I Was 7 Years Ahead of the Curve

Interesting piece in tomorrow’s WSJ by a doctor from Highland Park (the next town over from where I’m a firefighter) who is a reluctant advocate of armed guards in schools.

Of course, I argued that nearly 7 years ago, when a kid named Jeff Weise went on a shooting rampage in Uncle Teda tribal school in Minnesota.

Like Wayne LaPierre and (I suspect) the good doctor from Highland Park, I was roundly ridiculed. But, to paraphrase LaPierre, only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

Of course, Uncle Ted says it much more emphatically and succinctly than do I.



On Nov. 13…..

….Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her.

With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”


I didn’t even have to look that up. “The Odd Couple” was such an integral part of my life — and that of anyone else who grew Odd Copuleup in New York in the 1970s. Of course, depending on which episode you watched, Felix and Oscar were not “childhood friends.” In one episode, they met in the Army. In another, they met during jury duty. But like the inconsistencies in “The Honeymooners,” it didn’t much matter. It was a great show.

It was definitely a “New York show,” which is why I don’t think it did very well in the national TV ratings, but it has become a TV classic. Watching it now, the thing that strikes me most is the writing. I listen to the dialogue on, say, “Two and a Half Men” or “How I Met Your Mother” and the writing isn’t even close to the sitcoms of the 1970s. And the writing on “The Odd Couple” was clearly some of the best. Not only was the writing more clever, more erudite, but it was also filled with cultural, historical and artistic references that you used to understand if you had a public school eduction. That, of course, is no more.

And, of course, there was Felix’s love of opera and Oscar’s love of sports, which brought such guest stars as Martina Arroyo, Richard Fredericks, Edward Vilella, Howard Cosell, Bubba Smith, and, of course, Neil Simon, author of the original play, “The Odd Couple.”

I saw the Broadway revival in London in the mid-1990s, with both Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, but it wasn’t the same. And, sadly, Tony Randall came into my deli once and was a real jerk (at least to me). That really hurt.

But it was a great show, with great writing and great cultural references. It was, sadly, what TV used to be.

So take a bow — and Rest in Peace — Jack Klugman, aka Oscar Madisox….err Oscar Madisoy….I mean Oscar Madison.

Fra Noi

The Italian-American newspaper UT3PWdRLpAm5htKin Chicago has finally gotten around to reviewing my debut novel, “Soft Target.” Here’s is what they had to say:

Smokin’ Hot Tale

Leave it to a fireman to write a debut novel about an Italian-American firefighter whose escapades get him tangled

up with two al Qaeda operatives. In “Soft Target,” author MARK YOST sets the action in Highwood, a traditionally

Italian-American enclave. Hero-protagonist Nick Mattera comes home after surviving four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps bomb squad technician. Nick becomes a young hotshot at his fire department,

until he runs into Abdullah and Jhalil. The two al Qaeda terrorists come to Chicago with one goal: kill Jewish

Americans and open up a whole new front in the War on Terror. “Soft Target” is the first in a planned four-book series. (amazon.com)

The Other Great Emancipator

Good Book Review in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal on a contemporary journal of the reviews and responses to John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Here’s a key passage:

This argument, which has been questioned in several recent books on Brown, is
put to rest in “The Tribunal,” which demonstrates just how central John Brown
was to the cultural and political life of his time. Included in the book are
powerful writings about Brown by some of the century’s most notable people: Walt
Whitman, Henry Ward Beecher, Jefferson Davis, HermanJohn Brown Melville, Stephen Douglas,
Louisa May Alcott, Victor Hugo and Karl Marx, to name a few. Brown’s name echoed
among thousands of average folk too. Little wonder that Julia Ward Howe’s “The
Battle Hymn of the Republic” was inspired by a tune sung by Union troops as they
tramped southward that contains the memorable words: “John Brown’s body lies
a-mouldering in the grave, / But his soul is marching on.”

The Illegal Eagle and a Badly Grasping IRS

Great piece today in The Wall Street Journal by Features Editor (and my boss) Eric Gibson on the battle with the IRS over the value of a piece of artwork. HerGibsone is one of the key passages:

But don’t look for “logic” in any government dictionary. In the summer of 2011,
the IRS sent the family an unsigned report appraising “Canyon” at $15 million.
When they rejected the valuation, the government upped the ante: The appraisal
was increased to $65 million, which yielded a $29.2 million tax bill. And the
IRS levied a special “undervaluation penalty” of 40%, applied in cases where a
party has made what the IRS deems a “gross understatement” of a property’s
value. That added $11.2 million to the tab. Plus interest.

Only in the fantasy bazaar of the U.S. government’s imagination can an item that
is worthless carry a multimillion-dollar price tag.

Here is the link to the full story: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324705104578151561581708972.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop

It’s Coming…..

The Cartel

The Bums Lost

By Mark Yost

Every college sports fan has those moments they’ll never forget. For Duke fans it’s Christian Laetner’s buzzer beater against Kentucky, for Midshipmen it’s the 2007 win over Notre Dame, and for Michigan fans it’s most any time they beat Ohio State. For the sliver of us who still believe in quaint notions like academics and integrity, we won’t remember Stanford going to the Rose Bowl, but their victory over Oregon.

I don’t often engage in schadenfreude, but it was downright bliss to see the tears streaming down the faces of the Ducks faithful after Jordan WilliamsonBums Lost, a psychology major from Austin, Texas, who loaded up on Advanced Placement classes to meet Stanford’s rigorous admission requirements, kicked the winning field goal in overtime. That’s because there are no two better examples of the forces of good and evil in college athletics today.

Despite the NCAA’s insistence that all these kids are students first and athletes second, at Stanford it’s actually true. According to the most recent NCAA figures, Stanford has a Graduation Success Rate of 90, meaning that only about 10% of the student-athletes who enroll there as freshmen end up not graduating. By comparison, Oregon’s GSR is 64, meaning that nearly 40% of its athletes never graduate. And I’m sure that figure factors in all the loopholes that the NCAA builds into the system to accommodate academically embarrassing programs like Oregon. A recent San Jose Mercury News study found that Stanford is No. 1 in terms of GPA (3.63) and SAT score (1176). Oregon’s numbers are middling at 2.94 and 969.

Those numbers are driven by the fact that most of the Stanford football players graduated from serious high schools where they earned as many academic honors as they did on-field accolades. There’s perhaps no better example of this than standout senior running back Stepfan Taylor. He’s African-American, which is significant because today’s college athletic culture preys on young black men in ways that would make antebellum plantation owners blush. Before coming to Palo Alto, Taylor, who ran for 161 yards Saturday night, earned all-district high school honors and a proclamation from his hometown mayor lauding his success on and off the field. He’s just the third back in Stanford history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, and he did it while majoring in Stanford’s rigorous science, technology and society curriculum. Put simply, Taylor is one of the notable exceptions to the felons, drug dealers and domestic abusers who are regularly lauded as All-American heroes on college campuses across the country.

Now let’s look at Oregon. Starting quarterback Marcus Mariota majors in human physiology, running back Kenjon Barner is studying journalism, fellow backfielder De’Anthony Thomas Communication, and placekicker Alejandro Maldonado, who missed an OT field goal, sports marketing. Not exactly rocket science (or engineering).

Beyond its lack of academic rigor, Oregon is currently under investigation as a repeat violator of NCAA recruiting rules. The school was sanctioned back in 2004 for recruiting violations related to running back J.J. Arrington, who went on to play in the NFL and was arrested for fighting at a nightclub in North Carolina in 2008. Another highly touted Oregon recruit, Tyrece Gaines, was charged last month with first-degree burglary, fourth-degree assault, strangulation and interfering with making a police report in connection with a domestic violence incident outside Eugene. And last year, a carful of Oregon football players was pulled over for going 118 mph on I-5. When the arresting officer smelled marijuana and asked who had the weed, driver Cliff Harris said, “We smoked it all.” To their credit, Oregon booted him and the Philadelphia Eagles eventually cut him, but the point is: Gentlemen and scholars, these are not.

While this behavior is commonplace among elite athletes on campuses across the country, Oregon is unique for its Nike connection. Company founder Phil Knight was on the Oregon track team before he and Sonny Vaccaro came up with the payola scheme that has made apparel and sneakers a cash cow for nearly every D-I program in the country. Knight further debased the culture of college athletics when Oregon, official colors green and yellow, began wearing gangsta-inspired black uniforms The trend, which is all about selling more apparel, has since spread to other college campuses like the plague. It is, quite simply, further endorsement of the thug-like behavior of college athletes everywhere.

So, again, forgive me for celebrating Oregon’s misfortune. But as Jeffery Lebowski said to the Dude: “Condolences. The bums lost.” For once.

Toy Stories With Six-Figure Endings


Michael Bertoia got a somewhat unusual edict about many of the toys his father brought home in the 1980s and ’90s: Don’t touch. “I quickly learned what rooms I was allowed to play in,” he says.

His father, the late Bill Bertoia, was working with his family to build up a business that became one of the toy-collecting world’s major auction houses. In today’s vintage-toy market, the most sought-after items sell for six figures, and collections can go for many times that. A 2009 auction of partToy boat of a collection held by Donald Kaufman, founder of K-B Toys, brought in $4.2 million.

The rarest—and most expensive—toys sell through major auction houses such as Bertoia Auctions, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. There are also a handful of major toy fairs, like the one held in Allentown, Pa., every November. Morphy Auctions, another major seller, will hold a doll auction Tuesday and expects to sell a French Bisque Bébé Doll from 1885 for at least $10,000. (The dolls are highly sought after because of their hand-painted eyes, lifelike features and custom-made clothing.)

The serious money has flocked to rare toys in pristine condition. At an auction on Nov. 10, the Bertoias sold a circa-1900 paddle-wheeler for $264,500. Eric Alberta, who has appraised toy collections for Sotheby’s, Christie’s and other high-end auction houses, sold the same boat in the early 1990s for $108,000. The toy was made by Märklin, a German toy company whose pre-World War II products are highly sought after by collectors.

Praising the Märklin family’s rare “pride of craft,” Mr. Alberta noted “the individual threads in the curtains that hang in the windows of the first-class cabins.” Other sought-after brands include the 1930s and ’40s tin toys of Hubley and Lionel and American Flyer trains.

The paddle-wheeler was discovered in an estate sale in upstate New York. A dealer offered the family $10,000 on the spot. Suspicious, family members contacted Mr. Alberta at Sotheby’s for an appraisal. “We think it was bought at F.A.O. Schwartz at the turn of the [20th] century,” said Mr. Alberta. At a Nov. 17 auction in New Hope, Pa., Noel Barrett Antique Toy Auctions sold a 1920s Märklin train set, in the original box, for $40,000. A wealthy Buenos Aires family owned it. “It was given to a little girl, she didn’t like it, the family put it in the attic and it was never played with,” Mr. Barrett said.

Another Märklin piece, a toy carousel from an estate in Phoenix, sold at the same auction for $190,000, almost double pre-auction estimates.

One of the most impressive toy collections belongs to Jerry Greene, whose company, Oldies, acquires and sells records, movies, TV shows and books. Over 45 years, he’s amassed 35,000 pieces, mostly rare European toy trains, stations and other accessories that will be on display at the New-York Historical Society through Jan. 6. The collection has an estimated value of tens of millions, people in the field say. There’s an elevated-train station and a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Many dealers start out as buyers. “My toy collection was my college fund, so my dad wouldn’t just give them to me,” Michael Bertoia said of the penny toys that would become his passion. “He’d wait until we were going to a show, give the piece to a dealer he knew, and then steer me toward that table or booth. It was a total setup, but it taught me how to talk to dealers and how to negotiate.”

Messrs. Alberta and Barrett started collecting when they were about 10. Even as a kid, Mr. Alberta understood the toys never played with often fetch the highest prices. So when he acquired his most prize possessions, he says, they stayed in their box.

Traditional Bowhunters Turn Cross About the Competition





Corning, N.Y.

By almost every measure, the 2012 bowhunting season is shaping up to be one of the best in history. Deer populations are surging. Thanks to extended seasons that stretch up to 120 days in some states, there are more bowhunters than ever buying licenses from state fish and game departments desperate for funds.DaVinci_Crossbow

But there’s something smelly in the woods this fall, and it’s not bear scat. It’s crossbows. The point-and-shoot weapon is enjoying its first surge in popularity since Agincourt. Five years ago, crossbows accounted for only about 2% of bow sales, says Jay McAninch, president of the Archery Trade Association. Today they’ve crept up to about 10%.

That’s a problem for many traditional bowhunters who consider crossbows cheating. “It takes away the draw, which is the single hardest thing to do in bow hunting,” said Kim Womer, 52, a lifelong traditional bowhunter from Corning, N.Y.

Mr. Womer is talking about that moment when the prey is within range and the hunter has to raise the bow, draw the string back and release the arrow—without spooking the animal. “To a lot of guys like me, crossbows are no different than guns,” he says.

That may be true, but it’s also true that in many ways there is not much difference between the compound bows that most hunters now use—which rely on a series of pulleys to put more force behind the arrow but make it easier to draw the string back—and crossbows. Both shoot arrows at about 300 feet per second. Nowadays both come equipped with laser sights and other targeting aids, and both have an effective range of about 60 yards. The big difference is that a crossbow is cocked, with an arrow in the guide, and remains ready to go until the hunter aims and fires by pulling a trigger.

Therein lies the rub for many traditional bow hunters. “I think they’re OK for older people and kids who don’t have the strength to pull a compound bow, but other than that I don’t like them,” says Pam White.

Ms. White, her husband, Jon, and about 20 other traditional bowhunters shoot in Mr. Womer’s invitation-only group, the Raghorn Archery Club, which shoots on Wednesday nights from May to October near Corning. On a recent evening, they fretted about the crossbow over Crock-Pots of elk stew and venison chili, all made with meats from their past kills. “You might as well hunt with a gun,” said Mr. White, sounding the familiar complaint.

While members of the group think crossbows are bad, most agree with Ms. White that the weapon is acceptable if it allows children or old folks to enjoy shooting arrows. What’s interesting is that is the same argument being made by Chuck Matasic, president of Kodabow, a maker of crossbows in West Chester, Pa.

“Crossbows are great for kids who, like it or not, need the instant gratification they get from videogames,” says Mr. Matasic, who hunts with both types of bows. “A crossbow is just easier for kids to shoot and hit the target.”

Crossbows also could be an important retention tool for older adults who tend to give up bow hunting around age 50, he says, because they lose the strength to pull the string well enough to aim well.

In the middle of the controversy roiling the bowhunting world is Ted Nugent, the rock guitarist and avid outdoorsman who has an opinion on almost everything but is agnostic when it comes to crossbows. “I understand the argument of the traditionalists,” says Mr. Nugent, who hunts with both a compound bow and a crossbow. “But anything that gets kids off the couch and out in the woods is all right with me.”

Despite all the gnashing of teeth, there’s evidence that the crossbow is starting to gain acceptance among traditional bowhunters. One of their number admits, in an interview conducted on condition of anonymity, that he recently drove 100 miles each way to a sporting-goods store to buy a top-of-the-line Kodabow crossbow.

“I couldn’t risk anyone seeing me,” he says, as if he’d been skulking after Viagra or heroin. “If my bowhunting buddies found out I was using one, they’d never speak to me again.”

But he does like his new crossbow. “Because it’s more accurate and easier to use, a crossbow may help cut down on the number of animals that are just wounded by novice hunters,” he says. “Nobody wants to see the animal suffer. We all want a humane kill.”

Clearly, he’s not the only convert.

“Two years ago, I’ll bet we didn’t sell a bow a day,” says Kodabow’s Mr. Matasic. “Now, we’re selling several bows a day.” It’s enough to make a traditionalist quiver.

Mr. Yost is a writer in Chicago.