Saturday, May 29, 2010

Remembering With a Buddy Poppy on Memorial Day

"Fat Albert" Navy Plane at Jones Beach, NY.
Photo by Ed Dertinger

Article first published as Remembering With a Buddy Poppy on Memorial Day on Blogcritics.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

For every year of my life that I can remember (and some of my memories go back to when I was three), I have worn a Buddy Poppy on Memorial Day. When I was little, my mother tied it to a button hole in my shirt. As I got older I put it on the zipper of my jacket, the lapel of my blazer, or tied it onto my cap. Now I put a fresh one on the rear view mirror in my car every year because it is a powerful reminder that we owe all we have to those who served our country in times of war.

Four generations of my family were in the Armed Forces: my great grandfather in the Army (Spanish-American War), my grandfather in the Navy (World War I), my father in the Army (World War II), and my cousins (in Vietnam). Because of their sacrifices, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a time of peace and did not get drafted to fight in a war. I hope we all will be able to say that for our sons and daughters, and all the sons and daughters of Americans born or not yet born in the years to come.

The other day my daughter and I were walking along the main avenue in our neighborhood, and there were two old fellows standing in front of the church selling Buddy Poppies. They were proud gentlemen, wearing their pointed hats from the local VFW. I handed a dollar to one of them and took a poppy and gave it to my daughter. Of course, she liked it but had no idea what it was about, so I gave her a brief history lesson of the Buddy Poppy.

The Buddy Poppy is a powerful symbol for those who have served in the military and their families. According to the Veterans of Foreign War's web site, "The VFW conducted its first poppy distribution before Memorial Day in 1922, becoming the first veterans' organization to organize a nationwide distribution. The poppy soon was adopted as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States." During all these years, "The VFW's Buddy Poppy program has raised millions of dollars in support of veterans' welfare and the well being of their dependents."

The poppy connects us to the early days in World War I when things didn't look too promising for the Allies. Dr. McRae wrote the poem while sitting and looking at the fields bright with the red poppies. It is an uncompromising and vivid account of what should be a peaceful scene marred by the realities of battle. The makeshift crosses over the graves and the hostilities happening at that moment remind all of us that some paid the ultimate price in that war.

Even now with wars still happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, my daughter and many others are almost unaware of it most of the time. With a news report here and a conversation there, she may hear something about it, but mostly it does not affect her world. When she reads about rationing during World War II and how people lives' were affected significantly, she understands a little something about the cost of war on civilians, but these days most of us go about our lives as if nothing is happening a world away.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was a huge celebration. I can remember flags flying from every store and house. The parades were filled with robust numbers of veterans from many conflicts, and the very old fellows sat in cars and waved to the significant crowds lining the street. The pounding of the drums shook me to my heart, and I stood with a little flag in my hand and saluted those people going by whom I thought had to be the bravest people on earth.

Many things have changed since then. For one, the men and women from my father's generation are gone for the most part or are not well enough or too disabled (like my Dad) to actively participate in the parade. There are still World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Persian Gulf War veterans involved, but it is nothing close to the large number of marchers from those years ago. Sadly, the number of spectators has diminished for these parades as well.

I know people see Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. People flock to beaches, open up their summer houses, swim in pools, and have barbecues. While all of this is fun and exciting, let us not forget what we are supposed to be celebrating. If we cannot get to one of the parades where we live, we can fly the flag to honor those lost and try to tell our young ones about why this day is not just any day off from school.

If we do nothing else, perhaps this weekend we can purchase a Buddy Poppy when we see one of those veterans selling them in front of churches, stores, and banks. We can remember that the cost of that small little red flower is nothing compared to the price paid by many of the men and women who never came home.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Surviving A Rain Delay At Citi Field

Article first published as Surviving A Rain Delay At Citi Field on Blogcritics.

Going to last night's game at Citi Field, I was tempted to take my old toy broom, which I used to bring as a kid to games at Shea Stadium when the Mets were ready to sweep an opponent. Instead, I opted to take an umbrella, and I am glad I did.

The Mets ground crew quickly got the field covered when rain fell.

During the rain delay there was an amazing spirit amongst the people waiting around in the ballpark. The way Citi Field is configured, there are plenty of refreshment areas and everyone was partaking in the bounty of hot dogs, pizzas, grilled sausages, and ice cream that is available. Another difference from old Shea is the quantity and quality of a variety of beers either on tap, in bottles, or in the can. Two hours is a long time to twiddle one's thumbs, but from what I observed many of the faithful were too busy holding cups to bother with that.


I am waiting for the game to start along with forty thousand other fans.


It is Fleet Week here in New York City with the impending Memorial Day holiday, and you could tell that all the big ships are in town because sailors were everywhere at the game last night. As lightning crackled across the sky and heavy winds blew, you could see that our Navy fellows were undetered by the adverse conditions. The regular fans were also not going to let the weather get them down. They came to see a sweep and some heavy rains were not going to get in the way of that.

After a two-hour rain delay, the game got underway at 9:05 with Mike Pelfrey's first pitch of the night. The damp weather didn't seem to bother Pelfrey (now 7-1), as he was on his game and pitched seven scoreless innings. The opposing pitcher Cole Hamels (5-3) matched him for the most part, but the lefty eventually broke down in the seventh and gave up two extra runs the Mets needed to close the deal.

I don't know what is more intriguing about this sweep of the Phillies: the fact that the Mets shut them out for twenty-seven innings, or that the Mets finally seem to be able to get the big hits at the right times. If the pitching continues to be as good as it seemed to be this past week, and the hitters keep doing their thing, who knows what can happen? Hey, I know R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi are not Seaver and Koosman, but they looked pretty damn good to me.

The Mets are now 19-9 at home but 6-14 on the road. As they embark on this road trip, they need to be able to start winning some away games fast. Owning a 25-23 record, and having won five in a row and seven of their last ten games, the Mets are now only two games behind the Phillies in the National League East.

Ghosts of the old Mets seemed to hover above the field in the rain.

By the time the game ended last night at 11:53, I was pretty much ready for some sleep and not the long ride home from Citi Field. Although I was exhausted I was also glowing, because on that soggy night the ghosts of the old Mets seemed to hover above the field in the preternatural haze above the stadium. I could almost hear the voice of the late and great Tug McGraw saying, "You gotta believe!" And on this night, I started to think anything was possible again for my beloved Amazing Mets.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TV Review: Season 8 of 24: Jack Bauer is Dead; Long Live Jack Bauer!

Article first published as TV Review: 24 - Jack Bauer is Dead, Long Live Jack Bauer! on Blogcritics.

While watching the last minutes of the series finale of 24, I had a very bad feeling about what was happening. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is on his knees with a gun pointed to his head. The guy with the gun is about two seconds away from pulling the trigger, and I start thinking, "Damn, are they really going to kill Jack Bauer?" Then the guy gets a call from President Taylor. Jack’s reprieve is brief because, after Jack gets on the phone with her, Taylor basically tells him that he’s as good as dead. The Russians want him. The Americans will be after him too. Get out of the country. Run, Jack, run.

Jack makes one last call to Chloe. It is fitting that one of the fixtures of this show during all 192 episodes (the cellular phone calls between Jack and Chloe) is what ends it. Jack and Chloe talk. He thanks her for covering his back all these years. Chloe starts crying. Jack asks her to protect his daughter Kim and her family. Chloe says that she will as more tears fall. A drone hovers in the sky above the 59 Street Bridge, and Jack looks up at it one last time. Bleeding, beaten, and bruised, it’s a haunting image of Jack as he stares at the camera. Chloe utters the last line of dialogue in the series, “Shut it down.” The picture goes out and the iconic on screen clock clicks backwards to zero hour. Series over; Jack gone.

The true 24 fans will probably love that Jack did not die, even though it is like he is dead. He will never be Jack Bauer again. His family life is destroyed and his chances for a normal life along with it. By making him a man without a country, without a persona, Jack will be forced to do what Jack does best: survive and kill to survive. In essence that is what he has always done. It is left to our imaginations as to how he will do what he needs to do, but we have no doubt at all that he can and will do whatever it takes.

In the days leading up to the series finale, there was great speculation that Jack Bauer would die in the end. The producers and writers obviously knew better than to let that happen. Besides a 24 movie in the works, there are the residual elements that benefit from a breathing Jack Bauer as opposed to killing him off. For example, when the inevitable eight-season DVD package hit’s the market, people are more likely to invest those hard earned dollars in something that keeps their favorite character alive in their imaginations and in any other configuration likely to follow. Will there be 24 novels, cartoons, comic books, video games, and action figures? Of course there will be, and they will be more marketable with fans thinking Jack is out there somewhere in the world.

The series finale scored some points early on in the first hour when Jack kidnaps ex-President Chucky (your friend to the end) Logan’s lackey Pillar (acting head of CTU), and forces him to stitch up the wound in his side. As Pillar sews Jack up, Jack points a gun to his head and basically explains his actions not only in this season but for all eight seasons of the show.

He tells Pillar that he would have accepted justice through the law, but President Taylor blew the opportunity for that by becoming part of the cover up. This is when Jack decides to take the law into his own hands. He then has no choice but to become “judge and jury” for those nefarious characters who have plotted to set off a nuke in Manhattan, kill innocent people, and leave Renee Walker and other law enforcement people dead in their wake. This has always been Jack’s motivation, and he is finally able to speak the truth. He will right the wrongs, he will stop the bad guys from winning, and he does not care who or what gets in his way.

Pillar gets knocked on the head for his trouble and Jack goes upstairs in the building across from the UN. His plan is to get Chucky to call Russian President Subarov into the office, giving Jack a clear opportunity to nail the bastard who ordered Renee's death with his sniper rifle. At this point Jack has recordings implicating Subarov, Chucky, Taylor, and a partridge in a pair tree to boot. Chucky knows this and is shivering worse than a guy in his skivvies in an outhouse in January.

Chloe has other plans. Thanks to Cole’s brief showdown with Jim Ricker, they know Jack is heading to the UN to take out Subarov. Chucky gets a call from Jack, and he realizes that Jack has a rifle trained on his head, and he snivels and snarks as he talks during the call to Subarov, hoping to get the guy to come in and be a sitting Russian duck.

Chloe locates Jack and tries to stop him from killing Subarov. She asks him if he wants to start a war. Is that what Renee would have wanted? Jack backs down. Chucky, waiting for the bullet to take out Subarov, tries to stand up without his spine and then realizes the shot isn’t coming. Meanwhile, because CTU teams with "shoot to kill Bauer" orders are coming, Jack makes Chloe shoot him in order to save his life. Got that one? Having watched every episode for eight seasons, the last thing I ever expected to happen was for Chloe to shoot Jack.

The events from this point on are classically anti-climactic. The most intense moment is when President Taylor is confronted by Dalia Hassan, widow of the IRK President who had been assassinated that day. It is a great scene with Taylor starting to break as she understands the length and breadth of her complicity in the carnage of the day. By the time she reaches the podium to sign the much publicized peace accord, she lifts the pen (a gift from Dalia that her husbanded intended to give Taylor) but cannot sign the agreement. Subarov starts to sweat out those Stoli shots; he knows the broken deal will bring him down as well.

When Chucky hears the news report about Taylor's actions, he gets his shaking hands on the nearest object and clunks Pillar in the head. Knowing everything has been for nothing this day and that Jack Bauer has won, Chucky takes Pillar's gun and shoots him in the head. Chucky then turns the gun on himself as Taylor bangs on the door. BANG! Chucky is his own best friend in the end because he takes the coward's way out.

Taylor’s reclamation is last minute when she calls off the attack on Jack. In a phone call between the two, we can see the heartbreak both are experiencing. Credit Cherry Jones as Taylor and Sutherland as Bauer for performances that shake the viewer with sincerity and grief. All the "what ifs" and "could have beens" are imagined as Taylor expresses her regrets and sorrow to Jack. She is taking responsibility. She will resign and put herself into custody. Another 24 president meets an inglorious fate.

There is nothing left to say (though I thought a presidential pardon was in order), and after Jack ends the call with Taylor, we get the last scene with Chloe. Jack has to get out of the country, and we know all of this is a perfect lead-in to a movie that will be filmed in Eastern Europe, centering the action in Prague. Jack will be on the run from the Russians and the Americans and everyone else.

Without the "real time" limitations of the TV series, it should be interesting to see what happens to Jack Bauer. In between all the shootouts and explosions, maybe he will fall in love again, and hopefully we'll see the guy get some sleep and maybe a bite to eat. After nine years, he must be awfully hungry. Can you picture Jack eating in the McDonald's in Prague? "Uh, Big Mac, prosim." I can't wait.

Until the movie, Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Remembering the Mayor's Trophy Game in New York

Article first published as Remembering the Mayor's Trophy Game in New York on Blogcritics.

The Mets and Yankees are preparing to battle this weekend in what is always billed as a “subway series,” which is technically possible because you can take the train to the game. However, in the true sense of the historic notion of a subway series (first involving the Yankees and either the Dodgers or Giants), it should really be a playoff game that comes after the regular season. In keeping with that tradition, the last real subway series happened in 2000 between the Mets and Yankees.

I have never really understood the reason for inter-league play. It started out as something new and was a bit exciting, but I think it has become something more than it should be (at least here in New York). I went to some Mets-Yankees games at old Shea since inter-league play started in 1997, and the fans on both sides became increasingly obnoxious over the years to the point of the game no longer being a pleasure to watch. Though I had a chance for tickets this weekend at Citi Field, I passed them up. I found myself longing for a simpler time, a time when games between the Mets and Yankees didn’t count but were a lot more fun.

The thing I wistfully recall was called the Mayor’s Trophy Game. According to Baseball, the Mayor's Trophy Game originally took place between the Yankees and the Giants. Eventually, the Yankees also played the Dodgers in these exhibition games. Besides playing for bragging rights, “The games were played primarily to benefit sandlot baseball in New York City, with proceeds going to the city's Amateur Baseball Federation.”

In my lifetime the Mayor's Trophy Game was played between the Yankees and the Mets (1963-1979). The games were not played during 1980-1981 seasons because of some differences between the two organizations, but both teams didn’t let that stop them from donating money to the Amateur Baseball Federation. The games came back in 1982 and 1983, but after that they were suspended because of dwindling attendance, and I suspect there were other reasons never made public.

I can remember these games as exciting ones because, since they were played once a year, the competition was real but the outcome was not. Believe it or not, the Mets held their own over the years, with the Yankees winning ten times, the Mets winning eight times, and there was one tie in 1979 (game called because of rain).

My friends were mostly all Mets' fans in those days, but we knew a few Yankees' fans in the neighborhood, and we liked to take the opportunity to brag about how our Metsies were going to beat the Yanks. It seemed Yanks' fans were never really fond of this once a year contest because, if their team lost to the Mets, they felt it was a fate worse than death.

I remember seeing pictures on the back page of the newspapers in town, with the winning team holding up the trophy each year. There was something innocent about it back then, and they were playing for a good cause. Now it has become a different animal, one with big fangs and scary claws. People seem genuinely on edge during these games, and the city becomes a place swimming in people dressed in Mets or Yankees gear as the days grind on sometimes insufferably.

Certainly, as a Mets fan, I like it when the Mets win, but I don’t appreciate either side turning it into a battle for the city. It does seem that this is what these games have come to, and I wish that inter-league play could end because I don’t see how it is good for baseball, good for my team, or good for my city. It is obviously meant to be a commercial success, and I am sure that it is, but the three days at Citi Field followed by another three days at Yankee Stadium are just too much for this old town.

I long for the simpler days when Ed Kranepool could shake hands with Horace Clarke, and then they would go out there on the field and watch as two farmhands (usually called up just for these games because neither team wanted to waste a real pitcher in an exhibition) pitched like the game mattered.

In the end it was lots of innocent good fun, one team got the Mayor’s Trophy, and the real winners were the kids who benefited from the money raised for sandlot baseball. Ah, to get on the subway and go out to the park for one day to see a game that didn’t inflate a pitcher’s ERA, or deflate a hitter’s batting average. The players were out there having fun and doing something good for New York. Now, that wasn’t a true subway series, but it sure was better than the volatile inter-league games we are stuck with today.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Would You Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them Alone?

Article first published as Would You Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them Alone? on Blogcritics.

I heard a strange report today on 1010 WINS, an all-news radio station here in New York City. It mentioned that Lenore Skenazy, a former NY Daily News reporter, an author, and mother of two, was trying to organize "Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day" here in the city. According to the report, the idea is to promote independence and teach kids social skills (hey, don't they start getting these things in Pre-K?). I sat there staring at my bowl of oatmeal wondering if this woman lives in a New York City in parallel time.

I guess as a New Yorker I am rather jaded, but I take nothing for granted and do everything to promote security for my kids. I am always telling my daughter (who is nine) to be careful of strangers and all the other warnings that are customary. When she goes to the park, I am not standing over her, but I am a short distance away on a bench. And no, I do not read a paper or get into chess games with the old guys sitting at the tables looking for an opponent. I do listen to my iPod, but I remain focused on her location and keep an eye on any other adults who may be in the vicinity.

As we have all heard countless times before, it used to be a different world. Years ago we were all out in the streets playing all day. I left early in the morning and either went up to the park at PS 68 or over the fence in Cypress Hills Cemetery to take advantage of the grass as a playing field for football. Never once did I think about my mother not being able to see me or my house being out of view. When our stomachs started rumbling, we all ran in different directions to have lunch (in those days all our mothers were stay at home moms), and then it was back to the streets until dinner time.

Of course, there were weird people in our neighborhood to be sure, and strangers lurking on street corners, but they only slightly registered on my radar as I walked by them because we never heard stories about kids being abducted or worse. This was mainly because our neighborhoods were different then, especially in summer, when the lack of air conditioners brought people out on stoops to escape the heat. Many people sat out on fire escapes or hung out windows and watched what was happening, so in essence there was a brigade of nosey neighbors all over the place to keep watch over us.

Today things are very different. People are sealed up in their houses and apartments, inured to noises of the city that may include screaming kids playing in the street. With air conditioners blasting, TV sets set at high volume, and people stuck in front of their computer screens, no one sits outside anymore. Thanks to electric dryers, the days of the old women hanging out their wash and shooting the breeze (the old wash woman cliche) are long gone too.

So would I ever take my kid to the park and drop her off? Heck no. That's like saying go play in traffic on Fifth Avenue. There are too many variables, too many worries, and there is no way I could ever do this. So I am thinking, I have read Skenazy's columns in the past, and she always seemed like a sensible enough person with a good sense of humor. What is she trying to do here? Be funny? Like Elmo, I needed to know more.

This is when I decided to do a search on her to see what was up. I came across her web site Free Range Kids, which is also the title of her book.
There are many things on the homepage of interest for parents to explore, but the thing that stood out for me was her "Do You Ever" column. In it she asks, "Do you ever...let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk to school? Make dinner? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free-Range Kid! "

My answers to these questions are all "No" (except maybe the make dinner one). At nine years old my daughter is a great bike rider, but she is not going to the library alone on her bike. Anyone who ever watched Everybody Hates Chris knows what can happen to a kid and a bike here in New York. And walking to school? I have heard too many horror stories about vans pulling up and kids getting abducted (which can take all of ten seconds) to even think about that.

Skenazy goes on to write, "Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts — safety! We just do NOT believe that every time school age kids go outside, they need a security detail. " Okay, maybe not, but they sure as hell need someone watching over them in this city. Perhaps you can get away with this in some rural or suburban areas, I cannot be sure about that, but it does not make any sense here in New York City (and I'm guessing in many other cities as well).

I had to do more searching on the web until I came across the site that tells the story about Take Your Kids to the Park, an event she wants to happen on May 22. Here she explains her reasons for having this day of kiddie freedom: " Yes, it's a day when we all are encouraged to take our kids, age 7 or 8 or older, to the park. With any luck, other parents will do this, too. And then, for an hour or a half-hour or even a baby step of 10 minutes, we leave them to their own devices. Their job is to rediscover the joy we almost have excised from their childhood: playing, with one another, without us parents helicoptering."

Okay, I think as I read this, so she really means it. Age 7 or 8? Even if they are with a whole bunch of other unsupervised kids, what does she think is going to happen? The most obvious thing is the chaos that will result from this dumping off the kids, because without the parents around, what's stopping any of them from going wild and getting seriously hurt?

And, if you promote this in the papers and on the radio, whom does she think will want to go to the park while the mommies and daddies are drinking their vente cappucinos in the quiet of the coffee shop? Every weirdo in the city will make haste for their local playgrounds to take advantage of this wealth of opportunities provided by this expression of carefree parenting.

I do agree with Skenazy's idea that kids need some freedom, and making the family dinner is not a bad start, but I wouldn't let my daughter use the stove and oven by herself at this point either. Besides, I think she has enough freedom with things I never had at nine years old: she uses a computer (with parental controls) to write and explore, she talks on the phone freely with her friends, and she has cable TV (again with parental controls) and a DVD in her room. I didn't have my own TV until I was eighteen, and I had to wait until I was in my late twenties to have a computer. In my mind, at this point she is ahead of the game.

While Ms. Skenazy probably means well in what she is trying to do here, I think she is terribly mistaken. Promoting independence in a child can be done in many ways, but not at the expense of his or her safety. "Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day" is a case of one parent, who despite good intentions, is trying to lead parents and kids down a road that is rife with danger.

We all hear "They grow up so fast" all the time, and it is true. My daughter will get plenty of freedom someday soon enough, but right now I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that she gets to that time in her life in as safe a way as possible.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TV Review: Season 8 of 24: Jack of All Trades; Master of One

Article first published as TV Review: 24 - Jack of All Trades, Master of One on Blogcritics.

As Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) grinds his way through episode 22, we become painfully aware of the obvious: Jack has become a killing machine. Not that Jack has not always been adept at killing, but now he has become the master and commander of it. Although he has many talents and abilities, now Jack seems almost on autopilot and, except for a nasty wound that conspicuously leaves blood spots on walls, Jack keeps moving forward in an almost robotic drive for justice.

The episode begins with disgraced ex-prez Chucky (your fiend to the end) Logan watching news reports, excited by acknowledgement of his help in keeping the peace agreement on track. He needs to go meet old pal Russian President Suvarov who is landing at JFK. With all his nefarious plans seemingly falling into place, Chucky's celebratory mood is brief when Pillar (his crony who now is running CTU) calls to tell him Jack escaped. Ah, poor Chucky, this is all not going the way he expected. Damn that Jack Bauer!

Jack and Ricker are hiding in one of the dark corners of Manhattan with reporter Meredith Reed (who just happens to be the ex-lover of President Hassan who had been murdered that day). Ricker runs off to work on getting info from the SIM card Jack extricated from assassin Pavel with a gruesome tummy tuck, and Jack reveals the truth about what happened that day to Reed, gving her the disk with the evidence on it. He warns her that she will be a target too, so she better look over her shoulder and run in a crooked line. Eventually, she goes off to call her editor from a coffee house for a meeting of grande cappuccino importance.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (in this case the UN), Hassan's widow Dalia (who is now tentatively running the IRK) is concerned about Chucky's part in the peace accord. Like probably everyone else with half a brain (besides the now ditsy President Taylor), she doesn't understand how this wormy man is getting praise for shining the peace accord apple. She asks her assistant to investigate what's going on, and we have to assume he might turn up something, since copious amounts of excrement are ready to hit the fan.

Chucky has another private meeting with President Taylor, and he lets her know the bad news about Bauer's escape. At this point the old Taylor (who knows Jack's resourcefulness) would probably give up and do the right thing, but this new Taylor (post spinectomy) allows the devil to sweet talk her into calling Reed's boss and stopping the story about the conspiracy to kill Hassan. Ah, it's so nice to see a president supporting the fourth estate so vigorously.

Arlo and Chloe are monitoring Pillar's team back at CTU, and Chloe sees the image of the eviscerated Pavel and then the gun that killed Renee. Chloe, who knows Jack better than anyone, still thinks she can save him, but since the presidential order is to shoot to kill, it's obvious that Jack is in big trouble now. Arlo is also able to identify Jack's old buddy as Jim Ricker (who supposedly has been dead for seven years). Chloe figures if they find Ricker, they'll find Jack. Good luck with that, Chloe.

Using Pavel's cell phone, Ricker figures out Chucky's location and, after some mild protestations about giving up an ex-president, he sends Jack info on where Chucky's limousine is going. He warns Jack that there's no turning back if he goes after Chucky, and Jack says dryly, "I wasn't planning on coming back." More than anything, this should tell 24 fans that there is no happy ending with daughter Kim and granddaughter Teri. When all is said and done, Jack is going on walkabout - for the rest of his life.

Having watched this series from the very first episode in 2001, I have to say the most satisfying sequence in 24 history (reserving the possibility that next week's series finale could serve up something infinitely better) follows as Jack goes Darth Bauer, wearing black body armor and a black mask. He manages to kidnap Chucky right after the ex-president has just reassured Russian snake Novakovich, (who is worried that Jack will come for him too) that there is nothing to fear.

This sequence is satisfying on many levels, but especially pleasing to long-time 24 fans who have been waiting for Chucky to get unlucky. Jack drags him inside yet another abandoned warehouse, and there is a delightful Q&A session with Jack pummeling Chucky and getting him to spill his guts (while no doubt wetting his pants) rather quickly. Logan gives up Novakovich and snivels and begs not to be killed, but Jack already has better ideas. He knocks Chucky out and escapes right before Pillar and his men arrive on the scene.

Little home wrecker Meredith gets stood up at the coffee place (but she no doubt manages to knock back a few espressos anyway), and she knows the FBI has the editor in custody and the story will be killed. She rushes out with an idea to get the message about the conspiracy to somebody. Meredith somehow knows the hotel where her ex-lover's wife and daughter are staying, and she goes there and places a call to Dalia. Kayla, the daughter, answers, but eventually Meredith tells her about the Russian involvement in the murder of her father. Shortly after this, the FBI arrests her and takes the disk away from her.

Jack goes to Novakovich's hotel and has a battle with some guards to get to the elevator, killing them but getting stabbed in the side in the process (it seems he was stabbed in the same place by Renee about fifteen hours before). Jack is bloody but determined to get to his mark and goes onto the elevator.

Chloe finds a way to get Cole out of holding and gets him ready to go after Ricker. They both leave CTU, she in one car and he in the other. She tells Cole to get Ricker and learn Jack's location, but Cole puts enough firepower in the trunk of his car to suggest that he's not going to play patty-cake with Ricker. Cole also threatens to take Jack out if necessary (hey, Cole, did you forget this is Jack Bauer you're going after?).

The rescued Chucky is wheeled to an ambulance wearing an oxygen mask. Though he can barely talk, he orders Pillar to call Novakovich and warn him that Bauer knows everything. Pillar calls but gets a wounded assistant. Jack has already been there and taken out everyone, leaving Novakovich skewered with a fireplace poker. Some viewers may be disappointed because they missed the action in this scene, but I think it is brilliant not to see what happened and have the camera just pan the room, showing the aftermath of Jack's rage.

Pillar tells Chucky that Novakovich is dead, and Chucky then makes another call to Russian President Suvarov. Finally, we learn the even more ugly truth: Suvarov has been behind all the events of the day. He wanted to derail the peace accord, and now he is concerned that Bauer will come after him too. Chucky assures him that Bauer knows nothing because he killed Novakovich before he could talk, and more good news is that they believe Jack is wounded. Suvarov downs a couple of Stoli shots and says that nothing is worse than a wounded animal. Oh yeah? How about a wounded Jack Bauer?

As Chucky continues to talk to Suvarov, we see Jack standing in another dark corner of Manhattan listening to their conversation. Apparently, he planted a microscopic transmitter on Chucky's shirt (reminding us of a similar scenario from season five when he caught Chucky's incriminating dialogue with his wife Martha on tape) and is able to record the conversation for future use. Jack knows what he has to do now, and so do we, but as he moves away from his hiding spot, we see a bloodstain on the brick wall, letting us know our hero is weakened as he takes tenuous steps toward his fate (and the end of 24 as we know it).

Episode 22 is as good as any of the best episodes of 24 in past seasons. It features Jack going against all the odds, and all the loose ends are getting tied up as we proceed toward the series finale next week. Inevitably, there will be arguments for and against allowing Jack to fall into this dark mode, but ever since Jack Bauer told us about the first worst day of his life nine years ago, we should have known there could be no other way to go. 24 is a tragedy, and tragedies just don't have happy endings.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vote for Pedro: Why The Mets Need Martinez Now

Article first published as Vote for Pedro: Why The Mets Need Martinez Now on Blogcritics.

As the Mets dropped their fifth in a row yesterday, things are starting to look pretty grim for the team and their fans. In a press conference after yesterday's game, skipper Jerry Manuel said, "Things aren't as bad as they look." Well, Jerry, check your glasses, because your team has lost seven of the last ten games.

To make matters worse, John Maine has his own vision problems. He just couldn't find home plate on Saturday; his first twelve pitches were all out of the strike zone. Hey, Stevie Wonder could do better than that, John.

Now John Niese is hurt, Oliver Perez is banished to the bullpen, and the starting rotation is suddenly looking like it needs more than a boost; it should be sent to the ER.

This is why I am proposing that the Mets should get out there and do whatever it takes to bring back Pedro Martinez. Hey, I know some Mets fans might groan at the suggestion, but Pedro-II will not be a disaster. Look what he did for the Phillies in a limited capacity last year.

Besides, Pedro-I was not such a bad time. I went to Shea when he was starting a game, and I have to say there was a buzz in the stands unlike anything I've seen since. Johann Santana is a great pitcher, but he does not incite emotions the way good old Pedro did. Everyone had an opinion about the enigmatic pitcher, and the crowd would either applaud him or razz him, but it was never boring.

This is a sensible solution for the Mets, and they don't have much choice right now. They wouldn't have to give anything up for Pedro. A trade would cost them dearly, and they don't have much to offer other teams anyway except maybe Ike Davis, and he's not going anywhere.

Despite the problems he had when he was here, Pedro was 32-23 as a Met. I know Pedro brings a bit of the wild card to the clubhouse, but this team needs something to fire them up. Pedro's personality is sorely needed in the dugout, on the field and, yes, even as a means of grabbing away the headlines in town from the Yankees.

So I am casting my vote for Pedro. He could be just what the doctor ordered for a team that looks like the walking wounded right now. If they do bring him back, Citi Field will be a much brighter place, and perhaps the team can start winning some games again, and at least that will be an attempt to save what is otherwise looking like another lost season in Metsville.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Baseball's "Sign" of the Times

Article first published as Baseball's "Sign" of the Times on Blogcritics.

"Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"
- Five Man Electrical Band

This week's latest soap opera moment, coming on the heels of the A-Rod crossing the mound debacle, has to do with the Philadelphia Phillies sign-stealing during a game against the Colorado Rockies. As a Mets fan, I am not usually in a position to defend the Phillies (even when Phils Manager Charlie Manuel accused the Mets of sign-stealing too), but aren't teams giving signs in a public way? If a third base coach is touching his nose, ears, lips, and toes, isn't that in full view of all in the park?

Of course, technology is or seems to be what is coming into play here. No, the Phillies aren't going all CIA with eavesdropping equipment or using computer wizardry to do this; it seems it's a pair of old-fashioned binoculars causing all the stir, and what's allegedly being stolen are the ever sacred catcher's signs to the pitcher.

Okay, since it's Friday, just the facts, ma'am. During a game in Colorado earlier this week, the local Rockies network cameras showed shots of a Philadelphia coach using binoculars in the bullpen. Now, I don't want to pry into Mick Billmeyer's personal life either, but it just could be he was checking out that cute little blonde in the stands behind home plate. How the heck can they be sure what Billmeyer was looking at?

Well, Dan O'Dowd (Rookies GM) called Major League Baseball and lodged a complaint. After what seems to be a quick review of the "case" against the Phils, a "warning" was issued for the Phillies to lose the binoculars or else. Duhn-duhn-duhn-duhn!!!

In checking the rules of baseball, with which I am somewhat familiar, I have not found anything official about sign stealing. My feeling is that if it is something publicly visible in the ballpark, then it is open to being "stolen" by anyone in the park, including the strange guy in the bullpen with the binoculars.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am a Mets fan, and I do recall a while back when my own team accused the Phillies of doing this same thing in Citizens Bank Park. It appeared in our local newspapers a few years ago, and there was just another log on the fire of the combustible Mets-Phillies rivalry, but as far as I recall this never went into an official complaint to MLB.

I believe sign-stealing is probably happening in baseball and always has happened: just like spitballs, nails embedded in pitcher gloves, and pine tar where it shouldn't be. It's the nature of the game to steal; I mean, Lou Brock made a career out of it.

So, as in that good old Five Man Electrical Band song that featured signs telling people what or what not to do ("Long-haired freaky people need not apply"), baseball teams could put huge signs up alongside "No Pepper Games" warning "No Sign Stealing" or "No Binoculars!" These will probably work as well as the ones here in New York City that say "No Jay Walking," but that's for another article.

For now I think we should just let the whole thing slide, but as with the Mets-Phillies rivalry, soap opera moments in baseball only add to the drama. Man, what a waste of time. Don't they know we only have one life to live?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

TV Review: Season 8 of 24: You Don't Know Pain!

Article first published as "TV Review: Season 8 of 24: You Don't Know Pain!" on

At this point in the 24 canon, we true fans of the show understand Jack Bauer, even when his actions seem beyond all reason. Witness his actions in episode 21 of this season, when Jack pulls out all the stops to get where he wants to get, taking no prisoners and seemingly not caring about anyone else. The truth is something else entirely, as when Jack tells Pavel (the man who murdered Renee Walker) during a brutal torture sequence, "We were out. Why wouldn't just leave us alone?" Then Jack proceeds to eviscerate him.

Anyone who is disillusioned by how deep and dark Jack has become hasn't been watching 24 for the last eight seasons. Jack goes as far as he has to go to do what is right, even in the course of events that make him do things that are ostensibly wrong. Can anyone forget how he wiped out the Drazen crime family in season 1, beheaded killer Marshall Goren in season 2, and killed countless others in the pursuit of stopping bigger and more inhumane things from taking place?

At this point we can look at the situation in two ways: the writers want us to completely accept that Jack has fallen from grace, or they want us to remember the Jack of old who kicked ass with no apologies. While I would like to believe it is the latter, there is a case to be made that this rogue Jack may going to a dark territory even he cannot navigate.

When disgraced former President Chucky (Your Friend to the End) Logan asks President Taylor for some kind of recognition for his help in the peace accord, we can see the great pain it causes Taylor to acquiesce to this essentially diplomatic blackmail. Thanks to Cherry Jones's amazing portrayal, Taylor is battling internal demons like never before, knowing that Chucky has dispatched a team to murder Jack Bauer. Despite knowing it is wrong, Taylor's eyes are on the bigger prize of world peace. Perhaps she sees the death of Jack Bauer as collateral damage, but her expression lets us know it goes against all that she holds dear.

Jack has the evidence that confirms Russian involvement in the death of President Hassan. He calls reporter Meredith Reed, with whom Hassan had a clandestine romance. Reed agrees to meet Jack to get the information to make it public in the press, but Jack's call has been monitored by CTU and teams are descending on the department store where Jack has arranged a meeting with Reed.

Jack is getting assistance from old buddy Jim Ricker (played with panache by the incomparable Michael Madsen), and they know the department store will be a set-up. Pavel is sent to to take out Bauer, and he confirms in a cell phone call to Logan that he should also kill the reporter for good measure.

Ricker is in place to stop Pavel, and then Jack bing-bang-boom takes out the team that was in place on the ground in the store. Pillar, the Chucky flunky who has managed to be in charge of CTU, realizes Bauer has escaped with the evidence and Reed, and he calls Chucky to tell him to get out while the getting is good. Chucky has his eye on the big prize (public redemption as a savior of the peace accord), so Chucky is unrelenting. He still orders Pillar to get Bauer.

Meanwhile, in yet another abandoned warehouse, Jack has Pavel tied-up and ready for torture. Jack knows how to take pain as well as anyone (witness how many times he has been tortured in eight seasons), but Jack also dispenses it with expertise. He tells Pavel, "You don't know pain" and proceeds to work on him with tools, alcohol in wounds, and a blowtorch. Still Pavel will not give, proving to be as resilient to torture as Jack.

Seeing that his methods are not working, Jack checks Pavel's cell phone. He realizes the SIM card is missing, and then figures that Pavel swallowed it. This is when Jack parts ways with Pavel, telling him this is for Renee. He splits open Pavel's stomach and retrieves the SIM card, leaving the terrorist who killed Renee to die.

Upon putting the card into the phone, Jack makes a huge discovery: President Logan was the last person who spoke to Pavel. The expression on Jack's face (give credit to Kiefer Sutherland for this nuanced performance) lets us all know that everything has come to this moment. The ghosts of the past collide with the here and now, and it is obvious Jack's next move will take him to a place he has never been before.

With three hours left in the season and the life of 24 as a television series, we must pause to understand that Jack has no place left to go. He is more than a rogue operative at this point; he is a man without a life, without a country, with nothing left to lose or to give. Jack will pursue justice the only way he knows how, but the price of his actions may be more than we as fans have ever wanted him to pay.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Viva Barajas!

Article first published as "Viva Barajas!" on

New York Mets fans have something to smile about this morning, and it is their catcher Rod Barajas, who capped off a wild night at Citi Field with a walk-off homer to beat the San Francisco Giants. Barajas had homered earlier in the game, giving him 9 homers so far on the year.

Stunned Mets fans hollered and cheered and shook the house that Citi built, as the stunned Giants stared at the field and then quietly left the visiting dugout. This was an exciting and inspiring way to start off this home stand, especially after the miserable 2-4 road trip from which the team just returned.

After the game Barajas was interviewed by SNY, and he is really a breath of fresh air for Mets fans. With his adrenaline obviously flowing, Barajas said he was hoping that the ball would stay up and go out. When it did, he said, "The place just went crazy." Uh, yeah, it surely did, Rod.

A little bit of dramatic irony to note here is that Benji Molina, the catcher the Mets sought over the winter who declined their offer to sign with the Giants, was in the park and saw the fireworks generated by Barajas. Sometimes victory is more sweet than usual, and this has to be the case for Barajas and the Mets on this night.

With Barajas leading all major league catchers in homers as of last night, the Mets have to be more than pleased with his performance. This old Mets fan found himself thinking beyond the Gary Carter years, although that is also on my mind, but way back to when Duffy Dyer took over for Jerry Grote and got off to a great start, but nothing close to as good as what Barajas is doing right now.

Add to this the addition of rookie Ike Davis, who belted two homers in last night's game as well and also made some spectacular plays in the field, and the Mets and their fans are starting to chant the old Tug McGraw line, "You gotta believe!" With games like this one, it is hard not to be caught up in the infectious, if not a little bit premature, feeling that this team is destined to be in the mix this season.

Yes, we have a long way to go in 2010, but at least for one night the ball was definitely bouncing the right way for the Mets, and you can't blame the fans for daring to dream after a storybook ending like this one.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Season 8 of 24: Do You Know Who I Am?

Article first published as "Season 8 of 24: Do You Know Who I Am?"

In episode 20 we get to see Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) basically stopping at nothing. The NYPD tries to stop him, but that lasts only a few seconds. Soon he has a gun aimed at one officer's head and threatens to shoot him. The officer's partner hesitates to put down his gun, and Jack asks him, "Do you know who I am?" The guy is like thinking, "Uh, you're friggin' Jack Bauer" and quickly puts down his weapon. To thank him Jack shoots him in the foot for good measure. You gotta love the way Jack gives a guy a hot foot.

At this point in season eight as we wind down to the series finale, some things are becoming very apparent. First of all, our gal Chloe O'Brian has gotten in way over head. Yes, Chloe deserves recognition for all her great work, but she is playing in the big leagues now as acting head of CTU, and Jack knew she was setting him up and let her think that he didn't know about it until it was too late. If you have followed me so far, this basically means that Chloe is a novice and Jack is an ace, so she is struggling and then suddenly has to take orders from Chucky (Your Friend to the End) Logan's aide Pillar.

What amazes me is how short-lived the 24 writers' memories are. President Taylor has basically given carte blanche to Chucky, but her character is tougher than this. She resisted all sorts of entreaties from her husband and daughter in season seven, so much so that she had her daughter sent to jail for treason and her husband left her. Is this a woman who would allow a disgraced former president to get into a position to wield power? It just doesn't make sense.

Getting back to our hero, Jack is in full Bauer mode now. Chucky says nothing will stop Bauer, and at least he has got that right. Jack rescues Dana Walsh from Team Chucky, which waterboards her and then plans to kill her after she reveals information. Jack takes out Blesdoe as he's holding Dana with a gun to her head. He tells Jack he won't risk taking the shot, but apparently he doesn't know who Jack is like the cop, and soon he has a bullet lodged between his eyes.

Dana's ex-boyfriend Cole is now working with Jack, and Dana bats her eyelashes and tries to sucker Cole once again. Cole is a nice guy, but too nice for Dana and Jack tries to warn him that she is messing with his head. Cole knows it but he lets his guard down when they go into the bank to get into Dana's safe deposit box. Dana stashed a disk with all the info needed to implicate the Russians, but she also has cash and a pistol in there. Cole reaches to get the pistol, a flash goes off, and Dana knocks out Cole. The banker comes into the room and Dana shoots him, then she takes the money and the disk and calls 911. This is how the cops come to stop Jack in the first place.

Meanwhile, Chucky is talking with the Russian snake Novakovich and his henchman Pavel, the guy who killed Jack's squeeze Renee Walker. Chucky has played this chess game before, but this time he thinks he has his bishop and rook aligned in order to take out the Queen (President Taylor) and her knight (Jack Bauer). With Pillar now in place at CTU, Chucky will funnel the information to Novakovich who will send Pavel to finish Jack off.

President Taylor is suffering in this episode. She has to listen to President Hassan's widow during a press conference, and the woman is praising Taylor's integrity and strength as a leader. We can see the wheels turning in Taylor's head, knowing she has made a deal with the devil. Hey, Jack Bauer is only a phone call away, but she is now weighted down by Chucky in such a way that could bring down her presidency.

The episode ends with Jack chasing Dana into yet another abandoned warehouse/construction site/factory. When the series is over, I should go back over every episode to see how many times Jack has been in this situation. Dana is a crafty opponent, but let's not forget she's dealing with Jack Bauer. They have a gunfight, she runs out of bullets, and Jack corners her with his gun drawn.

Dana pleads for mercy, but we remember what Jack did to Nina Myers, and it's clear you just don't mess with people Jack cares about. He demands the evidence, but Dana's still looking for a deal. "No deal, sweetheart," I can almost hear Humphrey Bogart saying. Jack takes the disk and then pumps Dana full of lead. She lays there staring up at the ceiling (ending one of the most bizarre story lines in 24 history, and Jack takes off because he has bigger fish to fry.

Episode 20 of season 8 is a great episode, one of the best this or any season, and is really very reminsicent of early Jack Bauer when he gets his mojo rolling and is a force that cannot be stopped. We have four episodes left, and we have to wonder how far Jack is willing to go to get revenge. Judging from this episode, he might be going all the way to the UN to satisfy his need for justice. Honestly, with Jack operating on all cylinders, watching 24 is truly a pleasure once again.

Until next time, Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Four Dead in Ohio: Forty Years Later

Article first published as "Four Dead in Ohio: Forty Years Later" on

Tuesday, May 4, 2010, marks the fortieth anniversary of the murder of four students (and wounding of nine others) at Kent State University in Ohio. There is something about this horrific and surreal moment in time that is still chilling, as I vividly remember this picture on the front of the New York Daily News next day.

I had heard about the shooting on the radio as I ate breakfast, but seeing the now iconic image of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller shook me in my seat. I still can’t believe what happened, just as Mary Ann could not believe it at that second the picture was taken, her incredulous expression showing the outrage so many Americans felt after this senseless shooting of students by the Ohio National Guard.

Photographer John Filo won the Pulitzer Prize and deservedly so, for the photograph’s sheer power still grips you even looking at it forty years later. I remember putting that newspaper down, going to school (where I was in fourth grade), and thinking that something was truly wrong with the world. I haven’t changed that opinion much forty years later.

School is supposed to be a safe haven, but that shooting kind of shattered the rules. Wasn’t the Ohio National Guard supposed to be protecting American citizens and not shooting them? We hear great indignation from our elected officials when things like this happen to protestors in Tehran and Tibet, but let us not forget that the blood shed that day was caused by our own troops.

According to the web site May 4, a total of 67 shots were fired in thirteen seconds.” This was after the guardsmen had lobbed tear gas on the windy campus to disperse approximately five hundred protestors and, as the smoke streamed all over the place, the shots started ringing out. What were these guardsmen expecting from these unarmed students? They weren’t stuck in the jungles of Vietnam waiting for a vicious enemy; they were standing on an American college campus. Did they think the students were going to attack them with textbooks?

It still boggles the mind to think that they actually fired their weapons that day, sending live ammunition into students. Later on all charges against the guardsmen were dismissed based on their testimony of firing in self defense. Yes, it’s hard to believe that any court could accept such an outrageous claim, but it did.

Of course, there were students protesting at Kent State that day because about a week earlier, President Nixon announced that U.S. ground troops were going into Cambodia. Many Americans were angered by this obvious escalation of the war, so there had been many protests on campuses all around the country. By 1970 the population was growing weary over the long and seemingly unwinnable war (sound familiar?), and an evacuation of troops was what people were hoping for, not an increase in hostilities.

So, even is there was a protest, how could that in any way make it necessary to shoot those protesting? All you need to do is look at the pictures of the four

students killed that day, and then you would have to feel some outrage. It is impossible for me to look at these four pictures and not feel angry. Do these kids look very dangerous to you? To me they look like four average American students, ones who were unlucky enough to get caught in a frenzied hail of gunfire that has no explanation to this day, even if the court accepted the ludicrous “self defense” claim of the guardsmen.

After all these years, whenever I think about Kent State I always think of musician Neil Young, who was brave enough to write a song that condemned what happened, pointing a finger not just at the Ohio National Guard but at President Nixon as well.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio

If ever a song captured the feeling of a moment, this song did so powerfully. It effectively summed up the feelings of those who believed that the government obviously didn’t care about its citizen, particularly the young people, many of whom were off fighting and dying in Vietnam. Even more poignantly, Young goes on to hit the message home:

What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

That last line is the most effective because after this happened people could not turn away from the truth. No one could run away from the fact that four students lay dead on that campus, and at the time Young’s song was a call to action, and people responded in kind. There would be many more protests across the nation, and eventually President Nixon had no choice but to pull American forces out of Vietnam.

Despite all the political ramifications of the tragedy at Kent State, what it really comes down to is a very personal issue. Every parent sends a child to school thinking he or she will be safe. What happened at Kent State that day is every parent’s worst nightmare, but the fact that the four died at the hands of National Guardsmen still is a national disgrace, a travesty that has never been fully addressed. Those parents sent children off to college, and they were never coming home. Not because of an accident or because the kids did something stupid, but rather because they got caught up in moment that was supposed to be for peace, but it ended up like a war.

With the guardsmen having been exonerated in criminal court, eventually the families did get a modest financial settlement, but this is nothing considering these people lost their children. Forty years later, those faces stare out at the world like the faces of any young people wanting and hoping for the best things in life; however, they would never be able to know anything past that May 4 in 1970.

Every American is called to remember those fallen in battles fought for this country. We even have an official American holiday, Memorial Day, that honors those soldiers who have died in conflicts. Well, May 4 should be a day to remember those four American kids who died in a different kind of battle: a battle for free speech, freedom of expression, and a push for peace.

We must remember the stories of Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller, and Sandra Scheuer. They were murdered on American soil, but their blood will not have been spilt in vain as long as their story is always told to honor their memory and in order prevent such a senseless travesty from ever happening again.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Weeping Colossus: Will They Shut My Golden Door?

Article first published as "The Weeping Colossus: Will They Shut My Golden Door?" on

From the island I occupy in the bay, I see many things good and bad, and I have cried before, most notably on 9/11 when those buildings went down. When I used to see the overloaded boats bringing those hopeful faces to this new shore, I wept tears of joy, but now my tears are of sorrow. Are people forgetting the plaque that shines in the sun beneath my feet? Do they not remember the words of Emma Lazarus?

It does seem now, after all these years, that it was I who spoke those words, “Give me your tired, your poor,” for even if I am nothing more or less than the Mother of Exiles, my existence has meaning. I hold my torch aloft, have done so all these years, and it still does not make me tired. It has burned in the night for more than a century, sending a glow that can be seen around the world. Even in the darkest hovel its light brings hope, down the deepest valley, and on the highest mountain. I keep it burning bright because, even if one pair of eyes sees it anew, my purpose is accomplished.

Over the years as the people streamed from all those foreign lands, they passed me in their ships day and night, and I cared not about the color of their skin, what faith they embraced, what land they came from, or what language they spoke. They were all my new children moving toward the warm welcome of my embrace. Here they would be “huddled masses” no more; they would walk the streets, find homes for themselves, work the fields, labor in the cities, and they would become woven into the fabric of that flag that flies brilliantly across the land.

I was not here in the very beginning, in those times long before the white people came in their ships. My island belonged to another race: native people who were inhabitants of the land and are the only ones who can lay claim to not being immigrants. They must have watched the waters like I do now, wondering what was coming from far away. Eventually the white people came and kept coming, pushing them across a continent and almost dumping them into the next sea. I have wept for these resilient people too, and I am glad they would not just go quietly. Now I hope they stand as tall as they can and find a way to see me as their mother too.

All of the people who came from other lands were immigrants or slaves, but I do not discriminate for they are all Americans, whether they came freely or in chains, and they are my children now. I weep because some of them have forgotten their way. They do not remember about having come here because it was their ancestors who came, but I remember for them all: Even the ones who came before I stood above the harbor with my torch. My America, my land of freedom, and its people of the manor and the meadow born, is flowing with the blood and sweat of all the countries in the world. There is tremendous strength in a lineage such as this, the many different streams coming together and forming one magnificent river.

But now I am weeping once again, and my tears flow because a new wave of immigrants is trying to land on our shores. Some of my children have forgotten their birthright was not kept from them, not yanked from their hands, but now they want to do this to people who only want to join the family, to be like all those who came before them were, moving into the country not to overwhelm it but to become part of it. The sweat of their brows will fall into our earth, their blood will mix with ours as all the others did before, and America will be stronger with this new infusion of spirit, as it has always become stronger with an influx of any of my children.

I call on all those who wish to stop the flow of these people who seek our freedom and way of life to remember the words I have silently spoken all these years: “Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me.” Stop my flowing tears, assuage my worries that my America will not become theirs too, for it cannot be that we will become like those “ancient lands” with their unforgiving ways. If we turn people away who need to come here, we send them back to a land of no hope and a valley of despair.

I do not want to collapse like my ancestor at Rhodes, though he was destined to fall as all those empires of long ago fell. They failed because they were not for the people but for the few, the power corrupting and ultimately strangling regime after regime. But here and now we must represent a shining example to the world, being the best the way we know we can be. We must welcome these new people, all the ones who long to breathe free air and look with hopeful eyes at the American flag that flutters from a symbolic pole on an island of opportunity in their hearts and minds.

After many years of suffering in silence, I will not be quiet anymore. Relinquish your plans to turn back the people who seek refuge here. Remember that we are all from someplace else, and that includes me. Yes, your symbol in the harbor, you warm and loving Mother of Exiles with the blazing torch is an immigrant as well. Since I am your mother, I tell you that all those whom you wish to turn away are your siblings, and you must not treat them this way. I have taught you better than that.

Let these people come into our land and be part of our family, let them flow into the great cities and rolling fields and become part of the whole. Allow me to continue to say “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” for if that door ever truly closes, everything and everyone that has come before and all their dreams for tomorrow will be irrevocably lost, and thus our family will be torn asunder, and we will never recover. Eventually I too will fall into the harbor, sinking under the water and burrowing deep into the silt, and the light of my torch will be dark forevermore.