Monday, October 29, 2018

Remembering The Victims Of The Squirrel Hill Synagogue Shooting

Now that we know the victims of Saturday's horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, I want to share some of their stories. I really don't want to hear about the gunman and his hatred. Law enforcement, lawyers, and a judge and jury will take care of that. This post is to remember those who tragically lost their lives just for being at synagogue. Please note that stories below are from friends who posted them on Facebook as well as links from newspapers and websites.

Dan Stein

* Yesterday was the worst day of my life! My dads life was taken at the Tree of Life shooting. My mom, sister and I are absolutely devastated and crushed! Our lives now are going to have to take a different path, one that we thought would not happen for a long time. My dad was a simple man and did not require much. In the picture below he was having a great day doing two things he loved very much. He had just finished coming from synagogue, which he loved, and then got to play with his grandson which he loved even more! We love you dad more than you’ll ever know! Thanks in advance for all the love and support!

* Dan was an inspiring man. Hands down the best coach I ever had. With a big heart filled with compassion, he helped us young boys become the men we are today. Our thoughts are with you.

The Tribune-Review also published an article titled "Squirrel Hill shooting victim Dan Stein remembered as a kind soul."

Mel Wax

* Mel Wax was a fixture in my synagogue growing up, called New Light. He was my informal bar mitzvah tutor, I guess you could call it, helping teach the prayers. He *always* told jokes. He treated me like a real person, not just a kid. We were a small synagogue, and if there wasn’t a minyan (a minimum of 10 people) on a Saturday morning, he’d use the Temple’s phone to call me to get the hell down there. (They had decided you could use the phone on Shabbat if you were trying to put together a minyan. Sensible rule.). I’ve worn tefillin exactly once in my life, but it was Mel who had the patience to show me what to do and take me through the ritual. He was probably the one person besides our parents to give positive feedback on the Purim plays that [name redacted] and I would write together, which looking back on it were *insane* (setting the Purim story in the middle of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, with lines for each member on the Judiciary Committee? Why not!). I have a very distinct memory of Mel shaking his head watching a Steelers-49ers game all at the Temple when a rookie Barry Foster forgot to field the kickoff, resulting in the longest onside kick in NFL history. And he greeted me warmly when I came home for the high holidays my freshman year of college, asking me how life was all the way on the other side of the state.

Mel Wax was a good man. You all know a Mel Wax, at your church or synagogue or mosque or school or in your neighborhood. A person who makes an impact on others just be being themselves and doing what they do week in and week out. Mel Wax was murdered yesterday in a terrible act, along with 10 others — including other parents or friends of friends — doing what he did every single Saturday morning for his entire life, precisely *because* of what he was doing.

Mel, your memory is a blessing.

Cecil and David Rosenthal

* When you hear the names Cecil and David Rosenthal today, please know they were joyous men who overcome so many challenges and obstacles to life. They were so much more than our neighbors in Stanton Heights. With a mother named Joy, they couldn’t be anything other than a love to their parents and siblings and our entire community. Our family has so many great memories of them from Cecil giving me a joyous cheer during my Bar Mitzvah to their constant presence throughout Sq Hill especially at the JCC to the great big hugs Cecil loved to give. They died doing something they loved and have done every week, practicing our blessed and ancient religion of Judaism. We and everyone who interacted with David and Cecil were lucky to have done so. A monster may have taken their bodies, but he did not steal our memories, our faith or our collective resolve. Our hearts ache for the entire Rosenthal family and all the families of those who were senselessly taken by that monster.

* As a child, I would sit in the congregation and look for the dedicated brothers that were always there to worship. I admired their dedication, though I didn’t share it. They were always there. It was such a huge part of their lives. My heart breaks that they were taken away. The last time I attended Tree of Life was 2 years ago. I brought my kids to Rosh Hashanah services. Before I could focus on the Rabbi, I needed to find the brothers. There they were. I told my kids about them, their love for worship, and the community. I will always think of them. I am so incredibly sorry for all of the families’ losses.

Both the Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had articles about Cecil and David.

I also highly recommend checking out The Washington Post, Post-Gazette, and Buzzfeed who all have profiles and more about each of the 11 victims.

Let's also pray or share positive thoughts to those injured in the shooting, including several Pittsburgh police officers.

Finally, I attended a vigil on Sunday night at my Northern Virginia synagogue. One person in attendance wore a Troy Polamalu jersey. That just seems so Pittsburgh, and I will always love my home town!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Attack At Tree of Life Synagogue

I am sad and I am angry, but I'm mostly sad. On Saturday morning, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, killed 11 people, and wounded several others including 4 Pittsburgh police officers. Tree of Life is the synagogue I belonged to growing up. I attended Hebrew and Sunday school at Tree of Life and had my Bar Mitzvah there. Therefore, Saturday's shooting hits really close to home.

For a little background, Tree of Life was a massive synagogue. The main sanctuary can seat over 1,000 people, and when I was young in the late 70s and early 80s, they used to hold two services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to accommodate everyone. Basically, there was an A service and a B service. The membership numbers have dropped over the years for a variety of reasons including the fact that there aren't as many Jews that attend conservative synagogues in Squirrel Hill as there used to be. Since Tree of Life is still a large building though, there were three separate services for three separate congregations occurring on Saturday.

Although I moved away from Pittsburgh years ago, I'm sure that I still know people who attend Tree of Life, and I definitely know people who live near the synagogue. I already learned that the father of someone I know was killed. He recently became a grandfather, and I feel awful for the family. I may know others when the victims' names are released on Sunday (or at least I'll know someone who knows someone). We've now seen shootings with multiple casualties in places of worship such as Charleston, South Carolina and Sutherland Springs, Texas in the last few years. This is in addition to shootings at Virginia Tech, Stoneman Douglas High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, a concert in Las Vegas, an Orlando club, countless workplace shootings, and so many others. This is where I'm angry. Mass shootings happen ALL THE TIME. Outside of Pittsburgh, Saturday's shooting at Tree of Life will be likely be out of the news cycle in a few days.

After Saturday’s shooting, President Trump spoke to reporters before boarding Air Force One. As part of his remarks, he said, "If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him."

I don't swear on this blog and rarely due in person, but fuck you. Seriously, fuck you. You have no empathy whatsoever. You're blaming the victims because there wasn't an armed guard immediately after the shooting occurred. Four highly trained police officers were wounded when facing the shooter. There was certainly plenty of security in Las Vegas when over 50 people were killed at a concert. Why is it assumed that an armed guard would be successful in stopping someone with multiple guns including an automatic weapon in a surprise attack? Plus, why would we want to live in a country where we need armed guards at places of worship? Do you really want armed guards at every restaurant, grocery store, daycare, hardwood store, laundromat, etc.? Guns are definitely part of the problem. I know I've written this before, but I attended a school district that had the day off for the first day of deer hunting season. My high school also had a hugely successful rifle team. In general, I don't have an issue with guns. What I do have an issue with is the types of guns available and that we don't have laws (or enforce laws) that make it difficult for people to obtain them. Why don't we have universal background checks or require a license to own a gun? I'm really not interested in having a debate about this as mass shootings continue to happen. And if you think a good person with a gun or having armed personnel everywhere is going to solve everything, you're delusional. How many accidental deaths will there be from a "good person with a gun" shooting someone they think is a bad person with a gun? Will all of these guns be properly secured? Let's say there is someone with a gun with the intention of doing harm. If everyone has a gun, will people just start shooting anyone else with a gun thinking they are the bad guy? How will police distinguish the bad guy in this situation?

Back to the sad part. I spent Saturday with my family knowing that the shooting in Pittsburgh occurred and wanting to know more of what was going on, but I wasn't about to turn on the TV in front of the kids. How do we explain to our 7 and 4 year-old kids that there was a shooting in a synagogue? They see police at our synagogue during the High Holidays, but they don't understand why. Now, it seems like they will be there all the time. My one year old will likely always see police at synagogues. And this makes me sad. Why can't we pray and be part of a community where we don’t have to worry about our safety? Maybe I’m being na├»ve here. Something has to change. We don't need more VegasStrong or PittsburghStrong slogans.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Luigi Turns One

I haven’t really written much about our third son Luigi after he arrived home from the hospital in September 2017. He was supposed to add some additional content to Sean’s Ramblings, but he really hasn’t. No wonder television shows have babies go from newborns to walking and functioning kids so quickly. There’s only so much you can write about a baby. Let me rephrase this. There’s a lot that you can write about your first child as he or she develops, but by the third kid, it’s already been covered.

Let’s start with basics. At his one year appointment, Luigi was 20.6 pounds (25th percentile), his height was 24.1 inches (14th percentile) and his head circumference was 42.6 centimeters (85th percentile). Look at the size of that noggin!

Actually, his head looks proportional to the rest of his body, but anytime I can add a reference to So I Married An Axe Murderer, I’m going to do it.

Overall, Luigi is a pleasant kid. He sort of has to be because of how much time and attention his brothers The Moose (7) and Pedro Tulo (4) need. His favorite toys are doors, garbage cans, and especially, our cat, Ziggy. Luigi absolutely adores Ziggy and lights up when he sees him. Ziggy is quite patient with Luigi too, often allowing the child to grab him and pull his fur before walking away.

It’s been quite a year for us and Luigi. He arrived almost a month early, and despite being 6 pounds and 13 ounces, he spent the first week of his life at the NICU where he was cared for by some amazing nurses. The next few months are a blur. My wife stayed home with him until January, and I just remember shuttling the older kids back and forth to and from school and preschool. I guess I worked during this time too, and I helped out at night, so there really wasn’t much time for sleep. One night when Luigi was about a month old, I was holding him on the couch, and we both fell asleep. Somehow, I accidentally dropped him onto the carpeted floor. That obviously woke us both up and was probably the most scared I have ever been as a parent. He calmed down fairly quickly, but I was terrified that he got hurt, perhaps seriously, because of me. I read everything I could find online about dropping babies, and it helped that he had a doctor’s appointment sometime in the days after this. He was fine, but I think that may be why he didn’t like me much the first few months. Well that and that I’m not the mama.

At three months, Luigi had hernia surgery. Although the doctors said that he wasn’t in any discomfort due to the hernia prior to the surgery, I’m not so sure. He seemed like a happier baby after this. Even in the hospital, he smiled at the doctors and nurses after the surgery.

While I took time off work immediately after all three of my kids were born, I only had a week alone with both The Moose and Pedro Tulo after maternity leave ended. In January, my wife went back to work, and I planned on taking the entire month off with Luigi. It was terrific spending so much one-on-one time with him. One of my goals was to get out each day whether it was meeting a friend for lunch, running errands, or becoming mall-walkers. Nearly every weekday over a 2-week period or so, we joined retirees and other moms with young kids at the mall. Let's go to the mall!

I found that the best time to go was around 9:00, prior to the stores opening at 10. There was something comforting and fun walking around when the stores were still closed and few people there (except outside of the Apple store), yet there was a rush of employees preparing to open their stores. At one point, Luigi and I saw a few other moms with their kids in strollers meeting in the middle of the mall and exercising. It turns out that it was a group called Fit4Moms which has franchises all over the country. I was tempted to ask to join, but the fact that Moms was in the title dissuaded me. Still, Luigi and I would stroll through the mall and try to see if we could find the group. I would have conversations with Luigi asking him where they went. And then I'd ask him why there are two separate Auntie Anne's in the mall and so many places to get a haircut!

Our planned month together ended a little more than a week early when I fell and dislocated my wrist. That was a really difficult time for me. After spending so much time with Luigi, I couldn’t do anything with him before and after my surgery. With only one available hand, I couldn’t pick him up to get him in and out of the crib. I couldn’t change his diaper. While I could feed him if someone handed Luigi to me, trying to rotate him to burp was not enjoyable for either of us. So for about six weeks, I basically would try to get him to smile and lay next to him on the floor. I could still take care of the older kids, but my wife was basically on her own with Luigi.

Now, a little more than a year old, Luigi really is a happy kid. He started crawling around 9 months and he doesn’t stop moving. He hasn’t started walking yet though he’ll cruise on furniture and can walk if holding on to our hands or pushing one of his toys. Plus, he’s on pace to walk before his brothers did at around 17-18 months. Luigi eats just about anything you give him, and the transition to milk went smoothly. Now, we need him to start using cups more rather than bottles.

Luigi loves his brothers, and his brothers love him. While The Moose was all in as soon as Luigi came home, Pedro Tulo ignored Luigi for the most part until just a few months ago. Now, it’s the cutest thing to see Pedro Tulo go into Luigi’s room in the morning and say “Good morning Luigi.” Luigi always smiles at this.

A belated Happy Birthday Luigi! Now, can you please sleep in on weekends!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Sidney Crosby Is Good at Hockey (Again)

This is Crosby's game-winning overtime goal Tuesday night in Edmonton.

Same play but with different announcers.

For clarification, the "again" in the title of the post is not to suggest that Sidney Crosby was bad at hockey at any point of his NHL career. I wrote a different post titled Sidney Crosby Is Good At Hockey earlier this year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ted Mosby: Plant Shop Employee

When I lived in San Diego, I had the opportunity to see the west coast premier of Rent. This was a very big deal at the time, particularly because the cast included one Neil Patrick Harris. This show was also more than I spent for any other ticket up to that point, including those for concerts or sporting events. I don't remember much about the show, except that for much of it, I thought to myself, "Wow. Doogie Howser is singing!" or "Where did Doogie go?"

The reason I mention this is because Little Shop of Horrors is coming to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC next week and features Ted Mosby, I mean Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother.

I realize that Radnor has had numerous other acting roles, but I really only know him as Ted Mosby: Architect. If I saw Little Shop of Horrors, I'm sure that I would be in the audience thinking about how he shouldn't have ended up with Robin at the end of the show (sorry, spoiler) or wondering why he's not hanging out with Barney, Marshall, or Lily.

While NPH has clearly outgrown his Doogie Howser persona, I don't think that Ted, I mean Josh, has.

(Photo from Playbill.)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday Video: High Hopes

In 2006, Panic! at the Disco’s "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's an odd song about a couple that should or shouldn't get married because the "groom's bride is a whore" and no one can close the door. Based on the subject, I'm not sure how this got so much airplay.

The band has had plenty of success over the last decade, even receiving a Grammy nomination for a Best Rock Album, but no single has come close to matching the success of I Write Sins. That could change in the next few weeks or months with the very catchy and uplifting song, High Hopes.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sean Needs Music Help

I’m writing this blog post in 2018, not 2008 or even 2000. When it comes to music, I am a dinosaur. No, I’m not talking about the music I listen to regularly. Actually, maybe it is. I tend to listen to the radio as background noise at work. I’m not in the car much, but when I’m by myself (meaning not long family car trips where we play Magic School Bus and Curious George episodes for the kids), I generally listen to podcasts or, again, the radio.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything about my phone or computer. I got out of college before Napster got big and everyone downloaded music. I missed that wave. I never had an iPod and don’t have music on my phone or computer.* I’ve never paid to download any songs. Sure I have tapes and CDs, but I don’t think I’ve purchased a CD for myself this decade. I’m not sure I even know how to create a digital music collection. How do you get music from a CD to my phone?

(This is not a photo of me. I typed "confused" into Google Images and this iStock photo was one of the results.)

This is where I need your help. I am years behind the digital music revolution. If I save songs to my computer (which I’m not exactly sure how to do), where can I save them as a backup? Basically, where do I even start?

* Actually, I have a total of one song on my phone. The Foo Fighters released five songs available to download for free several years ago. I still have a song named Sean. What a great title for a song!

Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday Video: Superhero

I’ve shared links and videos of musician Emma G several times here and on my Facebook page. I saw her busk at my Metro station over a year ago, and she has an amazing voice singing a variety of covers as well as being a talented songwriter. I’m no Clive Davis or Quincy Jones, but I think she's going to breakout. Emma G has a new song called Superhero, and I like this description:

It's an empowering track that has both inspired audiences around the country, as well as sparked conversations through its uncompromising and in-your-face lyrics, yet also head-noddingly accessible and radio friendly sound.

See and hear it for yourself right now!

The song is available on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Bandcamp, and everywhere else you listen to music.

You can also learn more about Emma G on her website and Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Soulja Boy's Message To Phil Kessel

The 2018-2019 National Hockey League season starts tonight. To celebrate the beginning of the season, Soulja Boy shared a birthday message to American hero and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Phil Kessel. Sure he pronounced Kessel's name incorrectly, but it's the thought that counts.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Bring Back BBQ Fritos

If you watch cable news and listen to many politicians, you would think that we live in an extremely divided country. And maybe we do. However, maybe I'm an optimist and believe that we have more in common than things that divide us. People just want to be healthy and safe, want the best for our kids, and except for some folks in the northeastern part of the country, root against the New England Patriots.

Something else that bonds most Americans is our love of snacks. And that’s where we need to come together as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Green Party members, unaffiliated voters, Librarians, Mechanics, Cosmetologists, and everyone else to support an important cause.

Earlier this year, the Frito-Lay company made the tragic decision to discontinue BBQ Fritos. This is truly an outrage and injustice. I only learned about this recently when I was in a grocery store that had a buy one, get one free sale on Fritos, yet there were no BBQ Fritos to be found. I noticed that a different grocery store also had several varieties of Fritos, but there were no BBQ Fritos in sight. That’s when I started doing some research and contacted Frito-Lay. Here’s our correspondence:

Dear FritoLay,

I am a big fan of your products and eat Rold Gold pretzels probably more often than I should. At a local grocery store recently, I saw that Fritos were on sale, so I wanted to buy the BBQ flavor. While there were a half dozen different varieties of Fritos, the store didn’t carry BBQ. At a different grocery store, I also noticed that they no longer carry this flavor. Additionally, I see that this flavor is not listed on your website. Do you no longer make BBQ Fritos? If this is not the case, where can I find them?

Thank you,

The Reply:
Hi Sean,

Thanks so much for writing to us about Fritos BBQ. This variety has been a fan favorite for years, and we’re very sad to say it has been discontinued. We know that’s a big disappointment since fans like you have been looking high and low for it!

We’re sharing with our Fritos Team all the feedback we receive from our loyal, passionate fans as they may consider bringing it back in the future.

Thanks again for reaching out to us! I’m sending a coupon to you and hope one of our other snacks will satisfy your taste buds!

Best regards,

PepsiCo Consumer Relations

Sean's note: If BBQ Fritos have been a fan favorite, why discontinue it?

Tina, Thank you for your quick response. Just out of curiosity, what was the reason behind discontinuing the Fritos BBQ? Is there data available to show that this variety had poor sales in relation to other Frito Lay products? More importantly, how can I start a campaign to get Fritos BBQ back? Do you need a certain amount of tweets or signatures on a petition?

Hi Sean,

Thank you for writing again. I appreciate the turn around. All we know, is what's been shared before.

We are sharing feedback as we are receiving contact detail. Who's to say what the future will bring?

The executives know how loyal consumers feel, we are ourselves Frito-Lay fans.

I cannot encourage anyone to spend time on a campaign for the return of a specific snack.

Thanks again for reaching out to us! We value your loyalty and truly appreciate your business.

Best regards,

I was prepared to start an online campaign, but it looks like two people already introduced petitions. Please sign these petitions and contact the Frito-Lay company to let them know that you want, no DEMAND, the return of BBQ Fritos.

Might as while call your Senator and member of Congress on this too. They probably don’t have much going on! And this is something both sides can agree on to help the country.

Let's do this. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

(Again the petitions are available here and here.)

Monday, October 01, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh Meets Jules Winnfield

Sean’s Ramblings is generally a light-hearted blog, and I try to inject some humor in most of the posts. Sure, I may be the only person who finds some of my posts funny, but after 13+ years, I haven’t been canceled yet. (Just checking...can a blog get cancelled? And if I do get cancelled, can WordPress or another platform pick me up?) With that written, it’s difficult to find any humor in last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. It was riveting television, filled with drama and tension, and terrific product placement by Coca-Cola.

See, I was able to find something funny here. Someone else also found something funny, and mixed together Kavanaugh’s testimony with Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, from Pulp Fiction. (The video is NSFW due to language.)

Completely off topic, why did the Senate go away from 60 votes to appoint a Supreme Court Justice? You get way more partisan candidates when only a majority is needed.