Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 30, 2006--The Poppies of Tora Bora

Literally buried in the very lowest left-hand corner of page A14 in yesterday's NY Times was a literally four-inch-long column titled, "Opium Crop on Rise in Afghan Provinces" (article linked below).

It summarizes a UN-World Bank report that concludes that not only will it "take a generation to render Afghanistan opium free," but also notes that opium cultivation rose by 59 percent this past year. Yes, by 59 percent! 6,100 tons of poppies were produced which yielded 610 tons of heroin. This constituted fully 90 percent of the world's heroin supply.

So here's my question--What the hell is going on over there?

Along with a legitimate coalition of NATO allies and others (unlike the phony Coalition of the Willing in Iraq), the U.S. has been a major presence in Afghanistan for about five years. We defeated the Taliban, destroyed the al Qaeda sites which in fact were used to train the 9/11 terrorists, and helped set up what appears to be a version of a stable, reasonably democratic government.

True, Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden are still above ground, in a manner of speaking, and there is concern about a Taliban resurgence. But I ask again in regard to the poppy situation--What the hell is going on over there?

Aren't we also waging a War On Drugs? If so, it seems made in heaven that almost all of the opium is produced in the very same place where we have tens of thousands of troops on site and where we presumably control the situation on the ground.

So how about hiring Halliburton to get rid of the poppies? I know this in and of itself would bankrupt the poor farmers who depend on poppies for their livelihoods, but maybe in addition to plowing the poppy crop under we could subsidize the former poppy farmers the way we subsidize corn and wheat growers right here in America.I'm making an issue of this, even though I would vote in a second to decriminalize drugs including heroin, because it is such a good bad-example of our inability to get anything accomplished even when we have declared it a national priority.

We can’t rebuild New Orleans; we can’t teach our kids math; and now we can’t get rid of the friggin poppies.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

November 29, 2006--The Height Premium

I always thought my family overemphasized tallness.

With the exception of my father, the only family member of his generation not to have been born in either Poland or Russia, no one was much taller than five-four (just one or two uncles) and most of my aunts on a good day could barely stretch themselves out to five-feet even.

And the next generation didn’t fare much better, with the exception of my brother and me. That in itself was significant—though there were more financially successful members of the family, my parents were twice privileged: they had two sons (some of their contemporaries had only daughters, no others had more than one son) and both of us reached six feet by the time we were 15 and kept growing—my brother to about six-three, me to about six-five.

The most affluent family members had either only daughters (as many as three) or had short offspring. In truth, I felt that I was more a freak of nature than blessed, while everyone else looked at my brother and me and felt, in our tallness, that we alone had fulfilled their hoped-for American Dream. Yes, those who made money fulfilled one important aspect of it, but Len and I were the only ones who could truly assimilate. And thus if and when the Nazis inevitably came looking for the Jews they would leave us alone because we would somehow pass for gentiles or for being “Real Americans,” especially if we had a little plastic surgery along the way—I will here not tell those stories!

So when the NY Times reported about studies linking tallness with success, I assumed that they had found us out and that life for Len and me suddenly would become much more dangerous. Particularly since there is a eugenics component to some of the research. And we know all too well where eugenics in the past has led!

The earliest attempt to equate tallness with success, actually intelligence, was a mid-nineteenth century interest in selective breeding that would produce taller and thus genetically superior individuals. Happily, try as they did, these early "scientists" could not prove the correlation--though this did not stop the Nazis from putting it into practice some years later.

More recently, there have been some more nuanced approaches that have tried to look at how nurture (including prenatal care) and good nutrition and improved health care combine with genetics to produce taller individuals. And there have also been decent recent studies that attempt to examine the connection between height, financial success, and even happiness. In other words, is there a “height premium”? (See NY Times article linked below.)

Some of the best research suggests that this premium can be found most commonly by looking at a boy’s size at age 16—studies speculate that taller teenagers accrue “human capital” and subsequent success through athletic and social activities.

Far be it for me to call any of this into question; but I can testify from painful personal experience that being very tall at 16 hardly allowed me to accrue anything other then nicknames such as Beanpole and Scarecrow. And with arms and legs that did not coordinate I was hardly in hot demand when it came time to choose up sides for street games—I was always next-to-last chosen, with only Stanley Futoran selected after me because he was prematurely headed toward 300 pounds.

Actually, as it turns out, The Pillow as we called him, wound up earning a lot more in a good year than I was ever able to make in a decade—but I will also not tell you either the numbers or what he did for a “living.”

But who am I to argue with the NY Times?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

November 28, 2006--Reaping the Whirlwind

Later this week President Bush will be meeting with Prime Minister Maliki in Jordan. I emphasize “in Jordon” because this is an admission that it is too unsafe for him to travel anywhere in Iraq, even to the so-called Green Zone.

In my fantasies I am hoping that at this meeting, in spite of the nouveau stay-the-course rhetoric being articulated by both Cheney and Bush, President Bush will tell Maliki that because of the results of the recent midterm election and the recommendations he knows will be offered by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission, the U.S. will soon have to begin to pull out--or if you prefer a fig leaf, “redeploy” its troops. He will have no political choice. And so he, Bush, is giving the Iraqi government a preview of what is about to be happen.

But a spate of recent stories in just the NY Times snapped me right out of that fantasy.

First there was the report that the “insurgents” have figured out a way to sustain themselves financially through smuggling, selling stolen oil on the world market, and collecting ransom money for kidnapped foreigners—the Italians and French alone paid about $30 million during the past 12 months. It is estimated that through these methods the “enemy” is pulling in up to $300 million a year. And unlike us they don’t have to borrow the money from the Chinese.

Then we learn that Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is Iraq’s most potent fighting force, is out-sourcing much of the training of his troops to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Thus far, the Times reports, about 2,000 have been prepared for battle. (Story linked below.) Maybe we should have thought of asking Hezbollah to train the Iraqi army since, after our own three-year multi-billion dollar effort to train them to “stand up so we can stand down,” it is clear that this strategy isn’t working very well.

Further, at a press conference in Estonia (a member of the Coalition of the Willing—they have supplied 200 non-combat troops) on-route to Jordon for his meeting with Maliki, when Bush was asked about what is likely to be a Baker-Hamilton recommendation—that we include axis-of-evil members Syria and Iran in regional talks to seek a solution to the chaos in Iraq--he made it clear that this will not occur until and unless Iran halts it nuclear program. So it looks as if the diplomatic option is also off the table because there is obviously no way Iran will agree to this in advance of negotiating with us.

But Secretary of State Rice is at least seeing the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff as an impediment to any larger settlement and so she is making another trip to the Middle East to lean on whomever. While she is in the process of doing that, Philip Zelikow, her most-trusted senior advisor on the Arab-Israeli dispute is precipitously resigning, claiming that he needs to return to his endowed chair at the University of Virginia, after just 19 months at the State Department. In truth he is quitting because of pressure from American Jewish groups and Israeli officials—because as a realpolitik advocate he has been urging the U.S. government to put real pressure on the Israelis to make a deal with the Arabs. He sees that as the essential first step to solving other critical regional issues. So he’s gone.

We also hear that the Baker Commission is split over the issue of “timetables” or “benchmarks,” or whatever you want to call them. Things within the Commission got much more complicated after the Democrats did so well in the recent election—if the Republicans had been able to keep control of Congress Baker would have retained the elevated status he had as the family consigliore, again coming to the rescue of misbehaving “junior.” The Democrat members of the commission are apparently feeling feistier and less willing to go along with Baker’s desire to be seen as a version of Prime Minister Disraeli. So maybe instead of providing Bush with a plan for a respectable way out, the Commission will issue recommendations plus dissents and the Cheney wing will have the confusion it wants and within which it thrives. Confusion that enables them to continue carry out their ruinous global fantasies.

While all of this is going on, what are we currently debating? Raging in the media is a storm about NBC News deciding yesterday to call what is occurring in Iraq a “civil war.” The White House press secretary called this “a stunt,” preferring instead to refer to it as a “new phase in the war” or “sectarian violence” or an “insurgency.”

Whatever. But in the meantime, buried today in a box on page A14, the Times also carries its list of recently confirmed Americans killed in action—eight are listed. Two were 19, two others were 20, and none were from New York City, Los Angeles, or Houston. Nor were any from the families of anyone in Congress or the White House.

Monday, November 27, 2006

November 26, 2006-- :)

Until now I thought that the expression Digital Divide describes the socioeconomic gap that separates low-income and more affluent computer owners—the more money you have the more likely it is that you will be computer literate and have access to the Internet and all its resources.

Now I am understanding that there is yet another gap. This one separates generations—young text messagers and the adults in their lives who are still trying to figure out how to program their cell phones for speed dialing.

If your kid sent you the following text message and you understand it, you can stop reading this and get back to your Christmas shopping;

soz i 4gt 2 fon u.i c u 2moz **

If it’s sort of Greek to you, plow on.

Cingular, which makes quite a lot of money from cell phone text messaging, is so concerned about this gap that they are about to offer interactive “texting bees” for adults to teach us how to communicate in this new way with the “younger generation.” (See NY Times article linked below.)

Cingular’s executive director for text messaging puts it this way, “”It’s about, ‘Do you realize how your kids communicate with their friends?’”

As good a question as this is, I also have a few, “OK, so kids are text messaging each other and they have invented a language of their own to do so; but since one reason they created text messaging slang is to keep their language private—i.e., to keep adults out of it—why then should it be our business to intrude? Didn’t we do a pre-electronic version of the same thing when we were kids so that we could carve out some private space for ourselves away from adult scrutiny? And why should we make such an effort to learn the ways of children when our responsibility includes helping them learn the ways of adults?”

We seem to want our children to be precocious while at the same time seeking to become more childish so we can “relate” to them as “friends.”

As the kids would say—GAL (“Get a life”).

** "Sorry I forgot to phone you. I will see you tomorrow

Friday, November 24, 2006

November 24, 2006--Fanaticism LXXV--Granny Fatima

On holidays such as Thanksgiving, when families gather to among other things celebrate their familiness, not only do we give thanks for those who are an essential part of our lives, but we also give pause to remember those who are no longer with us.

To many of us, this means remembering grandparents, and the special love and security they brought to our lives.

So it came as a jolt to see, this morning, an article in the NY Times about a very different kind of grandmother—Fatima Omar Mahmud al-Najar of Gaza. On the very day that I was savoring my turkey and thoughts of my own grandmother, this mother of nine and grandmother to forty blew herself up in the town of Beit Lahiya. Thankfully, no one beside herself was killed—Israeli soldiers spotted her and threw a stun grenade at her before she could carry out her deadly mission. (Article linked below.)

Little is thus far known about her though Hamas did release one of those familiar suicide-bomber photos of Granny Fatima proudly holding an assault rifle. It is chilling beyond the familiar because she looks so much like I remember my own Granny—the same lined Semitic face, the same work-worn hands

I will not attempt to imagine what brought her to this desperate and murderous state. Suffice it to say that there she was and she did was she did.

I imagine that she did this as her way of inspiring her grandchildren just as my Granny used her life as an inspiring example for me and the rest of her grandchildren.

What a world of difference. Would that her forty had the same opportunities as my cousins and I have had. Maybe, perversely, that is what she was attempting to say. Nothing else has any meaning.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

November 23, 2006--Thanx

I'm off to get my hands on a drumstick and hope you are as well.

Thanks to all of you who check in regularly. I'll see you back here on Monday.

Peace and love!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November 22, 2006--Hey Big Spender

$746,450 for catering? If Hillary Clinton spent this much for pizza and sandwiches during her reelection campaign, how can we trust her to balance the federal budget if she is somehow elected president in 2008?

The NY Times reports that she “blew” about $30 million on her virtually uncontested senatorial reelection campaign and as a result depleted her war chest as she gears up for an expected run for the presidential nomination. (Article linked below.)

She raised more money than any other candidate and it was assumed that most of that, unneeded to win a second term, was going to be put in the bank and used to jump start her 2008 campaign. But no, most of what she raised is gone, and she now has only about as much money set aside as John Kerry—he should have spent some of his on getting better joke writers.

A close look at her spending reveals something of an inability to get good value for her money and a certain lack of discipline. She spent an inordinate amount of money on friends who are political consultants when she had a pro bono political genius more or less living at home with her.

Do you think giving Mandy Grunwald $930,000 to advise her about media was money well spent or various sums ranging from $37,5000 to $1.1 million to long time friends for polling and consulting was wise when it was clear from day one that she would get at least two-thirds of the vote? Her opponent, whose name none of us remembers, was the guy who generated his one headline when he said Hillary was “ugly” and spent “millions” on plastic surgery. She needed to spend $30 million plus to “defeat” him?

Do you think that all those folks who contributed $100 or less to her campaign (90 percent of her contributors wrote these kinds of small checks) wanted her to spend $13,169 on flowers?

On the other hand, Corrine Brown, Democrat of Florida spent $24,000 on flowers (most for families of constituents who died) and, to be bipartisan, Republican Richard Pombo of California shelled out $17,250 for balloons for a single event in July.

But then Hillary did host at least one cool event—she spent only $2,500 for a back-room fundraiser at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a well-know Washington, DC hot dog shop. My hundred, I hope, went to that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November 21, 2006--Leaving Children Behind

Even before taking office six years ago, Compassionate Conservative President-Elect George Bush had staff working on the first piece of legislation that would be submitted to Congress. It was labeled HR-1, signally by that designation its priority in the House of Representatives. Within weeks of his administration taking office that bill passed both Houses in a fully bipartisan way, supported enthusiastically by Democrats Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller.

It was called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It was in many ways revolutionary and held considerable promise that maybe George Bush would turn out to be a surprisingly effective President. It was revolutionary in that it was the first piece of federal legislation that explicitly referred to the academic achievement gap between the performance of children by race, and it called for the elimination of that gap by the end of a decade. Bush summed up the situation quite well when he said, “Knowing how to read is a Civil Right.”

The new law not only put a spotlight on this persistent social problem but called for specific remedies—it required states that wished to get federal funds for public schooling to administer achievement tests to all children each year, abandoning the existing practice of not testing until the third or fourth grade, for many children, sadly, too late to help them succeed. It also, radically, required that test data be disaggregated by race—in the past all testing results were lumped together so that the gaps in achievement were strategically and shamefully hidden. And, over the objections of teachers unions and many education associations, the law required that individual schools be held accountable for their performance. If they did not produce satisfactory results, parents would be given the opportunity to move their children to higher-performing schools or be given support to have their kids tutored.

But when it came time to have money appropriated for NCLB Democrats who had supported its passage felt that Bush and the Republicans did not allocate enough money to give it a chance to really work. But many educators felt that there was still enough pressure on school systems to get them to do better and that there would likely be evidence after a number of years to suggest things were heading in the right direction; and when it came time to reauthorize NCLB adjustments in its structure and funding would be possible.

But just yesterday, as the new Congress begins to stir about its priorities for 2007, including NCLB's reauthorization, the NY Times reported that there is sad evidence that across all grade levels, after five years of implementation, the gaps between whites, blacks, and Hispanics have not been narrowed. (Article linked below.)

The education score card maintained by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed some progress on gap narrowing in math for fourth graders, but “on fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading and math, the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps were statistically unchanged from the early 1990s.” Previously reported were the dire results in science performance, especially if measured against achievement levels in many other countries.

Critics claim this is because not enough money was available to get the job done and pre-Kindergarten programs were insufficiently available. Others contend that the problem lies with the achievement tests themselves—they dumb-down teaching and force teachers to spend too much valuable class time teaching-to-the-test. Well, if they are doing that, that too isn’t working!

One could agree with this analysis if there were no good, cost-effective, large-scale examples of programs and methodologies that do have a documented track record of closing those gaps. In their absence it would be fair to assert that we need to spend more money or we need to give up on public schools altogether and privatize education—turn schooling over to for-profit and parochial schools and pay for this with public money. As it turns out, some of this has occurred, and it doesn’t work very well either.

But why don’t we look at those approaches that actually work and insist that they be replicated? Improving education is at least as important as improving health care—where will this country be in 20-50 years if we do not fix this problem, especially since school systems all over the world are doing a much better job of educating their children? If in medicine there is agreement that a particular treatment “works” better than others, medical ethics, if not malpractice insurance, insists that it be the treatment of choice. Why are we so unwilling to require the same approach in the equivalently vital field of education?

The good news is that there are a number of approaches that have data that show they work to narrow and close the achievement gaps so teachers and schools would not, if this more prescriptive system were implemented, find themselves required to do things in rote lock-step. There would still be room to individualize methods and for educators to feel that they are more than just technicians.

Having said this, it is still not about the teachers and allowing them to be “creative” and to “express” themselves—which is what so much of contemporary education in the U.S. is about. It’s about the children and doing what it takes to help them get the education they deserve.

Monday, November 20, 2006

November 20, 2006--Social Mapping

Recently I received a letter from Cingular, my cell phone “service provider,” in which I was notified that by the end of November my old phone would be obsolete because Cingular was switching to a new system. My phone, I think, is analog and the new system requires, I think, digital phones.

You should have already figured out from the two “I think’s” that cell phones and other things electronic are not one of my natural specialties. In fact, I shake with anxiety every time I turn on the computer with which I am writing and posting this, fearing that if I touch one wrong button the entire blog and everything I have ever written will irretrievably disappear. I have been told countless times that this is not true—that quite the contrary, a computer’s hard drive, I think, has everything stored, even things you’d prefer no one to know about. But still my hands tremble.

So when I received that letter I of course assumed that the whole thing was a scam to sell me something I didn’t need or want. But when I went to the Cingular store I came away convinced that I did in fact need a new phone and that, want them or not, my new phone had all sorts of “features” that would make my life more interesting, fun, and convenient. Though I’m not sure just why I have to “customize” my “ring tone.” Try as I did, I could not find a tone that sounded anything like a real telephone ring—which, you might imagine, is my preference.

But I have already used the camera, with its video capacity, and I did manage to figure out how to use one of the photos I took as “wallpaper” for the phone’s illuminated screen. But when I went back the next day to ask how I might send a photo I had taken via the phone to someone else, I glazed over when they told me how to do it and that I needed the “media option,” for a small additional monthly charge. I took a pass on that.

But while I was there they also told me, since I do a decent amount of traveling about, I could add the G.P.S. option. I could use this, they said, to find my way around; if I had children and they had one of these devices, I could always know where they were; if I wanted to know where Borat was playing the G.P.S. phone would show me the location closest to me and how to get there; and ditto for restaurants. I passed on that option too, thinking that I prefer to wander around and get lost and in the getting lost I invariably stumble on things that are more interesting than what I was originally seeking—sort of a Zen experience where you get found by getting lost.

Then by coincidence, the NY Times ran a piece yesterday about G.P.S. cell phone systems (linked below) that do a lot more than help you find a place to eat. One of my favorites is the one offered by Earthlink. In its new phone, the Drift, they include the Buddy Beacon. With a push of a button, on the Drift a map pops up that shows the location of 25 of your closest friends, assuming of course they all have Drift phones and, of course, that you have 25 friends. I have about three. Sprint has something equivalent that provides what they call a “social mapping service.”

In the midst of all these fun and games, think about what else one could do with these phones—a clue comes from their capacity to know where your children are. If they can do that, there is also the built-in capacity for those in change of the mapping system to know where you are! Bad guys, for example. Or your spouse if you are out cheating. And, as a stretch of imagination, even governments. Yes, you can “turn off your location,” but in the right 1984 circumstances even doing that can make you look suspicious.

It is true that we are rapidly becoming a post-privacy society--telephone booths are no longer booths with doors; subway Metro cards record the time date and location of every trip you make; stores and banks video and record everyone; more and more cities have remote controlled surveillance cameras on every street corner (there are currently 4 million, yes, positioned throughout England); and now you can get a phone that you can use to locate everyone you know and others can use to keep track of your every step.

I want my old phone back!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November 18, 2006--Saturday Story: Ludavicio et al.--Part Three

In Part Two, Lloyd returned home a day earlier than expected from a great academic triumph at UCLA; and rather than being greeted by Lydia, his recent bride, he found Ludavicio, a bruiser of very few words, draped, in just his briefs, on their reproduction Spanish sofa. Lydia, wearing not very much more, was as always nonplussed. She made the introductions and over tea in the attic dance studio showed Lloyd the piece of choreography she claimed she and Ludavicio had been working on when he arrived on the scene. It was a very brief snippet of a work, and Lloyd wondered if they had quickly needed to come up with and rehearse something in the kitchen after sending him, on his own, up to the studio with the Delft tea set. Jet-lagged and caffeinated from the tea, Lloyd uncharacteristically confronted Lorenzo or Ludavicio, whomever, about his life in New York and discovered he was more being supported by his Milanese parents than from modeling for artists. Becoming exasperated from Lloyd’s suspicious probing, Lydia declared Ludavicio to be “gay,” as if that would explain everything, and stormed out leaving the two men alone together. At the very end of Part Two, Ludavicio spoke his only two words of the evening or this chapter, “I’m not.”

Therefore, in Part Three, we will most likely find Lloyd eager to . . .

And so, from that awkward evening with Ludavicio, as the implications became clear to me—that I was a cuckold!--you will I feel certain understand and sympathize that I quickly moved to gain retribution of an admittedly self-indulgent and even pleasurable sort—as Lydia had taken Aunt Madeline’s advice to “get” herself a man, or a man-child as she had in Lorenzo’s or Ludavicio’s case, I too began my search for a women who would find my capacities, whatever Lydia thought of their inadequacies, quite sufficient, thank you very much.
And I am pleased to report that it did not take very long—incredibly, just one day! And I did not have to search very far—just in the office cubicle next door to mine at Brooklyn College, where a young research associate, freshly minted at Sarah Lawrence College, greeted me with, “I know it’s your birthday on Thursday, Mr. Zazlo; and I was wondering how you might be planning to celebrate.”

I was so flattered and frankly stunned that she knew this about me, I was hardly well enough known for my birthday to be noted by anyone beyond my family and a few friends, that I did not even think to inquire why on earth she was aware of such a thing, much less of me. But, in my current state of being, about to launch myself, so to speak, I was confessedly doubly flattered by her question, especially its somewhat wicked tone which suggested that perhaps she had ideas of her own about how that celebration might best occur. And, then, as I am in a confessional mood, I could not help but notice that she would have made an ideal candidate to be featured in her former college’s catalogue as personifying the stereotypically brainy, artsy, sultry, “Sarah Lawrence Girl”—they were not in that era yet referred to as “women.”

In other words, Kim Drake (that was what was printed on the cardboard name-tent on her desk) was exactly the kind of women my Aunt Madeleine, if she were advising me rather than Lydia, would have suggested I “get.”

And so I said, in as snappy a manner as my rusty self was capable of mustering, “That’s my father’s name, ‘Mr. Zazlo.’ Please, Kim is it, I’m ‘Lloyd.’” I felt that I was performing so well that I added, “Can you believe it, my father wanted to name me ‘Lord,’” she was smiling up at me as if that was the most amusing thing she had ever heard, her perfect teeth in glorious chiaroscuro to her brown skin—she was, in addition to all of her other obvious endowments, which were apparent even though she was seated hunched over her typewriter, a Negress. Gloriously and to me exotically so. “I’m being serious. He thought it would help me get restaurant reservations—you know, if I were ‘Lord Zazlo.’”

“He thought back then, when you were just a new born, about restaurants? He must be an unusual and remarkable man.” She had a slight lisp which made her perfection, by contrast, even more astonishing.

“About that yes, but in other ways he is less imaginative.”

“So where did your imagination come from? I read one of your stories, ‘Under Mother’s Bed,’ in Black Sun.” She arched her back to release the tension from her shoulder muscles. It was difficult not to lower my eyes to take in her body, but I did in an act of great restraint manage to keep them fixed on hers. “It was a very poignant story. And very chilling, almost Kafkaesque, especially that part where the young boy hides under her bed while the police question his mother about a crime that was committed in the neighborhood, one that you never describe.”

That had in fact been my story, the only one I had up to that time been able to publish, albeit in a magazine that was mimeographed rather than printed and had a stapled binding. “It’s remarkable that you saw it. I had thought no one ever noticed it. It’s published out of someone’s apartment on the Lower Eastside.”

“I did find it tucked away on the lowest shelf of the ‘Little Magazine’ corner in the Eighth Street Bookstore. It’s my favorite place to rummage. Perhaps I was attracted to the name of the magazine—Black Sun.” She paused to allow me to wonder why that title among so many might have attracted her beyond what was obvious. She got up out of the chair and, though she was wearing flats, she uncoiled to reach to almost my height—she was perhaps a bit more than six feet. Still smiling, now standing close enough so I could almost taste her musky scent, she said, almost in a whisper, “It is fate, isn’t it, that I found your story in that issue just as I found you right here in an adjoining office.” She added, leaning even closer, this time in an actual whisper, “I want to learn more about that little boy and have you tell me about the crime that I suspect he committed.”

I could feel myself melting. Would she, would Kim Drake turn out to be my Ludavicio?

In fact, she did. And it all unfolded quickly and effortlessly because, in addition to being exactly the kind of twenty-something woman who would ignite my prematurely moribund glands, she intuitively knew that this kind of visceral attraction was a necessary yet insufficient precondition to draw me into a liaison—I was too self-righteously inhibited for that in itself to work—she knew that I needed to “fall in love,” or at least convince myself that I was, before becoming a philanderer. I was that kind of husband. In spite of Ludavicio!

“So we should talk then, shouldn’t we, about how to make Thursday special. So memorable that you will feel compelled to tell me about that naughty boy’s secrets.”

I was, thankfully, beginning to feel inklings of love—it’s first tremor. “Ah,” I was not good or practiced at this, “Ah, I do have plans for the evening. At least I assume there are plans. My, ah, Lydia,” I could not utter the word wife, “Lydia, she I’m sure will make something special for dinner. Maybe, ah,” I had averted my eyes, embarrassed by my pathetic stammerings, “perhaps she even made a reservation for dinner somewhere.”

“You mean,” Kim sparkled, “for Lord and Lady Zazlo?” I felt the heat of her smile even as I was still unable to lift my head to look directly at her.

I was from that filled with, yes, love for her. The inklings had by that playful gesture been sufficiently metamorphosed into the requisite amount of love that I required to proceed. Here I had been launched, in the spirit of my fabled aunt and the need to even the score with Lydia, here I was determined to begin to roam about in order to get a woman; but in the short space of less than ten minutes I had been completely and totally captured. Gotten.

“That means, unless you have a class on Thursday, that your day might be free. Yes?” She stood there glowing at me in expectation.

One of my freshman Comp and Lit sections did meet Thursdays from 10-11:30; but I quickly said, “No, in fact,” I lied, “I spend Thursdays in the library up at Columbia. I have two more chapters to complete for my thesis. It’s on Blake’s Prophetic works. You know, the Four Zoas. I need to do more research about the Book of Ezekiel.” I had no ideal why I was rattling on that way. Things had been going so well when we were talking about my “Lord” and my Black Sun story.

“But that is just perfect.” I must have looked puzzled, how could my needing to be in Butler Library all day be “perfect” when Kim seemed to want to help me celebrate my birthday? “I have to pick up my father’s car. I need it to help move the last of my things to my new apartment on the Lower Eastside. I think it might even be right next to where that magazine of yours is published,” did she wink at me? “The car’s in Westchester so I can pick you up at Columbia and maybe from there we can go to a wonderful clam shack I know on City Island where we can have lobster rolls and a glass of champagne. I’ll bring that too. That is unless you can’t leave your Zoas for the day.” She paused to let that have its effect, and then said, “That would make me so jealous.”

“I wouldn’t want you to be. Of course I can jilt them. Actually, I very much want to. I need a break from them. From those four nagging creatures who pull the chariot of God’s spirit.” Again, I found myself pathetically reverting to the pedantic when I should have been guided by my aunt’s spirit and answered Kim with some genuine poetry. I promised myself I would work on some before Thursday.

But she was happily not turned off by my awkwardness and said, “So we agree, on Thursday it will be me instead of your Zoa Luvah!” I was impressed that even at a college noted for its progressivism, she would have learned about Blake’s late works, “And I will scoop you up at precisely 11:00 on Amsterdam and 116th Street and whisk you off to a barefoot birthday walk along the beach before toasting you with nectar. How does that sound?” She hardly needed to ask since she had reached out to touch my arm just where the leather patch had been affixed to the elbow of my tweed jacket and could feel my trembling.

“Better than anything I might have imagined,” I managed to say with a hint of a smile, “And I promise, no Blake talk.”

At that she smiled back more radiantly and said, blowing what I thought to be a kiss as she darted out, “Until them, my little lamb.”

* * *

Lydia had not in fact made any special plans for Thursday evening nor had she noticed that I left for my morning class, which I had been careful to cancel, in unusually casual clothes, wearing shoes but no socks. She was so preoccupied by rehearsals with Merce Cunningham’s junior company, he had “adored” the choreography she had previewed for me with Ludavicio, that I suspect if I had left for “college” that day in my pajamas, or even less, she would have given them scant notice.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be home tonight,” she hollered down to me as I gulped some tepid coffee in the kitchen before racing toward the city. “I know it’s your birthday, but you know Merce. I’ll leave some lasagna for you. I know how much you love that. Just heat it up in the microwave. We’ll find some time, I’m sure, over the weekend. Maybe we’ll go to Chinatown. OK?” I didn’t even bother to respond. She would not have heard me in any case and I was eager to get to the subway and then on to meet my golden Luvah!

I got out of the subway at 10:30 and with a half hour to ill drifted along Broadway where I had prowled as an undergraduate. I poked my head into the West End Bar where Johnny the bartender was still ensconced. He nodded at me as nonchalantly as if I had been there just the night before; and then I darted across the two lanes of traffic and onto the grounds of Columbia, taking note of the new Ferris Booth Student Center, an ugly modern glass and brick pile that had recently been completed and now stood there dumbly defiling the stoic faux-classicism of the other buildings silently squeezed onto that huge rectangle of a campus.

I made my way east on College Walk by the Alma Mater statue riveted to her throne, immobily facing south toward Butler Library where I claimed I carried out my arcane research whereas, in truth, I had abandoned my thesis two years ago and was in dread of what that would soon mean to my faltering academic career. Thus every aspect of the day was built on lies and self-deception. Both perfect preparation, in that era of thwarted desire, to betrayal.

Just as that dark Dostoyevskyian thought crossed my mind, right as the bells in Saint Paul’s Chapel tolled eleven times, precisely as I reached Amsterdam Avenue, Kim pulled up, startling me out of my mordant reverie in a squeal of braking tires. She sang out in my direction, “Oh Lord, it’s me, Luvah.”

I could hear her clearly even as traffic roared by because she was, could it have been more perfect for transgression, seated with the top down in her father’s red Fiat convertible! Of course she was wearing a silk scarf. Intoxicating echoes of Isadora Duncan.

Danger was lurking in the air; and without hesitation, eagerly, I breathed it deeply in as I vaulted into the seat beside her. Without, of course, opening the door. I did it quite well, I am pleased to be able to report, even with some flair, managing thankfully not to catch my foot and thereby shatter the illusion. In that spirit, Un Homme et une Femme, at least images of their sexy Fiat, also came to mind as Kim roared away from the curb, north toward what I imagined would be a sun-bleached, half-abandoned clam shack leaning into the wind whipping off Long Island Sound. With Kim, for support, leaning against me. My sepia Anouk Aimee.

On that campus I was uncontrollable flooded with such references and was thus doubly thrilled to be speeding away from it and them.

* * *

City Island was not quite what I had been imagining. What through the week of waiting I anticipated, a close-in Cape Cod, turned out to be more like familiar south-Brooklyn Canarsie. There were more rows of two-family attached houses with asbestos siding embossed to look like fieldstone than shingled cottages cantilevered into dunes. And what beach there was, squeezed between the dingy boatyards, had more broken glass than white sand so there was no possibility, another deflated fantasy, of tossing my loafers into the back seat and running off toward the light, holding hands with Kim. It would be necessary to reign in what had been my soaring expectations since I had to be careful not to cut my feet since I had not gotten a Tetanus shot since elementary school.

Perhaps sensing my deflation, Kim, still attempting to be upbeat, said, “This is not at all how I remember the Island from my childhood. When I came here with my parents, to escape the heat of the Hudson Valley, none of these houses existed. It was all very unspoiled and I thought romantic. That I would come back one day, when I was grown, to experience that romance.”

With that she clutched my arm and pressed her breasts into my chest. “Let’s go right over to the Clam Bar. I’m sure it hasn’t changed and we can sit out on the deck and eat. I have the champagne right here in the cooler.” She pulled, shaking me to revive my spirits and to direct me toward an unpaved cul-de-sac that led toward the water. But it was in truth more her body’s closeness and its heat than thoughts of food that roused me. That occurred quite instantly, and I was already thinking about what she had arranged for us to do after the lobster rolls.

Anticipating that and excited again, this time with me tugging on her, we literally skipped down the lane, as she might have done a dozen years ago, but now with a man on her arm!

Thus we bounded along like giddy children until the restaurant loomed before us and, at that, Lydia let go of me and stood there, fixed in place while staring wistfully at it And for the first time, with sadness in her voice, sighed, “Oh Lloyd, it’s not at all how I remember it. So much time has passed. Look what they’ve done to it.” She sagged beside me and let her head come to rest on my shoulder. “It used to be so magical,” she said as if to herself, “Now it has that garish sign and all the weathered benches have been replaced with plastic. I hate them!” I could feel her beginning to weep for lost time, she all of twenty-two, and the inexorable debasement that that brings.

“It’s your special day and I so wanted everything to be perfect.” She by then was sobbing and punched her fist in frustration into her hip. But in spite of her unhappiness, as I attempted to comfort her as best I could, I also felt myself further aroused by her desperation. I did not pause to think what that might say about me. The sensation was too exciting.

“There, there, Kim,” I said, stroking her coarse hair, “I’m fine. The best present of all is being here with you in a place that has so many memories.” I was feeling enough of a sense of arousal and love for her at that vulnerable moment to allow myself to continue to imagine the real celebration that I hoped was waiting.

“I know what you’re feeling,” I continued, “but I think we should have lunch here. It was such a sweet plan, and I’m sure the lobster rolls are still wonderful. In spite of the plastic benches.” With that she perked up and began again to bubble with renewed enthusiasm. I did find these quick shifts in emotion to be attractive. As one was allowed to think at that time--so intoxicatingly, irresistibly female!

“Yes, yes,” Kim cried as she broke away from me and ran up onto the deserted deck of the Clam Bar and plopped down at a picnic table nearest the water’s edge, waving to me to join her.

By the time I got there she had already set out the champagne and the normal full radiance had returned to her black eyes. “Look, look,” she said pointing at the board on which the menu was chalked, “Just as you said they would, they still have them. Let’s order two and extra-crisp French fries. I love those too. And get two empty glasses. You need to go inside to order and then they’ll bring everything to us. How does that sound?” She was the old Kim who I knew from that brief encounter at the college and our hour-long drive from the city.

When I returned to the table, Kim had already removed the wire and gold foil from the champagne and was slowly, with her thumbs, working the cork up the neck of the bottle. “It bounced around in the car so I have to do this very carefully or everything will explode.” But in spite of her care, just as she said that, the cork rocketed out and then out toward the Sound where it fell among the broken glass and rotting seaweed. And following that there was a geyser of Piper-Heidsieck that ran down Kim’s hand and arm and onto the table.

She giggled as she licked the dripping champagne from her fingers and wrist, all the while keeping a sultry eye on me. “This of course is not quite the right way to make a proper birthday toast,” she purred, “One should use a crystal flute. But happy birthday anyway my Lord!” And with that she bowed to me, reached out, and put those perfect, still-wet fingers into my mouth where, by sucking on them, I drained the last of the Piper and thereby joined her ribald toast.

* * *

On the drive back to the city, with me this time at the wheel and Kim nestled and humming contentedly in the crook of the arm I needed to negotiate the gear shift, which, in spite of this I somehow managed to accomplish, she talked in a lazy stream-of-consciousness about the day (“Can you believe it that they now use lobster that comes frozen from South Africa? How the world has changed.”) and about that little boy in my Black Sun story (“Tell me the truth, Lloyd, what bad thing did you do to deserve to be punished that way by your mother—to be made to stay under her bed?” She did not wait for an answer—in truth I had none that would serve the purpose of what the rest of the day, I hoped, promised).

We were on our way to Avenue B on the Lower Eastside to her new apartment. “It’s a third-floor walkup,” she alerted me, “I hope you will have something left for me when we get there!” She laughed so joyously at her own joke that her entire body shook and I almost lost control of the Fiat as we careened across the Willis Avenue Bridge and back into Manhattan).

When we got to her building at the corner of Avenue B and 5th Street, it was not hard for me to imagine my immigrant grandparents, newly arrived from Poland via Ellis Island, living on Kim’s very-same apartment. Nothing much appeared to have changed--it was still very much a tenement; and the streets were still filled with many bent and elderly people from that generation, mainly Ukrainians, with a sprinkling of adventurous NYU students, aging hippies, and anarchists.

She asked me to park by the police station around the corner since she was certain the top would be cut if we left such a conspicuous car in front of her building. She reminded me with a smile, not that I needed it, that we were no longer on the set of a Claude Lelouch film. But even if we found a spot by the precinct house, which I was somehow able to do, she still was concerned that the police would not have the time to protect her father’s car since they were otherwise so fully occupied chasing the dope dealers out of Tompkins Square Park and into the neighboring streets and racing shooting victims up to Bellevue’s emergency room. And with the excitement that I sensed was stirred in her by this nearby threat, she told me that the area wasn’t called Alphabet City for nothing.

I must admit that like the danger I felt as we speed away from Columbia earlier in the day--palpitations of anticipation and fear that were incited by the beginning of a libidinous adventure—though downtown the threats were of a much different sort—they were to life itself; and though the tabloids of the day were full of lurid stories about innocent victims caught in drug dealers’ and gang-banger’s crossfire, I perversely felt from this additionally stimulated and could not wait to get to the sanctuary of Kim’s apartment where this heightened lust would find release. So I took the steps two at a time.

The hallways reeked of rancid cooking fat; there were rat droppings on every landing; a cacophony of crying babies and music blared through steel doors (hers had three latches, including an iron-bar Police Lock)--all stark testimony that Kim was seeking a very different kind of life for herself here than that provided by her parents up in Westchester or from the textureless security of her old place near her college in Bronxville. I felt certain from all of this visceral evidence—the noise, the smells, the filth, and especially the dangers--that I was somehow part of that new, still inchoate, elicit plan of hers.

And I was loving every moment of it and could not wait for her to get her front door opened!

What was taking so long?

* * *

Even before I was able to rejigger the Police Lock, they were not needed in Flatbush and so they were unfamiliar to me, she had Miles Davis emitting his mellow chords from the stereo, was it Witches Brew, and she had her top off. Though she was heading toward the bedroom and I could only see her back, and because the light was failing as the sun set, I could still tell that Kim had also disposed of her bra. My entire body began to throb.

She called out to me from the bathroom, where I could already hear the tub filling with water, “Above the sink, Lloyd, in the cabinet, you will find the Tanguery; and in the Fridge there is some Schweps, a lime, and of course some ice. Look around for glasses and make two gin and tonics and bring them here.”

Steam from the bathwater began to seep into her still unfurnished living room. I thought I heard a gunshot from the street followed by a siren. But I did not allow myself to be distrtacted—it was still my birthday, an empty house and cold lasagna waited back in Brooklyn, a magnificent naked woman was waiting in her tub for her gin and tonic, and I was determined to get it to her before the water cooled.

Thus with two crystal cocktail glasses held outstretched before me, both filled to the top with the Tanguery, Schweps, and a twist of lime; with the ice cubes rattling from my tremors of anticipation, I marched through Kim’s bedroom, taking notice, as I passed, of the queen-size mattress with its ruby silk sheets sprawled on the floor, without pause I hooked sharply to the right and, as both hands were full, with the top of my head pushed open the etched glass bathroom door and found there, as I had hoped and expected, shrouded in vapor, my own Luvah.

She had put bath oil in the water and I could see that it had added a polish to her already burnished skin. Her breasts, her perfect breast bobbed in the water as she stirred it about herself. “Come here, come closer,” she whispered when she saw me gazing motionless down at her. At her command, as I took a tentative step toward the tub, she pulled herself up into a sitting position so that her breast, her breasts again, sprang free from the soapy water, her nipples erecting as they hit the cooler air.

Grasping one of the offered glasses, before taking a deep draft from it, she held its frosted surface to her brow to cool herself. All the while, not for an instant did she take her eyes from mine. “This was how I imagined this day would end,” she cooed, I could hear the liquid sound of Miles seeping through the apartment. “But now, to make it perfect, I want you to go back out there,” she pointed to the bedroom, “and wait for me.” I turned to do as she directed as if in a trance. “I need to do one more thing and then I will join you.” She added, “And while you are waiting, please make yourself ready for me.”

That direction I understood; and before I reached the mattress, I was completely naked, my clothes scattered about as if they had been torn from me. But not sure what to do beyond that, I huddled near the corner of the room, awkwardly attempting to cover myself as she came into the room in a shimmering ivory silk gown. She stood there for a moment, taking me in, and I let my hands drop to my side, letting her see me unashamed and waiting, ready for her in all the necessary ways.

She glided toward me, allowing the gown to part and reveal with each step a different part of her glistening body. When she reached me she took hold of my penis and began to stroke it with some of the oil that remained on her hand.

“You are being such a good boy now,” she murmured, “No need then to punish you. Which is good since, as you have noticed, there is no room for you under my bed.”

Still with her hand on me, allowing her robe to open fully, Kim then knelt before me, stroking me in rhythm to the pensive music from the stereo. “It is still your birthday, is it not? You have been telling me the truth?” The stroking continued and I decided not to interrupt her to remind her that it was she and not I who had made note of the date. “And since it is, unless you are again being bad, this is the present that I have spent all week preparing for you . . . .”

With that she took me, all of me into her mouth. We both moaned simultaneously. But the ecstasy was short lived. Before she had a chance to run her lips over me more than once I fell out of her mouth, unreleased. Completely flaccid.

* * *

Lydia did not give up on it, or me. But neither her silken hands nor eager mouth could reawaken me. “Do not worry, my sweet,” she intoned, still kneeling before me, “As you know, with little boys, this is frequent. They are always so eager.”

She smiled up at me, still holding me, but I turned away, feeling humiliated and unmanned. And immediately began to think about what was happening. Everything had been in place for the perfect liaison—I had carefully covered for myself at the college; Lydia was so preoccupied that she hardly noticed that I seemed more eager than usual to leave for work, failing even to notice how inappropriately I was dressed; she was going to be at rehearsal well into the evening so there was no pressure on me to reappear in the early evening; Kim had provided the ideal sexy car for our getaway and had chilled a special champagne; and although City Island had proven to be disappointing, ironically that helped turn our time there into something unpredictable and exciting. All the ingredients were present, as I understood them from books and films, to assure an ideal illicit afternoon.

And then there was the intensifying effect of being so surrounded by danger—this too was well suited to bringing out male animal passions. But in my case, clearly just the opposite had occurred.

I was indeed a little boy. And a very little one at that!

Maybe, I reasoned, it was the champagne and the gin—from my pre-med studies hadn’t I learned about the effects of alcohol on the male libido? Or was it on erections? But I wasn’t sure—that was ten years ago. Or was I over-estimating the erotic stimulation engendered by danger? I seemed to recall some readings about the dampening effects on sexual capacities during the bombing raids on London during the Second World War. But then again, I also knew about the power of guilt—I was after all the Jewish son of a Jewish mother! Maybe, then, that was the source of my problem?

But as Kim continued to touch me, I felt with less motivation and optimism as I was not responding, I caught myself doing what I always tended to do when faced with a daunting dilemma—intellectualize it, search my memory for literary or scientific references or experimental data, deflect my thoughts and feeling from the immediate existential reality. That usually worked quite well, but in the current humiliating circumstance this technique was making matters worse, and so I took a step back. Literally.

Without acknowledging Kim still on her knees, or the collapsed trajectory that the day had taken, I silently gathered my clothes, turned and took them into the living room where the Miles Davis LP had ended and was now soundlessly turning, I dressed quickly and, as I struggled to release the Police Lock, turned back toward Kim, now standing in the bedroom doorway, and nodded and shrugged a brief unspoken “I’m sorry.”

What little light there was lighting her from behind I could still see her sad smile, sad for me, and heard her say, I think without wryness or even disappointment, “It’s all right my Mr. Zazlo.”

* * *

It was nearly 7:00 p.m. when I dragged myself onto the D Train, heading south back across the East River to Brooklyn. All I could think about, in addition to continuously replaying in my head the loop of tape that contained the images and feelings of what had turned out to be a truly miserable day, still frustrated and unable to gain any clear insight about the meaning of any of it, none of my usual tools of analysis being helpful, and though realizing I would soon be made even more miserable, inevitably finding myself rattling around in our big empty house, alone on my birthday with a limp hunk of lasagna, I managed to salvage at least some small consolation from the debris—I concluded that in my effort to get a woman I had at least made a start.

That house seemed especially cold and empty as I hauled my tired, hung-over body up the front steps and onto the porch. In its lonely, chilled aspect it appeared a perfect metaphor for all that had transpired and for what I was feeling. Still trembling from earlier, I could barely get my key into the only lock that was required to secure our door in the leafy enclave. Though we were not far from Brooklyn’s Avenue B, the house stood on the corner of East 15th Street and Avenue H, it was such a different reality there that it could have been located on the other side of the world from that other alphabet avenue. I stood there for a moment with the door finally unlatched and wondered, since it had grown quite dark, if the gangs on Kim’s side of the earth were already marauding outside her windows.

I pushed my way in, pressing my hand against our etched glass door as I had used my head to do very much the same thing just an hour ago; but before I could get to the switch to turn on the light in the entrance hall, which Lydia a week ago had so gracefully vaulted across when she presented herself to Ludavicio, all the lights in the downstairs rooms snapped on at once and I stood there transfixed and rigid in their glare. Everyone I knew was there—cousins, Brooklyn College colleagues, a couple of school chums with whom I still maintained relationships, some mutual friends that Lydia and I had acquired during the past five years—and they all, as one, shouted “SURPRIZE!”

I continued to stand there as if frozen in place. And from the crowd of grinning friends, wearing her signature leotard and tights, but this time for the occasion, augmented by a full length black warp-around dancer’s skirt, from among the assembled emerged a widely smiling Lydia, who with arms akimbo, said for me and for all to hear, “You knew I wouldn’t forget your thirtieth or leave you by yourself with left-overs. While you were away at the college all day” (did she suspect anything?), “I prepared all your favorite dishes. We’ll be having a Moroccan feast. Lamb Tagine, Vegetable Couscous, everything. And of course champagne to toast you.” (Did she know about the sultry toast at the Clam Bar?) “I bought six bottles of champagne.” (I shuddered to think which vintage it might be.) “This is such a special day.” (That was not the first time this week or this day that this day had been called “special.”)

I shook as she spoke, truly surprised and confused, but in fact found that I rather enjoyed being celebrated, and thus on the spot decided to let it all wash over me. To actually attempt to have fun. So now with smiles of my own I moved into the embrace of family and friends and, thus enfolded, allowed myself to be drawn into the living room where, this time in leather pants and shirt, was Ludavicio, again draped on the Spanish sofa.

It was obvious, that after everyone had left, after everything was cleaned and put away, I had more work to do.

To be continued in two weeks . . . .

Friday, November 17, 2006

November 17, 2006--Fanaticism LXXIV--Sodom and Gay-Morrah

Though in the U.S. it has been one of the Republican's most potent wedge issues, mobilizing Evangelicals to get to the polls, in Israel, to quote our president, it’s a uniter and not a divider.

So when gay rights advocates organized a rally in Jerusalem last weekend, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clerics joined forces to oppose them. It’s pretty much the only thing about which they agree.

The Vatican put it quite well when it urged the Israeli government to ban the rally since it would “prove offensive to the great majority of Jews, Muslims, and Christians given the sacred character of the city of Jerusalem.”

But about 3,000 turned out, and participated in an orderly manner, protected by about 5,000 police. They had to be careful, though, about selecting a venue, needing to avoid holding it too near any ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods where youth have rioted recently in opposition to gays (see NY Times report linked below).

One Rabbi Levin of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States and Canada said, “They are making a statement against God himself.” Eli Yishai, one of Israel’s deputy prime ministers added, “If it was up to me, I would send the gay community to Sodom and Gomorrah.” And presumably build a fence around them.

But on the other hand, since gay-bashing appears to be such solid common ground for fanatics of all faiths, maybe we can dispatch Condi Rice to the Middle East to see if somehow the dormant Roadmap to Peace can be revitalized by turning it into a plan to bring about peace by setting up a separate homeland for homosexuals.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., in the same issue of the Times, we learn that in Houston, Garden Guy Inc, a local landscaper, sent an email to a gay couple telling them that they “choose not to work for homosexuals” (article also attached below). This created something of a furor; but one of the Garden Guys, Mrs. Farber, a woman, reported that they though they did lose some business, about $500 worth, they more than made up for it, picking up about $40,000 in new jobs because they, to quote her, “said the truth.”

And they are clear about just what that “truth is”—the Garden Guys Website is full of both fall planting specials and extensive citations from the New Testament to help them make the case that “the God-ordained institution of marriage is under attack.”

So if I want to get some fruit trees, sorry about that, bushes, I mean shrubs planted in Sodom or Gomorrah, who would I turn to? The Garden Gays?

Again, sorry—clearly I need a vacation.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

November 16, 2006--"Take Me Out to Citibank. Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks . . . "

Everything’s for sale so it should come as no surprise that at the groundbreaking ceremony the other day for the new stadium that is being built for the New York Mets, it was announced that for $400 million, to be paid out by Citibank over twenty years, it will be called “Citi Stadium.”

This naming trend started in 1966 when the brewer Anheuser-Busch bought the Saint Louis Cardinals and named their ballpark Busch Stadium. Though this appeared to represent a departure from traditional stadium-naming practice, it was in truth not that much of a stretch since many other parks were named for their owners (the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field and the Cubs’ Wrigley Field are just two examples); and Anheuser-Busch, after all, was the owner of the Red Birds. [Other stadiums are named for their location (the Red Sox’s Fenway Park, the Orioles’ Camden Yards), team name (the legendary Yankee Stadium or Dodger Stadium), or after their former use (the NY Giants’ Polo Grounds)].

But Citi Stadium is a whole ‘nother matter. More and more teams and the municipal owners of their playing fields are selling the naming rights to the highest bidders. Thus we have Coors Stadium (for the Rockies): QualComm Stadium which used to be Jack Murphy Stadium (incredibly named after a sportswriter!) before it was PETCO Field (for the Padres); and of course, for the Houston Astros, there is the swishy Minute Maid Field which used to be, yes, ENRON Field. We of course know what happened there.

But there is yet another twist to all of this pay-to-play—does naming a field for a corporation help the bottom line, which is certainly what this must be all about? And from a team’s perspective, in addition to the cash, does having a corporate-named field help win ball games? The latter question is easy to answer—absolutely not. According to the NY Times, there have been 25 seasons played in those fields named for banks and the home teams averaged 75 wins and 87 loses (article linked below). This will not get you to the post-season.

In regard to the effect on the companies’ bottom line, we also find that it doesn’t work. Again, looking at the bank-named ballparks, after the naming was purchased, in all cases the banks’ stocks underperformed the wider averages.

Comerica, the bank for which the Tigers’ field is named, saw its stock decline 10 percent since 2000 while the Bank Stock Index is up 41 percent. PNC, which doled out cash to have the Pirates’ field named after it almost kept pace with the Stock Index, but its performance was still below average. And the Royal Bank of Scotland, where baseball isn’t even played, purchased the rights for one of its subsidiaries, Citizen’s Bank, to name the Phillies’ stadium, and promptly saw its stock lag well behind the average in Britain. In fact, since 2003, it has been the poorest-performing bank stock in all of the British Isles!

So as you might imagine, as a lifelong Yankee fan, with the Yankees also recently breaking ground for a new stadium, and with A Rod earning more than $25 million a year, I am more than a little worried about a company coming up with a bundle to name Yankee Stadium something like, say, Preparation H Field.

Which would be appropriate, I guess, if they fail to provide comfortable seats.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

November 15, 2006--The New-New Math

Since New Math didn’t work, it’s time for New-New Math. Concern that kids in the U.S. continue to lag in math achievement, barely 51 percent of 10th graders were tested to be proficient and, worse, that students all around the globe are surpassing our children in math skills has again prompted a debate about what to do.

When we discovered a math gap two decades ago, we asked the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) to come up with new standards, new frameworks, new approaches, and new tests. Thus was born the New Math. Well, it appears that that hasn’t worked out very well, so what are we doing this time? We're going back to the Council to give them a second chance to get it right! Or wrong.

I can barely contain my sputtering. Why, why would we turn to those very same folks who brought about this disaster? Why would you ask those who got you lost to get you back on the right path?

Let me do a little CSI work to see how we got into this mess and suggest what might be a sane way to get out of it.

The problem is summed up in an experience recently recounted by a parent in NYC who went to her 6th grader’s school to ask why, though her daughter was a A-plus student, she didn’t know how to do long division. The mother was told that’s because “We don’t teach long division; it stifles creativity.” (See NY Times story linked below.)

So much of recent educational theory centers on encouraging school children to be creative. This is based on the Rousseauian notion that children are inherently “noble,” that that nobility is impeached by institutions, including schools; and thus what schools should do should foster the release of a child’s inner “knowledge” and spirit.

Following this Romantic ideal, the New Math of the 1980s and 90s had students exploring and “discovering” their own solutions to problems. Getting things right was deemphasized in favor of students constructing their own problem-solving strategies. In fact, the very notion of “rightness” was called into question.

But there is a problem with this—the very foundation of this sort of Progressive Education, exemplified by the Old-New Math, rests on an unproven hypothesis. In fact, it may very well be worse than that--a false hypothesis.

So where does that leave us? Back to the future. Back to a version of the Basics, with the NCTM again in the lead. Forget creativity, now they want kids to acquire “quick recall” of multiplication and division and also how to calculate, remember this, the area of two-dimensional shapes. You know, “Width times height equals the area of a rectangle.”

I have a better idea—fire the NCTM altogether and take a look at how they teach math in Singapore. I’m quite serious—they’ve got it figured out there. And though you can get ten lashes with a whip for chewing gum in public, kids in Singapore are beating the socks off our kids in math.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November 14, 2006--McCain's Macarena

Remember the Macarena, the mid-1990’s dance craze? It was so popular that fans at baseball games did it during the Seventh Inning Stretch; and as a way to demonstrate that he was not humorless, even Al Gore performed his version of it on Saturday Night Live during his hopeless run against George Bush. Actually, it was one of the few funny things Gore ever did.

Now we have another version—John McCain’s. He tried it out on this past Sunday’s talk shows (see NY Times article linked below). It’s his Iraq dance but it’s not very funny. Here are the steps—

The public clearly has turned against any variation of staying the course. McCain, as he contemplates a run for the presidency in 2008, has a big problem: he is identified as a staunch supporter of Bush’s now unpopular policy. In fact, he was and continues to be an advocate for “winning” the war by sending in more U.S. troops. This is even less popular than staying the current course.

But even assuming McCain thinks his is a good idea, minimally he still needs to find a way to explain his position to a skeptical electorate while at the same time preserving his image as a consistent, straight-shooter. Knowing all too well how pathetic John Kerry looked when he attempted to explain his multiple positions on the war (“I was against it before I was for it which was before I was against it.”), he doesn’t want to be labeled The Flip-Flopper of 2008.

So here’s how he wins by either winning or losing: He claims that early on he predicted that unless we send in enough troops to win we would lose the war and chaos would ensue. To remain consistent, he continues to say this, but now in the context of also being a critic of past and current policy—“If they had only listened to me then . . . .”

But he knows, of course, that there is no way that anyone will agree to assign more soldiers to a hopeless or unpopular cause. So there is not a chance that his recommendation will be accepted, much less be put to the test and fail with blame then assigned to him.

Rather, we will either stay the course (he’s opposed to that) or, most assuredly, we begin some sort of phased withdrawal (he’s also opposed to that). Since either scenario inevitably leads to even more chaos, he gets to say, “I told you so. If we had only had the vision, the perseverance, the guts to do it the right way (my way--with adequate forces) we would have prevailed. So don’t tie me Bush’s failed policy. All along I had the winning plan and no one listened.”


And like Gore’s version of the Macarena, where he stood motionless to poke fun at his own stiffness, McCain’s also doesn’t have to move his feet. All he has to do is talk and talk and avoid taking or acknowledging any responsibility.

Monday, November 13, 2006

November 13, 2006--"Git-R-Done!"

If you look at the Daily Kos blog you'll find many contributors moaning that nothing changed last Tuesday because Joe Lieberman is still in the Senate. This sort of thing worries me. It suggests a lack of pragmatic thought among many influential progressives.

In fact, a lot happened. There was considerable change; and for the Democrats to succeed they have to get some good things accomplished--like a sane plan for extracting ourselves from Iraq, health care for kids, federal grants to help low-income families pay for college, and economic relief for the middle class. So it is good to see that among most newly elected Congresspeople, as the NY Times headlined, "Populism Trumps Ideology" (article linked below).

Larry the Cable Guy is a so-called blue-collar comedian, and if we are smart we will mine what he has to say for political guidance as well as a few laughs. His mantra is “Get-R-Done.” And it should become the same for the new Democrats.

In addition to helping to keep them focused on actually accomplishing things rather than, as in the recent past, being ideological correct and smarter-than-the-next-guy (John Kerry case in point), it will remind them that it’s the Working People Stupid.

These good folks were the Democrats’ constituents from the days of FDR through Johnson when the Dems were a national majority party. Ironically, though Roosevelt and Kennedy were Brahmins, they knew enough to champion programs that were attractive and needed by the majority of U.S citizens, while at the same time pursuing a strong foreign policy that appealed to American’s sense efficacy.

Thus, keep your eye on what the new Congress promulgates for early signs of whether or not they are taking to heart the messages voters recently delivered—if they come out of the blocks advancing legislation that is too ideologically or culturally based or which panders to individual constituencies (redistributional tax policy that can be characterized as class warfare, national as opposed to targeted health insurance, an unnuanced approach to raising the minimum wage, protectionism, etc.), they will quickly find themselves the minority party again in 2008.

Carol Shea-Porter, a new House member from New Hampshire has it right. She says that though new jobs were created during the past two or three years, most of those were Wal-Mart jobs. “My voters understood when the Republicans talked about the stock market boom that half of Americans aren’t even in the stock market.”


And that reminds me of another thing--don’t forget the “amen” part either. Hillary now wearing a cross also won’t Get-R-Done.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11, 2006--Saturday Story: Ludavicio et al.--Part Two

In Part One, before Lloyd Zazlo takes us into darker territory, he brought us up-to-date about how his wedding to Lydia Lichter proceeded. We were told about Rabbi Phillips’ rapturous sermon in which he urged the young couple to experience love in all its manifestations, emphasizing the physical. This seemed very much to please Lydia as it did Lloyd’s Aunt Madeline, who here, in these fictional memoirs, makes her final appearance, while everyone seemed to enjoy the shrimp cocktail.

Thus, in Part Two, we in fact begin to encounter . . . .

And so it should not be a surprise to even a casual reader that when I returned a day early from my first coast-to-coast business trip, from UCLA where I had been invited to present a paper on the “Prophetic Works of William Blake,” the subject of my master’s thesis, I was so excited to see my bride and share my triumph (the departmental chair had said it was “revelatory”) that I burst through the door at 11:00 PM wanting so much to take her in my arms and carry her up to our nuptial bed where celebrations would commence.

But instead, there on our Spanish-style sofa, which in its opulence represented a splurge from Bloomingdales, as if were more his house than mine, was draped, like a male odalisque, wearing just low-cut black briefs, a bruiser of no more than nineteen, who I immediately realized was certainly not a delivery boy.

“Oh, Ludavicio,” I heard Lydia sing from the floor above, most likely from our bedroom. “Was that you at the door? I thought I heard something. Or was it just the wind? It is gusting so.” Ludavicio did not stir, thinking, I suspected, that if he remained motionless I might not notice him, perhaps mistaking him for a new chatchka.

Not fooled but bewildered and deflated, I also did not move, perhaps also seeking invisibility. I stood frozen in place in the little entrance hall of the neo-Victorian house we had recently purchased, with my parents supplying the down payment and Lydia’s grandparents the private mortgage, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Flatbush. All I knew was that there was a nearly naked post-adolescent spread out on my brocaded sofa, that from his name he was most likely Italian, and that Lydia was clearly entertaining him well into the night. And on a night that I was supposed to be still in Los Angeles!

“I’ll be right down,” she trilled in her most alluring coloratura. And in the same instant she swooped down the stairs; and then as she neared the bottom, in a single graceful move more Merce than Martha launched herself in a balletic leap that carried her clear across the hallway where I still stood transfixed. It was a leap so adroit, with so much lift and arc, that it carried her directly onto the living room’s shag rug, another extravagance, where with arms akimbo she landed as if to present herself to him. As if to announce, “Take me; I am yours!"

But as she sailed by me in the superheated air, she must have, out in the margins of her excellent peripheral vision, noticed that there was someone else there to interrupt whatever was planned; because even as she offered herself to him, she turned to look toward whomever it was who had disruptively thrust himself into their midst. And then, with considerable aplomb, without missing a beat, while who that stranger in actuality was developed like a photograph in her consciousness (it was her husband!), Lydia said, “Lloyd, darling,” she had never addressed me as such, “I’m so glad you’re here. This is Ludavicio,” her Italian of course was perfect, “I told you all about him, didn’t I?”

And since I neither moved nor responded, I was so stunned by the situation, her audacity, and especially by what she was wearing—a white, totally transparent leotard that did not even begin to obscure the fact that it was her only garment—she undauntedly chirped on, “But you of course do know that he is my partner in the piece I am choreographing to present to Merce. Merce Cunningham.” She had, that I did remember, moved on from frustration with Martha to hope with Merce. But about Ludavicio, in spite of her insistence, I did not know. Though from his still calm and languid pose, a mere spectator now in our tawdry family drama, from that sangfroid, I know for certain he was Italian--he had obviously witnessed, been in the middle of this kind of complexity before. From the glorious looks of him, most likely many times before. For me, though, it was still unfamiliar territory; terra incognita about which I would soon become an expert explorer.

“I was just about to make us some tea,” Lydia said still totally insouciant. “And darling,” darling again, “would you also like a cup? After such a long flight, wouldn’t some chamomile be perfect? It will calm you.” That in fact I could use. “I also have some Madeleines that I bought from Colette’s in the City.” Again pronounced without accent and in just two syllables--she was an accomplished linguist. “You love them, I know. You always say they are so ‘literary.’” She was at her seductive and radiant best.

All of her attention appeared now to be focused on me, and for a moment I almost forgot who else was splayed out just across from us. Thus I felt myself beginning to want to tell her about how well my paper was received, my triumph. I could not stop myself from saying, “You know how I had been wondering if anyone knew Blake’s Four Zoas. No one reads it these days. It’s so dark and coded. It was such a risk to spend so much time on it, but . . . .”

Ludavicio began to stir, clearly not interested in Blake much less so obscure a work. It was also clear that Lydia, who had danced into the kitchen and was filling the tea pot with water, was not wanting to interrupt her plans for the evening by listening to my rattling on about Blake’s epic about Albion, his prelapsarian “primal man,” especially since she had one waiting there for her in the other room.

“Darling, come get three tea cups and those lovely Delft dishes my father brought back from Amsterdam. Put them on a tray. That one over there. And take them up to the studio on the third floor. I’ll bring the tea pot in a moment. Ludavicio can help me with the Madeleines. I so much want to show you what we have been working on.” She added with what felt like emphasis, “That’s of course why he is here.”

Either from jet lag or the utter amazement and disorientation I felt from the hallucination into which I had fallen right there in my own house in the geographic center of bourgeoisie Brooklyn; either from Lydia’s breezy matter-of-factness or Ludavicio’s insouciance, as if in a spell, I robotically retrieved the cups and saucers and plates, stacked them on Lydia’s favorite gilded tray, the one with the reproduction of Manet’s Olympia embossed on it, and began to mount the two flights of oak stairs that led to the dance studio in the attic.

Once there, slightly out of breath, on a small cot that Lydia had dragged up the steps, presumably in lieu of a sofa and which, since there was no other furniture there except a battered folding chair, also served as the only place to set the tray and arrange the cups on their dainty saucers. Since we would all have to find room to squat together on the bed, with care I arranged the bone china in a way that I felt would best accommodate our awkward threesome that we represented—two on one side close together, for Lydia and me of course, and on the other side, as far away as the tiny bed would allow, a place setting for, was it, “Lorenzo”?

* * *

It seemed to take at least fifteen minutes for them to arrive and to burst, crunched side-by-side, through the narrow doorway into the studio. This seemed longer than I would have thought necessary since the water had already begun to steam when I had left the kitchen, and how difficult was it to arrange the six admittedly luscious Madeleines on the oval serving dish?

“Let the tea steep for a few more minutes,” Lydia chirped, “I want so much for you to see what we have been preparing for Merce.” Thankfully, Lorenzo had pulled on a pair of jeans, but still he was not wearing a shirt or shoes. This, at least to me, made him look more convincingly like a dancer. “The piece,” Lydia bubbled, “is set to Lou Harrison’s Suite for Symphonic Strings. I played it for you last year. Remember how you said you liked its Eastern influences?” She seemed genuinely interested in my reactions. “Merce is interested in that too, East and West, and of course so is John Cage.’ She paused and looked at Lorenzo who remained framed in the doorway, “I think they’re a couple. Don’t you Ludavicio?” Ah, it was “Ludavicio.” “They are lovers, no?” He smiled back at her inscrutably, more East and West, not saying a word or even nodding.

“But who cares,” Lydia sang as she placed the LP on the turntable, “Life is too short, don’t you think, to wonder about who is sleeping with whom.” I’m not sure to whom that rhetorical question was directed. She added with a sign, philosophically, “Isn’t that all just a silly game?”

And with that the first churning, sensuous chords of the Suite filled the space; and Lydia, in an instant, had Ludavicio take her in his arms. It is true he did move gracefully but, I detected, without the telltale energy of a well-trained modern dancer. It would not have been unreasonable for one to have suspected that he had just learned his role, perhaps even just ten or fifteen minutes before, because as an apparent novice he was being used by Lydia, in effect, as a prop as she wrapped her torso around his waist and then sinuously unwound herself, snake like, winding up in a coil at his feet as the first section of the music thundered precisely to a conclusion.

While curled there, Lydia announced, “I think that’s enough, don’t you?” That was clearly directed to me. “The tea will be getting cold and you do have to tell us all about Los Angeles.” Holding on to Ludavicio’s hips she raised herself slower than required from the studio floor. The Harrison piece continued, now more subdued in the background. It was clear that they hadn’t rehearsed anything beyond this. The performance was thus over.

Lydia bounced onto the cot with such force that all of the dishes I had so carefully arranged jumped in the air and wound up scrambled together in the middle of the mattress. And she had plopped herself down where I thought Ludavicio would settle, which meant that he and I would need to find our own places. Uncharacteristically, for up until then he had been so slow to move, he this time took the initiative to squat next to Lydia, which thus left me with the only remaining place at the other end, facing them. And from that vantage point, I had to acknowledge that they did look handsome together as they found themselves pitched toward each other because their aggregated weight had compressed the mattress into a concavity. Arranged this way, on the bed together, to me they appeared much more natural then they had in their recent, very brief pas de deux.

The tea was by then lukewarm, but still its gentle jolt of caffeine must have had the effect of emboldening me. So I ignored Lydia’s questions about my Four Zoas paper and looked directly at Ludavicio. “Tell me Ludavicio, did you study, as Lydia did, with Martha?” My question caught him off guard and for the first time he lost some of his natural self-possession.

I saw him give Lydia a flickering, was it a nervous glance. Her smile appeared frozen in place but she still managed to answer for him. I wondered if he spoke English. Thus far he had not uttered one word in any language. She quickly said, still sounding nonplussed, “He actually is self-taught. Which is remarkable, don’t you think?”

I ignored her and managed to keep my eyes fixed on him. He stared back at me, betraying nothing. “So what else do you do? Are you in school? You look young enough to be.”

“He isn’t,” Lydia jumped in to respond, “He’s actually just living in the city, trying to find a place for himself in the theater or dance world. I think he’s very talented, don’t you?” I didn’t answer, so she undeterred asked, “Would you like some more tea? It’s very good, I think.” She leaned across Ludavicio to retrieve the pot.

I continued to press him. But he had already regained whatever mote of composure he had lost by my addressing him so directly. “So you’re taking acting classes? With Lee Strassburg or Stella Adler, I assume?” I was getting tired and my aggression was increasing.

“No, darling, he’s just beginning. He’s not quite ready for them yet, don’t you think?”

“So how are you supporting yourself?” I shot in his direction, not believing how audacious I had become.

“I’m sure it will not surprise you that he comes from a very successful Milanese family and they are helping him.” For the first time I felt a little defensiveness from Lydia.

“So he’s doing nothing and living off his parents.” This was not a question but a statement and, like a salvo, I launched it this time directly toward Lydia. “Don’t you think?” I added with a smirk. Two could play at that “don’t-you-think” game!

“Well he does earn some money.” Lydia, I was pleased to notice, was at last becoming snippy. I knew from that I must have been getting to her.

So I pressed on, “Doing what? Servicing housewives while their husbands are out of town?” This was admittedly well below the belt because, though Lydia did not have a job and I paid all expenses, including hers, she felt, actually, she asserted with considerable passion and forcefully articulated righteousness that I was subsidizing, patronizing her art. In the great tradition of art patrons. Nothing made her more furious than being called, as this time in a consciously sexist way, a “housewife.”

“I beg you pardon, Mr. Professor,” she sputtered, having at last lost control, mocking my modest earning capacity, “he does make money on his own. If you must know, he does very well modeling for artists. He has a magnificent, perfectly articulated body.” And she added as an aside, “Not that you would notice.” I had in fact noticed when I first saw him posing on our sofa. And out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Ludavicio now proudly flexing his pectoral muscles, alternating his left and right ones.

“And besides that, he’s gay!" Lydia spat at me, “So you can just relax.” And with that she bounded up from the cot and stormed out of the room, slamming the door as she exited and stomped down the steps, leaving Ludavicio and me alone together on the mattress. The Harrison piece had ended some time ago and all that could be heard was the steam clanking in the original cast iron radiators.

In truth, feeling uncomfortable from being left in such a situation with a half-naked Ludavicio, who continued involuntarily to flex and preen, I turned back toward him with considerable tentativeness. I felt much hotter than either my anger with Lydia or the heat would have in themselves engendered.

He looked back at me slyly and said the only two words I ever heard him utter, neither with any apparent accent.

Shaking his head from side to side, smiling coyly he said, “I’m not.”

* * *

And so, from that evening with Ludavicio, you will not be surprised to learn that I quickly moved to “get even”—as Lydia had taken Aunt Madeline’s advice to get herself a man, or a man-child in Lorenzo’s or Ludavicio’s case, I too began my search for a women who would find my capacities, whatever Lydia thought of their inadequacies, quite sufficient, thank you very much.

To be continued next Saturday . . . .

Friday, November 10, 2006

November 10, 2006--Fanaticism LXXIII--Don't Fence Her In

What was it that Robert Frost said about neighbors and fences? Well, it appears that no one in Northport, Long Island ever read that poem.

In case you missed the story, here’s what’s going on. (For all the gory details, see the NY Times article linked below.) There is a dog lover, one Mitchell Stein who owned a German shepherd, poetically named Aurora. Since the town does not allow residents who have corner plots, the ideal suburban real estate situation, to erect any visible fences, in order to allow his dog to run free on his property, Mr. Stein had the Fido Fence Company build him an invisible electronic fence.

The way it kept Aurora on the Stein property is by having her wear a collar that administers an electrical shock if she crosses the buried wire fence. It worked quite well, at least in containing Aurora. But it didn’t work at all when other dogs from the neighborhood, sans collars, strayed onto the Stein lawn, agitating Aurora.

That’s when the trouble really began—in defending her territory, and shepherds are known for being very territorial (they are originally from Germany so that should not be much of a surprise), Aurora allegedly attacked two local dogs whose owners promptly called 911. The police arrived and found Mr. Stein still in his pajamas. He refused to turn his dog over to them so they arrested him, dragging him off to the pen, I mean to the local jail, where he spend four hours, still in his PJs, handcuffed to his cell, which made it difficult for him to spend his sentence in a lotus position. But he did manage to figure out a way to do that.

While he was incarcerated, the police and dog catcher got their hands on poor Aurora, who after all was only doing what any red-blooded, constitutional-minded American or German shepherd would do to protect their private property. Nonetheless, they took her away to a real pen that allows no visitors. The predictable next step was a series of court hearings designed to determine if Aurora was a “dangerous dog.” Canine “behavioral specialists” testified that Aurora was in fact a gentle pooch. They tested her, I’m not making this up, by pinching her, pulling on her tail, stepping on her paws, and inflicting a choke hold; but still, in spite of this abuse, Aurora remained gentle.

But Mr. Stein, in total frustration with the system and the harassment from his neighbors (a previous dog was killed when someone, presumably unhappy with him, poisoned him with antifreeze!), Mr. Stein arranged to have Aurora euthanized.

Stein feels that this sad affair is derived more from his conservative neighbors not liking his views and aspects of his lifestyle. He, for example, became unpopular for leading a group that successfully opposed the opening of a new bank in Northport. And in addition to his affection for the lotus position, he also sports a long pony tail.

So Aurora is now resting in peace and Mr. Stein wants out of the confines and oppression of the suburbs. He is thinking about moving to New York City, where I am available to help him find a Yoga studio and lots of folks with pony tails and who also exhibit other forms of aberrant behavior.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

November 9, 2006--BULLETIN: The Republicans Won!

I’m sorry to be among the first to have to tell you that, in spite of the numbers that indicate that the Democrats won control of both the House and Senate, on Tuesday the Republicans in fact won.

And for my money that’s a good thing!

True the Dems picked up a bushel of seats in the House; and, if you consider Joe Lieberman a Democrat, the six they needed in the Senate. True, come January when Democrats with seniority become the chairs of all congressional committees and with their newly acquired subpoena power begin a series of essential old-style investigative hearings about everything from how we got into the war in Iraq and what really went on between Dick Cheney and the oil executives as he took the lead to formulate a “new energy policy,” for these reasons it will look like the Democrats are in charge.

But what you really need to do for a moment is divert your thinking about numbers and put aside your glee that Rummy has been so quickly booted out and put aside for a minute your happiness that the Bush Regency is about to begin as some of the father’s consigliores are about to ride in to again rescue the wayward son, what you need to do it take a close look at the forty or so newly elected Democrats who in January will join the next Congress.

Through an examination of their records and the platforms on which they ran, don’t they look more like Republicans than Democrats? Almost all believe in “gun rights” and thus get high marks from the NRA, all believe in “fiscal responsibility, almost all see it essential to “limit immigration,” and well over half are against gay marriage and are substantially “pro-life.”

Since 1994 they have been a part of what they call the Blue Dog Coalition; and if you think they are just another bunch of Red-Neck nuts, even before Tuesday’s landslide, there were 37 signed-up Democrat members. After this past Tuesday I suspect their number will about double. If there are 60 of them, then, that means that they will be the swing voters for any legislation that has a chance of being passed because unless there is iron-fisted control and discipline, especially in the House, if anything gets done in Congress, my guess it will look more like Republican legislation than Democrat.

Bill Clinton, of course, is responsible for this too—just as he is responsible for 9/11; defunding our intelligence operations; and, according to the House Republican leadership, even for Marc Foley. But in this case, Clinton may in fact be responsible for the Republicanization of Democrats as the result of his triangulational public policy of compromise and accommodation that included making deals with Newt Gingrich on welfare reform and taxes, among other things.

So why am I thinking this is a good thing? Because I want to see Democrats find effective ways to regain their majority status and do some good and progressive things in education, heath care, and economic and foreign policy. I would like see Democrats less vulnerable to Karl Rove-like wedge attacks, where elections in the future will turn less on prayer in schools than on resistance to preemptive wars, increases in student aid, and heath insurance provided for all children.

There was at least one exception to the crypto-Republican sweep, and I’m not referring to Hillary Clinton’s reelection (note the paean of praise in her victory speech to the “great glorious middle”). Teddy Kennedy, still unrepentantly “liberal” or “progressive,” take your pick, won another six-year term.

But he and a few other Old Dogs won’t be sniffing around the Blue Dog kennel. And the pragmatist in me or, if you prefer, the sell-out in me thinks this is not necessarily a bad thing.