Monday, March 31, 2014
In spite of our delight at celebrating the birthday of Professor David today, this is still a very sad day. It’s the opening day for the New York Mets baseball season, and I’m taking off to go to the stadium. Although the Mets have an overall losing record throughout their 52-year history, they typically perform well on the first game of their season, 32 wins versus 20 losses, but that’s insufficient to have me greet this day cheerfully.
Today, and henceforth, if I wish to listen to the Mets on the radio, enjoying particularly the professional broadcasting skills of Howie Rose, I have to turn to WOR, 710 on the AM dial. There are six radios in the Palazzo di Gotthelf, four under my total control, and one in shared custody. My four radios are tuned to WFAN, 660 on the AM dial, with occasional excursions to ESPN radio, 98.7 on the FM dial. At one time, there was never a reason to leave WFAN. It broadcast the Mets, the New York Giants, the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks, with Steve Sommers, the Schmoozer, doing the overnight broadcasts.
During 1993-1994, when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the Knicks were one game shy of winning the NBA championship, I had the good fortune to be unemployed much of the year, allowing me to sit and listen to my radio (tuned to WFAN) most of my waking hours. That was during the 23-year period that I lived without a television set by choice. Of course, when there was a lull in the sports schedules, I had ample time to read, often a book a day. Marriage, among other benefits, brought a television set (two actually) back into my life. However, these days, even after replacing the original two television sets in my bride's dowry, I still turn on the radio to catch at least part of a game when I cannot sit still in front of the television.
Over time, the Rangers and Knicks left WFAN, migrating to ESPN radio. A few months ago, and here's the source of my great sadness, WFAN announced that it was going to be the radio voice of the Yankees. I understood the attraction of broadcasting the deep-pocket Yankees, but I was quite distressed. Word of the Mets new destination was delayed, at first. I hoped that they were destined for ESPN, which would require me to return to WFAN only for the Giants, usually on Sunday afternoons. Then, the cruel news. WOR, radio home of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two of the most prominent Domestic Enemies of Sanity, would broadcast the Mets. Now, besides the challenge of moving about three different radio stations on four radios during the year, there was the prospect of tuning into Limbaugh or Hannity because of a rain delay or other scheduling mishap.
For the time being, I'm tuning my four radios to ESPN, at least through the end of hockey season, and will simply attend Mets games in person. Of course, if a lot of free time becomes available as a result of eschewing the Mets on the radio, I can always return to reading or even talking to my wife.
You might say that Leo Bretholz was my first client as a lawyer. I never met him and only learned about him in the obituary printed in the Sunday Times, after he died at age 93. He left Vienna as a Jewish teenager, fleeing the Nazis, and made his way to Belgium. Once the Blitzkrieg overtook almost all of Western Europe he dodged and weaved through Jewish ghettos, Roman Catholic religious residences, and ditches in the woods. His luck lasted only so long and he was caught in France and put on a transport to Auschwitz. With another prisoner, he managed to leap from the train after prying open a small window, and kept on the run for another two years. Once the war ended, he came to the United States, raised a family and owned a couple of businesses.
In 2000, Leo Bretholz became a plaintiff in a federal class action suit aimed at SNCF, the French national railroad system. That’s where I come in. When I graduated from law school in 2001, the legal job market was collapsing along with the dot com economy and the towers of the World Trade Center. As a result of some research that I did in a third-year seminar, I was asked to work as a researcher for a group of lawyers mounting a class action suit against SNCF for its role in transporting French Jews to their death in Auschwitz. We had evidence that SNCF took on this role as business-as-usual, showing no reluctance to cooperate with the Nazis. SNCF’s most appalling conduct, to my mind, came once the Nazis were thrown out of France and General Charles DeGaulle established a new regime. SNCF billed the new government for the rental of the boxcars in which Jews were packed to the point of suffocation.
My job, for which I was promised compensation if and when we ever recovered damages from SNCF, was to research the US law that could be used to bring SNCF into an American court. I found ample support for our position, but the federal courts held that a federal statute enacted 31 years after the end of WWII eliminated the grounds to prosecute SNCF. Until passage of that statute, SNCF’s conduct was vulnerable under US law. In our case, the courts applied retroactivity even though unmentioned in the statute itself, although that’s not always the rule.
So, Leo Bretholz told his story to schoolchildren in the Baltimore area where he lived, testified before the US Congress and state legislative committees, but only heard from SNCF that it was following orders. I got a job with the New York State court system at about the time that the SNCF suit was first rebuffed in the federal courts. Since then, my role has been to stand between plaintiff and defendant, acting only on behalf of the judge who has to decide between the contesting parties. Therefore, Leo Bretholz became my last client, just as he had been my first.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Melanie L. sent me an article providing another measure of our success in the war on the poor, identifying how far the prevailing minimum wage goes to paying rent by locality. Metropolitan areas are the reporting unit, and the Big Apple doesn’t even make the Final Four. San Francisco, Honolulu, Silicon Valley and Orange County, CA come before Nassau-Suffolk (Long Island), the closest that my neighbors and I get to thorough economic cleansing. In fact, New York City isn’t even in the Top Ten. http://nlihc.org/oor/2014
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. issued an opinion this morning that said: "There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders." Was this eloquence in behalf of turning back attempts to limit voting and restrict access to the polling place? Gee whiz, no. He was in the process of striking down limits on campaign spending. You see, everybody, rich and poor alike, has the right to spend millions of dollars to elect our political leaders. According to Roberts, spending limits "intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities,’" that is, to rent a politician. Of course, some of those "citizens" are multinational corporations who don’t pay taxes like you and me (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/04/business/switching-names-to-save-on-taxes.html?ref=business&_r=0) or even have jury duty.
I went to the Lobster Boat Restaurant, 11 Mott Street, when it first opened (June 3, 2010). I enjoyed the food that I ate, although I turned back some unusual side dishes – garlic bread with everything? The service and hygiene, on the other hand, were well below par. Today, accompanied by Ilana M., my courthouse colleague, I returned, hoping for a more consistent, high level of performance. And, we found it closed.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Not easily deterred, I returned to the Lobster Boat, alone. This turned out to be a mistake, not, however, because of what I ate, half a small fried chicken ($7.95) that really seemed roasted, but because of what I didn’t eat. Going alone and not very hungry, I skipped the multi-course one person lunches ($12.95-16.95) still including garlic bread, and had no reason to venture into the more-elaborate two person lunches (around $30.95). The chicken, served with a piece of lemon and a small dish of sauce, made of rice wine, soy sauce and garlic I’d guess, was good and satisfied my limited hunger.
I was the only customer in any of the seven booths, one large round and one large square table, so service was prompt. All the tables were covered by black oilcloth printed with an overlay of yellow squares. Unlike my experience with the red checked oilcloth on my previous visit, just after the restaurant opened, the oilcloth was free of the sticky residue of a past meal.
Friday, April 4, 2014
Finally, a farewell to Bill Tong, who had a big funeral at lunchtime at the Wah Wing Sang Funeral Corp., 26 Mulberry Street. I couldn’t help but notice this as I headed to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for the second time this week. There were two bands playing as the very expensive- looking, burnished copper coffin was carried to the hearse – the six-piece Italian group, 3 trumpets/cornets, 1 trombone and 2 drums, and the four-piece Chinese group, 1 cymbal, 1 gong and two men playing brass horns that looked like reduced-size vuvuzelas. That’s a first. I’ve seen each group before, the Italian group much more often, oddly enough, but never the two together. Not surprisingly, there was no attempt to coordinate the music-making.
By the way, I don’t think that Bill Tong was the right name, although that’s what I was told by a Chinese man standing in the crowd. After I ate, I went back to the funeral parlor and looked at the list of names posted on the front door, its cast of characters, so to speak. None approximated Bill Tong and the Internet only turned up the death of Bill Tong, 81, of Canon City, Colorado on March 3rd. That Mr. Tong was buried without services, at his request, according to the Canon City Daily Record. Now that I think about it, maybe the man on the street misunderstood my question and responded with his own name, Bill Tong. I hope that’s not bad luck.