Friday, September 28, 2007

Congratulations Yankees!

Well, I'm a little late, but congratulations to the NY Yankees on clinching their spot in the MLB playoffs. Of course it's not quite settled who will end the season atop the Division. The Yanks gained another game on the Sox last night, and are now 2 games out, with a weekend left to play. Like a lot of people, I had my doubts that the Yankees could really get where they are now, but I couldn't be more thrilled that there will indeed be post-season baseball in the Bronx (that I might actually get to see), and that there's a reasonably good chance of another series with the Red Sox. 'Nough said.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Congratulations Red Sox!

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, who just clinched a playoff berth with their win over TB. The Yanks are almost there, having eked and squeaked out a tough 10 inning marathon win against visiting Toronto.
I would not discount the chances of Cleveland or LA advancing, but my preference is obviously for another Yankee-Red Sox epic in the second round.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Kian Tajbakhsh Is Free

Yesterday, I found a brief message in my email inbox stating that Kian Tajbakhsh, another Iranian-American scholar who was being held in Tehran's Evin Prison, had just been set free. By now a number of news items have appeared in the regular press and blogosphere about Kian's release (see, e.g., Robin Wright, Washington Post, 20 May 2007 for details, including mention of other Americans either recently released or still held in Iran). As it happens, I received this good news directly because I signed a petition calling for his release back in May of this year. Along with the freeing of Haleh Esfandiari (21 August) and another Iranian-American, Parnaz Azima (19 September), the release of Kian seemed to me to confirm the positive influence of attention brought to these cases by the combination of web-based petitions, condemnation by influential politicians, and the world's media spotlight.
Or is it that they simply coincide, at least in these cases, with the international maneuverings of the government in question. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after all, is scheduled to address the General Assembly of the UN shortly. My guess is that both political expediency and worldwide attention are useful, and that in many cases they can work in synergy. So keep signing those petitions, whenever you are aware of the issues, and as often as you can manage.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Power Outage in Boston

I wasn't going to write about baseball any more until the end of the regular season, but I gotta say the events of the past few days have been too interesting to let slide without comment. Since taking last Sunday's game at Boston (2 out of 3 in the series, and 5 out of their last 6 games), the Yanks have swept Baltimore, while the Sox got swept in Toronto, leaving a differential of only 1.5 games between Boston and NY for the Division lead. So what seemed highly improbable only a few weeks ago now looks eminently possible--Boston no longer has the best record in baseball, and are in real danger of losing their Division lead to NY. The good news for both is that Detroit got swept by Cleveland during the same stretch, putting them 5.5 games away from the AL Wild Card. So at the moment the worst case scenario for Boston would have them still in the playoffs, but flipping the Wild Card with NY.
New York continuing to win against Baltimore was heartening (especially Mussina's nice outing on Tuesday), but not necessarily surprising. On the other hand, the improbables really seemed to pile up against Boston during the past week: getting outscored 16-5 by Toronto; their pitchers, especially their relievers, faltering badly; and, most of all, exhibiting sloppy play on both offence and defence. Aside from Boston's Buchholz getting tagged with the loss last night, his wildly off-the-mark flip to Mike Lowell at third base was painful to watch. Luckily the result, Adams getting safely to third, was nullified by one of the funniest plays I've ever seen. Lowell, after getting the ball back from Kielty, held on to it, and managed to get a tag on Adams during a split second when he shifted his weight slightly. Adams removed his foot from the bag no more than a couple of inches, as far as I could tell in the replays, but the ump was right on the spot (wonder if Lowell winked at him to get his attention just before applying the tag). Lowell reminds me of a Chemistry Professor I had once; this looked like a Professor of Baseball play to me.
Among the problems for Boston is that Ramirez, and recently Youkilis, have been absent from the lineup. I assume that if Boston can get them back in play they can return to winning, starting with the Devil Rays in Tampa tomorrow. The Yanquis will get the Jays at home in the Bronx. I assume both NY and Boston fans will be watching the scoreboard closely for news of their respective rivals' games. Only ten days left to the regular season, but nothing is settled yet, because it's baseball.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My brief life as a Red Sox fan

I’ve made only two sports bets in my entire life. In 1969, I got a little crazy, and bet on the Jets to whip the Colts in Super Bowl III and on the Mets to take the World Series from the Orioles. These are, of course, two of the most celebrated upsets in sports history. I was quick to realize that I’d already expended most of my life’s quota of good fortune on these two events, and retired from any further wagering.

Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a lifetime Yankees fan, so there’s something kind of funny about winning a bet on the ‘69 Mets, a team I’d never rooted for, and have never rooted for since. I was even faithful to the Yanks during their extended decade of mediocrity from 1965-1975, but the Miracle Mets were fun, I was going to school in Boston at the time, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to win a fin from my New England-bred roommate with an in-your-face long-shot bet on the other New York team.

During most of the time I lived in Boston, from 1966 to 1979, an enjoyable substitute for watching the Yankees win was watching the Red Sox lose, with all the attendant drama that entailed. I was there for the Impossible Dream loss to the Cards in ‘67, the failure against the Big Red Machine in ‘75, the late-season collapse and one-game playoff loss to the Yankees in ’78. Their defeat by the Mets in ’86 was also sweet, but by then I was living in Seattle and couldn’t experience it first-hand. In any case I hadn't rooted for the Mets in particular, just for another Red Sox loss. Better was seeing the Sox lose to the Yankees in 1999, but it wasn't much of a contest, and I was living in Georgia at the time, so the subsequent sweep of Atlanta was much more satisfying.

Then, of course, there was the playoff loss to the Yankees in 2003, another full-on drama. I was now living in Durham, NH, rabid Red Sox territory. My resulting satisfaction was enormous, although somewhat blunted by the Yanks’ failure to win the World Series that year. And then there was 2004. I have to admit that by this time I’d grown to respect, even like, the Sox. So I had to respect, and yes, even like, the greatest comeback/choke in sports history. Most everyone I know here agreed that the World Series was an anticlimax, but it’s a good thing they won. I’m particularly glad that Red Sox fans can now be just like any other tribe of homo sapiens whose team has won a World Series, ending decades of sports-induced psychosis.

There is one more confession to make. The photograph below was taken in August 1956. I vaguely remember the occasion, a rare extended family picnic. One of my Boston/South Shore relatives hung the Red Sox garb on me; I doubt at the time I really had a clue what it signified. Shortly thereafter, while many of my friends were gnashing their teeth over the announcement that the Dodgers were leaving Brooklyn, I realized that I didn’t care, because (a) I lived in Queens, and (b) I’d lately become aware that I rooted for the Yankees, the team of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Moose Skowron. When I showed this picture to one of my colleagues, a loyal Sox fan, he remarked that it represented my last Summer of innocence before being seduced by the Dark Side. My theory is that Red Sox Nation and Evil Empire are inseparable, complementary principles of the Universe, Baseball's Yin and Yang, each less than whole without its opposite Other. How could my life be complete without both?

(Note: This article was originally posted on 02 December 2006, and is being reposted now because the original author attribution was lost in the changeover to Google.)

What's in a Name? Part 2.

"It must be conceded...that the tendency to mislabel men and things is deep set in Jewish character." Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Henry Ford, that notorious anti-semite, would have loved the story of my father's name. "Solomon Levy becomes Charles B. Levery" would have fit right into the litany of Ford's essay, "The Gentle Art of Changing Jewish Names" (The Dearborn Independent, issue of 12 November 1921; WARNING: this link is to the text available at the Web-site of "The Church of True Israel"; beware of total hateful content if you follow this entry back to their Homepage and other content, which includes the full text of Henry Ford's writings, as well as "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and other shit).

My father's parents were Russian immigrants, and his name in their homeland would have been rendered something like "Zalman," or some variant thereof, with the "Z" sounding like "TS". Apparently what his mother called him as a boy sounded something like "Tsollie", and when she brought him to the local public school for the first time, the administrators thought she was referring to him as "my Charlie", so they registered him as Charles, a name he kept for the rest of his life, and eventually took with a legal change. However, as far as I can remember, when discussing him (in the past tense) my mother always called him Sol. Since my grandfather was also born with the name Salamon, at times I wasn't certain whether my mom was referring to her father or mine.

As a free-lance commercial artist, my father made a good living in the 1940s from a variety of commissioned art and design applications. I still have a collection of many of his working drafts, which includes designs for the backs of playing cards, greeting cards, menus, signage, advertisements, and book covers, as well as depictions of sophisticated high fashion and futuristic couture rendered in airbrush, a now obsolete technique at which he excelled. He was technically adept with charcoal and pencil, and often used these techniques for non-commercial art he worked on in his spare time. He married my mother in 1944, fathered two children, and died in 1949, when I was six months old.

Up to the time of his death, we apparently led a comfortable middle class life in the upper floors of a three-story house on a quiet street in Elmhurst, Queens, which we shared with my mother's parents, who lived downstairs on the first floor. Along with other comforts that I don't personally remember, we owned a new car that had been specially rigged to be driven by someone missing a leg, since my father was an amputee who got around (remarkably well, apparently) with a prosthetic. He'd lost his leg nearly to the hip before World War II, which understandably exempted him from military service and allowed him to pursue his artistic aspirations and career without interruption. His professional income, in any case, depended on a continuous supply of commissions, the most lucrative of which came from clients engaged in various forms of advertising. I haven't yet been able to document for certain that his occupation was one of those from which Jews were excluded under the "Gentlemen's Agreement" in effect during the 1930s and '40s, but his perception was undoubtedly that he would have trouble maintaining his working arrangements (not to mention buying a house in our overwhelmingly Christian neighborhood) while carrying an obvious Jewish surname like Levy. If you don't know what this was about, a good place to start would be by renting the movie "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947; directed by Elia Kazan; starring Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and John Garfield, among others); or read the original novel (1946) by Laura Z. Hobson. The movie is not without its flaws, somewhat preachy but historically relevant, and a good chance to see an excellent, heartfelt performance by John Garfield (born Jacob Julius Garfinkle). It's worth noting that similar unwritten "Gentlemen's Agreements" excluded African Americans from Major League Baseball from 1887-1946, and from the National Footbal League from 1933-1945.

So my father inserted the letters "er" in his last name, and became Charles B. Levery (I honestly don't know what the "B." in his name stood for). Because of its synthetic origin, I grew up thinking that Levery was a unique surname shared by no one else on the planet except for my mother and brother. I sometimes encountered the similar name Lavery, but regarded it as close, but no cigar. Only later, when it became possible to search the Internet, did I become aware that there were other people named Levery, and that it is a respectably distributed surname of French origin, closely related indeed to Lavery, and in addition to other French family names such as LaPierre. There is a Levery in the French Academy, and a Google search will turn up a variety of Levery entries relevant to American history, including a Medal of Honor recipient for heroic actions during the Spanish-American War (William Levery, 1899). Obviously, none of these distinguished, French-derived Leverys have anything to do with me, my brother, or our immediate families.

So, was my father responding to some innate tendency for Jews to prevaricate and obscure, or acting in concert with that putative "International Jewish Conspiracy" to dominate the field of commercial art and advertising, or was he just trying to secure a continuing income and place to live for himself and his family in the face of perceivable exclusions?
(Note: This article was originally posted on 02 July 2006, and is being reposted now because the original author attribution was lost in the changeover to Google.)

What's in a Name? Part 1.

One of the more bizarre documents of American letters is Henry Ford's lengthy anti-semitic diatribe, "The International Jew," which originally appeared as a series of editorials in the Dearborn Independent (link is to Wikipedia entry) from 1920-1922. Most of these were compiled into a series of four books published by the Dearborn Publishing Company, beginning with "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem" (1920). Students of the subject are well aware of the history of the Independent, which Ford himself owned through its parent, the Dearborn Publishing Company, from 1919-1927. The newspaper also reprinted the text of the infamous and fraudulent "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" during its deservedly brief life after Ford's purchase. Reproductions of issues of the Dearborn Independent are viewable at a variety of locations on the Web (e.g.,; so are the texts of the original articles and the books.

One place the original articles can be found compiled in their entirety is at the web-site of an aryan supremacy group called "The Church of True Israel." I won't provide a direct link to them here, but you can easily find the site by web-search if you want. Which is actually my point, sort of. That all of this material is transparently available in the public domain, and easily found on the Web, is exactly as it should be. What I find interesting, and somewhat amusing, frankly, was the way I happened to stumble on the texts of Ford's articles, and the The Church of True Israel site, while searching for something else (not an unusual occurrence in Google World).

For the past year or so I've been assembling a web-based version of my family's history, which is viewable, along with a bunch of other bullshit, at (I realize that as an "advertisement for myself," mentioning it here is about as effective as hiring someone to carry a sandwich signboard into the middle of the Amazon jungle. Nevertheless...the family history can be accessed via the "Family History" link within the site). A particular problem concerning my paternal Grandfather's given name (which I've since sorted out), led me to search the Web using the keywords "jewish names". Among the listing of more or less helpful sites, not so far down, was a link to Page 70 of the text of Henry Ford's articles, this one entitled "The Gentle Art of Changing Jewish Names." Oddly enough, in its own twisted way, the article was directly related to my problem.

Between 1899 and 1921, my Grandfather and at least three of his siblings migrated from their home area in the Carpathian foothills of Central Europe to the Northeastern coast of the United States; upon their arrival in the US, he and his two brothers all changed their surnames from Paktorovics/Paktorovits to Pactovis (a sister took a different name, Weisz, by marriage). Today, as far as I know, there are three descendant clans carrying the Pactovis surname, originating from the same Paktorovics nuclear family (the branch I am in is not very prolific, but the rest are doing fine). There is no mystery about the change and, as far as I can tell, no conspiracy of International Jewry behind it, except that they were certainly being consistent among themselves. As it happened, my grandfather also changed his first name from Salomon to Samuel. This is what I found somewhat puzzling; these two names, though similar, are not etymologically related (Salomon = "Peace"; Samuel = "His name is God"; this is what I was trying to check in my Web search). I have a variety of official documents relating to his life prior to his emigration, as a citizen first of Hungary and then Czechoslovakia (no, he didn't move, the borders did), and in all he is referred to as Salomon or some variant thereof. Why Samuel? I wondered.

The key was in a document that turned out to be, on translation from Hungarian, the original invitation to my grandparents' wedding in 1913. Two words on it turned out to be their pet names, Samu and Melánka. The answer was now obvious: he was already known to his friends and family by the familiar Samu; to officially adopt the name Samuel is not a great stretch from there. Interestingly, in their original wedding contract (Ketuba), written in Aramaic, they are referred to as Shlomo (= Salomon) and Mindl.

So my answer to Ford's article is, Yes, Hank, we do use different names, and change them all the time--sometimes more than once, in different contexts; sometimes deliberately for business or social purposes; sometimes for no other reason than having it imposed on an ancestor by an insistent immigration officer impatient with a mouthful of too many unpronouncable syllables. Do we do this more than anyone else, or for purposes any more dark? Are there not pet names and nicknames in every language? Have not even the most Anglo-Saxon surnames evolved over time, from origins in most cases rustic and rural? Is it really another aspect of that infamous conspiracy of desperate Semites determined to rule the world? Next time, I'll write about my father's name, and in what form conspiracy really enters the picture.
(Note: This article was originally posted on 02 July 2006, and is being reposted now because the original author attribution was lost in the changeover to Google.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Round 3 Survival

The last regular season meeting between the Yanks and Red Sox is now "history," as they say, the rubber game going to NY, 4-3. For the most part it was a well-pitched game featuring two veterans, Clemens and Schilling, both showing they have good stuff left. There were some fielding gems, including several odd races for first base won by Mientkiewicz and Clemens with no more than centimeters to spare each time; HRs by Lowell, Cano, and Jeter, the latter of which provided the margin of victory; Giambi redeeming himself for some questionable fielding at first base the last couple of outings, that got him taken out of the regular lineup for this game, with a key pinch base hit that ended up as a run scored after Jeter's HR; and an electric final confrontation between Rivera and Big Papi, with bases loaded and two outs, that could easily have ended with a walkoff but instead faded out with a gasping pop fly that barely made it out of the infield. Rivera clearly did not have his best stuff, and the Yanquis must have let out a collective sigh of relief as they exited Fenway. The Sox could have used a couple of runs from Saturday's victory, but it doesn't work like that. On the whole they outpitched and outhit NY for the series, but couldn't take it all to the bank.
What the Red Sox can take is that they lost only a small part of their lead in the Division; only another sweep by the Yanks could have had a significant effect on their relative positions. What the Yankees can take is that they lost a game of their lead over Detroit, which has won five in a row, but no more than that. Any relief the Yanks might have felt last last night must be purely momentary. They need to keep winning, because the Tigers are on their tails.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Boston's Beckett Breaks Back

After trading runs with Boston in the first, the NY offence got squeezed by a 35 foot Anaconda named Josh Beckett, while the Sox offence tattooed a parade of Yank pitchers for 9 more. My joke for the locals was "Well, at least this time the Sox managed to hang on for the win." Consider that their 10 runs could have won them 5 ball games like this one.
For the rest of the season, the Yanks main worry will clearly be Detroit, which won again yesterday. The Tigers are now only 2.5 games behind in the Wild Card race. At this point, the Yanks need to win the rubber game against the Sox tonight, but it's no more important than every other game they need to win down the stretch to fend off Detroit.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Round One Knockdown

I have to admit, with the eighth inning about to start, and the Dread Sox up by 5 runs, my mind was starting wander, thinking maybe it might be time for bed soon. Pettitte got chased from the mound early, NY had wasted a number of great opportunities to score, and the Sox relievers were coming on to apply the sleeper hold. Oh, me of little faith...Yanquis score 6 in the inning, and then hold on to win the first game 8-7. It was worth staying up til midnight to see Rivera bring the hammer down one more time.
Interesting to see the Yanks really get to some of Boston's best relievers, Okajima and Papelbon. Admittedly, it only took a couple of mistakes by Papelbon to finally blow the save, but that's baseball, as they say. Okajma'd already left the situation pretty dire, giving up the first 4 runs in uncharacteristic fashion. This particular win is less important for its effect on the Division title standings than for keeping the Yanks ahead of surging Detroit in the Wild Card. But will it also get in the Red Sox' heads? Round two starts late this afternoon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Yankee Mood Swings 2

As the Yankees will be making their way to Boston tomorrow for their final regular season encounter with the Dread Sox, I've been looking for some clever way to characterize what's happened in past two weeks since their last series. Interestingly, the Yanks are at the moment 5.0 games behind the Sox in the standings, exactly the same deficit they had when that team left NY after being swept 3-0 in the series. Today the Yanks have one more game in Toronto, while the Sox are off, so the deficit will change by half a game before they meet. Both teams have in their own way demonstrated a remarkable common trait: they are as hard to kill as Rasputin. The Sox showed this especially in their last two games against the Devil Rays, coming back from substantial deficits to win in dramatic fashion. Tampa Bay apparently has a team, as the Yankees found out in their series; coming off their sweep of the Sox, they lost 2 out of 3 to the Rays at home. After they lost their first game of the series against Seattle, their closest rival in the Wild Card race, some Yankee (and Red Sox) fans may have wondered what was going on with this team. Then NY won the next two, knocking the Mariners back into their tailspin and essentially out of Wild Card contention altogether. For the Yanks, that was the beginning of a 7 game winning streak, during which they've played some outstanding baseball; now, barring a major catastrophe, their Wild Card entry into the playoffs seems fairly assured. Detroit is now their closest rival, a substantial 4.0 games behind. That catastrophe, of course, could conceivably come in the form of getting swept by the Red Sox. Coupled with wins by Detroit, that would make the Wild Card situation once again uncertain.
On the eve of their upcoming series with the Yanquis, pulling the last two games out in Tampa Bay was clearly big for Boston. If they had lost those two games, the spectre of 1978 would loom large over the series. Now, in the unlikely event they get swept by NY, they will clearly be vulnerable to further onslaughts, but will still at least keep the Division lead in hand. The most likely scenario is that the teams split one way or the other, and the impact on the playoff situation will turn out to be minimal. But no one can tell the future, which is one reason why the Fenway is gonna be a crazy place this weekend.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Haleh Esfandiari is home

Haleh Esfandiari, the noted Iranian-American scholar who was detained in Tehran 8 months ago, and has been held in Evin Prison since 8 May, arrived yesterday at her home in Potomac, MD. Dr. Esfandiari is director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Held in solitary confinement and interrogated repeatedly for 105 days, she was finally released after posting the equivalent of ~$320,000 bail on 21 August, and left the country 03 September, traveling home by way of Vienna, Austria, where her sister lives. There were numerous petitions and repeated international calls for her release during her imprisonment.
It is still possible for Iran's judiciary to summon her for a trial; although one could presume she would be reluctant to return, it's worth noting that the security posted for her bail is the deed to her mother's house in Tehran. The possibility of forfeiting the house of her 93 year old mother might still be a compelling reason to appear if required. In any case, it was a pleasure to read the news of her return to the US (see, e. g., Robin Wright, Washington Post, 07 September 2007).

Yankee Mood Swings

Since the Yanks swept the Red Sox last week, the two teams looked like they were going in opposite directions for a while. The Sox lost their first game after that to Baltimore, then have won 6 of 7 since then, playing remarkable baseball. They've battered opponents with their always potent offence and some spectacular pitching, to say the least; in the meantime the Yanks lose 2 of 3 at home to Tampa Bay? Must have been painful to watch. When they lost their opener to Wild Card rival Seattle, which had a 9 game losing streak going, for once I was glad I only get regular Red Sox broadcasts where I live. By winning the last two games, the Yanquis appear to have pulled their nuts from the fire, and looked pretty good doing it (A-Rod two HRs in one inning!). It's a long shot now that Boston can be caught, but the Yanks are in the driver's seat for the AL Wild Card. All they have to do is win some baseball games in September.
Of course that includes the final Red Sox Series. They're in Boston a week from now. My friends up here in NH are still talking about Chamberlain vs. Youkilis; I haven't really figured that one out, yet, but for Sox fans the significance is obvious: It's gonna be crazy in Fenway!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Home Stretch

With the Red Sox and Yankees both losing to relative bottom feeders yesterday, nothing changed between them, but with Seattle continuing their winless skid, most recently against Toronto, NY has to look like the favorite to draw the AL Wild Card, regardless of whether they catch Boston or not. Not that they shouldn't try, of course, and they will have a chance to make real progress (or lose a lot of ground) when they head into Boston; but my preference would be to have both teams playing well going into the playoffs, and to meet there for another high energy post-season series. New York beat TB today, and I'm just waiting to see if the Sox can recover tonight against Baltimore.
So what about Joba Chamberlain? The head-throwing incident against Youkilis was replayed endlessly and discussed at great length on NESN last night. To their credit, Don Orsillo and the RemDog tried (as they generally do) to be objective while not betraying their devotion to Red Sox baseball. The conclusion seems to be that whatever was really behind the incident is a mystery. On the one hand, one can't get around how deliberate it looks on repeated viewing. On the other hand, it was utterly pointless, unlikely as a message, and kind of risky. Even with a decent lead, why would you risk putting anyone on base early in the ninth inning against the always dangerous Red Sox? As for whether it was right to chuck Chamberlain without warning after two throws, I think it was, and I say this as a diehard Yankees fan. I prefer baseball to beanball. The point was to make sure it didn't escalate. Whether it was deliberate or not, the umpire could not know for certain, but he was compelled to make a call based on what it could very well appear to be. And if there's even apparent head throwing in Boston later this month, I assume they'll be prepared to make the same call.