In which our dear leaders pontificate on the issues of the day …
J. Rashad Brown: It’s the holiday season, season Mikey! And from sea to shining sea folks will gather to eat, argue and imbibe in the name of, I guess, whatever it is they believe. Personally, as is customary of a member of the Quarters Magazine QUARTIES Award Nomination Committee, I will be tipping a glass in honor of Chris Hitchens, who went out the way I figure I will … early, angry and without regret.He was an unrepentant asshole who drank and smoked himself to an early grave and was on the wrong side of the Iraq thing, but he could certainly turn a phrase. That’s really all he wanted. As Kevin Smith would say, big bucket of win for Hitch.

Michael H. Samuels: So we’re going there already, huh? Starting off on the death note. Well, it sure was a big week for that. Your boy Chris, Kim Jung Il, Vaclav Havel. The holy trinity, so speak. Or unholy, depending on your perspective and the time of year. And well, since it is the most wonderful time of year, perhaps that metaphor doesn’t quite work. Too late.

JRB: So, decorate your tree, light a menorah and find some decent (spiked) egg nog while reading this week’s edition of…


Leading off, let’s go ahead and get out of the way a bah-humbug QUARTIE to Republicans in the House of Representatives.I’ve been covering/paying attention to politics for a long time and I’ve always considered the House of Representatives to be the drunken uncle of the American political machine, but I can’t remember a time where they’ve been so ridiculous.I can’t believe it took so long for House Republicans to extend the payroll tax cut. I can’t believe so many of them misread the situation. But, most of all, I’m really having a hard time reconciling the fact that, of all people, John Boehner seemed to be the adult in the GOP room.Seriously, I’m not prepared to live in a world where Boehner is the voice of reason. Cats and dogs… living together… total anarchy.What’s up with you Virginia? Is there a Santa Claus?

MHS: Is there really any doubt, good sir?  According to the New York Sun, “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.”

Sorry, you went there, I had to comply. Walked right into that one. While we’re at it, let’s give a holiday-season QUARTIE to the now-defunct New York Sun and Francis Pharcellus Church for, in 1897, writing such a marvelous response to an age-old question that newspapers around the country continue to publish it each Christmas even now.

That certainly does get me into the holiday spirit of things. Thanks for that, JB. I did need that. Because, otherwise, one could get down pretty quick paying attention to what’s going on the world.

It pains me to do this, but I think this story warrants mentioning. I’m giving an even-though-George-W.-Bush-is-no-longer-in-office-there-are-still-evil-doers-in-this-world QUARTIE to the devil of a man who burned a woman alive in a New York apartment building elevator because of about $2,000 owed to him.

The whole thing was caught on surveillance videotapes. I’ll spare you the details, but it was pretty horrific. It turns out the man, Jerome Isaac, was a handyman who had done some work for the woman, Deloris Gillespie. However, Gillespie fired him over disputes over money and after some of her items were stolen. She even bought multiple locks for her apartment door to keep him out.

Another elevator incident in New York, you say? Indeed. Makes me look twice at anyone who wanders in next to me on my way up to my fifth floor apartment.

OK, Justine, how about a pick me up after all that?

JRB: Yow wow…

MHS: Yeah, sorry about that.

JRB: And, you were talking about me being dark. OK, let’s lighten things up a bit here.

Remember when I called the House of Representatives the drunken uncle of American politics. Here’s another example of that. I’m giving out a don’t-start-none-won’t-be-none QUARTIE to Wisconsin GOP Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. Apparently the Distinguished Gentleman from Wisconsin was overheard at Reagan National Airport talking shit about Michelle Obama.

As we all know, the First Lady has decided to make fighting childhood obesity one of her pet issues. In doing so, she’s pissed off several fat, old Republicans who have taken her suggestion that kids eat healthily as a socialist attempt to control what people eat. This is, of course, bullshit, but Republicans will grasp at anything anti-Obama.

Anyway, Sensenbrenner apparently said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Michelle Obama has a fat ass. Never mind that the congressman has jowls only a bulldog’s mother could love. He’s since apologized for his remark, but that’s pretty meaningless. He’s only apologizing because he got caught.

As for the claim that Michelle Obama has some junk in her trunk… you know what, she does, but, in a good way. God Bless her for it. Forget party girls, Curvy girls are where it’s at and Michelle is leading the charge for healthy curvy girls. Hey, Michelle… how you doing? (MHS: Really? Hello, Secret Service? Yeah, that’s JB over there. The one with the dreads, yup, that’s him.)

OK … I’m getting out of this before I get into trouble. Let’s move on to something a little less controversial: the NBA.

I’d like to extend an it’s-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year QUARTIE to the NBA for getting it’s shit together in time to offer up the customary Christmas day quadruple header. Of course, America’s Team: Your Miami Heat will be heavily involved, as they will almost certainly curb-stomp the Dallas Mavericks after they get their ill-gotten championship rings.

Still, Dec. 25 will be about more than that. It will be about the opportunity to convene with family and friends on such a joyous … blah, blah, blah, BASKETBALL! Whooo! Let’s go Heat! Let’s go Heat!


MHS: Well, it’s about time, Gabrielle, I thought you’d mention the Association long before now. I must admit, I’m excited about the season starting. You know, I’m not too mad over the lockout either. Whatever, rich people fighting over billions. Kobe’s still hurt. Dirk’s still German and LeBron is still … well, LeBron. Don’t necessarily like the man, but respect his game. (JRB: Watch your mouth!)

Enough about that though. We can go on all day and night about the NBA, or any professional sports league for that matter. They all have their fair share of shady characters. Not everyone can be Tim Tebow, after all, can they? Jesus, I disgust myself sometimes.

Getting back on track, I want to give a howdy-neighbor-that’s-one-heck-of-a-weekend-getaway QUARTIE to Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the 22-year-old daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitriy Rybolovlev, who paid the full asking price of $88 million to buy former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill’s 6,744-sq-ft apartment at 15 Central Park West in Manhattan.

This is how Forbes described the apartment, which Rybovleva, a college student, plans on making her home when visiting New York:

“The apartment, in one of the toniest post-war buildings in Manhattan, has 10 rooms including 4 bedrooms, a wraparound terrace of more than 2,000 sq. feet … and 2 wood burning fireplaces.”

You know, sometimes you get a peek into how the top 1 percent live and you think, maybe, just maybe those Occupy Wall Street folks do have a point. But, as you like to say, that’s another show.

I’d like to wrap up my Quarties for this week with a just-in-time-for-the-holidays QUARTIE to the U.S. economy. It’s been a roller-coaster of a year, to say the least, but at least at the end of it, things are looking up.

Unemployment is dropping, gas prices are going down, home sales are improving, people are shopping. Who knows why or how, but who cares? This might not be sustainable because worker’s pay is barely rising, but it is much nicer to end the year on a high note than worrying about a second or even a double-dip recession.

Is that a better pick-me-up, Tonya?

JRB: Yes, it’s better, Sara. Perhaps a bit misleading, but certainly a happier note than fires in elevators.

OK, as our resident gentile, I suppose it’s up to me to provide a jingle-all-the-way QUARTIE to Christmas.

At this point, Christmas — with the tree and the presents and Santa and all of that stuff — isn’t necessarily a religious holiday to everybody who celebrate it. There will be several atheists and agnostics who will participate in a gift exchange this year, as they have in years past.

Personally, I think it’s awesome. I’m not the most religious cat in the world, so I don’t think the spirit of the holiday season necessarily needs to be tied to religious beliefs. Kudos to those who do (MHS: TEBOW! God I hate myself sometimes), but those who are more into the good feelings surrounding the holiday season shouldn’t be shunned for their beliefs, or lack thereof.

Anyway, that’s our time. Happy holidays everybody. We’ll see you next week. For Mikey, I’m JB. GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY.


Four Quarters Magazine contributors — and members of the tribe — share stories of Hanukkahs past and present

By Stephen Feller

This week, I’ll do with my children what I grew up doing every December: Going to my Bubbe and Zade’s house for Chanukah. Granted, they no longer live at the house in North Miami Beach they could be found at for 45 years, and now it’s only Bubbe that we’ll be going to see, but the gathering is pretty close to the same.

There was, of course, the meal that felt hours-long, and Zade standing at the end of the table, at a built-in hutch in the dining room, lighting the shamash for the kids to spark that first candle. What we were waiting for, really, was the big bags to come out — the ones full of carefully wrapped everything.

Lots of older Jews, and their Rabbis, remind us that Chanukah is actually a minor holiday, but with American culture, it has been built to match Christmas as part the American traditions of consumerism and year-end gift-giving. This American Jewish tradition works for the same reason as any other holiday built into the American psyche — it brings people together.

For all the memories I have of Bubbe and Zade’s house, the candles and the paper and the crazed excitement and the years of memories, they work well with a story about survival and luck, especially in America circa 2011. And I’m glad not only do my children get to collect memories with their own Bubbe, but they get them with mine too. Which is a pretty big deal for such a minor holiday.

By Wendy Goldsmith-Pruitt

It is rare when Hanukkah actually lines up with Christmas break, so celebrating Hanukkah away from my parents has always been tough. Since they live in New York, and I live outside of Atlanta, it’s not like I can just go over to their house for pot roast and potato latkes on the first night. It was in college that my mom started a new tradition to bridge the miles: Hanukkah Gelt.

“Gelt” literally translates to “money” in Yiddish and is traditionally given in chocolate form to kids during Hanukkah (which is why you see those chocolate foil-wrapped gold coins this time of year). My mom took it a step further and mailed me (yes, like with a stamp and everything!) lottery tickets. Every day an envelope labeled for each night of Hanukkah arrived containing a handwritten note on stationary (usually rhyming couplets beginning “On the __ night of Hanukkah, my Mommy gave to me …”) with a New York lottery scratch-off ticket.

Keep in mind she doesn’t just go to a gas station around the corner and buy eight lottery tickets; these are various games purchased at different locations all over the city. My sister gets the same treatment, and now that I’m married she even includes an extra ticket for my husband in each envelope. It might be tough to celebrate Hanukkah over a thousand miles away, but my clever Mommy made it happen.

By Diana Moskovitz

What I remember most about Chanukah as a child isn’t the traditions. The candle lighting was nice. Playing dreidel could occupy me for a few minutes. With two working-class parents, presents stretched out over eight nights always had a watered-down feeling, the Coors Light of gift giving.

What sticks out is Santa Claus. He was everywhere.

The man in the red suit always ended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He sat on a multicolored throne in the middle of the mall. He appeared on every sitcom, reassuring the audience with a wink and a smile that he existed (except my parents said he didn’t).

So where was the Jewish stuff? Where was our parade float? Why didn’t anybody on TV celebrate Chanukah? And how come all we get at the mall was a lame dreidel, shoved in the corner near a dollar sore?

I asked my parents why. Every year.

My poor parents, trying to explain the concept of a religious minority to a kid. My young brain couldn’t grasp worldwide population numbers. It didn’t help that we lived in a place with a significant Jewish community. In my tiny universe, Jews seemed plentiful. Chankuah, for me, was an education in being the little guy.

Over time, I got it. My mom and dad were saved the pain of having to explain how the numbers of Jews worldwide compared to Christians. The concept of buying power had seeped in.

This year, like most, I’ll light the candles and say the prayers. Gifts will be exchanged. There might be latkes. The one thing I must do is watch the Rugrats Chanukah special. It premiered in 1996, when I was 15. But I was giddy like the kid who just got the best gift in town when it flashed on the screen. For the first time, my eyes saw an American TV show devote an entire episode to my holiday.

There’s something about seeing people just like you on TV. The shock. The excitement. The sudden urge to scream, “Look! It’s people like us! We made it!”

For me, that remains the best Chanukah gift ever.

By Michael H. Samuels

For me, the holidays — be it Hanukkah and Christmas or Rosh Hashonah, Passover and Yom Kippur — are all about traditions. In fact, my faith is mostly steeped in tradition. It only makes sense that, now that I have a family of my own, my wife and I are creating our own traditions to share with our daughter.

In the past few years, we started to create outlines of traditions — brisket and potato latkes for Hanukkah, staying up to watch midnight mass for Christmas, watching the Charlie Brown Christmas and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, not to mention the many West Wing Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes (Ed. — Word). As you can probably tell, we mixed and matched a little bit of each of our individual traditions to create ones together.

This year, however, is different. That’s because this is the first holiday season for our daughter, the Baby Bear. The Bear is 11 months old, so we’ve had all year to figure out just how we want to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas this year. That said, the holidays, as usual, snuck up on us. As a result, for the Bear’s first Hanukkah, we’ll be leaning on the memories of my youth.

As a child, my two sisters and I would spend the first night of Hanukkah with our parents and grandparents. We always seemed to be able to get a full eight days worth of presents, which would vary in size and price by day. But the first night — always the first night — was the
night we got our big gift, i.e., a bike, a Nintendo, a TV, a Milennium Falcon or He-Man Castle Grayskull. The last night we got calendars. We always got calendars.

This year, for the Bear, will be no different, thanks in large part to my parents. They got Katie a gift so big this year we didn’t even try to wrap it. I don’t even know how we found room in our one-bedroom New York City apartment for it, but it’s tucked away in a corner somewhere, waiting to be unveiled after the Bear and I light the candles Tuesday night.

I would reveal what it is here, but, well, what if the Bear reads this beforehand? That would ruin the surprise after all, wouldn’t it?

J. Rashad Brown: I must admit that I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block lately, but not in the way you might think. I haven’t had a problem trying to decide about what I’d like to write. Quite the contrary; there’s been so much tomfoolery going on in the world to focus on one thing.

As a member of the Quarters Magazine QUARTIES AWARD Nomination Committee, I’ve found myself sitting at my desk, fingers on keyboard, ready to rip into one thing or another, only to find out about some other malfeasance. Thus, I’ve decided to save it all up and present it here.

Michael H. Samuels: Completely understandable, my friend. And I look forward to reading about all the tomfoolery that crosses your desk and your take on it. After spending all my down time worrying about diapers, baby food and talking like what would appear to be a complete idiot if I didn’t have a cute little baby bear in my midst.

Why, just today I saw a “story” on Yahoo about how new “research” states that the popular “cry it out” method could actually be detrimental for babies. That may be the case, but it’s worked for us. And said bear is sleeping as we speak, giving me time to write this. Well, that, and the story included this quote:

“A crying baby in our ancestral environment would have signaled predators to tasty morsels,” writes Darcia Narvaez, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame. “So our evolved parenting practices alleviated baby distress and precluded crying except in emergencies.”

What does all that mean, you ask? It’s a parent thing, my friend, you wouldn’t understand.

Maybe some day.

JRB: Indeed. But, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

So, raise your ire, your awareness and, of course, a glass for this week’s edition of…


Leading off this week, I’m going to lob a read-the-13th-amendment-asshole QUARTIE to Cincinnati, OH’s own Jamie Hein. Hein, a white woman, posted a sign at the pool of the duplex she owns that read, “Public Swimming Pool, White Only.”Hein posted the sign after the biracial, teenage daughter of her tenants visited her parents and got in the pool. Hein said she posted the sign because the chemicals used in the girl’s hair made the water in the pool “cloudy.”You can expect what came afterwards … the girl’s parents moved out of the duplex and promptly filed a discrimination charge to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, an investigation by said commission and a decision against Hein. Currently, the commission has agreed to readdress the issue, but I would imagine the outcome will be the same.Of course, racial tension, is nothing new in Cincinnati and one only need look at the Tea Party to see that, regardless of the happy-fuzzy feelings brought about the election of the current POTUS, racial problems are still alive and well in this country. But, we sometimes become complacent in fighting them. So, thank you, Ms. Hein, for reminding us there is much work to be done.

What’s up with you, Esmerelda?

MHS: Well, I’m going to start off with a talk-of-the-Big-Apple QUARTIE week to Young & Rubicam, the owners and operators of the elevators involved in the horrific elevator accident that killed a woman earlier this week. She was barely inside the elevator when it shot up,  crushing her legs and killing her.

Now, I live in an old building with an old elevator, but I never, ever, thought something like that could happen.

I’ve been trapped in an elevator before. It’s not as cool as you would think, and also not as scary. It’s a bit surreal, actually. You’re stuck. You have no way out. You hit the alarm button, you try to pry the door open. You laugh, you cry.

Luckily for me, the elevator started moving a few minutes later and let me out. Unfortunately, ad executive Suzanne Hart had her legs and life crushed out of her. Makes you think twice before boarding an elevator again.

On another note, I would be remiss if we didn’t give a good ole Mission Accomplished QUARTIE to President Barack Obama and the U.S. military for officially ending the war in Iraq.

It took nine years and nearly 4,500 American soldiers were killed in the war President George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in 2003. More than 32,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded in battle as well, and now they all are returning home to the worst economy since the Great Depression. Where will they all find jobs if the rest of us can’t? I don’t have the answers, but I’m sure glad they’re back here and no longer over there.

I have a feeling you agree with me, Alisha.

JRB: I do, Anitra. And I would be happier about it if I wasn’t so worried that we’re leaving Iraq right now just to gear up to go into Iran in the near future. But, that’s another show. Regardless, it is nice that they’ll be home for the holidays.

Also home for the holidays will be the fine members of Congress. I’d like to deliver a hand-wrapped nothing-to-see-here QUARTIE to the United States Government for, extending payroll taxes for two more months, once again, averting a budget crisis/government shutdown. The short extension was necessary because members of both parties were unable to come to a compromise to extend them for an entire year.

Well, at least the holidays weren’t ruined.
There are several resources to get the particulars on exactly what went down here but please allow me to nutshell it for you.The ebbs and flows of our government are dictated by the whims of the corporate masters who control the people we all thought we elected to represent us. Some are more beholden than others and, thus, are more brazen in their ass-kissery than others, but make no mistake about who these people serve.Here’s a hint, it ain’t us.The whole thing reminds me of the NBA lockout that recently ended. Warring factions argue over relatively (to them) small amounts of money while the people the fight actually affects — people in the middle class and below — suffer. Except, this is is on a much larger scale.


MHS: I appreciate where your head is at, Lauren, especially since the fam and I are taking a road trip this weekeed to our nation’s capital.

Now, we didn’t plan to visit any of our esteemed public officials during our time in D.C., but if there is anyone you wanted us to drop in on, just say the word and I’m sure we can fit a visit into our schedule.

I wish the National Prayer Breakfast was this weekend. If it was, I would try to lead everyone there in a round of Tebowing. That leads to me a this-thing-has-gotten-a-bit-out-of-control QUARTIE to the school officials in Riverhead, NY (yeah, that’s on Long Island where I work, I can’t escape these maniacs).

Seems that twin brothers on the football team decided they wanted to lead a group of students in an innocent group Tebowing. Only, apparently (and this part is a bit unclear), school officials told them not to. Being teenagers, they did so anyway and, alas, got suspended.

Now, I know we’re a bit biased on the whole Tebow craze being Gators and all, and yeah, if teach says no, be prepared to pay the consequences. That said… really? I mean, c’mon, really? The officials claim that 40 students all Tebowing at the same time posed a safety hazard, but let’s ease up on the outrage here a bit.

I mean… it’s not like these kids were trying to emulate Sam Hurd. (JRB: HEY-OHH!!)

Finally, to top off my Quarties for the week, I want to give a you-gotta-do-better-than-that QUARTIE to all the mall Santas out there. We took the baby bear to see Santa this week and Santa was either dog tired, drunk as a skunk or done with the whole Santa thing for the day. Regardless, I wasn’t impressed with his performance. Dude didn’t smile. He didn’t try to engage the bear at all.

In fact, the wife had to sit in the picture and goad a little something, anything, out of not-so-jolly St. Nick. So, Santa Baby, cheer up. It’s Christmas. You’re getting paid to smile and be cheerful for kids. Do your job.

How’s that for being a Scrooge, Jasmine?

JRB: I have visions of Bad Santa dancing in my head. What’s happenin’ Lauren Graham?

OK, I’ve been a bit negative this week. Time to bring out the happy. My final all-in-the-family QUARTIE of the week goes out to America’s Team: Your Miami Heat for locking up head coach Erik Spolestra to a contract extension. Coach Spo’s contract was set to expire at the end of this season.

The extension was announced when Basketball Czar, Pat Riley came from on high to mingle with the commoners in the media during his annual preseason press availability. Generalissimo Riley also said he’d be sticking around for the foreseeable future as well, no doubt to nurture the team he constructed (and, bask in the glory he feels it will bring).

OK, that’s our time. Goodnight everybody!

My New Hero

November 29, 2011

Photo from Sullivan's Twitter page.

By J. Rashad Brown

It can be difficult, sometimes, to find people worthy of admiration. In this age of cynicism, echo chambers and partisanship, looking to people trying to find truth and meaning in life is damn near impossible.

Searching for them amongst those we’ve chosen to be our leaders or those we’ve allowed to monitor them is depressing at best and soul-crushing at worst.

Indeed, locating those who can shine a bright light of reason in otherwise dark times are hard to find. Which is why it was so fitting and life-affirming that I’ve found one of my newest, personal heroes in a young woman in Kansas who decided her voice of truth was more important than a coerced voice of false regret.

Emma Sullivan — she of the Youth in Government program in Kansas — found herself in that state’s capital listening to her governor, Sam Brownback deliver a speech and, on her way home, took to Twitter, saying “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Innocent enough … and certainly not worthy of further comment other than by the 65 people who followed her on Twitter. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Brownback’s director of communication, monitors social media for any negative comments about her employer. Once she saw the tweet, she contacted the Youth in Government organizers who, in turn, contacted Sullivan’s principal who contacted the 18 year old.

The fact that Brownback has people on his payroll whose job it is to scour the Internet to see who’s being mean to him is a perfect example of what is wrong with our political system. But what happened after Brownback’s media office went on Red Alert is even more troubling.

Sullivan was brought to her principal’s office and, after a thorough scolding, was told to apologize and was given talking points she could use in said apology. She staunchly refused.

My kind of girl.

Incidentally, Sullivan didn’t actually do what she said she did in her tweet. She was joking. It was a joke … meant to be read by the 65 people following her and not by cronies in the governor’s office charged with helping the governor keep his job and, by extension, their jobs.

It’s not like she was given a private audience by the governor to hash out some policy points in front of the media corps. She was on her way back to school on a bus and having a little fun … not that it matters one way or the other.

Her flippant tweet – a tweet, of all things – and her refusal to bow down to those older and more willing to kowtow to those in higher positions than they brings, to me, a sense of hope for the future of our society.

It was small, almost meaningless in the grand scale of things. But the fact that she looked those charged with monitoring her behavior and mindset and told them in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of taking back her opinion is refreshing.

Refreshing, because she realized, very quickly, that she had nothing for which to apologize. She expressed her opinion to few friends via an outlet Brownback’s cronies had freedom to access but no power to alter. Brownback should take a minute to read the documents he swore to protect. Maybe they could give him and his staff some much-needed direction.

In fact, perhaps Brownback and his staff should take more time to examine the harm his policies have done to the people of his state than the flippant remarks of a teenager in the back of an auditorium. I’m sure his obvious distaste in the arts, the rights of women and social services should give him and anyone else living in Kansas pause. I certainly know it does me.

Sullivan’s stand is proof our young people haven’t lost their capacity for critical thought concerning our government. She and others like her are just as interested in the direction in which our country finds headed and the people responsible to that. It’s heartening.

There is just one problem.

Youth in Government is an organization dedicated to getting high school students interested in government, but Sullivan shouldn’t be interested in being a government stooge, she should get into journalism and cover politics. We need more people like her with smarts and guts. She should freshen up her resumé.

I have a feeling Jones-Sontang will be.

J. Rashad Brown is the co-editor of Quarters.