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Zachary Klein
Author of Matt Jacob Novels

Illegitimi non carborundum


It’s right before the quarter-finals of the World Cup and I’m shaking my head while staring at the remaining teams. Most of the time, it’s pretty easy to be a sports fan. People I know generally root for their hometown teams past or present—sometimes both. Those are almost always long-term relationships that usually last a lifetime whether the team does well or, in the case of the hapless and hopeless, Chicago Cubs’ fans—need I say more?

World Cup soccer isn’t as simple. I’m a sports fan and where I do appreciate the beauty of play, I gotta root for someone. That’s the fun. When I’ve got no personal loyalty I usually find out who the underdog is and take its back. I just can’t imagine being neutral watching sports. I’ve never watched any game as a dispassionate observer.

This isn’t my first head shake since the tournament began. We’re talking country against country here, which trumps my underdog fallback policy. Most Americans who follow the Cup simply root for the US unless they had a different country of origin. Even then I’d guess most root for both. And while I love a whole lot of stuff about this country, it’s too difficult to tease out my nation’s team from the horror our government (both Republican and Democrat) has inflicted upon the Iraqis, Afghans, and every country against which it has waged outright and covert war since World War Two.

Yeah, I’m the same guy who has argued it’s okay to separate a person’s achievements from his or her personal life. Never had a problem enjoying Picasso paintings despite his misogyny. Or laughing out loud during Woody Allen films despite his controversial marriage. So why not do the same thing here?

Because I just couldn’t. I know the team had no hand in our ugly. But I still couldn’t stop cringing every time I heard the chant, “USA! USA! USA!

Since I was watching a lot of Cup games and gotta root, I began my quest to find a country in each match to support. And, while I have no doubt that Mexico’s corrupt government has committed egregious acts of injustice and violence, I’d just spent a terrific couple of weeks there (see my last two posts). Hypocritical perhaps, but that experience allowed me to inexplicably push their crimes out of my mind and cheer. I had a team. For a little while, anyway. Unfortunately they didn’t get out of the Round of 16, but I did and wasn’t done with the Cup.

So, as I write this, I’m left with the following teams to root for: Brazil, that spent billions to host the tournament while just out of sight from tourists there are people who live in shacks without running water and about 15% of the country’s deaths are due to transportation accidents, violence, or suicide.

Gonna pass on Brazil.

And so it goes. No full face public burkas in France despite a Social Democratic government. Germany, well, I have historical problems there. Argentina, whose government slaughtered 15,000 to 30,000 political dissidents including trade unionists, students, and journalists in its “Dirty War” (Guerra Sucia).

I don’t think so.

That leaves me Columbia, Netherlands, Belgium, and Costa Rica.

I could probably find historical or contemporary fault with each of these countries but I have a personal connection with one. My older son Matthew spent a high-school summer with a Costa Rican family learning Spanish. Plus, Costa Rica has no military. So, for the time being (at least until they play the Netherlands, the clear cut favorite) I have an underdog team to root for.

Ain’t I the lucky one?

Truth is, I’ve learned something important writing this. There was a guy, a regular customer in my father’s tavern, who had a jones for betting on horses. His method?  Spread The Racing Form on the bar in front of him, take a needle, close his eyes, and dot the day’s races with pinpricks. He’d note the horses he’d hit, go to the telephone booth and call his bookie. I could do the same with the world map and find that every country I touched would leave me feeling sick. Some more than others, but very few without some quease. Even the ones I’ve never heard of.

Maybe that USA chant isn’t as bad as I first thought.

“This may not be the best of all possible worlds, but to say that it is the worst is mere petulant nonsense.” Thomas Henry Huxley

City of Light

(Thank you, Sherri Frank Mazzotta for stepping in while I practiced for my music recital. Greatly appreciated!!)

This is the “City of Light,” the “most romantic city in the world.” But we may never see any of it if we can’t get out of the airport. First, we have to figure out how to buy train tickets from the ticket machines. We’re tired and cranky from the overnight flight. Hungry. And just want to get to our hotel. This is how our vacation begins.

The lines for the machines are long, and the instructions written only in French. When it’s our turn to insert a credit card, the machine advises us to do two things, neither of which we can understand. There are no staff to assist; no strangers willing to interpret. We push buttons, move levers, but no tickets appear. With the crowd seething behind us, we finally move to a longer line—to buy tickets from an agent at a window.

“Let’s just take a taxi,” he says.

But I shake my head. “The traffic in Paris is horrible. It’ll take us twice as long.”

“I don’t care.”

I say, “No.”

He looks angry, and I pretend not to notice.

We buy our tickets, ride the train into downtown, and finally arrive at our hotel.

It’s a beautiful building on the Left Bank. Our room is on the top floor overlooking shops and cobblestone streets. I’m eager to shower, find food, and explore the city. I’d been here years ago in my 20s and was excited to be back. But he’s talking about a nap and taking our time and it’s all I can do not to scream.

This is our vacation, after all, and we’re supposed to be having fun.

It’s late afternoon by the time we get outside again, and hotter than it should be in September. We’re still in a haze from jet lag, making our way through thick crowds of people. The sun seems too bright; the cars move too quickly on the narrow streets. We pass cafés and tabacs and creperies, but can’t decide where to eat. We’re timid; dizzy with hunger, but daunted by the chalkboard menus scribbled with words I’d never learned in high school French classes. When we finally choose a café and order food, it’s a relief. But the food is mediocre, unsatisfying, and I somehow feel defeated.

Afterwards, we take a cruise down the Seine on a bâteaux-mouches. Quietly, we study the monuments and museums along the quays of the winding green river. A woman approaches us with an armful of roses. She nods at the flowers, then at us, but my companion tells her “no.” She looks at me with pity.

We disembark from the boat but walk in the wrong direction. Turning a corner, we end up near a stone wall where a woman sits astride a man, kissing him passionately. I smile, it’s so quintessentially French; so perfectly clichéd. Still, I’m embarrassed. Envious. I think, this is what we’re supposed to be feeling in Paris, isn’t it? But I know that’s just a romantic fantasy; no more real than Doisneau’s famous photo of a couple kissing. As the sun sets, we head back to our room, too tired to do more. It’s only our first night, I think. We have time.

We sleep nearly nine hours and wake up feeling energized. We tour the Cathedral Notre Dame. Browse books in the stalls along the Seine. Walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. Our dinner that night is decadent, delicious. We leave the restaurant feeling woozy and relaxed. We’d had a good day.

We have other good days, too. But by mid-week, he realizes he’s getting sick. We can’t find a drugstore or anything even close to Nyquil. He gets grumbly. I feel annoyed that he’s sick, and then guilty for being annoyed.

Still, we head out to the Louvre with thousands of other people to stare at a surprisingly small Mona Lisa. We search for Jim Morrison’s grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery. Eat éclairs at a patisserie. We end each night early, heading back to our hotel to read in bed. Part of me is disappointed, because I’d hoped we’d be out at wine bars or the Moulin Rouge. Though I tell myself it’s because he’s not feeling well, I know it’s something more: Somehow, over the years, we’d lost our sense of adventure.

As the week goes on, things get worse. He doesn’t like the Metro, doesn’t feel safe on it, and wants to take taxis everywhere. This infuriates me more than it should.

We used to travel well together, and I don’t know when that changed; when this low-grade irritation began to buzz inside my head, inside my heart. Not just while we were on vacation, but most of the time. I’m not enjoying myself, I realize. And neither is he.

Our fury comes to a head at the Eiffel Tower, when I want to wait in line to see the view from up above, and he doesn’t.

“Can you wait down here?” I ask. “Or back at the hotel?” 

Instead, he begrudgingly gets in line with me. It’s humid. The line is long and moving slowly. I try to make jokes, to point out interesting things about the Tower, but he’s silent and miserable. It starts to rain, and we don’t have an umbrella.

“This sucks,” he says, “I don’t want to do this.”

“Go back to the hotel,” I say again. But he won’t.

We press into the elevator with what seems like hundreds of people, and it takes us to the first level of the Tower. It’s cloudy and difficult to see—though I’m no longer excited to see anything. Couples hold hands and wrap arms around each other. Kids smile as they peer out into the distance. There’s barely room to stand. I look at him, but he refuses to look back.

Afterwards, it takes an hour to return to our hotel. Now that it’s over he’s talking again, thinking about dinner. But I’m worn out; choked with unspoken anger. This is our vacation, after all, and we’re supposed to be having fun.

Days later, we head back to the States. I stare out the window as our plane lifts off, relieved but saddened by the undeniable truth that nothing lasts forever.

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”


It’s been more than a week since the horrific events of Sandy Hook. Much has been written, statistics have been flying, but there actually seems to be a new openness to at least placing the issue of firearm ownership on the table. The following are two statements representing two takes on firearm ownership and a few recommended starting points that might bridge some gaps between people on all sides of the issue—or not.

MICHAEL MOORE: (An interview on )

“A few hours before Connecticut, an elementary school was attacked in China by an insane man, and 22 children were his victims. But all he had was a knife. Total number of dead in the Chinese elementary school? Zero.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to just say a few words about what happened today, (Note, the day of the Sandy Hook mass murder–Zach) because I’ve been concerned about this issue for a long time. Yes, we need more gun control. Yes, we need free mental health services in this country. But I really believe that even if we had better gun control laws and better mental health, that we would still be the sort of sick and twisted, violent people that we’ve been for hundreds of years, that it’s something that’s just in our craw, just in our DNA. And to get that out of our DNA is going to take a lot more than passing a bill in Albany or D.C. That’s not going to do it.

And, you know, other countries, I mean, they have their crazy people, and they have people that—there have been shootings and killings in Norway, in France and in Germany. But there haven’t been 61 mass killings like there have been in this country just since Columbine. Sixty-one mass shootings in this country. I like to say that I sort of agree with the NRA when they say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” except I would just modify that a bit and say, “Guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people,” because that’s what we do. We invade countries. We send drones in to kill civilians. We’ve got five wars going on right now where our soldiers are killing people—I mean, five that we know of. We are on the short list of illustrious countries who have the death penalty. We believe it’s OK to kill you when you’ve committed a crime.

And then we have all the other forms of violence in this country that we don’t really call violence, but they are acts of violence. When you—when you make sure that 50 million people don’t have health insurance in your country and that, according to the congressional study that was done, 44,000 people a year die in America for the simple reason that they don’t have health insurance, that’s a form of murder. That murder is being committed by the insurance companies. When you evict millions of peoples—millions of people from their homes, that’s an act of violence. That’s called a home invasion.

All the wrong people are in prison in this country. I can’t believe we’re just standing blocks away from the biggest criminal operation that this country has ever seen, right down that street, (Note: I believe he is referring to Wall St.—Zach) and not one of them has gone to prison for what they’ve done. When you have eliminated so many millions of jobs, when you’ve ruined communities like mine, Flint, Michigan, you have killed people, because—because having seen firsthand the effects of these corporate decisions—the alcoholism, the drug abuse, divorce, suicide, all the social problems that go along with this act of violence—but we don’t call it violence, and no one’s ever arrested for it—I think it’s a real shame. And frankly, as an American, this is not how I want to be remembered.”

Wayne LaPierre: the National Rifle Association executive vice president’s news conference on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 in Washington. (For the length’s sake I’ve tried to excerpt his most salient points.  For the entire transcript please see: )

“The National Rifle Association’s 4 million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters join the nation in horror, outrage, grief and earnest prayer for the families of Newtown, Connecticut…

Out of respect for those grieving families, and until the facts are known, the NRA has refrained from comment. While some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectfully silent.

Now, we must speak … for the safety of our nation’s children. …no one — nobody — has addressed the most important, pressing and immediate question we face: How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?

…Politicians pass laws for Gun-Free School Zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them.

And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.

How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses — even sports stadiums — are all protected by armed security.

We care about the President, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by armed Capitol Police officers.

Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!

The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day…

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?

A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?

And the fact is, that wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.

So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years…

And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.

Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it?

Then there’s the blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it “entertainment.”

But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?

In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.

A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. (I assume he’s talking about game players and movie watchers—Zach)

And throughout it all, too many in our national media … their corporate owners … and their stockholders … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.

The media call semi-automatic firearms “machine guns” — they claim these civilian semi-automatic firearms are used by the military, and they tell us that the .223 round is one of the most powerful rifle calibers … when all of these claims are factually untrue. They don’t know what they’re talking about!

Worse, they perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban — or one more law imposed on peaceful, lawful people — will protect us where 20,000 others have failed!…

…It is now time for us to assume responsibility for their (our children’s) safety at school. The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away … or a minute away?

Now, I can imagine the shocking headlines you’ll print tomorrow morning: “More guns,” you’ll claim, “are the NRA’s answer to everything!” Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools. But since when did the word “gun” automatically become a bad word?…

So why is the idea of a gun good when it’s used to protect our President or our country or our police, but bad when it’s used to protect our children in their schools?

…You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. But what if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he had been confronted by qualified, armed security?…

Is the press and political class here in Washington so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and America’s gun owners that you’re willing to accept a world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life to shield the children in her care? No one — regardless of personal political prejudice — has the right to impose that sacrifice.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children. But do know this President zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped “Secure Our Schools” policing grants in next year’s budget.

With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school? Even if they did that, politicians have no business — and no authority — denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.

Now, the National Rifle Association knows that there are millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America’s schools safer — relying on the brave men and women of America’s police force…

I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January…

Right now, today, every school in the United States should plan meetings with parents, school administrators, teachers and local authorities — and draw upon every resource available — to erect a cordon of protection around our kids right now. Every school will have a different solution based on its own unique situation.

Every school in America needs to immediately identify, dedicate and deploy the resources necessary to put these security forces in place right now…

The NRA is going to bring all of its knowledge, dedication and resources to develop a model National School Shield Emergency Response Program for every school that wants it. From armed security to building design and access control to information technology to student and teacher training, this multi-faceted program will be developed by the very best experts in their fields…

If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained — armed — good guy.

…our team of security experts will make this the best program in the world for protecting our children at school, and we will make that program available to every school in America free of charge…

There’ll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action…”


The interesting overlap of both statements is their agreement—consciously or not—that there are significant issues about the undercurrent of our culture. Worth considering before judgements.

I think the idea of trying to outlaw as many firearms as possible is a waste of time because it just ain’t gonna happen. I do believe restrictions on automatic and semi-automatic weapons are possible and ought to be implemented. And while I believe that Moore has it basically correct (no surprise that), I would stress the following reforms as well.

1. Point of sale background checks in real time that includes gun shows, mail orders, and the elimination of any “secondary” market that can not or will not adhere to all these reforms.  That is, individuals who sell guns to another person without that person’s compliance with licensing laws.

2. A three day wait to receive a firearm for all first time purchasers regardless of a clean background check.

3. Passing a gun safety test before the purchase of any firearm.

4. Passing a marksmanship test before the purchase of any firearm.

5. Passing a psychological exam before the purchase of any firearm.

6. Serious prison time for “straws.”  (Those who are qualified to purchase guns and do so for another who may or not be qualified.)

7. Regulation of firearm production.

Finally, the past ten days have somehow placed the issue of prioritizing mental health against firearm ownership as if the two were somehow contradictory. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. From where I sit tackling each concern—especially if it results in meaningful reforms of both—is an absolute win-win.

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.” ~Audre Lorde