Tuesday, June 30, 2009



Survival. Wanting to survive. Hope that maybe we could survive.




See. See. That is why I had to create her,
my beloved Emma Jean. If this ordeal has taught
me anything, it is that we were not meant to be alone.
Existence makes no sense without the other.
The speaker must have his hearer.
The actor must have his audience. The great duality.


Moves stage front, plays drum while dancing to remind us of the rhythm.
Two more weeks of the violence of the sea.




See. See. That is why I had to create her, my beloved Emma Jean.
We were not meant to be alone. The world is not a one.
The world is a two and multiples of two.
We do not exist without the great duality.
We may think we are alone because we may talk to ourselves.


The speaker must have his hearer.
The actor must have his audience.
The preacher must have her someone to preach to.
The teacher must have his someone to teach.
The dancer must have her partner.
The writer must have the great other.


Self and other.


We are not meant to be alone.


The great duality.


We are not meant to be alone.


The great each other.


Moves stage front, plays drum while dancing to remind us of the rhythm.

Two more weeks of the roll endless role of endless ocean
interrupted by the meanness, violence of unwanted storm
two more weeks of not knowing his exact location,
down to the last fresh water in the fresh water tanks,
down to the last stored food in the galley or the hold,
exhausted, dehydrated, sick, and still full of despair
still missing the noisy, fidgety, always squawking parrot
that presence constantly reminding him “nils desperandum”
“don’t despair, don’t despair, don’t despair,”
starting to hallucinate, seeing himself doing battle with narwhale,
then narwhal transforming into fire breathing sea dragons

Murdoch steps down on to stage front and holding what looks like a splintered mast in a thrust position as in a joust pantomimes a battle with an imagined sea monster.

Murdoch and the wreck that was now the windmill boat
finally made it to a shore and a chance of being saved.
And with him was Emma Jean, soft beautiful other,
she who had helped him remember the gentle things
in the middle of a vast angry seemingly limitless ocean.
And with him was that perfect realist, seasoned veteran,
that PhD in cynicism, in all that could go wrong,
he who loved to berate Murdoch for all the ways he’d failed—
or anyway appeared to fail in terms of his too harsh judgment—
failures and suppositions of failure.

Murdoch exits stage rear center. Ship’s helm and titter-totter are removed off back of stage. Cushioned area stage right front in the form of a combination of rocks and foliage is set up stage front right. This will be used by Murdoch after he reenters stage.


O Calliope, our muse, our inspiration in days when heroes
like Achilles, Ajax, Odysseus seemed strong as mountains
and able to best the most brutal, the most pugnacious of foes
he newly reborn and not knowing how much time or strength
he’s granted, give him the fire, the wisdom to tell this new story.


Plays guitar, more rhythmic thumping of the drum, more dancing..

Let me strum my lyre, let me pound my drum as I sing
of the challenges faced by a hero of this new span of time.
Junior, our seaside country observer, told his story well as able
of the plight of Murdoch after being blown from the bay,
but he was removed, had to rely on intermittent reporting
whereas I speak to all the untold spirits of the dead
ever vigilant about the happenings here in this world
and to all who still watch from the empyrean, jaded immortals.
Thus am I the more reliable reporter of events that took place
once Murdoch’s damaged vessel reached the African coast.


O let us sing of Africa, of all the turmoil that Murdoch faced,
and let our emotions stay cool as we speak of the desperation
when his sick craft, The New Paradise, reached that coast.


Never would that glorious vessel cruise again.
Murdoch’s dream destroyed on African rocks.
Never would he challenge another schooner to a race.

Murdoch in rags staggers on stage from stage rear. At first he positions himself stage left, speaks to the sky.

I need something else, some new idea if I am going to save the world.

Ashante and Emma Jean enter from stage rear and position themselves stage left. Ashante has a small rounded covered flask containing liquid which she carries over a shoulder. Murdoch staggers about like a shipwrecked sailor stage right as the chorus continues its narration. Finally Murdoch finds a place to lie down—the area looking like rocks and foliage positioned stage front right.


Out of control, starving, without water, came he crashing ashore
at a smooth place, perhaps by divine guidance, free of jagged rocks.
Using some ropes, still intact, he shimmied down a post,
down to the smooth flatness of stone, of rock, of sand, of soil,
stumbled forward he fell on a bed of seaweed, fell fast asleep.


After pounding on the drum.

There on crisp pods, in the hot African sun, slept the inventor,
slept the scion of kings, slept the poet Murdoch McLoon,
slept he who would save the world if only he had the method,
slept creator of boat sporting windmill, sporting dome,
slept he who had lost a very noisy, very screechy parrot,
slept he who lost a boat driven by wind and whirling blades,
slept he who was at first not of sound mind, barely conscious
slept he who did battle with narwhals and sea dragons.


Slept not far from savanna, not far from cheetah and bongo,
pygmy hippo, nightjar, forest beetle, grey parrot, and giraffe,
slept not far from trees and thick lush forest foliage
slept not far from bougainvillea, heliconia, alpinia, ettingera
in the tropical heat of that relentless African sun.


Enters stage rear, moves as far stage front as possible.

Do I smell opportunity or what? This white man says he’s looking
for something new, something to save the world.
Maybe this something to save the world might be good for Luke Invictus,
me! Luke Invictus from a succession of kings of West Africa,
a line of once powerful rulers whose family lost everything
when the Europeans moved in and pushed us out.
Luke Invictus, a man with many many ideas of his own
about how to govern, about how things should be run.

Luke exits stage rear.

Murdoch reenters. Ashante pantomimes with Murdoch the narration provided by Homer and the chorus


Slept deeply, slept our hero, fanned by coastal breezes
when several hours having passed, chanced on near him
a tall dark female from a remnant of the Ewe tribe—
the Ewe, a once proud people, rich in centuries of history
before the era when European speculators and exploiters
used the might of their homeland’s military power
to engage in the ugliness of the trade in people.

Gazing on the exhausted, sunburned American,
still sound asleep, hair entangled, thoroughly wasted,
the young woman felt herself filling with feeling.
This white man had come from a distance, she reasoned.
Then saw she the boat half in water, but land imprisoned,
and it struck her her assumption must be correct.
In a jug she carried bissap, the drink of the region,
reddish drink made of ground hibiscus flowers.
Kneeling, she touched the jug to his lips, then poured.

At first, startled, half choking as he suddenly awakened,
Murdoch soon found the liquid trickling down his throat
as pleasant, as quenching as a spring in the mountains.
Opening eyelids encrusted with salt and burned by sun,
he took some time to focus on the lovely brown face
with dark radiant eyes, sweet mouth framed by smooth skin
hovering within an arm’s length of his prostrate body.

Speaking in clipped English acquired at a British school,
she spoke to him in a voice like the ringing of a soft bell.


Hello, white man.


She said.


Where are you from? My name is Ashante,
which means strong African woman
in my native tongue, and what should I call you?”



Monday, May 25, 2009


I have decided to change my approach in Mind Check, my blog, to make it more useful for me as an originator of new creative writing projects and to generate interest among those following my writing career in the works in progress that are occupying my mind at the present time. You can look upon what I’ll be doing in the next several installments of Mind Check as a writing projects laboratory where by putting down my latest ideas I’ll have a chance to step back and study them to see if they are going to be productive or not.

For several months I have been working on a play dealing with environmental issues. The working title of this full length two-act play is The Hummingbird. The Hummingbird may be thought of as a kind of sequel to the first book I came out with in 2008 entitled Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat. I’m calling the new work a sequel, but in some important ways it is not a sequel at all.

First of all, The Hummingbird is a full length two-act play whereas Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat is an epic poem arranged in 12 books or chapters. It was not conceived as a work meant to be performed, but of course as an epic poem it could be performed just as the original epic poems attributed to Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey) were performed—that is, recited or sung in public.

The Hummingbird is designed to be presented not by a single narrator, but by six characters, of which one, not surprisingly, is called Homer and serves as the narrator. The six characters of The Hummingbird are Homer, who as indicated serves as narrator, Murdoch, a poet and inventor, Emma Jean, Murdoch’s lover, Frank, a close friend of Murdoch and really his chief antagonist, Ashante, a beautiful West African princess, and Luke Invictus, a political leader in West Africa and a dedicated opportunist and exploiter.

The play opens with Murdoch on the New Paradise, his windmill boat, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The boat is being wrecked by the action of high winds and rough seas. With him are Emma Jean, his lover and inspiration, and Frank, his best friend and harshest critic. Murdoch is facing the hard reality that his invention, the windmill boat, has failed, and he tells us that he is committing himself to coming up with a new invention—that is, just as soon as he manages to get himself ashore.

What follows is the beginning of The Hummingbird, a play in two acts.


A Play in Two Acts


Enters stage rear. He is dressed like ancient story teller bard, blind, has drum and guitar. Pounds on drum to establish a rhythm and bring attention to the stage and himself.

I blind Homer, dead for so long,
in my grave these eons compiled on to eons,
have heard the cry of desperation and have awakened
come back from the dead, risen from the grave
suddenly alive like the Phoenix from the ashes
suddenly alive like some author genius’s monster
zapped with a billion volts of harnessed lightning,
suddenly alive like some god or venerated person
known through the exploitation, the fruits of electricity
who the people can never accept has ever died,
have brought my instruments—lyre and my drum—
and am now ready to tell my story.


As chorus (made up of actors not otherwise assigned in this first scene) takes a position stage front left, Murdoch appears on stage, stage rear center. Murdoch stands at the helm of a ship, presumably the New Paradise windmill boat, which itself is affixed to a titter-totter platform. Wind machine (fan) keeps the air stirred up. Over the sound system is heard the sound of a fierce storm at sea.

Let us sing then again of poet inventor Murdoch McLoon,
he of maniacal energy, he of boat powered by windmill,
he driven by the rage of wind and churned up ocean
from the protection of his schooner filled cove
out into the open, out into the vast wine dark sea…


Wears kilt, some kind of loose shirt, looks wet and disheveled.

To help those needing help. To feed the starving millions.
Heal the sick. Bring hope to the hopeless. To find an answer
for an overheating earth in which the polar ice caps are melting.
That was my purpose. And now look at me. All day, all night,
fighting the sea. Not knowing if I’ll ever make landfall.
Not knowing if the next huge swell will overwhelm me,
send me and the New Paradise to the briny depths for good.


Enters stage left, moves as close as possible to Murdoch at helm of vessel on titter-totter platform.

Serves you right, you who thought you had all the answers,
you with this strange contraption called a windmill boat
which you had the gall to give such a highfalutin name,
New Paradise! New Paradise? New Floating Wreck,
New Flotsam, New Jetsam—now they’re the names for you.


Shut up, Frank! Remember, down on myself,
filled with dread when first I got washed out to sea
from my home in the beautiful harbor of Golden Cove,
not knowing where I was being blown to,
not knowing if I had a chance for survival
I created you, created you from need, from thought.
You were the figment of all my failures.
You were the embodiment of all the ways
that I was convinced that I had fallen short.
Now I want you to keep your big mouth shut
while I try to get us ashore.


Get us ashore? Where? We’re five thousand miles from land.
How do you propose to get us ashore from
the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?


I want to survive. Don’t you? If I go down,
you go down. We’re both lost.
Somehow we’ve got to get ourselves ashore.


Murdoch, how did I get stuck with you—a poet, a dreamer
someone with an oversized imagination, Mister Fantasy Man,
but with not a practical bone in your whole body?


It’s at a time like this that I need my Emma Jean.

Emma Jean enters stage right, moves just stage right of Murdoch on the titter-totter with ship’s helm.

Emma Jean, my Emma Jean, my beautiful Emma Jean
I created you when sunk to my lowest point.
I created you when what I needed was hope.
I tried to give the world a panacea for the crisis to come.
And then the storm came up. My parrot was torn from a shoulder,
drowned in a seething turbulence, My light was gone.
The wind blew fierce. The water turned hateful and angry.
I’d lost my bearings, could see nothing at all.


Hope? Here we go again. Again the silly idealist
is using that four-letter word H-O-P-E hope.
The next thing we know he’s going to be
talking about truth and beauty.
If I’ve told you once—Mister Poet, Mister Inventor—
I’ve told you thousands and thousands of times.
These are all just made-up words to hide
the brutality of what is. This slap-in-the-face,
this howling wind, this mean whipped up surface
that knows nothing of flatness, of quiet, of calmness,
of peace, this rancorous, cantankerous this
always stirred up ocean, now that is what is.
That is honesty. Murdoch, give me honesty.


O give me the world as we want it to be.
Give me the reason to move onward.




That is all we mean by hope, the sense of being able
to move toward the something else, the something better,
toward the something else that is the something better…




the sense of being able to move beyond ourselves,
the sense of being able to move forward.

Thank you for tuning into Mind Check. For a look at my other writing, see the website http://www.sasaftwrites.com. Please note that my two latest books, Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat and City Above The Sea And Other Poems are now available online. Links to the publisher Xlibris can be found on the sasaft website. You can call the publisher directly at 888-795-4274 ext. 7876 or use the publisher’s website Xlibris.com.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Alan Saft

Monday, April 20, 2009


I wrote my first play in the 1980s, sometime during the second half of the decade. I had moved to Washington DC in 1978 from Maine to join a corporation in the space business, specifically satellite communications, called Comsat, and soon tried to get involved with the poetry scene in that area. Eventually I grew disenchanted with my progress as a poet in Washington DC and began wondering if I might have more success—anyway with what I envisioned as success—with another genre.

I saw myself as having failed as a novelist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which is what I did with my so-called spare time when I lived in the New York City Metropolitan area, first in Brooklyn and then in central New Jersey. Hence I eliminated fiction as a possibility. What else was left for a failed novelist and a failed poet, but writing plays? That’s how I reasoned out my situation in the mid 1980s.

Eliminated Screen Writing

By the way, I also eliminated screen writing from consideration because I was not living in California and had no relationships with anyone in the movie business. From what I had read in writers magazines and been told by people who struck me as authoritative on the subject, no one made it as screen writer without Southern California contacts, and I didn’t have any.

And so in the mid 1980s I began writing a play. It was about the big tragedy in my life when I was growing up, namely the failure of a family business. Appropriately I named it “The Business.” “The Business” might never have found its way to the stage had it not been for a sympathetic director named Benny Blumenthal who agreed to work with me to get it stage ready and to direct the production. I had been introduced to Benny by a co-worker of mine at Comsat, the satellite communications company, named Anne Armentrout who was using her spare time to run the theatre program at the church.

Arlington County Becomes Sponsor

And so my spotty career in the theatre was launched. The next big event in my theatre history occurred in 1990 when I was able to team up with the Arlington County Parks and Recreation Department to launch a theatre devoted to putting on new works. This seeming act of altruism—creating a means of launching new plays from, for the most part, new playwrights—was, like almost all acts of altruism, full of self interest. My main intention was to create opportunities for myself as a playwright.

As the sponsor of New Works Theatre, Arlington County provided the venue for the production of plays, and it provided important items like chairs, curtains and lights. Even more important, the department was a source of funding for such things as advertising, set construction and props for each production.

Playwright Submissions

To tap into sources for new plays, New Works had only to announce that it was in business with its address for submissions, and the scripts started coming in. I soon found that the greater Washington DC area had more fellow playwrights in it than I ever imagined. To review the submissions, we set up what we called our Artistic Committee consisting of a team of readers, drawn mainly from a community where we once had lived called Holmes Run Acres in Fairfax County.

Wife Harriet assumed leadership of the committee in the beginning, and soon after she would play an important role in our productions by working backstage.

Play Introduction Methods

New Works Theatre employed a variety of production methods to bring its new plays to the attention of the public. In public readings, the actors sat in chairs on the stage and read the parts out loud to the audience. No attempt to act out the parts was made. The main beneficiary of this technique was supposed to be the playwright. He or she could hear how the dialogue sounded and get inspired to make the appropriate changes to improve the work for production.

The next step in the new plays world was called the staged reading. This approach was supposed to help not just the playwright but the production team—director and lighting, sound, sound and props designer, and stage manager. In the staged reading, the actors have more familiarity with their parts than in the public reading, and go through the motions of their character presentation at least in a limited way. Finally, of course, is the full production.

Hold Discussions With Audience

One of the interesting things we did at New Works Theatre was to hold discussions with the audience after a production, whether a simple reading, staged reading or full production. Usually I led these discussions, and we would talk about the central theme of the work as well as whether the audience felt the playwright had been successful and whether the production was effective or not in getting these ideas across.

As I recall, the second full production of New Works Theatre was a play called “The Hot Rocks Rebellion” by this writer. This full length work was about a father and son who end up working in the same fast food restaurant during an economic downturn not unlike the one we are going through today. I had a lot of pleasure writing “Hot Rocks” and being involved with its production, but I was not to have the pleasure of another full length production of my own work during the lifetime of New Works, which came to an end in 1995.

Artist In Search of Home

A short one-act play I wrote called “The Artist in Search of a Home” was produced by New Works as part of a fund raising event, but that was the extent of New Works Theatre’s benefits for the play writing career of Stephen Alan Saft. The duties of running the theatre—the need, for example, of near constant fund raising—became overwhelming. Besides the demands of my real job were starting to become significant. I was then working for George Washington University and was about to undergo a major career shift. My job as manager of marketing for the Division of Continuing Education would soon be terminated, and I would be casting about for something else to do to keep myself on the payroll at the university.

In a future posting to Mind Check, I may get into how I came to start the university’s Interactive Multimedia Program, which is what I did next at George Washington University, but this posting is about how I, a struggling poet, came to get involved with theatre. My purpose in writing it in the first place is to serve as a preamble to an account of why in 2009, many years after my last involvement with theatre and play writing I now find myself writing a play again.

A Sequel to Murdoch

Soon after publishing my first book of 2008, entitled “Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat,” I was struck with the fact that by no means had I said everything I wanted to say and needed to be said about this near buffoon Murdoch McLoon and what he saw as his purpose in life with regard to the environment and the world-wide problems of hunger and poverty. We were then in the midst of the 2008 election campaign and the issue of what the individual person could do about these problems as inspired by the example and powerful rhetoric of Barack Obama weighed on my mind.

The more I thought about these issues the more I felt moved to write a sequel to “Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat.” The new work would pick up from where the existing book left off. Murdoch would realize that a windmill boat could not be an answer to an overdependence on oil, that for one thing whatever solution might be available in technology had to be useful on land.

Huge in Scope

As I worked on it, the concept for the sequel became huge in scope involving seven different parts of the world, each with its own local problems as well as its individual spin on the environmental issue. I selected Homer as the narrator for the story, the father of the epic poetic story in the West—specifically The Iliad and The Odyssey. Soon I became overwhelmed by the grandiosity of my concept. How could I ever write such a thing and finish it in my lifetime? Should I abandon the whole idea as just not doable?

It was then that I remembered the play writing form. The modern play—
and screen play for that matter—has the need for economy of words built into it. If I could transform the new work into a producible work for the theatre, I would have to compress it. Much of my original grand concept would have to be eliminated, and what was dramatic in that original concept would have to be enhanced and brought front and center. At the same time, I would have to do what has to be done with works meant to be performed. I would have to recast the story as a story told by convincing characters through dialogue.

At this writing, the sequel as play is developing nicely, and I hope to find a theatre that will work with me to put it on the stage. That will not be easy. But I will keep at it. At the same time, I would like to publish it in book form for those who got interested in Murdoch in the first book about him and wonder what happened to him and don’t want to wait until the sequel about him gets produced in his or her area. Murdoch has had a lot of exciting adventures since the end of “Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat,” and the reader will find it interesting, even gripping, to find out what became of him.

Thank you for tuning into Mind Check. For a look at my other writing, see the website http://www.sasaftwrites.com. Please note that my two latest books, Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat and City Above The Sea And Other Poems are now available online. Links to the publisher Xlibris can be found on the sasaft website. You can call the publisher directly at 888-795-4274 ext. 7876 or use the publisher’s website Xlibris.com.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Alan Saft

Monday, March 30, 2009


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Yiddish, a language I grew up not understanding or, more accurately, a language I grew up understanding a little bit while pretending that I didn’t understand it at all. Growing up in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Logan and later even further out in West Oak Lane, I soon found it an advantage to pretend not to know Yiddish. It was spoken all around me by my mother, father, maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, aunt, and others. Most often it was used as a way for the adults in my life to communicate with each other when they wanted to conceal something from me.

As the first kid in the family, I had no one I wanted to share this hidden knowledge with. Better to keep it to myself. Otherwise the secret would get out, and then no one would use Yiddish around me ever again, anyway not to conceal secrets.

Learning by Osmosis

Funny thing about language. When you hear it long enough, especially when you are very young, words, phrases and whole sentences start to sink in even when the speakers don’t want you to understand what they are saying. Hence one of the earliest Yiddish sentences that I came to understand on my own was “Du vilst nemen dilla spiladicha?” Translation: “Do you want to take him to the movies?” Hearing that sentence I could make certain that my behavior improved and that I did whatever else I thought necessary to ensure that I did in fact get taken to the movies.

A note about writing Yiddish in the Roman alphabet. I am transliterating, that is using the Roman alphabet to come as close as possible to attempt to reproduce the more Germanic pronunciation of the words as I remember them. Yiddish came into being as a dialect of German around the 10th century in an area around East Germany. It is written using the Hebrew alphabet, the letters of which run from right to left. The Jews of this region—in fact, of all of central to western Europe—are known as Ashkenazi Jews. Hence one can say that the language of Ashkenazi Jews was Yiddish. It was also the language of the Chasidic Jews, that is, Jews known for their very conservative dress, where the men dance with each other at celebrations and definitely not with women—with the exceptions of weddings when at least a handkerchief must separate them.

Lithuanian Origins

Another point I should make is that I am attempting here to reproduce the Yiddish I heard as a child among Jews where the dominant speaker was originally from Lithuania, that is, my maternal grandfather, named Solomon Bricker. Solomon Bricker was what was known as a Litvak, that is, as someone from Lithuania. The influence of my father may also be present. Though born in the United States, his linguistics origins were Austria and Hungary. There is a long history of teasing between Jews from Lithuania or Litvaks and Jews from other places, and my father. Louis Saft, was not shy in poking fun at the Litvaks around him, in other words his in-laws.

What else do I remember of the Yiddish I heard growing up? My grandfather, Solomon Bricker, was often in the middle of disputes between his two daughters, Helen, my mother, and her sister, Jeanette, the younger of the two. “Don’t drey mine cup,” he was often heard to say using a mixture of Yiddish and English. I took the meaning of this sentence to be: “Stop beating my head [with your arguing or bickering.]”

What Else”?
Gay slofen remains with me as well. This is a command from adults to children, “Go to sleep” is the meaning. Another “gay” sentence I often heard was “Gay gezunta heit” or “go in good health.” Other words and phrases remain as well. Essen is the command from the German “eat.” Shana madel is a pretty girl. Balabusta was a word I heard from the women of the family which always struck me as funny and which I took to be a somewhat derisive epithet for someone who overdid in her cooking or house preparation.

Oy gevalt and oy vay are well known Yiddish expressions that also have stayed with me. Both mean the equivalent of “how awful.” In fact, these two are both so common that they have long been on the verge of being accepted into everyday usage in English. A Yiddish word that in fact is even closer to being accepted is schlepp, which means to carry when that which is carried is heavy and uncomfortable. A New Yorker might say, “I schlepped those two packages all the way from Macy’s on 34th Street to East 72nd Street. I’m exhausted.”

Words for Body Parts

Then there are the Yiddish words for the parts of the body, the most famous of which is tochis and its diminutive tussy, used with children. “Backside” is the part of the body that these words refer to. I usually take both words in a humorous way. However, it is possible to use a word like tochis in a more serious, obscene and even harsh way. For more on words of this type and for more on Yiddish in general, see the books of Leo Rosten, specifically The Joys of Yiddish and The Joys of Yinglish.

What about chutzpah, the word for nerve, daring, gall or risk taking in Yiddish? Like schlep, chutzpah is now so widely used that it is about ready to become part of standard English—or already is. I have heard Protestant ministers use the word without showing any need to translate. Why didn’t I mentioned this heavily used word sooner? Strange to admit, chutzpah was not part of my childhood vocabulary. In fact, I don’t think I ever heard the word until some time after I started working in New York City in 1964.

Do I read any Yiddish publications today? No, but perhaps it can be said that I come close. Among the many publications that I read on a regular basis is The Forward, that is, its English language version. The Forward got started on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the latter part of the 19th Century and initially was published entirely in Yiddish. One of the claims to fame of the all Yiddish Forward is that it introduced the writing of Isaac Basheyev Singer to the world. Singer was to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

Thank you for tuning into Mind Check. For a look at my other writing, see the website http://www.sasaftwrites.com. Please note that my two latest books, Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat and City Above The Sea And Other Poems are now available online. Links to the publisher Xlibris can be found on the sasaft website. You can call the publisher directly at 888-795-4274 ext. 7876 or use the publisher’s website Xlibris.com.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Alan Saft

Saturday, March 7, 2009


The Barack Obama Administration has now turned its attention to health care. This is another trillion dollar burden on the U.S. taxpayer, and given all our other burdens—“zombie bank” bailouts, subprime foreclosure crises, U.S. auto industry bankruptcies—it boggles my mind how the Administration is going to deal with this one.

But it must!!! I agree that the time is now to attempt to deal with this immense problem. There won’t be another opportunity in my lifetime, maybe not in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren to fix this mess, and meanwhile health care will become more and more of a drag on the nation’s economy. All the crises facing the Obama Administration are complicated and don’t lend themselves to easy solutions, but this one is the most complicated thus far. Why?

Financing Not On Firm Footing

One reason is the nonproductive way in which health care is paid for in this country. The system assumes a fully employed population with employers footing the bill. Right now, however, we have unemployment approaching 9% in some areas. Who pays for the 9% out of work? And why should employers have to shoulder the responsibility in the first place? Employers need to be investing in expanding existing businesses to increase employment opportunities, They should be investing in research and new product development. They should be investing in improving existing products and keeping prices competitive. They should not be burdened with having to foot the bill for the nation’s health care system.

And what about the cost of health care in the United States? It changes hourly. Everyone wants to reap the benefits of the nation’s health care research and development efforts, which is a huge complicated endeavor. Nothing is to be accomplished by pointing some finger of blame at the nation’s pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry is doing what we want them to do. We want them to save our lives, and that’s what they are attempting to do. Oh yes, they're also making a lot of money in the process.

We have an extremely health care greedy population. No one wants to die. Everyone wants to postpone the inevitable for as a long as possible. Everyone wants to live forever, and we expect to enjoy the benefits of our thriving medical research and development activities forever.

In the laboratory a researcher comes up with a yet another technique that appears promising for curing cancer. Let’s take the case of the technique for growing human cancer attack spores on tobacco plants for attacking cancer, which I have written about previously.

Researchers Need Compensation

The pharmaceutical firms are willing to allow a few researchers to conduct such speculative research, but they expect to be compensated for staff time and benefits. This is a fairly new effort, not long on the books. The research shows promise , and so now it is time to test the technique in the field. The services of several more staff are required. We are leaving out issues like the compensation of patients who allow themselves to be used as guinea pigs.

Now lets add several degrees of further complication by looking at all the specialties in all of medicine. All the researchers working at all the pharmaceutical and medical research facilities in all these fields want what they consider fair access to the research and development dollars available.

Enormous Management Challenge

How do you manage such a huge field with so many competing interests and one that is in a constant state of flux? Part of the challenge is the mere fact that the field since it is requiring taxpayers dollars in the first place needs managing at all. Then there are so many stake holders, not just all the U.S. users of health care. Major stake holders like all the physicians and all the nurses and all those in the medical technical specialties. And how about the medical equipment engineers and all the designers and builders of all the equipment like scanners, etc., and all the medical insurance interests?

What an enormous undertaking!

Infuriating Case of Bernard Madoff

Another topic that has my attention is the infurating story of Bernard Madoff, who bilked many people out of sizable amounts of money using the notorious Ponzi scheme. In a Ponzi investment scheme people are lured into placing their money with the expectation that their initial investments will be turned into much more money, the result of the brilliant investment strategies on the part of the operator of the investment enterprise.

In fact, the operator’s so called “brilliant investment strategies” are the result of taking new contributor’s money and turning it back to veteran contributors in the form of so-called dividends. In other words, a Ponzi scheme has no real assets. Only the continued gullibility of new investors keeps it going. When the lack of true assets is revealed, the whole scheme falls apart like a collapsing house of cards, and everyone who placed money with the scheme operator is a loser.

What Makes Him Tick?

I don’t know Bernie Madoff at all, but I can’t help wondering about the man. What makes Bernie Madoff tick? Is he merely a greedy and heartless schemer? At least one person who lost a fortune to Madoff is reported to have committed suicide. If you are Madoff, how do you live with that fact?

I want to believe that he started out with the best of intentions, but perhaps I am cutting him too much slack. Rotten to the core—that may be the Bernard Madoff that we have seen in the media. Still I want to believe otherwise. He starts out with the best of intentions, but then the pressure to appear successful takes over. Bernier Madoff was smarter than everyone else. Right? Bernie Madoff didn’t disappoint other people, especially not if they enjoyed positions of power and leadership in their respective fields. Right? Not if they are someone like Steven Spielberg, famed Hollywood moviemaker. How can you submit a monthly investment report to the likes of Steven Spielberg and not show a continued record of success?

Reputation to Uphold, Right?

Imagine the self-imposed pressures on this man to continue to show a record of brilliance as a manager of other people’s money? He had a reputation to uphold, right?

Such is the mess we get ourselves intro when at core we are not honest with ourselves or with others—when we have no mechanism for dealing honestly with ourselves and others, when honesty is no part of our personal ethos. We are a crook through and through. We squander other people’s fortunes. People, once friends, commit suicide because of us.

I have written about this before, especially in my poetry. At heart relations between all of us are based on intangible virtues like trust. No amount of government-imposed regulation frees us from that reality. We can all take advantage of misplaced confidence if we have an inclination to lie, to cheat, to not tell the truth. Trust is the indispensable virtue. Trust is everything.

Thank you for tuning into Mind Check. For a look at my other writing, see the website http://www.sasaftwrites.com. Please note that my two latest books, Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat and City Above The Sea And Other Poems are now available online. Links to the publisher Xlibris can be found on the sasaft website.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Alan Saft

Monday, February 16, 2009


Harriet and I recently celebrated our 28th Valentine’s Day together. We’ve never done a whole lot to celebrate this tribute to romantic love, but we’ve always done something. We’ve been married 28 years so as the reader can tell we hadn’t known each other very long when we decided to tie the knot in October 1980. In fact, we had met in March of 1980 on St. Patrick’s Day, a whole month after Valentine’s Day of 1980. By the time we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together in February 1981, we’d already known each 11 months and been married four months.

By the way, our experience of marrying just seven months after we’d first met is just one more example among many that short engagements often do lead to very successful marriages.

Card From Walmart

The card I got Harriet this year came from Walmart. I didn’t spend very much time picking it out. Maybe the most shocking aspect of this confession is not that I didn’t spend very much time picking out the card, but that I, a practicing poet, used a store bought card in the first place. Yes, I do confess that I use store bought cards—and I enjoy doing it. I’ve written original poems to my wife before, and I am sure I will write more, but to this point the inspiration to write something for her has not come at the time of those annual milestones in her life—birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.

On the other, I do enjoy the experience of going to a store, mingling with the crowd, and picking out a card. In some past postings to Mind Check, I’ve confessed to the fact that I am an introvert—one of those people who normally gets a shot of energy from being alone rather than from being with others. Being with others is sometimes exhausting for me—all that talk, talk, talk. There are exceptions, and one of them involves mingling with crowds where we all have a common purpose, for example, sharing the excitement of being involved together in making purchases for a shared event like Valentine’s Day. Exciting!

Weekly Supermarket Shopping

I can remember when I first came to the Washington, DC, area in 1978. I had left my first marriage, and I was trying to reestablish myself in this new area where I knew almost no one. Yes, I was lonely. One of the things I would look forward to during this transitional time in my life was the weekly shopping trip, almost always on Saturdays, to the nearest supermarket. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. Just being with the other people in the busy supermarket where I could share in the energy that came from busy people with the common purpose of weekly food shopping was good enough.

Let me get back to the Valentine’s Day card that I got Harriet this time around. As I said, I didn’t give it that much thought when I picked it out, but I now think that I ended up with the best Valentine’s Day card I’ve ever gotten her. The main reason that it is the best is that the message so perfectly captures what I believe.

Back from Big Island

As I’ve previously indicated, Harriet and I are just back from the Big Island of Hawaii where we had a wonderful time. One of the great things about this vacation was that we were able to work on reconnecting family relationships that had gotten a little frayed after four years of separation. In case, I didn’t mention it before, we have family on the Big Island of Hawaii—son Scott, daughter-in-law Yumiko and grandson Sebastian, known as Sebi. We don’t get to see them nearly enough. Inevitably some bad feelings may get introduced into a relationship when family members don’t see each other for a prolonged period of time, and we wanted to make sure through this trip that negatives like these got smoothed over.

Hence the purpose of the trip was not to do anything for Harriet and my relationship, which was already as good as it could be, in my opinion. That was one of the ideas that I was trying to express with the card. Here is the message on the card, a Hallmark card in the “connections by Hallmark” series.

If someone were to ask me
What a perfect day would be,
I wouldn’t think of places
that have lovely sights to see,
I wouldn’t wish for sunny skies
or special things to do,
For I’d just want to have a day
That I could spend with you…
And if someone were to ask me
What would make a perfect life,
I’d simply say “I have that,”
for I have you for my wife.

To put the matter another way: I don’t need to make a trip to Hawaii or any other beautiful place to give meaning to my life. Just being with my wife is good enough for me.

Thank you, Hallmark and thanks for tuning into Mind Check. For a look at my other writing, see the website http://www.sasaftwrites.com. Please note that my two latest books, Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat and City Above The Sea And Other Poems are now available online. Links to the publisher Xlibris can be found on the sasaft website.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Alan Saft

Saturday, January 31, 2009


We are just back from the Big Island of Hawaii where we got a chance to perform the infrequent role of hands-on grandparents to the fourteen-year-old Sebastian. Sebi, as he is called, is a very fine student and a very fine basketball player, and we do not get to see him nearly enough. In fact, since his birth we have only had a chance to spend time with him about six times including a memorable time with him in Saporo, Japan, when his father was teaching at a Japanese university, all told less than 40 days.

The fact is that in the 14 years since Sebi’s birth we have only spent a total of about 40 days with the entire family, son Scott, daughter-in-law Yumiko, and Sebi. Why that has been the case I will leave to subsequent explorations. What this trip has served to demonstrate to me is how important family contact is. We humans are not solitary creatures. We are not meant to be alone even if we have a tendency to introversion, as I do. An introvert I may be, but a hermit I am not.

Highest Form of Feeling

Being with other people is essential, but no other contact is more important than being with family. Love, not romantic love, but what we refer to as agape or divine love, is the highest form of interpersonal feeling we can imagine. Under ideal conditions, that is, when our spiritual practices are manifest in us at the highest level it is what we feel toward everyone. Until we can attain the ideal, however, it is the feeling that comes most naturally to us when we are with family.

Let me express this principle in another, equally crucial way. How can I experience love for others but not experience love for my family? It is true that our family members have the capacity to hurt us more easily and more deeply than others can because of the bonds we feel through the sense of shared inheritance and shared experience. We aren’t expecting hurtful behavior from other family members, and when it happens it can hit us very hard and leave scars that last a lifetime.

Power Translates To Responsibility

It is for these reasons that, I believe, that family members need to work as hard as they can to treat each other with compassion and forgiveness. Because each of us has the power to hurt another family member more easily than anyone else, that is the very reason that each of us has the responsibility to be especially gentle, especially understanding, and especially loving in family situations.

In summary, it was wonderful being with family for the last nine days. I found it very renewing—and the gorgeous Big Island of Hawaii wasn’t bad either.

Thanks for tuning into Mind Check. For a look at my other writing, see the website http://www.sasaftwrites.com. Please note that my two latest books, Murdoch McLoon And His Windmill Boat and City Above The Sea And Other Poems are now available online. Links to the publisher Xlibris can be found on the sasaft website.

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Alan Saft