can see King smacking around his map next Tuesday pointing out locations around the US that are still not ready to accept a Black man as President. Btw, can you imagine if he uses that map highlighter to teach his kids about the birds and the bees? Here on the east coats is the daddy and his shmeckle - Over in California, this is the mommy and her eggs. Now if the shmeckle juice ends up swimming through the midwest....

Anyway, since I don't get to see the anti Obama ads, I still want to see what those Republicans are up to because the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. That is why I make it a point to check out what's going on on Fox News. Every night like giggly eyed school girls they show the latest Sarah Palin speech and frankly I gotta admit, those Republicans are really bending over backwards to get the Jewish vote. Palin has been the poster girl for the rhetoric unleashing says some nasty comments about the Palestinians.. especially this alleged Palestinian spokesman Rashid Khalid's friendship with Obama that is on some video tape, hidden somewhere at the LA Times... With all this anti Palestinian talk, Sarah Palin is starting to look like Meir Kahane with boobs.

Obviously, Israel is very important to me, and my Republican colleagues are amazed that I am a Zionist that does not support McCain. In reality, Israel occupies a place close to my heart... and I am extremely right wing when it comes to politics there. I am also not too tolerant of the Palestinians there. I don't have an issue with the ones who are struggling to get by financially since everybody knows that Yasser Arafat and his co horts stole all their money and screwed them over way worse than what they allege the Israelis have done.. despite what the bleeding heart Jewish liberals might think. The Palestinians that worry me are the treasonists who constantly plot against the government and terrorize Israelis who are just trying to get on with their daily lives. It appears that the violence has subsided there, but they always have to be on the lookout for the homicide bombers.

That is why I get such a kick out of Sarah Palin - she has the guts to speak out against the PLO. I really like that about her... but not enough for me to vote for her. But I can see Palin getting a little chic show on the Fox News Network after the election with Elizabeth Hasselbeck that might be watchable if Palin wears that short skirt - boots combo she wore during the closing credits on SNL a few weeks ago.... This would go along with my predicted CNN show with the bearded journalist and horny former Governor called Blitzer and Spitzer. I just hope a future Palin show doesn't bounce out Greta van Susterin.

However, as much as I might agree with Palin on this ONE issue, I see exactly what she is up to. Her latest attacks this week have been for Obama's alliance with Khalid who she claims is a former PLO spokesman. CNN however says that the guy is a Columbia professor who is a PLO sympathizer. Believe it or not, as anti PLO as I might be, I don't have an issue with people feeling sorry for them, as long as they are not sending over a lot of money to them that goes to terrorist operations. But for a college professor to speak out on their behalf doesn't bother me. I might not agree with him, but there are a lot of issues I don't agree with... and frankly being based in New York and sympathizing with Palestinians is not something I find to be too dangerous.

In reality, this is Palin's way of trying to steer Jews away from Obama. People seem to equate pro Israel with the Jewish vote.. but in reality every politician is pro Israel and it's not for the Jewish vote.. it is because it makes sense. Israel is the only normal country in that crazy Middle East and the US government knows it is dealing with the only sensible democratically elected government in that area. Americans find Israelis a pleasure to work with compared to its neighbors. This is in direct contrast to dealing with Israelis at electronics stores. One day I went to a now defunct electronics store to buy an advertised technological gadget that was manufactured by Microsoft. When I got there, the actual product was made by some company I had never heard of. The salesman said... "Buy this one.. its better; who knows how long Microsoft will be around?".

I think my fellow Jews are smart enough to see through Palin's rhetoric. We will always be pro Israel as long as we continue to work together to keep the Middle East safer and saner. And keeping Israel as a safe tourist area helps both Jews and Christians since that is the Holy Land for everybody.

According to the Jewish Week, the GOP is actually getting a lot of support from the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community. An article in the latest issue talks about how the ultra Orthodox are more on the same page with Republicans when it comes to "moral" issues such as taking away the right to choose etc. This weeks Jewish Week has a report that Democrat Congressman Jerry Nadler appeared at a pre Election Day event in Boro Park and pointed out that a lot of the local programs that are specifically important to that community that has a lot of kids, but not a lot of money are actually supported by Democrats. According to the Jewish Week, Nadler told them that before voting for McCain they should keep in mind that 98% of the people pushing for Section 8 and increased social services are Democrats.

Another issue with that community is they are immune to pop culture - no TV, no NY Post, etc, so the stuff they hear about the politicians is basically hearsay. Many of them still think that Obama is a Muslim. And now the rumors about his relationship with a PLO sympathizer is gonna cause more trouble. One of their newspapers - Hamodia - printed an editorial ripping into Obama for jumping to conclusions about somebody innocent till proven guilty, because he criticized Agriprocessors the house of horrors slaughter house in Iowa that faces 9000 criminal charges after an immigration raid earlier this year. As if Obama's criticism was worse than what went on in Iowa?

And as we head to the homestretch and this crazy call your bubby and zaida in Florida to vote for Obama movement, I really find it hard to believe that my fellow Jews would not vote for Obama ONLY because he is black. We as a people were marched to the gas chambers because we were "different" than the Aryans. So what if he looks different... the color of his skin is not going to affect his ability to do his job.... and I hope you will join me Tuesday in helping him get the job of President of the United States.

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK: Last week Pumpy lost to drop to 6-2. This week Pumpy has an Election Day theme to his pick which is very interesting since Wayne Root who made a fortune by selling his NFL picks is amazingly the Libertarian's Vice Presidential Candidate. Does Pumpy have a political future? This week we go to Washington where George W. is packing his suitcases to get out by Inauguration Day. This week the Redskins are at home and are 1 1/2 point faves over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sayeth the Pump: "According to tradition if the Redskins lose their last home game before Election Day, then the incumbent party loses the election.... so I'm backing the Steelers.... because Obama's going to steel the White House!"

UNBIASED GIANTS FAN OF THE WEEK: The 12 game winning streak bit the dust last week. We went 1-2 for a season record of 16-8. This week I am picking a week of doggies - except McCain!!

Dallas 9 doggies over GIANTS - The Giants will win, but I think the Cowboys will cover.

KC 8 1/2 doggies over Tampa Bay - The more the Bucs and Eagles lose, the closer the Giants get to a playoff spot. Hopefully the Chiefs will stop that "play not to lose" mentality and take this one.

Pittsburgh 1 1/2 doggies over WASHINGTON - I'm with Pumpy on this one - I think the Steelers are ticked after they blew last week's game against the Super Bowl Champion Giants.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Socializing and Socialism

Before we start today's about those football picks? Unbiased Giants fan is 12-0 over the last 4 weeks! And Pumpstradamus is 6-1!! Stay tuned for this week's picks to see if the hot streak continues. And we welcome all the new readers who are joining us today after googling "NFL Betting".

This weeks marks the end of the Jewish Holiday season... a terrific time of year where we can take a lot of time off from work... and nosy co-workers wondering about ANOTHER holiday are reminded that alternate side of the street parking regulations are suspended... confirming that yes indeed, it is another holiday.

Well, once again with all the celebrating, and praying and of course socializing... I waited till late in the week to start my column and guess what happened?? That bronchial bug that has been afflicting Trophy Wife for the last few weeks, found its way over to me and attacked and at the worst possible time. I have a pretty good immune system and I rarely get sick, but this bronchial infection started floating around my system on Tuesday Morning and finally struck full force late Tuesday night. It actually forced me to miss... my all time favorite holiday Simchas Torah... or as I like to call it... an 18 hour celebration interrupted by about 4 hours of sleep.

Nate missing Simchas Torah is like Santa Claus missing Christmas! ST is the celebration by my fellow Hebrews and Shebrews that God gave us the Five Books of Moses. Each Saturday morning at services, a portion of the Torah is chanted right out of the hand written Torah scrolls, set up in such a way that the Five Books takes one year to complete - and then restarted from "In the beginning" on Simchas Torah.... which leads to the celebrations.. the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis.

For the celebrations, each synagogue takes all of its Torahs, and marches around 7+ times during services on the evening of the holiday and again the following morning. In the evening all the men (and at some synagogues all the women) each carry the Torah scroll and the next morning they repeat the process, plus each man over the age of 13 (and again in some places, each woman) is called up to the Torah one at a time for an aliyah where they say a special prayer and a few sentences of the Torah portion are chanted out loud.

Since I was a kid, this has always been my favorite holiday. The kids who are too small to carry a heavy Torah scroll (trust me, they're heavy) are given little flags and they get to march around the sanctuary like cutie pies. The idea of the holiday is you are so happy that you dance with the Torahs with joy. As a kid I liked it that me and my fellow little pishers got to march and we got candy.

As I became a teenager I realized what the adults were really up to. At the orthodox synagogues, the adults traditionally dont eat till after morning services which comes after the recitation of the post-synagogue, pre-lunch prayer of the kiddush. The Simchas Torah service traditionally runs so long that you won't get to eat till after 2pm. In order to keep everybody's bloood sugar in check, a person is allowed to recite the kiddush AFTER his aliyah, at which point he and his family can eat. The kiddush also involved the consumption of an adult beverage or 2 or 3.(The observant dont drive on this holiday.) In addition, the traditional Priestly blessing which is usually recited after the Torah reading, is moved up to before the Torah reading, because traditionally everybody had done so much celebrating at that usual point in the service that they can't perform that part of the service all liquored up. Incidentally, I have rarely encountered too many drunks in my day... but I have encountered a lot of levity during that holiday. Also, in Israel, they also do the somber Yizkor Memorial service on ST, but I have never seen how they do it and how it is worked into the whole scheme of things. If anybody has seen this, please feel free to explain it in the comments section.

The levity is part of why I like the holiday so much... they do stuff you never ever see except for that one day. The kids get to run all over the place.... they also get a special aliyah when they are called to the Torah..., the adults fire off wisecracks as if they were on Hollywood Squares... (Moshe Moskowitz for the block), and the Priestly Blessing is moved to a different timeslot. The part that I find to be most incredible... it is the only day of year that we read from the Torah at night. I find this very cool for some reason, yet I don't know why. I also like the levity and socializing... which gives kids the notion at a young age that a synagogue is a fun place to be. All the traditional prayer tunes are tossed out the windows and replaced with melodies that remind you of a Weird Al Yankovic parody. For 17 yrs at my old synagogue, I used to lead part of the service with a carefully choreographed series of musical tunes... usually to blank faces, unless I stuck to the old traditions of Yankee Doodle and Fiddler on the Roof songs.... but the year I tossed in some Take a Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed - crickets.

In the mid 90s, I began a new tradition that I mentioned in the Yankee Stadium column last month. I started traveling on the holiday (you're not supposed to, but my religious observances or lack thereof is not really the point) and I discovered the Bnai Jeshurun synagogue on Manhattan's Upper West Side. I remember going with my friend Mike and it was like we had discovered a new island - I had never seen anything quite like this. For the first several years I went, they closed off part of West End Avenue and danced like maniacs for hours and hours. In 2001, the Jewish holidays were right after 9/11 so for security concerns they moved the festivities indoors, and that has been the case ever since. But again, they still celebrated up a storm there... and that is how they have done it ever since.

After leaving there, I would walk a few blocks over to the Carlebach synagogue, a wonderful Modern Orthodox synagogue that has an incredible night of dancing that apparently goes till the wee hours of the morning. This creates a tough dilemma. One year, I drove into the city, but Mike was not where he was supposed to be, and since we didnt have cellphones, I just assumed he wasn't coming. I had to pick up a few friends but I couldn't find parking so I momentarily parked in front of a church and went to ring their buzzer to tell them I was there. I was gone for maybe 2 minutes.. and as I got back I saw Mike had driven to the city, and parked right behind me! And I had gotten a parking ticket... yet amazingly he didn't!!

Since parking is so hard, the train seems to be a better option, but you really have to watch the clock to get outta Carlebach in time to make it to Penn Station for the last 140 train back to Jersey. As I wrote last month, in 2000 I got so caught up in all the activity there, that I lost track of time and almost missed the last train.. however because the Met Yankee World Series Game 1 went extra innings (Thank You Armando Benitez) the last train's departure was delayed, so the fans at the game were given enough time to get the train!

Now, Simchas Torah has become an annual opportunity to catch up with old friends in the city, followed by an early wake up call to get to the morning services and all the related frivolity. And yes, they actually don't discourage you from heckling and make wisecracks during services.... but only after a certain amount of people have had their little shot or shots of adult beverages. This year unfortunately, Trophy Wife and I were under the weather... we decided in advance we wouldn't trek to the City. I did muster enough energy to go to nearby Highland Park to visit 2 local synagogues on Tuesday Night. At the first, my friend Barry the Red Sox fan shmaneuvered me into carrying a Torah, even though the bug was causing some bad tummy aches... luckily the Immodium kicked in during my turn to march. After that, I visited another nearby service and ran into Rabbi Green who married me and Trophy Wife and he gave me such a bear hug I think I cracked a rib. As I strolled home at around 945 pm, I realized that my buds in the city were probably just getting their party hats ready. Oh well, I still had the Wednesday Morning activities to look forward to.

Wednesday Morning I woke up sicker than a dog and I realized what it would take to get me to miss Simchas Torah. We ended up staying home, but later in the day we felt much better so we took a little mini Torah I have had since my bar mitzvah and an Israeli flag and spent about 10 minutes marching around the living room singing Simchas Torah songs. After that, we went back to bed and zonked out from our excessive partying until I woke up and realized I had not started this week's column!

After that, I brought in the mail, and saw that a local Jewish paper published a very interesting letter to the editor during this holiday season. A doctor (of theoretical physics, whatever that means) who supports McCain wrote that if Obama wins, "The government would become much more socialistic, with the focus on helping people - this sounds like welfare". Well this guy might be a big hotshot in the physics world but its obvious he doesn't know about how tax dollars relate to welfare vs helping non welfare. Where do republicans get this idea that all tax money goes to lazy people who refuse to get a job and want to mooch off the government? Socialism Shmocialism! Government is there to help people - all people... rich, poor, middle class etc. How about the roads that are built, the police and firemen who keep us safe in our homes... the schools that provide education for all kids, and the efforts to make cars and planes safer - or work done by the FDA to make drugs safer and affordable, even for rich people? And the bank bailout which now "socialized" the banks? It will ultimately reopen the credit markets and hopefully get the economy moving back in the right direction.

Nobody except for a few fringe wacko liberals believes in giving free rides to welfare recipients who refuse to work.... and the idea of "helping all people" - not just those on welfare..... is the entire point of what we are here for - and really, isn't that what we just celebrated last week during Simchat Torah? And when did socialism get to be such a bad word? On Simchas Torah we sing a song "Next Year in Jerusalem".... maybe next year we will be in Jerusalem - on a kibbutz! Or is that too "socialistic"

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK - Last week Pumpy won again improving his record to 6-1. This week we go to Tampa Bay the home of the Rays who we Met fans hope will beat the Phillies in the World Series. This week the Tampa Bay Bucs are in Dallas where they are 2 point doggies to the Cowboys. Sayeth the Pump: "Let's go with the Bucs, because I need some to make up the bucks that I lost in this abysmal stock market"

UNBIASED GIANTS FAN PICKS OF THE WEEK - For the 4th straight week we went 3-0... I have no idea how! That 12-0 run has put our season record at 15-6.

Giants 3 point doggies over PITTSBURGH - Could this be a Super Bowl Preview?

DETROIT 7 1/2 doggies over Washington - Is it wise to risk a 12 game winning streak with another underdog? I think the Lions will cover.

Tampa Bay 2 doggies over DALLAS - We did this a few wks ago going all doggies and struck gold. How can I possibly go against the Amazing Pumpstradamus??

Friday, October 17, 2008

Empire of the Sun - A Movie Club Column

Greetings from the NWOW sukkah where today's column is originating.... I'm sitting here pecking away at my laptop - This weekend we are going to do the traditional Chinese Food in the sukkah.... which is a perfect opportunity for a movie review column of "Empire of the Sun". This is part 1 of our Bateman to Batman 4-pack featuring Christian Bale movies.

It seems like the only banks doing well nowadays is Elizabeth Banks...the actress is in 2 new movies this month... the new Oliver Stone movie "W" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno". I think Banks turned in her star making performance a few years back with her brief appearance in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" during that that sizzling hot jacuzzi seduction scene. Oy Vay! Homina Homina Homina! By the way did you know that her last name is actually Mitchell but she changed it to Banks? When she became an actress there already was an Elizabeth Mitchell... the hot blonde who plays Juliet on Lost. Banks also could have also taken her husband's last name of Handelman.... by the way she converted to Judaism prior to her wedding.

Speaking of name changes, I just found out the other day that Dana Bash and John King from CNN got married over the summer. And gosh did they look cute sitting next to each other during CNN's debate coverage Wednesday Night!! A few weeks ago in the Yankee Stadium column, I wrote about my buddy who missed 6 innings at a Yankee game back in the 80s. I think his sister who went to that game with us actually went to school with Ms. Bash who back then was Dana Schwartz. She married her first husband - a guy named Bash and took on his name. Now she is married to John King.. but still goes by the last name of her ex husband. It's kind of odd that John King will speak to her on the air and refer to her by her previous husband's last name! Imagine if she hyphenated her name... then divorced hubby #2 and married Tony Robbins... her name would be Dana Bash-King Robbins! By the way, just like the aforementioned Ms. Banks, John King converted to Judaism prior to the wedding, which is physically more painful for a man than a woman. Mazel tov to the King family and tune in later today on CNN as John King and Larry King will have a Shmini Atzeret trivia contest.

OK... enough silliness.... let's get on with the movie review....... here is the trailer...

World War II has a different meaning to different people - it depends on who you ask I guess. Veterans have first hand accounts of what they went through - so do Holocaust survivors. Steven Spielberg decided to take a different look at things based on what was going on for Westerners living on Japanese soil during WW II. Japan rounded out all of its "enemies" so that they would be in "camps" as Pearl Harbor was being attacked on December 7, 1941 (The week that both my mom and Pumpstradamus's mom were born!) - and those westerners remained there until we dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki on August 19, 1945. I have really never thought much about what was going on in Japan then.. until I saw this terrific movie!

Christian Bale was only 13 when he took on this role playing Jamie Graham... Spielberg cast him after his wife (at the time) Amy Irving recommended him after they acted together in a miniseries. In this movie, Bale plays a young boy growing up in Shanghai..(at that time part of Japan) . which at the time was inhabited by a lot of Brits; they moved there from England and instead of being British people living in Japanese territory, they turned it into another England... sort of like what the Indians did to Iselin, NJ! As a matter of fact, I was just thinking about this on Columbus Day that in 1492, if Columbus had landed in Iselin and declared the people he saw there as "Indians".... people really wouldn't think much of it now, would they?

The movie starts with a brief back story of words scrolling on the screen... just like Star Wars. Bale is introduced to us just days before the Japanese military started rounding up the westerners in Japan. The Japanese military waited very very patiently to get their official orders just to make sure everybody would be well behaved on Pearl Harbor Day. While attending a costume party at a family friend's mansion, the little guy actually stumbles into a Japanese hideout but manages to safely get away.... as the adults realize that the Japanese are just going to sit there marking time until just the right moment. It's almost Hitchcockian to see the Japanese just patiently sitting there.. with untold horrors awaiting the non Japanese residents.

Ultimately, the horrors turn out to be bad, yet not quite as bad as one would imagine. The movie tells the story of how Bale's character grows up in the labor camp during WWII... in almost a style we saw in "Life is beautiful" this movie attempts to show a somewhat lighter side of what the boy goes through. Based on a true story by JG Ballard, (who appears in a cameo at the party where the young Bale discovers the Japanese hideaway), the movie is typical of a pre-Schindler's List Spielberg movie... (although this film doesn't have a final scene as touching as the finale to Schindlers List... nor does any movie for that matter...) featuring a lost boy separated from his parents and looking for something to cling to. Jamie actually has a picture of a Norman Rockwell family painting which he carries around with him all the time. In this movie, the boy has a fascination with airplanes and plays with them all the time. Ultimately, it will be an American bomb dropping airplane that will rescue Jaime from his camp.... That's kind of like my fascination with blondes.. imagine if I was imprisoned somewhere and rescued by Elizabeth Banks, Elizabeth Mitchell and Dana Bash.

The plane leads to poor Jamies downfall. He and his parents try to evacuate Shang hai but he gets separated form his mom when he reaches down to pick up the toy airplane he dropped. Once separated, he is all alone and tries to give himself up to the invading Japanese army which just kept marching past him. Of course if it was the Nazis, they would have just shot him dead. Ultimately, he runs into 2 American soldiers played by John Malkovich and Joe Pantoilano who seem more interested in selling his non existent dental gold fillings. Even though they have no use for the kid.. he starts to hang with them and ultimately invites them to his mansion where they are ultimately caught and sent to the camp.

As Jamie ages... the make up is remarkable because Bale goes from looking like a little boy to looking like a young version of Christian Bale... he starts to make the best of his situation. He becomes quite the businessman trading materials between different people.... His American friends live in the American bunk house while he stays with a married couple. And while the British do not make the best of the situation, the American bunk resembles something of a MASH episode with a strong camraderie developing between the imprisoned. The Malkovich character almost seems to be living in a country club!

Ultimately, Jamie strives to work his way in with the Americans... partly by plotting a daring "escape" to the other side of the barbed wire fence in order to plant "pheasant traps" which is really an attempt by the Americans to use him to check for landmines so they can plot an escape. When it looks like Jamie might get caught by the Japanese guard, the Americans cruelly start a betting pool wagering on whether he will get away or get caught. Jamie ultimately is able to utilize his friendship with a Japanese teen at a Japanese air hangar on the other side of the barbed wire to bail himself out of a dicey situation; later on watching that teen go through the pre suicide mission traditional ritual is quite touching.

It's an interesting comparison to 2008... back then the Chinese were the good guys and the Japanese were the bad guys. Amazingly the movie was shot in China, the first American movie to be shot there. I guess when your name is Spielberg you carry a lot of clout with the Chinese government! The Japanese invasion of Shanghai is a very touchy topic for the gazillions of extras, especially those who were still alive during WWII. During that shoot they converted the streets to make them look like just as they did back then, shooting some amazing scenes involving the invasion by the Japanese military. Watching the young Jamie separated by his parents as a young boy is heart wrenching... and seeing him as a young teen with a Davey Crockett hairpiece is mesmerizing when you realize that he looks exactly how Bates will look when he evolves into Bateman and Batman.

Before we get to my bladder scale... here is what Siskel and Ebert had to say....

Now even though I think Siskel and Ebert was/is two of the best movie critics.. I really have to disagree. The movie runs an incredibly long 2 hours and 40 minutes and even with my ants in the pants, I was glued to the screen from beginning to end. Speilberg is a legend and this is one of his many masterpieces. The cast is terrific especially young Bale but also Malkvoich and a rather brief appearance by Miranda Richardson as a British woman who lives in the British bunk. That character has a turning point in her life just as we dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima, giving young Jamie what he thinks is an incredible spiritual moment...... On a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom..... Empire of the Sun is a 4 bladder movie!!

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK: Pumpy won again last week improving his record to 5-1. This week we go to Hofstra, the site of the last Presidential Debate at Hofstra. Up until recently Hofstra was the practice home of the NY Jets. This weekend, the Jets are in Oakland to play the Raiders. The Jets are favored by 3. Sayeth The Pump: "Since one of my favorite Spielberg movies is Raiders of the Lost Ark - take the Raiders!"

UNBIASED GIANTS FAN PICKS OF THE WEEK - The incredible run continues.... we went against all 3 NFC East teams last week to go 3-0 for the 3rd straight week running our winning streak to 9 games! I might have to charge for these picks soon. The season record is 12-6.

THE GIANTS 10 1/2 faves over San Fran - I usually don't like such large spreads, but I think the Giants have a little anger after Monday Night.

Cleveland 7 doggies over WASHINGTON - Didn't these people see what happened Monay Night?

ST. LOUIS 7 doggies over Dallas - The spread has dropped 3 1/2 points with the Romo injury situation. Maybe a TD is a tad much to expect Dallas to cover.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Did World Savings Save the World? Nope

I gotta make a note to myself that the next time Yom Kippur falls on a Thursday, I should not wait till Thursday night to write a Friday column! I am actually a good faster on YK,.... I'm a bad fast breaker! I have some dehydration issues, so even though I'm not particularly hungry or thirsty or headachey like many of my fellow Hebrews and Shebrews, I do run into some problems after the fast is over.

My YK fasting activities are also quite consistent. Every year except for 1999 and 2003 I always spent the Day of Atonement in either one of 2 synagogues.. Anshe Chesed in Linden from age 1 to 1996, and then The Highland Park Conservative Temple since '97 after my mom sold her Roselle house and moved to Edison. The one year I made an exception was '03 when I went with Trophy Wife (who back then was Trophy Girlfriend almost Trophy Fiance) to services with a bunch of her graduate student friends at Rutgers University... The services were terrific but during the break in the afternoon we trekked over to musical Genius Neil Fein's house to hang out... and I grossly underestimated the walking distance from his house to Rutgers. The walk to his house was ok.... but the walk back that day was sheer torture, and thankfully Highland Park has a lot of benches for me to sit... but in retrospect, that was not my smartest moment. I actually was home on YK in 1999 because I had a badly sprained ankle (that I sprained on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashana while walking to services!) and I couldn't walk to services on Yom Kippur. And yes, on that 2nd day in '99, I amazingly did the 3 mile walk from the synagogue to my mom's condo on that badly sprained and swollen ankle and by the way just to put it in perspective, that was NOT worse than the 2003 walk back to Rutgers!

Speaking of Rosh Hashana... I really have lost almost all respect for Ben Stein. While Congress was voting on the bailout last week, its first go round fell through and the 2nd attempt was scheduled for after Rosh Hashana out of respect to the Jewish House Members who planned to spend the day at services. Stein went on Larry King and said that those Jewish members should be at work instead! The actual rules for those who observe The High Holy Days, are that one is not permitted to perform work activities and while many people do not observe those rules, it's absurd that one Jew would make a comment insulting the beliefs of others who are observing the holiday.

I am also surprised by the amout of people who blow off the 2nd day to go to work, although I understand why certain business owners feel an obligation. Maybe they should move the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah to Thanksgiving Friday.... how many of those people would give their boss a "Whatcha talking about Willis?" look of shock if they are asked to work that Friday, yet were willing to work the 2nd day of 5769?

Now that Saturday Night Live is relevant again... and you wonder if Sara Palin was purposely chosen because of her resemblance to Tina Fey.. I see that SNL had to re-edit a skit from last weekend before NBC allowed it to be posted on their website. The skit parodied the post bill signing press conference with those 2 wacky liberals Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank. Incidentally, I think most Democrats are more like me, moving away from the liberal ideas of Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Frank, and I find it odd that those 2 are at the forefront at such a momentous occasion.

The skit was of C-Span's coverage of that press conference showing other subprime "victims" including a borrower who got a loan even though he was jobless and a yuppy couple, that reminded me of that goofy dog training couple from "Best In Show". The skit also featured Herb and Marion Sandler. They are the couple that sold World Savings to Wachovia in 2006.. and now Wachovia has shut its doors just like Yankee Stadium! When the Sandlers appeared on the screen the C-Span graphics introduced them as "people that deserve to be shot". The subsequent online posting of that skit deleted that graphic.

I dont know that they deserve to be shot, but the whole World Savings situation has played quite a role in this mortgage debacle. The Sandlers walked away with a bundle of money after they sold their "portfolio" to Wachovia. That portfolio was actually not subprime loans which were loans that were given to people with shaky credit, but actually consisted of those infamous negative amortization loans that were advertised as loans with 1 or 2 percent rates.

Here is how they worked: World Savings would send its borrowers a coupon each month with a choice of 4 payments. Among those choices were an absurdly low 1 or 2 percent payment, an interest only payment at a rate approx 1-2% higher than a regular interest only loan, and a 15 or 30 year fixed option, which was also at a rate of 1 or 2% higher than a typical rate. The rationale for the higher rate actually makes sense... since that is the price these borrowers paid for being allowed the so-called "privilege" of having the low payment option.

But if your rate on the interest only option was 7% and your payment on that coupon was $1000, and your 1% rate payment was $400... guess what happens. The difference between those 2 payments would "negatively amortize"... For example... cars historically lose value - the moment you drive a new car off the lot, its value goes down... and thus it negatively amortizes. In a typical housing market, values are supposed to go up.. so a house would positively amortize over time... but lately home values have been going down. This creates a situation where even interest only loans are negatively amortizing, and these "payment option" loans were negatively amortizing at a much higher rate.

Now let's say a home owner makes that $400 dollar payment... he negatively amortizes $600. He has to pay at least the interest only payment to avoid negative amortization... the 1% option was just a carrot dangled in front of them... But that $600 which is now deferred interest is tacked on to the loan. So math students get your pencils... if a person made 10 months of minimum payments on a $150,000 dollar loan.... that loan now carries a balance of $156,000. And if that balance shoots up to the $160s and $170s as the value drops to the $150s and $140s, everybody involved is in a tight spot... since the home owner is paying on a house he owes more than its own value. Multiply that loan scenario by thousands and now you see the portfolio of loans that the Sandlers eagerly sold to Wachovia as truckloads of cash were delivered to the Sandlers.

World Savings also imposed tough pre payment penalties so many people who didn't quite grasp the way loan works, wanted out... and they were stuck. And, they also bypassed laws such as the ones in NJ that ban prepays since their federal charter allows them to charge those prepayment penalties. Those loans were priced in such a way that created an incentive for the borrower to agree to take the pre pay. The loans were also structured that only a certain amount of minimum payments would be allowed, until the borrower would be required to make the payments on the higher rate.

Are Herb and Marion Sandler responsible for this crisis? No. Did they bring down Wachovia? Probably Not. But they did carve their niche by offering a gimmicky loan that has caused a lot of aggravation. But there is one key factor here that one should keep in mind and that is many people who took these loans did not fully grasp how the loan worked, and really thought they had a "1% interest rate". Many of these borrowers took a 1 or 2% because that was all they could really afford. Once the ability to pay the low payment was taken away - they were screwed. And the fact that so many World Savings customers took out loans that they did not understand, is extremely unfortunate.


Pumpy was right again last week improving to 4-1. This week we go to the Bay Area in CA... the home of mortgage villians Herb and Marion Sandler. This week the San Fransisco 49ers host the Philadelphia Eagles. Sayeth the Pump: "I hear the Eagles have a player named Trent Cole...and since we chanted Kol Nidre on Wednesday Night... I gotta take the Eagles"


For the 2nd straight week we went 3-0! Now we are at 9-6. This week it's all about the doggies.

CLEVELAND 8 doggies over Giants - It's a Monday Night game and you know the old saying about home dogs on Monday Night. The Giants will win but won't cover.

ARIZONA 4 1/2 doggies over Dallas - Could this really be Arizona's year? Dallas almost blew it last week against the Bengals if Cincy had not gone for that ill advised 2 point conversion after that late TD.

St. Louis 13 doggies over WASHINGTON - A hot team against a winless team with a 2 td spread? The Skins could be ripe for an upset.


Here is that SNL clip which many say explain the mortgage crisis better than the news media!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Baseball Quarterly Report: The Mets and Another Shea-mful Ending!

First of all... let's give a shout out to our new pals at The Blog. Their September 21 column featured my column about Yankee Stadium which is kind of odd because they are a Mets blog and I'm a big Met fan! And how can a Met fan do a whole column about Yankee Stadium without doing one about Shea?? Today we will rectify that as part of our Baseball Quarterly Report.

The Yankee Stadium column was a lot easier to do because I have not been there anywhere near as often as I have been to Shea. It is hard to pin point the best memories that I witnessed in person, since many of the games I have been to have been run of the mill games or losses to the Yankees where those annoying Yankee fans booed the Mets on their own home field. The most exciting game that I ever saw in person was June 30, 2000 when the Braves took an 8-1 lead into the 8th inning only to see the Mets come up with a huge 10 run rally capped off with Mike Piazza's 3 run homer off Terry Mulholland. Otherwise the games that I ended up attending were relatively uneventful....

My first ever ball game was at Shea in the early 70s... and I think it was a day game against The St. Louis Cardinals. I went to legendary YAC Camp which has now been immortalized on Facebook. I really dont remember anything about the game... however I didn't know bubkis about baseball... my dad was not a fan so I really had no formal introduction to the sport. I did know the rules to the game and as a little 6 year old pisher I actually thought the fans bat in the game too. What did I know? Years later I was a CIT at that same camp and took a bus to the city with another Met fan who worked there. We went to the Banner Day Double header which really was a fertile ground for any pharmaceutical salesman selling ADD medication since the twinbill and the between games Banner Parade seemed to go on and on.

Back in my college days my college radio station was able to get press passes to cover games which was pretty cool. I became a Met fan in the early 70s... around 1973 but really got into the game in the late 70's during the lean years. Things started really looking up for the Mets in '83 when they called up Darryl Strawberry and after that traded for Keith Hernandez in an absolute steal of a deal. The arrival of Davey Johnson in 1984, and then Gary Carter in '85 completed the turnaround and for the first time in my generation, we Met fans had something to cheer about. That is why it was fantastic that Met PR Director Jay Horowitz was nice enough to give us press access to batting practice.. (no press box or post game locker room though), but we got a pair of tickets in the stands so who could complain? We got to chat with the players! . I actually have photos of myself on the field with my microphone asking the players questions.

I also still have a tape of an interview I did with Pete Rose that showed what a Jerk he was.... I asked him a question right after he was traded to the Reds to be their player/manager about his reaction to the idea of that transaction and he kind of twisted it around a bit just to be a shmuck. From that day forward I could see that Rose was unlikeable... and that attitude is probably why the media has not made a bigger deal about his being left out of the Hall of Fame. His arrogance seemed a bit toned down on Bob Costas fantastic HBO show at the All Star Break which also featured Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, so maybe Rose has eaten about 19 years of humble pie since he was banned from the game. I also recall Bobby Valentine was a Met coach back then and he accidentally spit some chewing tobacco right on my tape recorder. Good thing I didnt have access to the urinals!

Those early college days were the era of Darryl and Doc and believe me I would have chills going down my spine every time I got to speak to them. Doc Gooden was also the first player who was approximately my age to make the big leagues. I used to know who was the first major leaguer who was younger than me; I think it is Al Leiter but I am not 100% sure.. Now only a handful of the active players are actually older than me!

In 2003 I went to a Mets Marlins game with a buddy of mine who got awesome tickets from a friend of his - we were in the first row right behind first base. It was a late season clunker against the Marlins and Shea was rather empty that weekday afternoon. We were just a few feet away from the first base coach's box and he could hear most of the wisecracks originating from our seats. At one point he actually looked in my direction and chuckled when I yelled..."Hey down in front... you're blocking my view!" Over the last few years, we have been going with my buddy Adam and his lovely wife. He takes a notebook with him and must keep score for every game. He literally sits there the whole time with a pen and notebook jotting down every single out while I sit there gearing up for Carlos at bats so I can do my Jon Miller impression and yell out.... Beltraaaaaaaan!~

I was kind of curious what the Shea finale would be like after seeing the great show that was put on at Yankee Stadium the previous week. It was neat to see Yogi Berra who had a key role for both franchises participate at both Stadium Closing ceremonies. Perhaps Yogi should be hired for other closings.... like bank closings? Hey join us this week as we close the doors on Wachovia... with a special appearance by Yogi Berra!!

I was really hoping that if the Mets didnt make the playoffs that they would at least get eliminated before Sunday so the closing ceremonies would not be affected by a Met elimination. I just never imagined how excruciatingly sudden it would be with the late inning loss combined with the Brewers late win. But the decision to do the closing after the game.... combined with the emotionally draining game made it very tough to get excited for the ceremonies. Nonetheless, the players got their game faces on and it was quite exciting to see all the old timers and not so old timers. Although Howard Johnson who was a Met coach this year looked like a deer caught in the headlights when he was introduced because he was still numb from the results of the game...

My Met fandom stretches a little more than 30 years and it was great to see the Mets especially from the crummy years... such as Dave Kingman for example.. It was also great to see the post Kingman '86 crew including Hernandez, Gary Carter, Doc Gooden and Sid Fernandez who looked nothing like I had expected. It would have been nice to bring Bill Buckner along since that game is the consensus favorite for the most incredible game in Shea's history... but I actually think winning it all in Game 7 was more exciting!.. Even though the Yankee Stadium ceremonies were more historical.... I felt emotionally detached from it... except for when Willie Randolph came out... and for that incredibly touching moment when Mickey Mantle's son comforted the recent widow of Bobby Murcer in Center field. But the Shea ceremonies carried a lot more meaning because being a Met fan has been a big part of my life for so long,

Willie Mays was there... he really had gone downhill by the time he arrived at Shea. And George Foster was at Shea Sunday too... even though he was cut early on in '86 and wasn't on the team when they won it all... but many credit his acquisition in '82 as being the first stepping stone to the '86 season. I still cant believe Dave Kingman was there! Jesse Orosco was also on hand... but the two real stars of the day were the best hitter and best pitcher to ever put on a Met uniform... Mike Piazza and Tom Seaver. I mentioned last week I hoped the Mets would give those 2 a very prominent role and to me the way they were utilized made it a very touching evening.

Even though the Yankee Stadium event was very well choreographed.....Shea's had a much different feel.. You could tell by the numerous missed camera shots that they must have made some late changes to the way it was presented.... It appeared to be put together on the fly, and I am very curious how different the event would have been had the Mets made the playoffs. The fans would have been quite happier, but it would not have been a true farewell to Shea. But, the Mets painful end to '08 gave the ceremonies a true sense of finality to the Goodbye Shea ceremonies.

The former Mets players who were involved emerged from behind the Center Field fence and lined up along the 1st and 3rd base lines. After the intros, which seemed to move along quite quickly maybe due to rain concerns.... each player was invited to touch home plate en route to leaving the field. No current Mets were involved in the ceremonies by the way..but I think a few of them deserved to be there for it. They were probably still worn out from the game. The Mets all touched home plate until the 2 Best Mets were remaining: Seaver and Piazza. At that point it was time for the last pitch - an incredibly clever idea which Tom tossed to Mike. The two then walked to the outfield to In My Life by The Beatles... don't forget The Beatles concert was an important part of Shea's history - and strolled to the center field wall... at which point they closed the wall behind them essentially closing the Stadium.

It would have been nice if right before that, they would have tossed a grenade into the bullpen and just blow it up... but that was not meant to be.

Now it's time to revisit my preseason picks and see where I messed up and where I was right.

Obviously my Mets predictions were wrong, but before they go and break up the whole team... let's consider one player's injury - Billy Wagner. If Wagner had been pitching, the Mets post season fate would have been sealed way before the final weekend, but losing your stopper when the rest of the pen is lousy was just too much for The Mets to overcome. The starting pitchers and offense is in pretty good shape although they could still use a new second baseman and a corner outfielder. Otherwise just fix what is broken - blow up the pen - get some different arms there and get ready for 2009.

In the National League preseason preview, I was two bullpen choke jobs from hitting on all 4 predictions. Back in April, I originally had the Division Winners being the Phillies, Cubs, D-backs with the Mets as Wild Card. We also picked the Astros as our surprise team, and they almost pulled it off but their late season hot streak (which came despite a season ending injury to slugger Carlos Lee) was derailed when Hurricane Ike moved 2 "home" games against the Cubs to Milwaukee where Cubs fans got the chance to hop in a car for a short trip to root for the Cubbies on "the road". The Astros lost those games and were never the same after that.

Over in the AL I predicted the end to the Yankees post-season run picking Boston, Detroit and Seattle as the division winners with Cleveland as the wild card. Whoda thunk how far off those picks were going to be - I even picked the LA Angels as my big disappointment. I did predict the White Sox as my surprise AL team for 2008.

As for the 2008 post season, I am going to predict that the Cubs will lose to LA - The LA Angels in the World Series!

Here are my other picks

Phils-Brewers - I couldn't care less
Cubs over LA - Not to poke fun at Torre but he has blown a post season series lead in the past.
LA over Bahsten - Angels look to be the class of the AL.
Tampa over Chicago White Sox. The Chi Sox pitching could be running outta gas.

And then LA over the Cubbies in the Fall Classic

Here are my predictions for the Post Season Awards:

NL Cy Young - I gotta give it to Johan Santana just ekeing it out over Brandon Webb. Both teams had crummy bullpens and should have won more games this season, but Santana strikes me as having had a better season despite fewer wins.

NL MVP - I have come to the conclusion that if Billy Wagner had not been injured that the Mets would have won the division weeks ago. That is how valuable a bullpen stopper is... which is why I think that Brad Lidge deserves it.

NL ROOKIE - Edinson Volquez of the Reds. 17-6 3.21 ERA, 206 strikeouts. This guy was amazing on a crummy team. Do you realize the Texas Rangers traded away Volquez (for Josh Hamilton) and released Armando Gallaraga who will be a runner up for Rookie of the Year?

AL CY YOUNG - I would rather see K-Rod get it for saving more than 60 games but Cliff Lee had one of those years - another Ohio pitcher who had an outstanding season for a sub par team!

AL MVP - This is a toughie! Who really earned it? I would have given it to Carlos Quentin but he missed the last few weeks and coincidentally his team started to slump. Nonetheless, what the heck? I'll give it to him.. although that is another award K-Rod might deserve.

AL ROOKIE - Evan Longoria - he went from being an Eva Longoria pun to a baseball star!!

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK: Pumpy won with the Jets last week improving to 3-1. This week we go to The Nation's Capitol as all eyes were on Washington as Congress passed the bailout bill...(till the next bunch of banks go under!) This week The Redskins are 6 point Road Doggies to the Eagles. Sayeth The Pump: "Thursday Night Sarah Palin kept talking about "Maverick" which starred James Garner who was also in the movie "The Last Debate" and the 1973 movie "One Little Indian" The Redskins it is!"

UNBIASED GIANTS FAN PICK OF THE WEEK: Last week we ran the table go to 3-0 for the first time ever. The record is now 6-6.

GIANTS 7 1/2 over Seattle - Not a big fan of spreads more than one td after a Giant bye.. but The Giants have been looking fantastic this season.

Bengals 17 doggies to DALLAS - Cincy played pretty well against the Giants 2 wks ago... are they really that much worse than Dallas?

Redskins 6 doggies to PHILLY - I don't know about Pumpy's logic but I like seeing The Eagles and Cowboys rack up the losses.


The most incredibly shocking moment in Shea's history recreated in a legendary 1980s video game.


From WFAN's website - The Top 25 Memories in Shea History.

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