The American Individualist

Friday, April 06, 2007

Awarded for my court report

I was recently awarded 3rd place for coverage of crime/police/courts in Division III of the New York Press Association’s 2006 Better Newspaper Contest. Here is the article that earned me the award:

Jeannot gets life without parole
Murder victim's family say prayers were answered

By Joseph Kellard
October 2006

Perhaps no statement encapsulated both the brutality of her son's murder and the deep pain she and her family feel than the one Kathy Calabrese read to Judge Meryl Berkowitz while her son¹s killer, Herve Jeannot, sat nearby, awaiting his sentencing.

Noting that the bullet wounds her son, Robert Calabrese Jr., sustained to his head left the family no choice but to have a closed-casket funeral, Kathy leaned on the podium and, fighting back tears, cried, "I couldn't even see my son after he died. I couldn't even kiss him, I couldn't even touch him."

Calabrese, 24, a Long Beach native, was Kathy and Robert Calabrese's oldest son, brother to Gina Cuenza, 28, and Chris and Nick Calabrese, 23 and 20. Only Nick was absent from the Mineola courtroom on Nov. 1 when family members asked Berkowitz to give Jeannot -- convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in August -- the maximum penalty. Berkowitz sentenced the 25-year-old Deer Park man to life in prison without parole for his execution-style shooting of Calabrese in Island Park in December 2004.

As each member of the Calabrese family read an emotional statement, Jeannot, an ex-Marine dressed in a black suit and blue collared shirt and tie, sat motionless, staring straight ahead.

Robert Calabrese Sr., noting that "Bobby" loved to laugh and play practical jokes, stressed the numbness and pain his family has suffered since his son's murder. "Today, in my house," he told Berkowitz, "laughter is the exception, not the rule."

A boy who grew up playing football and baseball, Robert Jr. made many friends with his generous demeanor. He saved birds with broken wings and captured flies in cups to set them free outside, his sister once noted.

Wearing a gold crucifix over a brown sweater, Cuenza asked Berkowitz to consider, above all, the emotional impact her brother's murder has had on her family, described as painful and disastrous. "When we're not crying on the outside, we are crying and sick inside," she said, calling Jeannot "downright evil."

"None of my children have that sparkle in their smile anymore," Kathy
said as friends and family members cried.

Before making her statement, Kathy read another prepared by Nick. “I'm weak, emotionally unstable and messed up,” he wrote. “I'm at the lowest point in my life, and I don't think it's going to get any easier ... I don't want to live anymore.”

Nick and Chris both idolized their older brother, a champion wrestler at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale who transferred to Long Beach High, where he graduated in 1998. After working at various jobs, Robert was planning to take the police test to become an officer and follow the path of his father, a retired officer with the Long Beach Police Department. He was murdered the day before the test.

Jeannot's family sat silently in the courtroom, his parents wearing blank expressions. After Jeannot declined to speak, Berkowitz mentioned the many letters she had received from his family and friends, who pleaded for compassion and leniency.

The judge drew parallels between the victim and his murderer, including their similar age, good looks and families who loved them. "But on Dec. 3, 2004," Berkowitz said, "Jeannot chose to turn his back on the love his family gave him." Instead, she said, he turned to Mark Orlando.

Orlando, 36, of Bayshore, worked with Jeannot at Professional Credit Services, a Farmingdale collection agency where the two accomplices were arrested and charged with Calabrese's murder on Dec. 9, 2004.

During their trials -- three for Jeannot and one for Orlando -- prosecutors argued that Calabrese, a Garden City mortgage broker, placed bets for them on sports events in the fall of 2004, and Orlando accumulated a $17,000 debt and Jeannot $1,000.

That Dec. 3, Orlando called Calabrese to request a meeting in Island Park under the pretense that he would pay him his debt. At around 8:30 p.m., prosecutors said, Orlando lured Calabrese away from heavily traveled Austin Boulevard behind stores on Broadway.

Once there, Calabrese got out of his 2003 Infiniti and approached Orlando, believing he was to receive a payment. The two men hugged and, prosecutors said, Orlando grabbed the victim's shirt and yanked it over his head to immobilize him for Jeannot, who emerged from a hiding spot, came up behind Calabrese and shot him in the back of the head with a .44-caliber Magnum revolver. After Calabrese hit the ground, Jeannot shot him twice more in the head, and the two men fled in Orlando's car, according to the prosecution.

Soon afterward, residents who had heard the gunfire found Calabrese lying face down in the street.

During Jeannot's trials, his lawyer, Daniel Hochheiser of Manhattan, argued that his client was merely a witness to the crime and failed to report the murder for fear that Orlando would harm him and his family, and that police coerced a confession from Jeannot.

Jeannot confessed that Orlando paid him $4,000 to kill Calabrese, and he said he tossed the murder weapon off the Sloop Channel Bridge. The Marine Bureau recovered the gun, and police found the cash in Jeannot’s bedroom closet.

At his first trial in September 2005, a jury deliberated for 71 hours and was deadlocked in a 10-2 vote to convict before Judge David Sullivan declared a mistrial. In February 2006, Jeannot's second trial failed to yield a verdict, only this time the jury voted 11-1 not to convict. "At that point, we all questioned whether justice would be done," Robert Sr. said.

Jeannot's third trial, this summer, lasted more than four weeks. After deliberating for less than four hours, the jury convicted him on Aug. 11.

For Chris Calabrese, the most difficult part of all the trials was listening to the presentation of evidence. "Just hearing some of the physical evidence of how my brother died was hard," said Chris, who told Berkowitz his brother was caring, intelligent and loved life.

During Orlando's trial in June 2005, his attorney, Dennis Lemke of Mineola, argued that Orlando was unaware that Jeannot planned to shoot Calabrese, and he never called police about the murder because Jeannot had threatened to kill him and his wife if he revealed the crime. Orlando was convicted of second-degree murder in June 2005, and two months later he received the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

Jeannot's lawyer at his sentencing, William Aronwald of White Plains, asked the judge to give Jeannot the same sentence, arguing that Orlando had the relationship with Calabrese and that Jeannot was merely the hired gunman. "Consider the fact that Mark Orlando is the one who actually made the plans to kill him," Aronwald said.

"Murder for hire certainly deserves life without parole," Sheryl
Anania, executive assistant district attorney for litigation, argued.

Berkowitz told Jeannot that if he had only asked for $50 each from all the people who wrote her letters, he could have paid off his debt. But the judge stressed that she thought his motives ran deeper than money. "I believe this was a cold-blooded murder to impress Orlando," Berkowitz said.

Robert Calabrese Sr. told Berkowitz that, since New York state is without the death penalty, "[Jeannot] deserves every year, every month, every day, every minute, every second of his sentence," stressing each unit of time with a raised voice. As he finished speaking, he shot a stare at Jeannot. "Remember," he said, "there will always be a Calabrese waiting to prevent you from getting out."

When Berkowitz announced the sentence, the Calabreses shouted with joy and applauded briefly. Jeannot's family sat dazed, and then some began to cry as court officers took him away in handcuffs. The Jeannots left the courthouse without comment.

Outside the courtroom, hugging relatives and friends, Kathy Calabrese and her daughter said that their prayers were answered, and Robert Sr. expressed relief that he no longer had to come to court.

Chris, who had asked Berkowitz to sentence Jeannot to an upstate prison, not the county's "country club" prison, said he wanted Jeannot to serve his sentence far away from his family and know the real meaning of hard time. "I'm just happy to know," Chris said, "that he¹s going to be treated like a girl the rest of his life."

Comments about this article? Email Joseph Kellard at

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Prepping for the big game

From TV sales to ocean swims, Super Bowl is big business

By Joseph Kellard
January 30, 2007

Each football season, Jeff Rosenthal roots for the New York Jets and Giants to earn Super Bowl berths. The co-owner of Home Appliance TV & Video in Oceanside is a fan of neither team, but wants them in the game because he knows that would boost his business.

Unfortunately for Rosenthal, the Chicago Bears will line up against the Indianapolis Colts in Miami in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday. Nonetheless, the Super Bowl is the most watched one-day event each year, viewed by up to 140 million Americans -- which means television sales typically peak during the weeks leading up to the game, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

At Home Appliance, sales of HD and plasma televisions usually jump 20 percent, and even more if a New York team is playing. “Sales were off the wall when the Giants made it to the Super Bowl back in 2001,” Rosenthal said. “It depends a lot on how much people care about the game, but even if people don’t like the sport, for some reason they want to have a party and bring people to their house.”

The Super Bowl’s immense popularity has made it not only a money-maker for many businesses, but a reason for almost any kind of celebration. Many Americans treat the day as a holiday, gathering with family and friends. The Super Bowl generates the highest Nielsen ratings and thus greater TV sales for appliance stores, and since game day is second only to Thanksgiving in single-day food consumption, it fires up the food industry.

Just ask Franco Abballe, who is in the business of selling some of Super Bowl Sunday’s staple grub: pizza, chicken wings, burgers and soda. “Super Bowl Sunday is one of our earmarked days of the year,” said Abballe, owner of Cinelli’s Pizza & Grill on Davison Avenue in Oceanside. On a typical Sunday, Cinelli’s sells an average of 50 pizzas; on Super Sunday that total rises as high as 125. Except for what he described as “the king of all days.” Good Friday at his Cinelli’s location in Franklin Square, a heavily catholic area -- Abballe said, “Super Bowl Sunday is up there with New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day, which are monster take-out days.”

Lance Denni, a co-owner of Lawson Deli in Oceanside, said that on Super Sunday his shop produces about 200 feet of heroes, doubling the average for other big days and events like Christmas, christenings and confirmations.”Of course, if a New York team is in it, it’s always best,” Denni said, echoing Rosenthal. “One of our biggest days was when the Giants were in it a few years ago.”

Stop & Shop is seeing increasing annual sales for Super Bowl-related items, said Rob Kean, a spokesman for the supermarket chain. And in addition to the traditional foods the chain sells, such as snacks, Kean noted that newer items include Super Bowl-themed cakes and shrimp platters.

”In many ways this is one of our biggest weeks of the year,” Kean said. “The demand for certain items is almost like a holiday rush for us.”

While restaurant-bars also rake in the big bucks -- as places like Churchill’s in Rockville Centre fill up with patrons who pay $50 to eat and drink all they can, and where some gambling pools promise winners pots of tens of thousands of dollars -- Super Sunday remains the top at-home party event of the year, even bigger than New Year’s Eve, attracting an average of 17 people per party, according to Hallmark Cards Inc.

Nancy and Gerard Achstatter and their three college- and high school-aged children throw an annual Super Bowl bash that involves up to 20 friends. A family of Jets fans, the Achstatters serve everything from nachos and chili to cakes and cookies, and look forward to each Super Bowl even if their team hasn’t earned a trip to one since 1969.

“It’s a nice chance after the holidays and when it’s cold to root for a team, even if it’s not your team,” said Nancy, who in high school was a sideline baton-twirler for the Jets.

The Achstatters’ main guests are fellow Oceansiders Bob and Betsy Transom, who can be counted among those who aren’t necessarily football fans but gather at Super Bowl parties for the companionship. But Betsy is quick to point out that things have changed this season. “I started watching football because of my son, Craig, and I was really into the games this year, and I even watched the playoffs,” she said. “But even before this, watching the Super Bowl is like the ‘American Idol’ phenomenon, in that you’re all hooked into the same live event. It makes you feel very connected.”

On the morning of the big game, the Achstatters and Transoms can be found at the Oceanside Kiwanis Club¹s annual Super Bowl pancake breakfast at St. Anthony’s Church on Anchor Avenue. The breakfast illustrates an event that attracts patrons who may not care about football, but who nevertheless celebrate the day nonetheless. Each year hundreds of children and adults crowd St. Anthony’s cafeteria to get their fill of pancakes, eggs, sausage, bagels, orange juice and other fixings and to play games. Recognizing all this, the Oceanside Kiwanians keep using the day for their primary fund-raiser.

“The Super Bowl has become like a national holiday,” said Betsy Transom, whose husband is a past president of Oceanside Kiwanis. “And with the pancake breakfast, we’ve developed quite a following, and people look for it every year.”

The breakfast, which began in the early 1990s at Terrell Firehouse in northwest Oceanside, raised enough funds to send as many as three poorer children to Kamp Kiwanis upstate each summer. But it has grown so much that Kiwanis not only sends more than 30 kids on this trip, but they also fully outfit and equip them.

“It’s unbelievable how big it’s gotten,” said Cy Lishnoff, a past district president of Kiwanis who remembers the first breakfast at the firehouse. “It’s at the point now where a number of people tell me, ‘You don’t have to tell me about it, I come every year.”

That morning, another growing tradition, begun by a native of Oceanside, takes place in Long Beach. The polar bear swim is the brainchild of Peter Meyers, who first took a dip in the city’s frigid ocean with a friend on Super Sunday 10 years ago. The following year, 18 people joined them, and the polar bear population grew each January -- considerably so after 2000.

That year, Meyers, a boys’ basketball coach, made the event a fund-raiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation after one of his players had died. Through sales of sweatshirts and donations, they raised $7,000 to go toward granting sick children their wishes.

“Since it’s on Super Bowl Sunday,” Meyers explained, “everyone is in such a festive and giving mood that we have people who come up to us and say, ‘You know what, I was going to bet $100 on the Super Bowl, but I’d rather give it to a kid who needs a wish.”

Last year, the swim attracted some 3,000 participants and raised $190,000. All told, Meyers and Make-A-Wish have generated $400,000 and helped 50 children. “It’s a beach party in February,” said Meyers, who catches the big game at the local VFW with fellow polar bears. “You go in the water a thousand times in the summer, but if you go in this one time on Super Bowl Sunday, everybody talks about it for a long time.”

Copyright © 2007 Joseph Kellard.

Is “Johnny U” for you?

By Joseph Kellard
January 31, 2007

On Super Bowl Sunday, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts will once again don the same white helmet with blue horseshoes that another star quarterback wore in a championship game nearly 50 years ago. I draw this timely parallel simply to recommend a biography that matches its hype, but for reasons other than those made on the Mike & the Mad Dog radio show on WFAN (AM 660) or in Commentary magazine.

“Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas,” by Tom Callahan, is a conversational-style account of the legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback. The book is based on interviews with Unitas’s teammates, opponents, friends and relatives, and captures the essence of a man many consider the greatest to ever play his position.

Sports fans or anyone eager to read about an admirable individual should read “Johnny U,” if only to observe examples of his famous “cool,” both on the field and off, and particularly while under pressure -- a product of his quiet confidence. One of the Hall of Famer¹s college coaches from Louisville, a team that fell to 1-8 one season, said of him: “Losing didn’t kill his self-confidence … He was the most confident person -- confident in his own ability -- that I ever met, that I think anyone ever met.”

In part, Unitas’s abilities were grew out of his dedication to the game, a quality Callahan highlights in his biography. “Every week, John sat and watched both [televised games: the Bears and the Browns],” a Louisville teammate recalled. “‘C’mon, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go out, I’d say. ‘No, I have to see the games.’ ‘You mean to tell me that after practicing all week, after sitting through all the meetings, after playing every single down of every single game, you still haven’t had enough football?’ ‘Nope.’ None of the rest of us knew exactly what we wanted to be. He did.”

Unitas’s renowned work ethic was embodied best in his relationship with his top receiver, Raymond Berry. The duo routinely worked together even after team practices on mastering their pass-and-catch precision and on two-minute drills that proved invaluable in big spots.

“Johnny U” also shines a light on both Unitas’s exceptional football smarts and leadership, exemplified by an ability to tap his vast memory bank to call plays on his own like no other quarterback before him.

“You couldn’t outthink Unitas,” New York Giants defenseman Sam Huff said. “When you thought run, he passed. When you thought pass, he ran. When you thought conventional, he was unconventional. When you tried thinking in reverse, he double-reversed. It made me dizzy ... We were one of the greatest defensive teams ever put together ... But we didn¹t have a defense for Unitas.”

One critique of “Johnny U” I encountered is that Callahan failed to dig deeper and answer more questions about his private and family life. Certainly another outstanding biography, “When Pride Still Mattered,” David Maraniss’s take on legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, is heavy on such details. Yet that book still managed to detour from a road most modern biographers like to travel. A road on which all sorts of non-essential, often unsubstantiated claims about a subject are made and blow up in an alleged attempt to make the subject more “human,” or the biography more “balanced.” But dig deeper into the biographer¹s motives and you’ll likely find he was determined to fit feet of clay on his admirable or heroic subject.

Instead, Callahan opted to focus on what is most relevant about any individual’s life: his productive abilities, his work, his profession. These values primarily give life its purpose, and, above all else, reveal a man’s core. In “Johnny U,” Callahan shows us a man who essentially loved his work and performed it exceedingly well and with shining confidence, particularly on the grandest stages.

In 1958, Unitas and the Colts defeated Huff and the Giants in the NFL championship, later dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” In this classic, first-ever overtime battle, Unitas commanded a two-minute, game-tying march downfield and an 80-yard, game-winning drive that became signature innovations of his quarterbacking. The game generated unprecedented television ratings that catapulted the pro game in popularity on a par with Major League Baseball.

Immediately after winning his first pro championship, Unitas simply
turned and walked off the field. “You weren’t going to see him jump up and down,” said one teammate. “He didn’t have to do that. It was one of the best things about him.”

Copyright © 2007 Joseph Kellard.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Empire Zone is another Band Aid

By Joseph Kellard
January 15, 2007

Air Stream, the Oceanside-based food corporation, will likely receive Empire Zone status and thus be eligible for many tax incentives.

I certainly champion tax cuts and breaks, primarily since this means
productive individuals get to keep the money they’ve earned, rather than have bureaucrats confiscate it from them under threat of jail time.

But the need for the Empire Zone to keep companies from relocating points to a much larger problem, to which this tax program is merely a Band Aid. Looked at in the long-term, tax cuts alone simply shift their recipients’ tax burden to other individuals. The state may reimburse local municipalities for lost tax revenue due to the cuts, but those reimbursement dollars are also taken from taxpayers. So in the long term, tax cuts without commensurable or greater spending cuts --particularly to major, enormously costly government-run programs such as Medicaid/Medicare and Social Security -- are ultimately counterproductive.

Yet instead of demanding cuts in spending for these ever-expanding social programs, some people call for greater taxation, particularly for the wealthy, who nevertheless bear the greatest burden due, in part, to “progressive” income taxes.

People opposed to the Empire Zone, which aims to lessen the tax burden on businesses rather than have them move to tax-friendlier areas, are like those who complain about U.S. companies that incorporate or put their income in foreign lands with few or no specific taxes. While some paint these companies as “unpatriotic,” the reality is that they act in the same spirit as America's original patriots.

A few years ago, Stanley Works, a Connecticut tool maker, and Ingersoll-Rand, a New Jersey industrial manufacturer, proposed to move to Bermuda, partly because the island has no income tax. With this move, Stanley Works expected to cut corporate taxes annually from about $110 million to $80 million; Ingersoll-Rand from about $155 million to under $115 million.

What the most productive companies do with their tax savings is save or invest most of them to expand their existing businesses or create new ones. This translates, properly, into greater profits for them, and greater products and services, more jobs and better earnings for others.

Yet representative Charles Rangel of New York had denounced these practices. "Some companies flying the Stars and Stripes renounce America when it comes to paying their taxes,” he said. “They choose profits over patriotism. But supporting America is more than about waving the flag and saluting -- it's about sharing the sacrifice."

Translation: companies seeking a "tax haven" -- i.e., greater economic freedom, overseas to make and keep their money, are essentially unpatriotic; so government must eliminate these freedoms, shackle the self-interests of individuals and force them to sacrifice to pay their “fair share.”

But to suggest that Americans who use available freedoms to avoid (not “evade”) more burdensome taxes aren’t paying their “fair share,” is to say that they are being unfair about allowing politicians like Rangel to continue to increasingly pick their pockets.

A patriotic politician wouldn’t demand the injustice that some Americans, because they earn more money, should be taxed at a higher rate than lesser wage-earners. If fairness is their concern, then the Rangels in government should nix the progressive income tax and have everyone, rich and poor, pay taxes at equal rates.

A patriotic politician wouldn’t enact laws to eliminate the freedoms provided by tax havens. Instead, he would champion these as legitimate means for all Americans to protect their property from bureaucrats’ confiscatory hands -- property they have a right to selfishly pursue, keep and spend as they see fit.

A patriotic politician would assert loudly that taxes are too high for all Americans, and that the U.S. tax system is progressively tightening its stranglehold on them. And a patriotic politician -- whether a Democrat or Republican -- would find the courage to cut or phase out government spending on major redistributive programs, like Medicare and Social Security, our nation’s middle class entitlements, which alone would provide substantive, substantial tax deductions for all.

Yet politicians like Rangel not only won¹t cut spending, they focus on ways to continue hiking them while creating diversions. One such diversion is to paint companies that seek tax breaks overseas as "unpatriotic” – all the while evading how our nation was founded by tax revolters.

America's original patriots defied Britain's heavy taxation, exemplified by their revolts against the Stamp and Townshend acts, and by signing the Declaration of Independence, which charged that among King George III's "repeated injuries and usurpations" was his "imposing taxes on us, without our consent."

Because Bermuda's tax system reflects what America's once was -- before the income tax became a fixture after 1913 -- companies like Stanley Works and Ingersoll-Rand are brothers-in-arms with our nation's original patriots. Their relocation to tax-friendly foreign lands represents their Boston Tea Party.

Meanwhile, many small home owners to corporations move from states with heavy taxation, like New York, to states with comparatively less burdensome taxes, like North Carolina. According to Rangel's illogic, however, these individuals and companies "renounce" their states, and should sacrifice by staying put to pay their fair share. Actually, these individuals are simply seeking ways to retain more of their property that our founders championed as their right to keep.

Today, many Americans want tax cuts, but not without the necessary spending cuts that would make those cuts substantive. They consent when our political representatives sustain and expand the entitlement programs they favor, but cry when their outstanding and growing costs rear their ugly heads in many areas, from increased sales and property taxes to automobile and health insurance costs.

While some of our politicians understandably praise the Empire Zone as a good measure, I’m fighting for the day when this program’s call for reduced taxation are coupled with substantive spending cuts, and become the rule, not the exception, everywhere. Eventually, Americans and their representatives will have to consent to these realities, or otherwise face having to flee their states or the (former) land of the free.

* Joseph Kellard is a journalist living in New York.

Copyright © 2007 Joseph Kellard.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Childless’ Critics: A Discussion with Dr. Hurd

Here is a Q & A (which reads more like a conversation) that I did with Dr. Michael Hurd back in March 2001.

Joseph Kellard: What are your thoughts on parents who are everything from condescending to contemptuous toward individuals who choose to remain childless?

One such person wrote: "I am sorry for those who swear off children. They pass through life without a defining, irreplaceable human experience. One cannot help from feeling sad for those who merely refrain from having children because they consider them 'inconvenient.' They do not begin to understand what they are giving up."

Dr. Hurd: This statement represents the height of arrogance. Look at some of the premises involved in making this statement:

Flawed Premise No. 1: The only kind of defining, irreplaceable human experience one can enjoy is having a child.

Presumably, vigorous pursuit of one's career (or any number of other fulfilling accomplishments and/or experiences) does not count.

Flawed Premise No. 2: "Inconvenience" is the only major reason one would not have children.

Apparently, other reasons would not apply, such as: not being able to afford a child; having a demanding career which does not permit proper raising of a child; inability to find a romantic partner/spouse you could trust to have a child with; and various medical problems which make having a child difficult or impossible. The list of objectively valid reasons could go on and on; yet the person who wrote this letter makes it sound as if only an adolescent whim could lead one to choose childlessness.

Flawed Premise No. 3: The choice not to have a child is automatically considered somehow wrong or neurotic.

The burden of proof is on the childless individual for explaining why he will not have a child, rather than the other way around. All too often, parents-to-be fail to ask themselves (or their spouses) questions like: What is the nature of having a child? How up to the job am I? How ready am I to do this? Do I want to do it?

Flawed premise No. 4: It is impossible to understand something without first-hand knowledge.

In other words, one cannot consider one's experiences with younger siblings (including babies) while growing up; one's observations of friends/relatives who are presently raising children; one's gaining of extensive knowledge available through the media about positive and negative experiences with raising children; all the experiences related (on shows such as Oprah) by adults who grew up with parents who were not up to the job; and so forth. The premise that only first-handed knowledge can give you any level of understanding about anything is patently wrong.

Joseph Kellard: I often find the critics of the childless believe that because they have children, their lives are of greater value per se over the childless, and they dismiss the independent, individual reasons why people choose not to have kids. They condemn such people as "self-centered" or "selfish" and believe that a life without children is somehow hollow.

Dr. Hurd: People mistakenly (and sometimes resentfully) consider selfishness the primary reason -- and a bad one, at that -- for not having children. First of all, being "selfish" -- valuing your life, valuing your time, and valuing your right and responsibility to make rational choices which are objectively right for you -- is not bad. It's good, and utterly necessary, to live a self-interested life. Try to imagine five minutes of life -- especially as a parent -- without rational selfishness and the responsibility which must accompany it.

Secondly, a child benefits far more from a selfish parent as opposed to a resentful, self-sacrificing one. A parent who has children for reasons of neurotic guilt; out of a sense of bizarre tribal duty to procreate -- or perhaps for no reason at all ("It's just the right thing to do!") -- will be an inadequate or terrible parent.

To illustrate my point, note the contrast between selfish and selfless mentalities about having children.

The selfless parent thinks or feels: "I don't really want to do this; or at least, I'm not sure. But I must do it. I have to take on this responsibility whether I like to or not." Exactly what kind of call to excellence can this self-imposed slavery be expected to inspire? What would you think, say, of an individual who approached bridge engineering this way? Or piloting a plane? Would you want to drive over his bridge or fly in his airplane? If not, then what kind of child do you think this sort of mentality might turn out?

Now consider the motivation of the selfish parent: "I take this responsibility on by choice. I take it on for my own personal fulfillment, with the full understanding that the ultimate objective purpose of parenting is to help this person become independent from me. I will pursue this task not as a duty, but with the excellence I would put into any other important endeavor."

As a child just coming into existence -- as we all were -- ask yourself this: which motivation would you prefer your parent to have?

Joseph Kellard: I also observe that the critics of the childless are almost invariably women. The worst of them probably had children, not because of any rationally selfish reasons, but, as you said, because they believed they had a duty to do so. Particularly because their families expected them to, or simply because they are female and it is considered "unnatural" not to have children and that their lives would be "incomplete" without one.

Dr. Hurd: This is likely to be true, because anyone who pushes self-sacrifice has generally endured some level of it on his/her own -- and as a consequence feels (again, with some resentment) that you should have to do the same.

You might argue that somebody with this attitude genuinely loves having children, and therefore feels everyone should do it. Not so. When people really love what they're doing, whether it's being a parent or any other major endeavor in life, they feel no need to impose it on anyone else. They feel passionate about the job they love, but they don't expect everyone else to feel passionate about it too.

Also, any genuinely good parent -- motivated by excellence rather than martyrdom, duty and sacrifice -- would grasp the incredible level of responsibility the comes with being a parent. They would easily see and understand that not everyone could or should be up to the job. If they're mediocre at being parents, and some part of them resents being a parent, they will more likely feel: "You should be doing this too!"

As far as women are concerned, I suspect your generalization has some validity to it. This might be part of the "soccer mom" phenomenon we see today in politics and voting trends. According to the "soccer mom" mentality, "society" -- which in actuality means: everyone else, especially the most productive who earn the most money (and sometimes don't have children) -- should be forced, out of duty and at the point of a government gun, to pay for everyone else's child care, education, child health insurance, and all the rest.

The practical result of this mistaken but widely held premise? Neither conservatives nor liberals can now be elected unless they subscribe to this ugly form of middle-class, mini-van socialism. Even "conservative" George W. Bush feels compelled to spend unprecedented amounts of money on public schooling and other social services, just to hold onto his fragile political base.

With rational selfishness comes personal responsibility. With martyrdom and self-sacrifice -- the dominant psychology today -- comes a sense that everyone else must take care of you. Having children can be a wonderful, satisfying and rationally selfish experience. My experience from years of doing family counseling shows that precious few parents approach it this way.

Because so many view parenting as a duty or sacrifice, they will sometimes feel compelled to force it onto you. "Why should I have to sacrifice?" they wail, "while you get away with not doing so?" This is the awful undertone of the person you quoted. Let's hope this sort of mentality never manages to pass a law requiring everyone to have children whether they want to or not. Given today's cultural and political trends, it's not as impossible as you may think.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Let Me Know ... If You've Been to Tahoe

By Joseph Kellard

Well, it's official, or at least I hope my friends booked our flight. We're all heading out to Lake Tahoe for vacation in February. I had planned to go to San Diego around this time, but the person I was to stay with out there came back east, and, beside, this trip came up. I'd wanted to go with the crew when they headed out there last year, but apparently there wasn't enough room for me, the latecomer.

Anyway, of course, I'm mainly going for the skiing/snowboarding, but in my talks with others who've been to Tahoe, there's a lot to be had out there. So far, I've heard nothing but good things, esp. about the slopes, which some people have said "blow away" Colorado; others have said the two spots are comparable. We'll, I'm going to be able to tell for myself in a few months.

In the mean time, if you've been out to Tahoe, please email me with your impressions (, and I'll start reading up on my destination:

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sets of ‘Wonderous’ Music

By Joseph Kellard

Wonderous Stories once played the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Who’s “Tommy” and Yes’s “Close to the Edge” — all in their entirety. While that’s an unusual set for the five-piece band, performing whole albums is a trademark of Wonderous Stories, whose members further pride themselves on never practicing together or following a set list.

At a recent show at Canno’s Swiss Tavern in Lynbrook, the band played no LPs, yet cranked out segments from Pete Townshend’s rock opera, Genesis’s “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” and the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” Keyboardist Mark Bonder opened the show with the eerie wind and cathedral-like synthesizer sounds that introduce “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” as drummer Ricky Martinez did his best Elton John on lead vocals. Bonder and Martinez are two of the band’s multi-instrumental musicians, along with front man Kenny Forgione and Kevin McCann, who both sing and play guitar and bass, and lead guitarist Tommy Williams.

Wonderous Stories’ library features many relatively obscure songs, but is peppered with enough more-familiar tunes. At Swiss Tavern, these included John’s “Honky Cat,” Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Yes’s “Roundabout,” the latter sung by frequent guest vocalist Laura Press.

While band members are faithful to the recorded versions, sometimes uncannily so, they still take enough liberties with the covers that express their particular styles. When, for instance, they wrapped up Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “From the Beginning,” a light acoustic song that fades out, the band instead abruptly broke into the booming, drum-driven end of Santana’s “Oye Como Va.” Their one constant, however, is their spot-on, tight precision, a quality all the more incredible considering their disdain for rehearsals.

“We’re able to do this because these are all songs we grew up listening to,” says Forgione, who spent his pre-Wonderous Stories days performing with McCann.

The duo’s acoustic gigs ranged from well-known Beatles tunes to Tears for Fears-like pop songs of the day. But they also injected some personal favorites, such as classic Genesis tunes. “And we’d always have some people who would tell us, ‘I can’t believe you’re playing that stuff,’” Forgione recalls.

In 1993, he and McCann formed a trio with Chris Clark, the band’s original keyboardist, who introduced much of the technical, intricate progressive rock like Yes. After adding a drummer, the quartet played more sets of this intense, relatively obscure music.

The following year, Martinez, the drummer on PBS’s “Sesame Street,” replaced the band’s percussionist, and two years later Williams, the musical director for 1980s pop star Debbie Gibson, completed Wonderous Stories (named for a Yes song). More recently, Bonder has filled in when Clark has performed on Broadway. But when Bonder, Martinez and Williams joined the band, each brought more cover songs, from Pink Floyd to Steely Dan.

The idea to play whole albums grew out of Forgione’s love of one in particular. “‘Tommy’ affected me from the time I was a kid,” says Forgione, who keeps his long brown hair in a ponytail. “When I heard it, it freaked me out. So if it did that for me, it must have done it for other people, too.”

“All of us said, ‘Wow, this is really fascinating and challenging, let’s try to pull this off,’” Martinez remembers.

The band first tested the waters with “Sgt. Pepper,” as Clark learned to play the difficult parts, like the strings on “She’s Leaving Home.” “People loved it,” Forgione recalls, “because not only are you playing the hits everyone knows, but also the songs that people forget about.”

The band then played “Tommy,” a double-LP, and several other, mostly “concept” albums, including the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” which they performed at Heckscher Park before some 4,000 fans this year.

Wonderous Stories draws many fans in their 40s and 50s, but is attracting a sizable younger crowd, including college-age kids, at its gigs at venues like B.B. King Blues Club in Manhattan, Coyote Grill in Island Park, Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, Jugs-N-Strokers in Merrick and the Jones Beach boardwalk band shell, where 3,000-plus fans showed up for a show at summer’s end.

Williams, who grew up in Merrick listening to the Beatles, Cream, Yes and Genesis when disco and punk were the rage, is surprised and heartened when younger fans sing back to them every lyric of every song, even the obscure ones, from any random album they play. He sees this as their yearning for the album era.

“With the advent of downloading, very few people download a whole album — they mostly take a song or two from many different albums,” Williams said between sets at the Swiss Tavern gig. “So the idea of an album as an entity that you listen to, it’s become like an aging bottle of wine. It's much cooler to get one of those now.”

The band opened its second set with a medley of vintage Genesis songs, including “Watcher of the Skies,” then it plunged into the overture to “Tommy.” From there it tackled “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road, one of several requests from the crowd.

Some audience members asked for a few Doors songs. Before embarking on “Break on Through,” McCann, bass in hand, tells his band mates he has never played the song before. Williams walks him through the chord progression, then turns to Martinez. “Do you know it?” he asks the drummer.

“Sort of,” Martinez says — and the band proceeds to play the tune as if they’d been doing it for years.

To learn more about Wonderous Stories, visit the band's Web site at

Friday, November 24, 2006

Get Your "Letting Go of God" CD

From Joseph Kellard

Julia Sweeney has finally released the CD of her one-woman act, "Letting Go of God"

The website provides some excerpts from the CD, along with passages from the accompanying booklet of Sweeney's entire monologue.

At the recommendation of some HBLers, including Harry Binswanger, I went to see Sweeney's play in Manhattan earlier this year. I enjoyed it immensely.

As Harry wrote in his HBL review back in February 2005: "This play is a unique combination of the light and entertaining with the thoughtful and profound. It begins with Julia Sweeney's early devotion to Catholicism, and as the play continues, we see issues from within the author's mental frame at that stage of her development. So at the beginning we are told, in monologue, how wonderful Catholicism is, how inspiring, what role models nuns are(!).

"But Julia Sweeney wouldn't stop thinking--i.e., asking questions.
And each question answered pried her a little farther from religion."

Jefferson vs. Lincoln as Most Influential

Here is a letter I wrote and emailed to The Atlantic. My letter pertains, not to what I previously posted about regarding the magazine’s discussion of Howard Roark, but to the actual top 100 list itself (see Specifically, my letter targets TA’s placing of Abraham Lincoln at the top, above Thomas Jefferson, as the most influential American ever.

To the Editor,

That Abraham Lincoln tops your list of all-time most influential Americans, particularly above a political prime mover such as Thomas Jefferson, indicates how modern historians shun fundamental values.

True, Lincoln abolished slavery and saved the Union, but what exactly did he save? Well, the freest nation in history -- which Jefferson made possible. For the first time, Jefferson and his fellow founders establishment a nation based on the ideas of “All men are created equal” and “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” -- that is, that each individual, despite such non-essential characteristics as race, has an inherent right to these values.

Yes, some founders like Jefferson owned slaves, but slavery had previously been practiced in virtually every culture throughout history. What’s most important about the founders is that they were the vital bridge between the old world and a new, enlightened, freer one, influencing men away from the dogmas that your life belongs to Gods, kings or tribal groups, to the object fact that each individual has sovereignty over his own life. In short, Jefferson and the founders established a unique nation that remains the most influential beacon of freedom and life ever.

Without the ideas that Jefferson championed, there would have been no Civil War, since men would still have been without the moral and political grounds on which to seriously oppose slavery. Hell, there likely wouldn’t have even been a Union for Lincoln to have saved.

Joseph Kellard

You can email your own letter to The Atlantic at: