Saturday, September 10, 2011

A New World Trade Center Rises From The Rubble - September 8, 2011

(This is the text that accompanied photos taken during a tour of the WTC site in August, 2011.)
Ten years ago, the lower Manhattan skyline was forever transformed when terrorists flew two commercial jets into the Twin Towers, the iconic skyscrapers at the World Trade Center, which subsequently crumpled.
In the ensuing years, government agencies, developers and 9/11 victims’ families engaged in disputes that caused numerous delays and design modifications; but, now, the skyline is rising from the ruble at Ground Zero that — for too long — was widely referred to as “a hole in the ground.” And though the last touches won’t be completed for years, the once demolished area is taking shape — the culmination of ten long years.
Half the space of the new World Trade Center site will be devoted to memorial footprints on the spots where the destroyed towers stood. Space has also been set aside for a performing arts center that will combine culture and commerce.
Several weeks ago I toured the site, courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to take the photographs that accompany this essay.
The 104-floor, 1775-foot glass and steel main tower, One World Trade Center (previously known as the Freedom Tower), already dwarfs surrounding structure sand is scheduled to be completed by 2013. Before the current design was finalized, it went through three models, numerous delays and rising budgets.
When finished, the street-level portion around One World Trade Center’s will be a tree-lined plaza. A sunken round section will serve as a planter for landscaping elements to beautify the plaza area.
Investor Larry Silverstein said earlier this year that the Port Authority's estimated completion date for the entire site is 2037, and that billions of dollars had already been spent on the project, even though the site “looks far from finished.”
Though all five office towers of the World Trade Center will open between 2012 and 2016, substantial progress has been made in the last year. Work continues at a brisk pace with significant construction having taken place over the summer.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will be completed by Sunday when it will host invited guests and VIPS for the tenth anniversary memorial ceremony. It will honor the thousands who died there that tragic day, as well as pay respects to those whose courage and daring saved others. The Memorial and Museum, which is operated by a private foundation, will open to the general public the following day. The museum will contain artifacts and reminders of 9/11, such as wreckage recovered after the buildings collapsed and hundreds of mementos discovered during the subsequent painful search and rescue efforts. (More information can be found at www.911memorial.org.)
The perimeter above the waterfalls that cascades into deep pools around the footprints of the Twin Towers will contain the names of victims — etched in bronze — who perished on that terrible September morning, as well as those who died in the first attack eight years earlier.
Despite the prolonged disagreements about what should make up the memorial and valuable World Trade Center real estate, it looks as if the final decisions will display a proper memorial that pays tribute to the courage, compassion and unity displayed in the wake of the heartbreak of 9/11/01.

Movie Fans Will Always Be Wilder About Billy - April 4, 2002

There’s a creepy principle that celebrity deaths tend to occur in groups of three. That macabre belief was fulfilled last week when three well-known personalities in the entertainment field passed away: Milton Berle, Dudley Moore and Billy Wilder. (For those who would include the Queen Mother, who died over the weekend, she’s in a whole ‘nother category.)
Of the three, six-time Academy Award®-winning Billy Wilder may have the most enduring impact. The Austrian-born writer/director/producer’s career spanned six decades and included some of the greatest American films ever made, such as “Sunset Boulevard,” “Some Like It Hot” and “Stalag 17.”
My personal “must see” Wilder films include the last two, plus “The Apartment,” “Witness for the Prosecution,” “One, Two, Three,” “Irma La Douce,” “Ace in the Hole” and “The Fortune Cookie.”
Incidentally, only one of those films (“Irma La Douce”) is in color! For the last 40 years, few films have been made in black and white (“Schindler’s List” being a notable exception). But Wilder seemed to prefer that austere process, which tends to draw attention to the acting and story rather than costumes and set design.
What makes Wilder so treasured is the diversity of subject matter he handled so skillfully, regardless of the genre, and the brilliance of his fast-paced screenwriting. He was as adept at thrillers and mysteries as he was at dramas and comedies.
Furthermore, his striking characters, like Fred MacMurray’s gullible insurance agent ("Double Indemnity") or Gloria Swanson’s faded movie actress ("Sunset Boulevard") and Ray Milland’s pathetic alcoholic ("The Lost Weekend"), among others, are unforgettable.
Recent Oscar® winner Ron Howard remarked after Wilder’s death: “His characters ran the spectrum as far as their moral standards were concerned, but they were all human beings and therefore relatable to all moviegoers.”
By the climax of many of his films, Wilder reveals his characters for what they really are, rather than what they seem to be.
I first appreciated Wilder’s writing talent when I saw his 1961 film, “One, Two, Three,” a hilarious comedy with capitalism and communism facing off in a divided Berlin. I guess the budding writer in me respected Wilder’s wit and snappy dialogue; especially star James Cagney’s verbal tirades that leave the viewer, and the actor, breathless. The film is Cagney’s funniest, yet it isn’t considered one of Wilder’s best. However, that’s not necessarily a negative observation in a career that includes a treasure trove of American classics, such as “The Lost Weekend.”
For that film, he achieved the distinction as the first to win Oscars® — writing, directing and producing — for one film. Only three others have since accomplished the feat: Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather II”), James L. Brooks (“Terms of Endearment”) and James Cameron (“Titanic”).
Another Wilder film I enjoy for its top-notch acting, directing and superb script is “Ace in the Hole,” which the filmmaker once referred to as “the runt” of his cinematic litter, probably because it was his first box office disappointment. Essentially, the 1951 film’s plot forecasts the modern “media circus.” It also has the alternate title, “The Big Carnival,” an obvious reference to the atmosphere created when a cynical, self-serving journalist — powerfully depicted by Kirk Douglas — prolongs the rescue of a man trapped in a cave-in, turning a local story into a national sensation for his personal gain. Presumably, just six years after the end of World War II, and in the midst of nationwide Communist witch-hunts, filmgoers were not in the mood for such a downbeat theme and the film was far from a box-office success.
Another personal favorite, “The Fortune Cookie,” is the second funniest film Wilder co-wrote and directed, but it takes a back seat to the uproarious farce, “Some Like It Hot.” In the former, Jack Lemmon, who starred in both comedies, portrays a good-natured TV cameraman who sustains a minor injury working the sidelines during a football game. His shyster lawyer brother-in-law, played flawlessly by Walter Matthau, intervenes and dupes him into transforming insignificant discomfort into a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. This 1966 film hilariously forecasts our excessively litigious society.
At the time of his death at age 95, Wilder had been retired for more than 20 years, but movie lovers and cultural historians will forever treasure his film legacy.
If you’ve never seen a Billy Wilder film, buy, rent, borrow or steal (don’t tell anyone I suggested it) one and watch it at your earliest convenience.
And if you haven’t seen “Ace in the Hole,” “The Fortune Cookie” or “Some Like It Hot” in a while, do yourself a favor and see ‘em again! You’ll definitely be wilder about this cinematic genius.

Silence About Pedophile Priests Is Not Golden – March 28, 2002

The celebration of the holiest week on the Catholic calendar has been soiled by a dark cloud of scandal of the worst kind — pedophilia.
This outrage should not, however, deter Catholics — devout or otherwise — from losing faith. Nor should it give non-Catholics any reason to condemn or eye with suspicion every ordained member of the Church.
Nonetheless, there has recently been a flood of information that the Church for decades has mishandled — and covered up — widespread allegations of sexual abuse against children by Catholic priests.
Like the tip of an iceberg, only a small portion of sexual abuse has surfaced. (A lot of abuse may never be known because victims are reluctant to confront what they perceive as shame and embarrassment. Conversely, many accusations may prove to be unfounded.)
The incidents that have been made public are not isolated, but part of a crisis that is, unfortunately, widespread and not limited to a specific community or diocese. Last week, a Roman Catholic priest was dismissed as the president of a boys’ parochial school in Encino, California, when it was alleged he molested boys more than 20 years ago. In St. Louis, two priests accused of molesting minors in the 1980s were recently removed. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, NY, quietly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of years to settle cases involving priests accused of sexually molesting children. A Florida bishop recently stepped down after admitting to sexually abusing a seminary student.
It’s time to stop sweeping molestation charges under cassocks.
Simply calling "sexual abuse of children an abomination," as New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan did last week, is not enough. Pope John Paul II called it "a grave scandal" that is "a mystery of evil." Those kind of vague statements further damage the credibility of the Church.
Based on those flimsy responses, it would appear the Church is less concerned about the innocent victims than predatory priests. The Church can remedy that problem by fully cooperating with civilian law enforcement that should be authorized to conduct full-scale investigations.
The Church — from the Pope to the smallest parish’s priest — must take bolder steps and come clean. Disclosing the names of offending priests would undoubtedly better serve the cause of justice as well as the Church’s bungling of the problem.
No plea-bargains. No leniency. No sanctuary.
These sins, which also happen to be crimes, if verified, are unforgivable and deserve maximum punishment and public disgrace.
Now is the time for a no-holds-barred inquiry that will hopefully determine what Church officials knew and when they knew it. When it comes to sexual misconduct by members of the clergy, the treasured Constitutional separation of Church and State must be overlooked. Any investigation must be taken out of the hands of the Church hierarchy and turned over to competent civilian authorities.
No more stonewalling. No more White-Collared Wall of Silence.
And allowing priests to marry, as some have suggested, will hardly solve the problem. Celibacy has absolutely nothing to do with this scandal. The accused priests are only alleged to have sex with male CHILDREN, not consenting adult women!
The emotional scars left on the psyches of the abused may never heal. Nevertheless, it is time for the Church to heal itself and eradicate the cloud of suspicion under which it now stands.
All suspected priestly perverts should be tried and treated just like any other sex offender. Any clergy convicted of sexual abusing minors should be subject to Megan’s Law and listed on the same web site as other offenders so parents will know if these depraved men are still preaching from the pulpit every Sunday and dealing with their children.
Whether it’s a priest, a rabbi, a minister or a relative, in instances of alleged child molestation, silence is not golden. It is an utter disgrace that must be painstakingly scrutinized because we’re talking about men who are held to higher standards because they hold positions of absolute trust that has been wholly — and holy — desecrated.
The only way for the Catholic Church to restore its revered reputation at this point is to break the vow of silence it has too long imposed on itself.

No Reason To Make 9/11 Official State Holiday – March 21, 2002

  It must be an election year for New York State lawmakers. Otherwise they wouldn’t be as vocal and as visible as they’ve been in the last few months.
The Canarsie Courier’s editorial office has recently been receiving an increasing number of press releases from state representatives. We regularly receive press announcements and news about state legislation all year round, but it seems to intensify when there’s an election on the horizon.
It’s also quite evident there’s an election in November because legislation of all sorts is popping up to get voters’ attention and, of course, support seven months from now.
Albany legislators should be more worried about finalizing the state budget by the April 1 deadline - something they haven’t managed to achieve in eighteen years - instead of wasting time concocting superfluous legislation.
One item that is especially galling is recent legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Assembly to make September 11 an official state holiday. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed in the State Senate, which passed a bill appropriately making the date a "Day of Remembrance."
It’s perfectly logical and fitting to honor the victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, but does it really have to be a state holiday? Flags should annually fly at half-mast in their memory. Perhaps there should be an official statewide moment of silence. But for crissakes we don’t need to turn the memory of that devastating day into a three-day weekend or a 24-hour holiday that’s going to cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno estimated the cost between $20-$25 million, but Democrat Assembly Speaker Joseph Bruno said that estimate was excessive. Governor Pataki has yet to announce his intentions when the bill crosses his desk for signing.
Helene Weinstein, who represents the 41st Assembly District that covers Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park and several other communities west of Canarsie, co-sponsored the holiday law. In a statement announcing her support, she stated, "The tragic events...touched our hearts and lives...but none were more impacted than the people of New York State."
A nice sentiment, but hardly a worthy rationale for establishing a holiday.
Did Assembly Democrats poll constituents or ask anyone’s advice before they passed such a knee-jerk idea? I doubt it.
Traditionally, Democrats have always supported unions, as well as 9-to-5 and civil service workers. What better way to garner support in an election year than guaranteeing them another paid holiday?
Perhaps the best way to deal with this issue is to put it on the November ballot as a referendum, proposition or something. Let the voters have a voice. I’m inclined to believe they would rather support a Day of Remembrance than a state holiday.
In this week’s "What’s Your Opinion" question (see page 2) a random sampling of four Canarsie residents rejected the idea of September 11 becoming a state holiday.
On the other hand, a recent nationwide CNN/USA Today poll found an even split (48% yes; 48% no) on whether the day should be a national holiday.
No Congressional bills have been introduced to create a national holiday, nor has the White House indicated it would initiate such an idea.
I recently asked a couple of Brooklyn firefighters if they thought that day should be a holiday. Without hesitation, they gave the notion emphatic thumbs down.
Essentially, I don’t want to see that day transformed into a convenient excuse for merchants and business owners to stage "towering" sales at malls and shopping centers. It would be more sensible for everyone to just take some time every September 11 to remember those who died and sacrificed that terrible day.
The families and friends of the thousands of victims already have that day’s catastrophic events firmly etched in their hearts and minds. They don’t need - and presumably don’t want - a specific day to be reminded of their tragic loss.

"9/11" — Haunting Images Of Horror & Heroism – March 14, 2002


Driving to work one morning late last summer, I exited the Belt Parkway, heading north on Rockaway Parkway, and noticed an immense plume of black smoke in the distance. Initially, I assumed it was a huge fire somewhere in mid-Brooklyn.
After buying my morning bagel and coffee, I switched the car radio from a classic rock to a news station. Like millions of rush hour commuters that Tuesday, it was the first time I heard about a plane hitting the World Trade Center.
I immediately assumed a small private plane veered off course and accidentally crashed into the breathtaking architectural marvel, similar to what happened at the Empire State Building more than 55 years ago.
I arrived at the office shortly before 9 a.m. My editor already had a radio tuned to an all-news station. No sooner did we begin discussing the event when a newscaster reported that another plane crashed into the second tower.
I suddenly realized these were not mishaps and began to dwell on what was heretofore unthinkable — those aircraft deliberately flew into the Twin Towers.
The date—184 days ago—was September 11, 2001.
Last Sunday evening, CBS aired "9/11," a compelling two-hour special that showed never-before-seen footage of what it was like inside Tower 1 for the dozens of firefighters and emergency personnel, who were preparing to rescue victims 80 floors above.
The program is riveting and powerful. It is gripping without being gruesome, which it might have been in the hands of profit-minded Hollywood producers. It focuses on bravery, sacrifice and fear, fittingly devoid of scripted melodramatic emotions.
James Hanlon, a New York City firefighter, and brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet, two French-born filmmakers, produced and directed the special. Last spring, with Hanlon’s help and guidance, the filmmakers began shooting a documentary about a battalion of "New York’s Bravest" located just blocks from the World Trade Center.
The core of the special is exclusive footage shot inside the North Tower as all hell was breaking loose — before and after the first tower collapsed. The finished product is a unique document created and presented with a noble purpose, not for profit. It is, nevertheless, inadvertently dramatic without being explicit or exploitative.
No writers, directors, producers or actors will ever be able to recreate what happened six months ago more realistically than the powerful images in "9/11."
There are no scenes of bloodied bodies or seriously injured victims to lure the curiously morbid. There’s no need for grisly recreations that would probably be the objective of some slick moviemaker. As the camera pans the faces of those fleeing the area surrounding the falling towers then focuses on the determined, yet shocked gazes of men accustomed to the horrors of tragedy, no screenplay is necessary to describe what is plainly obvious.
The film is not disrespectful to the victims or insensitive to their loved ones. For thousands directly affected by the events six months ago, as well as for those who subsequently became traumatized by them or may be vulnerable to such horrors, it may never be a discerning viewing choice.
Minor gripes erupted preceding the broadcast when some victims’ relatives called the timing of the broadcast premature. New Jersey’s 2 U.S. senators and other Garden State politicians — none of whom had seen the program — championed those objections. CBS assured them "there would be nothing gory or violent...or show pictures of individuals suffering or dying."
When would be the "right time" for the relatives and friends of the dead and missing to see such footage? For some, unfortunately, it may never arrive. Like the gaping hole referred to as Ground Zero, the loved ones of the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks have sustained an open wound that only time can heal.
Nonetheless, "9/11" earmarks a significant historical event that deserves to be viewed now and for generations to come. What began as a straightforward glimpse at a group of uncommonly fearless men, who put their lives in jeopardy daily to save others, unwittingly became a stunning, vivid chronicle that recalls the horror, heroism and haunting images of one of the worst chapters in this nation’s history.

In Commerce, As In Life, It’s Survival Of The Fittest – Jan. 24, 2002

    Nostalgia is fine, except when it hinders growth and development. Just as Charles Darwin demonstrated that "survival of the fittest" was fundamental to the evolution of the human species, the same rule is apropos to the business world. As a result, the weaker, little guy often loses.
Nostalgia notwithstanding, without progress, I daresay, or evolution, we’d still be living in caves and lighting fires by rubbing two sticks together.
As an adult, anyone who visits "the old neighborhood" can plainly see examples of changes and expansion, including the absence of the corner candy store, the malt shop/luncheonette hangout, the friendly druggist and the butcher shop.
In some cases those merchants, who owned and operated their businesses for decades, reached retirement age and moved on. In other, sadder instances they may have been forced to leave due to competition that offered a wider variety of products and services.
More than 50 years ago, the demise of smaller, friendlier grocery stores began as supermarkets began sprouting up, gradually displacing local grocers, like my maternal grandfather who owned a store on Ocean Avenue in Sheepshead Bay. The space has been everything from a beauty parlor to a video store, among others, since he closed shop.
The few times I visited him there, or the previous store he owned and operated with my grandmother a few blocks from their Brighton Beach home, I clearly recall customers getting the royal treatment from Sam and Lena.
That’s the way it was - back then. Service was more personal. Today, as my editor pointed out in his column last week, a work ethic is few and far between, as is courteous service. But that may have more to do with indifferent, minimum-wage employees than detached businessmen.
Customer relations tend to deteriorate when thriving businesses expand because isolated corporate owners sit in steel and glass towers constantly checking the bottom line instead of cruising their stores’ aisles.
A couple of recent instances reminded me of how mega-businesses can alter the fortunes of smaller, friendlier merchants. The first was this past weekend when I read about the closing of Coliseum Books, which had been a bustling midtown staple since 1974, long before the explosion of Barnes & Noble, Borders, and cyber-stores like Amazon.com. Anyone who ever shopped or browsed the 57th Street bookstore, can never forget the experience due to the quality and quantity of its stock, as well as the knowledge and civility of the 57th Street’s stores employees.
Another case was during my coverage of a story concerning the spring opening of a Home Depot store near Kings Plaza. State Senator Carl Kruger, who was objecting to the home improvement chain’s impending arrival because of "potential traffic hazards," remarked that the megastore would hasten the loss of a Marine Park "mom and pop" hardware store. He also noted that the area had already been affected by the loss of Canarsie Hardware in recent years.
While it’s sad to witness the ruin of those neighborhood stores that offered singular personal service to customers, there’s also a need for growth. Besides, the addition of the larger business will provide scores of local jobs and likely increase consumer traffic that could benefit other community merchants. Those who lamented the passing of the Avenue L hardware store no doubt found another outlet, albeit less personable, to buy nails, duct tape and such.
Nostalgia is best suited for family get-togethers and school reunions. Whether it’s the demise of the vulnerable neighborhood "mom and pop" store or some preservationist trying to avert the demolition of an insignificant community landmark, the expansionists generally triumph because they operate with Darwin’s reliable theory in mind.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Brooklyn Buddies Take a Memorable Road Trip -- 08-11-2005

Six days, four cities, almost 1,000 miles, several historic sites, two baseball games, two bomb scares — shared by three old friends from Brooklyn.
That, in a nutshell, was my summer vacation — a road trip through a segment of America’s heartland filled with sports-related stopovers, historic intervals, good food, political discussions, a daylong tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, what has sadly become an unwelcome American ritual, bomb scares.
When I left for Baltimore last week to meet my two oldest friends and former Brooklynites, Larry and Steve, whom I’ve known for 45 years, I never expected our journey — even in these vigilant times — would include being evacuated from a couple of common tourist spots.
In spite of everything going on around the world today, who would ever imagine the Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio, and the town square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just a stone’s throw from the Civil War battlefield where over 50,000 Americans died in a key 3-day battle in 1863, are on any terrorist organization’s list of targets.
Thankfully, both incidents turned out to be false alarms, but in the aftermath it struck me how the post-9/11 world we live in filters through our daily lives — even on vacation, miles from what you would expect to be potential targets.
We departed Baltimore late in the morning on August 2, heading to Canton, Ohio, home of the National Football Hall of Fame. Rather than take a direct route we decided to avoid major interstates, not because of potential traffic congestion, but because we were in no rush and wanted to see some of America’s less traveled roads and scenery.
Shortly after arriving at a hotel outside of Canton, we had dinner and decided to take in Karaoke Night at the local Holiday Inn, hoping for a night of fun and music. Much to our disappointment, the moment we stepped into the karaoke bar, we detected an odor from beer and stale cigarettes. To make matters worse, the crowd was old enough to be — well, OLD! When we entered one elderly gent was butchering a Frank Sinatra song. After that an older man proceeded to wreck another Sinatra classic. We looked at each other and tacitly agreed this was not classic rock night and left.
Wednesday morning we drove to the Football Hall of Fame, a few miles out of town. After walking through the Hall, we were watching a film that was stopped less than 10 minutes later. An announcement soon alerted us to evacuate the premises. Subsequently, local fire department and other emergency personnel were on the scene. It was nearly 70 minutes before it was safe to resume our tour.
We later learned this was the third consecutive year this prank had occurred, presumably by a disgruntled football fan whose favorite player didn’t get selected for induction.
After the hectic morning we unknowingly became minor celebrities when we stopped for lunch in Canton. We randomly selected a restaurant with walls lined with photographs of famous sports figures. The three of us were each wearing New York Giants Training Camp T-shirts, so the waitresses and owner assumed we must have been retired football players in town for the induction week activities. We denied any professional sports link, but still managed to charm the women. Before we left they asked us to pose for a photo for their collection. So, if you’re ever in downtown Canton, go to the Arcadia Grill and you’ll see our photo on the wall along with late Yankee greats Joe DiMaggio and Thurman Munson, among others. Not bad company!
From Canton we drove to Cleveland and spent seven hours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the highlight of the trip. For me, this museum is akin to a temple since I’ve been a fan of the genre since I was 10. My first 45 (that’s a 7-inch, black vinyl disc with a big hole in the middle for you younger readers) was Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” I gradually moved from 45’s to albums to CDs, although I’ve had little interest in new and emerging artists for more than 15 years. I prefer music that was a signpost for my youth from the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s.
I could write a column solely on the Rock Hall, but all I’ll add here is that it is a great place that does justice to the history of the music that shaped no less than three generations and has made a considerable impact on American and international culture in its first 50 years.
The next evening’s agenda was the second best part of the trip — a baseball game at Jacobs Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians. Actually, when we planned this trip early last spring, we did it to coincide with the Yankees playing at Cleveland. We went to the third of the three-game series and, as it turned out, the only win for New York. The Yankees led through the sixth inning, 2-1, but the Indians went ahead in the seventh, 3-2. Much to our surprise, loyal Indian fans began leaving in a close game. Though our spirits were dimmed, they were lifted in the top of the ninth as the Yankees hit a pair of solo home runs to take the lead. Then closer Mo (Mariano Riviera) sealed the victory in the bottom of the ninth.
The next night in Pittsburgh we saw the Los Angeles Dodgers trounce the Pittsburgh Pirates, 12-6, at one of baseball’s newest ballparks, PNC Park. Following the game we witnessed a spectacular 30-minute fireworks display that was second only to the one I witnessed at New York City’s bicentennial celebration 29 years ago.
Earlier in the day, while walking around downtown Pittsburgh, we got another sample of post 9/11 caution when a vigilant security guard at the awesome PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) Tower told us we couldn’t take photographs in the area because we were “standing above three underground garages,” not to mention the 635-foot building contains 19,750 pieces of glass.
Before heading back to Baltimore on Saturday, we made a brief stop at the Gettysburg National Battlefield to revisit a critical period in American history. On the way through the town of Gettysburg we arrived in the midst of a bomb scare as an abandoned piece of luggage in the town square set off an alert resulting in the immediate area to be cordoned off and evacuated.
There was never any breaking news about the incident, so we assumed it was a false alarm.
All in all, it was a lively, fun-filled week, with planned and unplanned events. While the anticipated activity turned out as good as or better than expected, the unexpected events made this vacation a road trip to remember.
And, as we’ve done all our lives about other escapade we’ve shared, Steve, Larry and I will surely be talking about this trip for years to come. After all, that’s what old friends do.

President Bush’s War in Iraq Becoming His Folly -- published 09/11/2003

I rarely watch television during the summer because reruns far outnumber fresh shows. Of course, I make exceptions; especially for a Yankee game or a promising first-run PBS documentary, like the absorbing one Monday night covering the history of the World Trade Center from conception to destruction.
In fact, the majority of original shows that have debuted during the summer months the last few years have been those annoying, inane reality shows.
That’s why, last Sunday, I was looking forward to the sequel to "Dubya Does Iraq," starring President George W. Bush in a solo performance.
Remember last spring when he appeared in the original production informing the nation that major combat operations in Iraq had ended after landing a combat jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier and strutting around in a flight suit? At this point, it isn’t likely Bush’ll have the chutzpah to force feed that "Top Gun" image during next year’s second-term presidential campaign.
Four months later, it seems Dubya was dubious or deceitful because the war is far from over. In fact, more American soldiers have died since the president declared the war over than did during the weeks after the late March invasion. Aside from the colossal economic cost, which amounts to billions every month, the combined toll of American lives lost is fast approaching 300.
While we’re not yet in a Vietnam-like quagmire, unless there’s a turnaround in Iraq before year’s end, Bush could face the same dilemma that challenged presidents Johnson and Nixon more than 30 years ago.
For the first third of the 15-minute speech, the president simply recapped what had happened so far, as if many Americans forgot. He also conveniently excluded any reference to his primary motive for invading Iraq in the first place — weapons of mass destruction, for which nary a trace has been discovered — or our dismal failure to capture the September 11 instigator, Osama bin Laden.
We may have ousted Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s tyrannical leader, from power, but his fanatical, loyal minions are still inflicting death and casualties for our troops, who will now have their tours of duty extended beyond initial expectations.
Bogged down in recurrent firefights against an enemy employing frustrating guerilla tactics, the president and his top advisors have reverted to the diplomatic effort they foolishly abandoned nearly a year ago. Methinks it’s too little too late.
Bush’s rethinking about UN assistance appears to be woulda, shoulda, coulda. Allies that once may gradually have come on board had we continued to pursue diplomacy, are now anxiously awaiting generous handouts of cash and/or oil deposits.
When I served in Korea 30 years ago, I became aware that under the U.N. sanction, our occupation of that divided nation had to be supplemented by at least one other nation, which was Thailand. During my 12-month tour of duty I discovered that Thai soldiers were virtually being paid thrice — by their own country, the South Korean government and, of course, Uncle Sam. To the best of my recollection, a Thai private pocketed as much as an American junior officer.
It’s obvious the mistakes of our recent past have not been rectified, as we are once again willing to dole out major bucks for other nations to help us make the world a little safer.
Two years down the road, we are plausibly a more secure nation. But the harsh reality is that though we won a relatively easy war against a convenient scapegoat that had little, if any, connection to the September 11 attacks, our leaders refuse to admit their failure to effectively defeat the elusive forces of evil responsible for the terror that maimed the resilient American psyche.