Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 31, 2008--Fishin' Again

Actually, it's too nice a morning to sit indoors. Blogging resumes tomorrow, sun or rain.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30, 2008--Some Questions for You

Here I thought that I’d take a day of from typing about the political campaigns and instead comment about how New Yorkers are tightening their belts as a result of the faltering economy. You know, going to Petco to get their pooches groomed and spend just $65 rather that staying with the one in the Meatpacking District who charges $130. (See NY Times article linked below.)

But after last night’s results in Florida, which makes it all but certain that John McCain will win the Republican nomination, and with John Edwards about to withdraw, but without endorsing either Clinton or Obama, I realized that by next week at this time both nominations will be all but locked up. Won’t it be Clinton versus McCain? It’s hard to make the case that with just six days to go Obama, even with Carolyn Kennedy making TV ads for him, can stop the steamroller.

It will then be a fearsome choice—for a country that seemed, seemed to want change we’ll be faced with a choice between two consummate insiders. One who will say and do anything to get elected and the other who gets most gleeful when he contemplates the prospect of more wars—to quote him as I did yesterday, “lots of wars, my friends.”

Worse, that most gleeful of candidates could very easily become president.

If you feel that the Bush administration’s failures assure a Democratic victory in November, no matter the candidate, grapple with the following questions:

OK, if we are going for experience, who has more? Someone who has more years being first ladies than senator? Or someone who has had the experience of more than 20 years in the Senate, a distinguished career in the navy, not to mention five years of “experience” in the Hanoi Hilton? Take your pick.

And since there must be some residue of interest in change (though if these two are the nominees most of the now-excited young voters will revert to their political comas), which of the two will be able to do a better job of representing her or himself as a “change agent”?

Let me take a stab at answering this one—McCain.

He has been in trouble during primary season principally because right-wing Republicans, exemplified by the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs, have railed against him as a liberal masquerading in conservative clothes. As evidence of this they cite his maverick leadership in support of bipartisan legislation to rein in campaign spending abuses (McCain-Feingold), immigration reform—they call it amnesty (Kennedy-McCain), and his audacity to cosponsor bills with that left-winger Joe Lieberman (who could turn out to be our next Secretary of State). They even suspect he might secretly be willing to tolerate a woman’s right to choose.

But it is this very contrarian behavior that makes him appealing to Independents. Straight-Talking McCain as contrasted with go-along, get-along Double-Talking Clinton.

And if you’re looking for authenticity and even likeability, who wins that one?

So you tell me who wins in November? I don’t know about you, but I’m checking to see if my passport’s still valid.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January 29, 2008--All We Need Is War, War, War

By coincidence we are spending the winter in Florida where, in case you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t noticed (not a bad idea, by the way) there is a critical Republican Party primary going on.

As I type this, those Floridians who moved here to escape not just the cold and expense of the north but also so they wouldn’t ever again have to wait on line for anything, those who didn’t vote early are casting their ballots. Ballots that very well could send a diminished Rudy back to Giuliani Partners and make John McCain the odds-on favorite to win the nomination.

Residing in this superheated political environment, one watches local TV and listens in on conversations in different ways.

I woke up very early two days ago and switched on the news. The first thing I saw was a Mitt Romney ad. Having watched it at least half a dozen times during the past week, I switched to another channel but there it was again, but near the end so I stayed tuned. The morning news anchor appeared and reported about a McCain event of the previous evening.

I wish I had been awake enough to remember McCain’s exact words or had a pad beside the bed on which to take notes. And since I can’t find the video clip on You Tube, you will have to trust that I remember the essence of what he was saying.

Clearly appealing to what he hopes will be his base, those 70 percent of Republicans who, remarkably, still feel President Bush is doing a good job, McCain buoyantly said:

We’re at war, my friends. And it’s tough. It’s not going to be easy. But we’re winning and we have to keep going. The surge is working. General Petraeus’ plan is working. And, my friends, here’s some straight talk—there are going to be other wars. [Here he became even more animated.] Yes, my friends, a lot of them. Lots of wars. [He appeared rapturous.] And I’m ready to be your Commander in Chief.

I wasn’t quite sure that I had heard this. Much less remembered it correctly. Perhaps I was coming out of a bad dream. So I switched back to the other morning news show and, yes, they too were running the same clip. There was McCain again, flailing his wounded arms in what can only be described as a state of excitement. It was all quite intentional and we’ll see if this fear-strategy works when they count the votes later today.

Depressed by this and with Frank Rich’s Sunday column in the New York Times rattling around in my brain—he wrote that if McCain and Hillary Clinton become the nominees, McClain is likely to be elected president (linked below)—weighted down by this thought I dragged myself out to the Green Owl for coffee.

The guy sitting on the stool to my left, Brian ____ , chatted me up. It turns out that he’s one of the area’s leading realtors, having done so well that he retired at 35 but is now back in the business because he was bored. We naturally got into a discussion about real estate. The market, he said, is even more depressed in Florida than in the rest of the country. He advised, “If you and Rona are thinking about buying a place here, wait until May. Then call me. Everything will be 50 cents on the dollar. Half price.”

I told him that at the moment we like renting, but I did take his card.

He then switched the conversation to politics. “It won’t surprise you, will it, that I’m a lifelong Republican? But I’m so sick of what my party’s done to this country that there’s no way this time that I’d vote for any of them.”

“You mean, you’d vote for Obama?”

“Right on. Sure.”

“What about if McCain is nominated?” I couldn’t get his “lots of wars” speech out of my head.


“And Mitt Romney? After what you said the economy here, I'd assume you’d like him.”

“No way, he’s a phony. Too much flip-flopping. I’d still vote for Obama.”

“And what if Hillary Clinton’s the nominee. And McCain? Clinton versus McCain?”

He paused for a moment, checking out the waitresses, and said, as if to himself, “Well, I’d have to think more about that one.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

January 28, 2008--Latino Week

The Clintons devoted the past two weeks to making sure everyone realized that Barack Obama was black.

And in case you might have been thinking he was one of these new type of non-racial blacks, Bill Clinton on the day of the South Carolina primary slyly compared Jessie Jackson with Obama. Unlike Hillary Clinton’s analogy of the previous week where she conflated herself with Lyndon Johnson, asserting that it takes a president (someone like herself) and not just an inspirational speaker (like Obama) to actually get the job done, unlike Senator Clinton’s version of playing the race card in this subtle way, her husband continued to be more blatant when he linked Obama directly to that scary-black-guy, Jessie Jackson. The very same Reverend Jackson who he called upon to heal his spirit during the Lewinsky affair. No shame.

From the post-SC primary exit poling, the conventional wisdom says that the Clintons’ race-baiting backfired. Whereas a couple of months ago Hillary was set to get 80 percent of the black vote, Obama reversed that number, receiving slightly more than 80 percent. And that coupled with a decent slice of the white vote (nearly 25 percent—as opposed to the predicted 10 percent) led to an Obama rout.

From an Obama perspective this bodes well for Super Tuesday doesn’t it? Perhaps.

Bill Clinton may have seemed so inappropriate and even out of control that both Ted and Carolyn Kennedy have endorsed Obama, reportedly in part because of how the Clintons attempted to marginalize Obama as just another in a string of token black candidates.

These important endorsements aside, the Clintons may very well have accomplished just what the Kennedys and many others feel—they may have successfully marginalized him, turning him into a Jessie Jackson kind of frightening black specter. Someone frightening to insecure whites and, considerably more significant as the campaign moves across the country, to Hispanics who have a history of not supporting black candidates.

The Clintons may be gambling that the black folks in South Carolina, a state with about the country’s worst racial history, voted for one of their own as a gesture of pride and a rejection of the Clintons’ tactics; but other blacks around the country will return to their senses and vote for Hillary a week from Tuesday. Couple that with all the Latinos they expect to rally and it’s off to Denver this summer with the nomination locked up.

It is not insignificant after getting so few African-American votes in South Carolina that both Bill and Hillary Clinton slinked out of state before the votes were tallied (with Bill Clinton giving the ten-word concession speech) and immediately appeared before rallies of largely-black voters. To remind them that we’re still friends.

Hillary went to a black church on Sunday to let the parishioners and media know that her two biggest heroes in life are Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass. She even managed in the process to get her picture printed on the top left-hand corner of the front page of today’s New York Times, as if seated on a throne, with her arm benevolently around the shoulders of a handsome, immaculately dressed black boy.

That done, I predict that it will be off to California and Arizona where Latino voters will be courted and pandered to at every stop. Now that the wedge has been effectively inserted between whites and blacks it will be time to reinforced the division between Hispanics and blacks.

Question--at a Latino church next Sunday, which heroes can we expect to be trotted out?

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 2008--Wrestling A Pig

If Senators Clinton and Obama are as concerned about the current state of the economy, especially its effects on the middle class and poor, since they both have detailed plans about what to do now to stimulate the economy and help those they profess to care about the most, what are they both doing in South Carolina that’s more important than being at their day jobs?

They are senators who were elected by the very same constituents who are now worried and hurting. They were elected to work hard in Congress. In fact, they were more than elected to do so—they are also paid salaries, from taxpayer dollars, to do that job.

But we find them both on, in effect, self-approved paid leaves of absence pursuing their ambitions to become president. Anyone else who just walked away from their job would either not be paid or, more likely, fired.

Of course I know I’m being naïve to be complaining about this—for time immemorial governors and congressmen and mayors have effectively abandoned their jobs to run for a different, usually higher office.

Less naïve, perhaps, is the thought that one or both of them should return to work in Washington, right now, since both parties are working together with the Bush administration on a bipartisan economic stimulus package. If Clinton’s stimulus plan is as good as she claims it to be and if she has “35 years of experience” of getting things done, and if Obama’s plan is as sound as he says it is and he claims that he can bring about change because he has the “judgment” to do so, what better opportunity and venue than the Senate to put these plans to the test?

Back at their offices, so to speak, since one of them is likely to be the democratic nominee, they might have the clout to actually do something useful. And thereby demonstrate in action that they are up to the task of exerting leadership and getting things done. But don’t hold your breath.

* * *

Then what’s all this about how the other Republican candidates hate Mitt Romney? John McCain says that competing with him is like "wrestling with a pig"; and Ed Rollins, Mike Huckabee’s campaign chairman, who is an experienced and smooth operator, not too long ago said, “What I have to do is make sure that my anger with a guy like Romney, whose teeth I want to knock out, doesn’t get in the way of my thought process.” (See NY Times article linked below.)

Mitt does have great teeth (and hair) so I can understand why some people might feel jealous about that. And he’s also worth about $200 million (before spending whatever it is he’s spent on his campaign and how hard he’s been hit the past couple of weeks on Wall Street—I suspect, though, that he’s still “comfortable”), which might be a problem for others.

But shouldn’t all of these things actually make him attractive to Republicans? Democrat John Edwards got in trouble spending 400 bucks on his hair—but a Republican? Hey, whatever he spends on his hair, teeth, and clothes helps the economy, no? By trickling down. Remember that?

Thus, Romney’s economic stimulus plan is already being implemented. And it’s working. By now he’s probably put at least $50 million of his own money directly into other people’s pockets. I hesitate to utter yet another cliché—but isn’t that putting his money where his mouth is?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January 24, 2008--Gone Fishin'

Not really, but I'm taking a day off. Back on Friday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January 23, 2008--35 Years of Experience

Here’s what 35 years of experience have taught the (plural) Clintons: that as long as it suits their personal interests (power, public adulation, greed) it’s permissible.

This has been on full flagrant display the past two weeks.

Shamelessly, just before and during the long weekend set aside to celebrate the achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr., they and their surrogates launched an intentional campaign of race-bating. We all are aware of the specifics—unashamedly they trivialized King’s role in bringing about Civil Rights legislation in order to reduce Barack Obama’s stature while elevating Hillary’s.

In addition to what Hillary Clinton said, one of the Clintons’ leading supporters, Harlem’s Congressman Charles Rangel said: “How race got into this thing is because Obama said ‘race.’ For him to suggest that Dr. King could have signed this act [it was in fact Hillary who said that] is absolutely stupid. It’s absolutely dumb to infer that Dr. King, alone, passed the legislation and signed it into law.” Again, Rangel’s got the wrong person in his sights. (See NY Times article linked below.)

They had others echo Rush Limbaugh’s slander that Barack Hussein Obama is a closet Moslem (the esteemed president of the New School Bob Kerry, took on that role) or that he was a drug dealer (Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist, served as the assassin for this one).

And then the Clintons themselves finished the job by patronizing Obama during the MLK celebrations by in effect patting him on the head while saying how “proud” they were that this “young man” is a strong candidate for the presidency. Why should they take personal pride in this? Isn’t that for when you have actually accomplished something? And all that emphasis on his youth is more than calling his experience and readiness into question—it’s one small step away from calling him boy.

And now that they have, what else, turned this election into one about race, in the first state where there is a significant black population (South Carolina), they have unveiled a two-part racial strategy—leave the “first black president” and his daughter to campaign there (being prepared to say if Obama wins in SC on Saturday that it was because they [wink, wink] voted for him); while Hillary Clinton is out in California and Arizona looking for support within the Hispanic community, taking open advantage of the sad historical fact that Latinos have not in the past been comfortable supporting African-American candidates.

This cynical strategy is apparently working. In the recent Democratic candidates debate, it was obvious that Bill and Hillary Clinton had managed to drag Obama down to their own level. They got him to attack her as aggressively as they had been smearing him. It was all designed to say:

You’re just like us--a politician out for your own personal gain. Willing to say and do anything. How do you like it down here with us in the mud? That’s where we’ve been for 35 years while you’ve been riding your high horse, going to Harvard, writing your books, playing Holier than Thou, and talking about Hope. It’s not about hope, boy, it’s about winning.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January 22, 2008--Snowbirding (Concluded)

We are now in our second week of snowbirding and I am noticing a few changes in our outlook and behavior:

For one thing, we are very much liking not having to parallel park. Most places we’ve been require quite a lot of that. I recall that when my father gave me driving lessons much of the effort went into teaching me that difficult art form—how first you needed to estimate the size of the space (was it large enough to accommodate both the car and all the swing and back-and-forting room that would be required); and you needed to get good at judging just when to, hand-over-hand, sharply turn the steering wheel so as to get the rear of the car tucked in close to the curb while avoiding clipping the rear fender of the car around which you were trying to maneuver yours. Complicated stuff. And because I had trouble coordinating all the simultaneous and contradictory moves (creeping backwards while looking forward), I twice failed my driver’s test. I was perfect at hand-signaling and the use of the rearview mirror but a disaster at parallel parking. So you can only imagine how happy and relieved I am that down here I rarely have to utilize those skills and thus am not reminded daily of those youthful feelings of inadequacy.

All we have to do is zip right into clearly demarked spaces—no back-and-forthing, no need to look over one’s shoulder to avoid crashing into another car, and best of all no fighting with others scrambling to find the only available parking spot below 96th Street. In Florida, real estate is not totally king. Perhaps it is in waterfront property, but not when it comes to parking spaces.

Then there is the driving itself. Our New York reality includes mainly walking; taking buses and subways; and occasionally, if we can find one, flagging down, taxis. Here, until we get around to renting bikes, with the opulent exception of walking right out onto the beach, we need to use the car for pretty much everything—to buy food and eat out, to refill prescriptions, to get cash from the bank, to go to a movie, to visit family and friends, even to get the newspaper. We are attempting to be Greener, and though we rented a small, fuel-efficient Toyota, the casual daily driving burns up a lot of gas—about $45 worth thus far in just thirteen days. At current prices that’s, what, four or five gallons.

But even with that environmental consciousness and Rona feeling that all the walking and package schlepping we do back in New York is a good, natural form of exercise, just two days ago as we drove to get the paper; then to the Green Owl for breakfast; and after that to Johnny Mango’s (yes, you heard me), a garden center that had been recommended; and since we didn’t find exactly what Rona was looking for, we drove to another plant place (still not the right one) and then successfully to a third one; after which we made the obligatory stop at Publix and then finally at a wonderful French bakery we discovered up in Lantana for some beignets--as we were doing all of that driving about, Rona said, “You know, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’m kind of liking this.” I glanced skeptically at her: this did not sound like my Rona. “Look at how many paces we were able to get too. We never would have been able to do this so easily in the city. If we had bought something in, say, Bloomingdales and had two large bags to carry, we would have had to go back to the apartment and drop them off before going out again to Dean and Deluca. Here, we just put everything in the car and keep going. In fact, driving here is so easy that it’s like resting between places.” At that, I passed her a quizzical look knowing she could not b serious. But she said, “I really mean it. Sitting in the car is like resting. Isn’t it?” I must admit, our carbon footprint aside, I had to agree.

As further evidence of how our lives are being affected in Florida, while in the midst of all of this shopping, we stopped at a local clothing store since I wanted to get a shirt or two more suited to beachcombing than all the black ones I brought with me from Manhattan. I was thinking of something in a more appropriate style and with Floridian colors. Perhaps orange; maybe even yellow. But not a Tommy Bahama. I wasn't quite ready for that. So the one I selected was a rather discrete denim blue with Delray Beach (Trademark) Florida printed boldly on the front.

When I brought it over to Rona to see what she thought (I always do so since I am colorblind and accept the idea that more than me she’s the one who sees what I’m wearing) I suspected that she would roll her eyes up in her head because I traditionally hate any article of clothing that has anything whatsoever printed on it, including and especially logos; and here I was showing her something that was a virtual flashing billboard.

I held my breath while she scrutinized it. And then she said, “I think it will do.”

“You do?”

“Yes, it’s appropriate for here. It will be fine on the beach.”

“But I never in my life ever had anything with writing on it, with the possible exception a hundred years ago of my Brooklyn Tech High School sweatshirt. And that one only said Tech.”

“It’s only twelve dollars and you’ll look fine in it.”

Also, we are finding ourselves going to movies in the afternoon. That is, if we’re not napping. Along with bused-in senior citizens from various assisted-living places. And just the other morning I saw Rona taking a few packages of sugar with her from the Green Owl and I pocketed three little plastic tubs of half-and-half. When taking my mother out to the Bagel Tree for lunch the other day, I picked up a (free) copy of the Jewish Journal, not because of the chauvinistic articles about Israel or the ads for funeral parlors and cemetery plots, but because my mother said the paper always includes some good coupons. And sure enough, after smuggling it into our place, which is in a fairly WASPy community, there were in fact glossy inserts replete with discount coupons, including one for Cottonelle toilet paper. Fifty cents off! But only for packages of 12 or more rolls, which will not be a problem for us since we know where to find these.

And since I am confessing, I even found myself surreptitiously checking other ads in the JJ for early-bird dinner specials at nearby restaurants. Not that you will ever find us sneaking in for dinner at 4:45 in the afternoon. I was just doing sociological research.

And finally, after another moonlit evening at Veri Amici, again ordering the divine lamb chops, and Alfredo again unasked packing up the remaining two chops, the next afternoon, rather than going out for lunch, Rona asked, “What do you think we can do with the left-over lamb chops?”

Not sure I was hearing her clearly, like so many other snowbirds I am getting progressively hard of hearing, “You mean should we throw them out like all the others Alfredo sent us home with?”

“No, I mean can we maybe make a salad using them—we still have some arugula from the other day, and a few tomatoes, and even one of the avocados seems as if it’s ripe. You could make a nice salad from these, couldn’t you, we have Spanish olive oil and balsamic vinegar. And then perhaps you could cut up the meat from the chops and mix that in.”

Just as I was wondering what was happening to Rona, more honestly to us, as if to herself, she added, “I hate to waste anything.”

Monday, January 21, 2008

January 21, 2008--Snowbirding (Continued)

We’ve been here for a week now and I need to bring you up to date:

We did in fact go back to Veri Amici. Twice. And both times Alfredo recognized us, greeted us as long lost amicis, and took us to one of his best tables—the quiet one nestled under the arm of the banyan tree. The food continued to be excellent. So good in fact that Rona had the rack of lamb again on our last visit. Just yesterday. And Alfredo insisted in packing up the two leftover chops again. Of course we did not tell him what we did with the last ones. No need to insult his generosity.

But as planned we did do some cooking and eating in. I left you last time as Rona was suggesting that we go to Publix and stock up. Which we did. It had been at least twenty years since either one of us had been in such a supermarket. Perhaps I am exaggerating—there were a few times when we needed paper towels and certainly toilet paper--but never had we pushed a shopping cart the size of a hot tub much less, after wending our way up and down what felt like fifteen aisles, finding it full.

Our unalloyed excitement about what was available there reminded me of those old Cold War stories of escapees from East Berlin who when they found themselves in a Western supermarket wept with joy when the experienced the bounty that only capitalism was able to provide.

“Can you believe it,” Rona said, “they have two aisles the length of a football field just for wines.”

“Just like Europe,” I chirped.

And so we loaded our cart with sprightly French Chablis and a Spanish rose with which we were familiar. As well as a package of pita breads; a small tub of Sahara humus; Hagen-Dazs ice cream (chocolate—oxymoronically labeled “Ultra-Rich-Low-Fat”); a half-pound of honey-glazed turkey; another half-pound of hickory-smoked turkey (both sliced); a quarter-pound wedge of Vermont cheddar cheese; a can of Doll pineapple chunks; a package of Nathan’s frankfurters; Guldens mustard (the cheese, pineapple, Nathan’s Famous, and mustard are ingredients for my famous hot-dog casserole—we were planning that for the upcoming Sunday when there were back-to-back NFL football games. Marcella Hazen is not my only inspiration). And to drink with the casserole and other in-home lunches and dinners, a six-pack of Spaten Lager; caffeine-free diet Pepsi; and for Rona a gallon jug of Arizona ice tea (“Did you every see such a thing?” Rona mused, “A gallon!”). For an impulse dinner we selected a thin-crust California Kitchen pizza (Margarita—thinking perhaps Wolfgang Puck might somehow be involved in its preparation) and some ripe cherry tomatoes and fresh arugula (still with their roots attached) to doctor it or, as Rona suggested, to “enhance” the pizza and by so doing make us feel better about eating frozen food. And for a second last-minute dinner at home, we tossed in our rapidly-filling basket, a pound of ground sirloin (the label stuck to the Saran Wrap promised, “Extra Lean”). And in compensation for these, in spite of the label, awaiting high-fat transgressions, we found some fresh-looking tuna, which I said I could sear, slice, and turn into a heart-healthy salad using the remaining arugula since it was quite a generous bunch. Then we choose two Haas avocados, after squeezing more than a dozen, though both still needed considerable ripening); and for Rona’s version of vegetable couscous onions, sweet red peppers, young asparagus, white mushrooms, and of course a box of couscous. We stocked our wagon as well with fruit and juices, lots of fruit. The hot-dog casserole aside, we were committed to a healthy diet to complement our plans for a different kind of lifestyle. We were just steps from the beach, as you know, and also planned to rent bicycles so we could get to town that way (it is just two miles from our house). Thus, we chose oranges (from Florida we assumed); fresh-squeezed (“not from concentrate”) Indian River grapefruit and orange juices; a mango, papaya, strawberries (clearly marked as from our adopted state), grapes, and a quarter of a watermelon (also, we assumed, more-or-less local from well north and west of the condos). For other kinds of noshing, we found low-sodium Planters mixed nuts in a can with a bold label that claimed it contained less than 50 percent peanuts. And there were some excellent chocolate and almond cookies (both from Belgium—Jules Destrooper) we stumbled upon right near the Carr’s Water Crackers that are a staple for Rona (we were learning the seductive power of shelf-placement); and to place on top of them, when wanting a light lunch on the beach, two cans of Italian tuna in olive oil; two more of Spanish sardines also in olive oil; and yes olive oil itself and balsamic vinegar for cooking and salad dressings. All again for Rona. As was the pickled herring in wine sauce and the Manischewitz sweet whitefish and pike gefilte fish. For me, we found a six-ounce jar of Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise. I do like a dab with my avocadoes, assuming they would ripen before we are scheduled to head north in March.

Finally, there were the inevitable stacks of cleaning supplies and paper goods. No need to enumerate. Suffice it to say that when I saw the size of the packages of toilet paper that represented the best value per roll, I realized why we needed such a huge shopping cart. And it was good that back at our Delray place, unlike Manhattan where we had learned to make do with 850 square feet, we had room to spare to store them.

All of this at the checkout counter added up to slightly more than a hundred dollars. “Can you imagine how much this would have cost at our Gristede’s on University Place?” Rona rhetorically asked since we both knew it would amount to much, much more. “For example, the toilet paper . . . ”

I, on the other hand, was concerned about how we would get this vast trove home. But that worry evaporated when the Bag Boy, that’s how he referred to himself, loaded all our purchases into what looked like at least twenty-five gallon-size plastic bags, virtually one for each item, with most doubled up for extra security or, in the case of the ice cream, insulation—it was 80 degrees in the sun and we had to navigate the parking lot. To further alleviate my concerns, which he must have intuited from my furrowed brow, he said, as he loaded the tiny bags back into our shopping cart, “There’s no need to be concerned about this,” he swept his free arm across the mass of bags entirely filling both the upper and lower baskets, as if delineating a western landscape, “you can wheel the cart all the way out to your car. No matter where you’re parked. Even two hundred yards from here. And, there’s no need to take it back inside--Miguel here’s job is to bring all the carts back to the store.”

Again, swelling with emotion, I was falling even more fully in love with Florida—they think of everything here! Including my then emerging concern about what to do about all these non-biodegradable plastic bags. As if intuiting this, Miguel offered, “You can use them for garbage.” Adding in a whisper so the manager wouldn’t hear, “No need to buy no Hefty’s here.” He was all complicitous smiles. “And you can bring back the ones you don’t use. Publix recycles them.” With his assurances, my conscience cleared as quickly as does a typical late afternoon Florida burst of rain.

Thus provisioned, we did in fact during our first week here do more cooking and eating than in the previous two decades up in New York. And I was amazed at how quickly my culinary skills returned—especially my slicing and dicing abilities. I still retained most of my Jacques Pepin-like moves with the knife. Rona said, “It’s just like riding a bicycle” we still, I confess, have not gotten around to renting them, “You never forget. But I see that you now need your eyeglasses when slicing.” How nice, I thought, just as I was feeling newly robust and good about myself, to be reminded of how much time had passed since my last efforts in the kitchen, and its effect on me. “Otherwise you’d probably mince your fingers as well as the onions.” I knew she was joking but still I took extra care since I was helping with her couscous and certainly didn’t want to add any bits of my fingers to the mix of chopped and julienned vegetables.

The couscous, seared tuna salad, and even the “enhanced” pizza worked out so well, as did the glasses of Chablis on the beach at sundown, since we were in such an ideal location and the place we are renting is so perfect for us, rather than setting up appointments with agents at Prudential and Sotheby’s, we wrote a cheery note to the owner of the house letting her know how much we were enjoying ourselves and that if she ever, ever thought about placing it on the market, to please let us know because we are interested in the possibility of buying it. We could both save the broker’s fee by doing it his way. Though we knew by sending her a effusive note of this kind we were undercutting any likelihood of being able to negotiate a better price. We were over the proverbial barrel. But c’est la vie. Casting care aside, we embraced and said to each other, “You only live once. Dying happy and broke isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

To be concluded on Tuesday . . .

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 18, 2008--Friday in Florida: Snowbirding

We chose to winter in Delray Beach because, how to put this delicately, we didn’t want to be in a town full of alta cockas. Though I am approaching that stage in life—some would say I have already arrived—we wanted to sun and frolic amidst a diverse crowd. You know, people who want to wait until at least 7:00 to have dinner and don’t take home the leftovers in doggie bags. Or worse, the next day they actually eat the night-before’s lamb chop and half a baked potato.

Our first day here went even better than expected. Though hungry by 6:30, we forced ourselves to hold out until 8:00 before venturing into town in search of Veri Amici, a place we had read about that purportedly had “New-York quality” Italian food, light on the red sauce, and allegedly served an “international crowd.” About the latter, we had low expectations—this is Florida after all and we are at least 50 miles north of Miami Beach where things are decidedly Euro.

But we weren’t worried about finding a table. Rather, we harbored concerns that by the time we got there, in spite of what we had heard about Delray, the place would be closing up after all the early-bird seekers had trundled off clutching their Styrofoam take-out boxes. So you can only imagine that Rona and I were delighted—I think we exchanged high-fives—to see almost all the tables occupied. Some even with diners who still had menus in their hands! And virtually all the others had bottles of wine on their tables—some actually decanted.

The host greeted us in real, as opposed to restaurant Italian and the evening breeze, which had freshened, wafted various aromas our way from the kitchen, all of which suggesting that some real cooking was going on. Buena sera, Buena sera indeed.

We followed Alfredo (he had introduced himself) as he threaded his way through the closely-spaced tables that were arranged under a sprawling red awning more of a type familiar to a Mediterranean waterfront restaurante than to a back street in a Florida beach town. And as we trailed behind him, feeling better and better about our choice of places to rent and dine, we noted that at at least half the tables the conversations were in boisterous Italian. With things going this well after less than 24 hours on the ground here, I winked at Rona and said, “Maybe tomorrow we should visit some real estate agents to see what might be for sale.”

Ever practical, she said, “Let’s first see how good the food is.” But I still took this as a hopeful sign—the town had passed muster, the diversity of the crowd, and the cosmopolitan lateness of the hour; now all that was required to make our dreams come true were a good vitello tonnato, rack of lamb lightly glazed with honey and fresh mint, and my capellini piselli. It turned out to be so perfectly al dente, which is not easy to achieve with delicate capellini, that I felt tears of culinary joy welling in my eyes.

Everything was so divine, including the Baby Tuscan wine, that Rona, unprompted, said, “I wish we had a place this good and reasonably priced, back in New York.” So when we finished, we drove slowly down Delray’s main street making note of where the brokers had their offices (I spotted a Sotheby’s, Rona a Prudential). If there wasn’t a place this good and reasonably priced in our downtown neighborhood, well then maybe, just maybe . . .

Even the moon had risen, revealing its initial crescent, to guide us home; and we took this too to be a good sign and an affirmation of our choice of place to over-winter.

I must, though, in the spirit of total disclosure, in spite of how good we were feeling about the situation and ourselves and the moon, that nestled at Rona’s feet as we drove back to our place on the beach, was a Styrofoam box in which there were three left-over, still honey-glazed lamb chops (the portion had been a very generous seven) which Alfredo, ignoring our protests, had insisted on packing up for us.

“This is Florida after all,” Rona and I had said to each other, peering lovingly into each other’s eyes while lingering over the last sips of our Tuscan, and even at a place as sophisticated as Veri Amici they can’t help themselves. You know, When in Rome . . . And, we added, we don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with Alfredo—we plan to return there for dinner, undoubtedly frequently, maybe even tomorrow, since we do not cook—we are actually “famous” among some of our New York friends since when there in a week we literally eat all 21of our meals in restaurants. We even had had our gas service disconnected! We want Alfredo to think well of us. Veri Amici does not take reservations for parties of fewer than six and we want to be able to depend upon him to take care of us when we show up on short notice. Over the years, we have learned that in addition to having a good internist who you can call at all hours, and a reliable personal trainer, it’s essential to get on well with key maitre d’s.

So, with the soothing sound of the nearby surf and the gentle rattle of the Trade Winds shaking the fronds of the palms surrounding our little hideaway, we both slept as if we had been transported back to childhood. We didn’t even turn on the 11:00 o’clock news, wanting to avoid anything that might break the spell that had settled over us—the results of the evening’s Republican candidates’ debate and other aggravation would have to wait for the morning. Also, I was trying to keep my head clear so I could remember which real estate agents’ offices looked most promising—which were likely to have the kind of places listed that we were already imaging ourselves inhabiting.

“I think, don’t you,” I offered, “that we should insist on seeing places that are situated as is our current rental? Close enough to the beach so we don’t have to put on shoes after waking in the morning and heading off, with a cup of coffee in hand, for our first beach walk of the day?”

And to that Rona, added, well, in fact nothing. Because all I could hear were the sounds of her contented, rhythmic breathing. Though I couldn’t see her face I knew she was smiling in her sleep and also that I was soon be joining her. Yes, I thought to myself, a smile beginning, a place just like this one. But with a second bedroom? That would be good. Someplace to . . . .

* * *

True to our New York form, after waking and taking that first barefoot walk--without coffee since there was only instant in the house--we headed to town to have breakfast at the Green Owl, a modest place we had noticed when we first arrived. It had the feel of being our kind of place—a luncheonette, really, that looked as if it had been there unchanged since at least the 1950s. And so it turned out to be.

We of course joined the “regulars” at the horseshoe-shaped counter—typically in places of this kind where the most interesting action takes place between and among customers and waitresses—and, pretending that we did not need menus so as to appear that we were returning to familiar territory, we both ordered scrambled eggs (soft) with extra-crisp bacon. Yes, with the potatoes we added, when asked, with a smile. Among other things we wanted to establish ourselves as customers who would order real food—not just a couple of cups of coffee—and thus would not only be running up a big check but would also likely be generous tippers. If we wanted to fit in and be welcomed, we should make it worth their while. This is, among other things, a tourist town where the shops and service workers need to do well during the season to help tide them over through the rest of the year. In our small way, we wanted to support that local economy. And, confessedly, make an impression.

While waiting for the eggs to arrive we tried to listen in on some of the banter that is characteristic of places such as the Green Owl, which serve more as gathering places every morning for a cross section of town worthies than a place for fine food. We quickly understood that there was a table by the window that was “reserved” for the former mayor and his cronies. Another table, on the other side of the room was set aside for the current mayor and whichever of his staff or supporters were allowed to join him. But beyond those provisions for the political elites and their hangers-on, the rest of the Green Owl seemed remarkable democratic—Sit wherever you want was the mantra the flitting waitresses sang out to all who arrived. Us included. Where a local lawyer was as likely to be perched next to the guy who runs the body shop as he is to a retired Fortune 500 CEO. Our kind of place indeed. And what eggs! Soft as we had ordered them and surrounded by clearly homemade crackling hash browns.

On the stool to my right was a former Republican congressman from Delaware who was whispering stories about Spiro Agnew. From the little that I was able to overhear it sounded that if he were willing to tell all the stories he knew in his memoirs he would be able to secure quite an advance from a publisher. I was so certain of that that I was tempted to offer to represent him, or ghostwrite it; but thankfully I was quickly restrained from doing so by Rona who jabbed me in the side when she sensed I was about to interject myself into the gossip he was sharing with his golfing partner and make a impetuous fool of myself. It was as if she were saying, We’ve been here less than 36 hours. Try to control yourself. I know you’re excited. But not everyone is from New York. Or Jewish. You wanted that, remember? Diversity. Not to be where there are only New Yorkers. And, remember, we’re in the South. Things move more slowly. The good news is that we’re here for two months. We’ll have plenty of time for everything.

And Rona also had an interesting counter companion. The substantial and well-tanned man on her left was a local real estate developer who was telling anyone willing to listen that no one should despair, he has seen downturns like this in the market before, and was investing heavily in new projects on the assumption that it is at these very times, if one has the capital, that it’s smart to buy up whatever you can so as to catch the crest of the next wave—“It’s the story of Florida,” he said. And added, with a wink in Rona’s direction as well as a glance down her neckline, “And of America.”

Seeing this as another sign confirming the rightness of our initial impressions of Delray and the fancies of the night before, Rona and I exchanged looks that said, Maybe we should in fact do some real estate shopping. What with the Veri Amici, the Green Owl, the invigoration of the walk on the beach, and a good real estate climate, maybe we should, maybe we just should take the plunge.

“But before we do,” Rona said, as if she had read my mind, “we need to stock up the house. So let’s go to Publix and do some shopping. As we said, if we’re considering living in a different way we should do some eating in. Even some cooking. How does that sound to you?”

“Excellent,” I bubbled, “You know I used to love to cook. Remember the meatloaf I used to make? From a Marcella Hazan recipe. But, yes, as we said, in Florida things will be different. So let’s make sure the gas is turned on at the house. We can’t go to Veri Amici every night.”

“It’s electric,” Rona said.

“What’s electric?”

“The stove,” she smiled, and I embraced her. Things can’t get any better than this.

To be continued on Monday . . .

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 17, 2008--Brooklyn Time

If you ever wondered why so many writers and comedians were incubated in Brooklyn, the answer is that they grew up telling time by using the huge, four-sided clock high atop the borough’s tallest building, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

The clock is in fact four separate clocks with their own mechanisms, which assured that they were always out of synch. And that’s the point—being out of step.

If you were coming north up Flatbush Avenue, it was 10:15. If proceeding south, 10:05. The west-facing clock ran even faster and might not even have reached 10:00. And forget the one on the east front—it could be either faster or slower than all the others.

This meant that growing up in a world that was more and more valuing precision in all its aspects and punctuality in all its behaviors, it was hard, impossible, if one had to depend on those clocks, to ever be on time much less get sufficiently acculturated enough in this changing world to ever have any chance to be successful at anything that required time-bound discipline.

Thus so many turned to writing. Did Norman Mailer or Henry Miller ever need to do anything on time? And what about Lenny Bruce or Allan King—yes, timing is all when it comes to comedy, but not the sort of timing that is measured by any clock.

These out-of-synch clocks made a mockery of the modernizing world. And served as just the right sort of preparation for artists wishing to publish their own transgressive fancies or for jokesters who knew from the clocks, and by looking out at the world beyond, that everything ultimately was an absurd, cosmic, existential joke. Even the perpetually failing Brooklyn Dodgers contributed to this dark world view. So who needed to know from time if we and the Dodgers were always waiting until next year?

But this is all about to change, and thus I worry about Brooklyn’s future.

Those who believe in dragging Brooklyn into the 20th century (forget the 21st) have “fixed” these clocks and now have got them operating in synch. Why, you may ask since they have perversely served Brooklynites so well since they were first set in motion in 1929?

Because some fancy real estate developer bought the building, dispossessed all the dentists who had been practicing there for decades (don’t ask), and has converted all those ortho- and periodontists’ offices into multi-million dollar condos with harbor views, health clubs, and concierge service. (See linked NY Times article.)

And we know those fancy folks who will be shelling out the big bucks to move in will want to be sure they know what time it is. What time it actually is and not some metaphysical stab at it.

Of course I wish them well. Hedge funds have largely taken the place of serious novels and all the best jokes are now about us. So now at least they will know what time it is.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 16, 2008--Going for the Gold

This should be an easy one—

Oscar Pistorius is 21 and was born without fibulas in both of his legs. When he was 11 months old, he had both legs amputated below the knee. He learned to use artificial legs with considerable ease, all things considered; and about six years ago, fitted with Cheetahs (carbon fiber prosthetics shaped like the letter J), he began competitive sprinting. Within four years he set Paralympic world records at 100, 200, and 400 meters.

As if this is not extraordinary and inspiring enough, he now wants to be allowed to compete in the regular Olympics this summer in Beijing. He wants to try out for South Africa’s team and if he makes it wants to compete against so-called able-bodied athletes.

But the International Association of Athletics Federation, track and field governing body, has rejected his request, claiming, this too is extraordinary, that if he were allowed to he would have a competitive advantage. They cite the results of the tests performed on him, at the IAAF’s request, at the German Sport University. There it was determined that the Cheetahs (no pun intended in how they are named) were more efficient than a human ankle. In fact, they return energy to runners. It was determined that the prosthetics are about 30 percent more efficient than a “normal” human leg.

So even though Oscar Pistorius has not yet reached the automatic Olympic qualifying time for the 400 meters event (45.55 seconds), he will not be allowed to try out for the team or compete in China. (See linked NY Times article.)

How to think about this. If the Cheetahs do provide an advantage, what is so different about using them than, say, cheating with steroids or human growth hormone? A then applying this standard, regardless of how we feel about him in our hearts, not allowing Pistorius to compete?

On the other hand, there have been so many technological improvements in all sports (zipped-up golf clubs, high-torque tennis rackets, livened-up baseballs, high-tech running shoes, and even artificially-doctored track surfaces), why ban the Cheetahs? I suspect that versions of them could be developed for wear by runners who have not had their legs amputated. That would keep the playing field level.

Further, we have so over-sanctified, nationalized, and commercialized the Olympics, turning them into a version of a global ritual that has quasi-cultural and even religious aspects (with anthems; oaths; and strict, almost commandment-like codes for off-the-field behavior) that I think it might be time to ratchet some of this back, loosen up, and put some of the fun and sport back into the games.

If we could overcome our obsession with medal-counts and focus on individual achievement, wouldn’t it be wonderful to send a message to the world that overcoming adversity, working hard, and dreaming about what might be is more important than endlessly reporting about how many gold medals Germany has in comparison to France.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January 15, 2008--For the Heart of a Rat

Doesn’t this sound like a potential medical miracle—University of Minnesota researchers reported recently that they had successfully created a “living” rat heart in a laboratory?

This might not at first glance sound like a big deal but scientists not involved with the work in Minnesota say that it may turn out to be a “landmark achievement” since it suggests it might be possible, as a next step, to do the same thing with a pig heart which would then be of great significance since a porcine heat is closest in anatomical terms to a human heart. (See NY Times article linked below.)

In other words if Dr. Doris Taylor and her team can create a beating pig heart from a cadaver pig heart and then do this with a cadaver human heart and after that with other human organs . . . . Need I say more?

Here’s how it works:

Key to “creating’” new organs in a dish, so to speak, is a daunting challenge that needs to be surmounted--organs are three-dimensional. You can generate various organ cells from stem cells (taken from one’s bone marrow, thank you President Bush), but these do not then form themselves into an armature or scaffold, Dr. Taylor’s way of describing this, that represents the three-dimensional structure characteristic of all organs.

To deal with this obstacle, Dr. Taylor, following up on what she calls her “crazy idea,” thought about using the inner, supportive structure of a dead rat’s heart to serve as her scaffold. After cleaning it, literally with a laundry detergent, she took some heart cells from a young live rat and injected them into the armature. She next electrically stimulated the heart-to-be to help the injected cells mature. Which they did.

And when she transplanted this now living heart into the abdomen of a live rat, it was not rejected and soon grew blood vessels and began to beat. In effect, it came alive.

Remarkable and encouraging as this is we will not see any ads during the Super Bowl for these new hearts. We’ll have to be content to live for a while with those for Cialis.

Because, first, Dr. Taylor will have to proceed to her work with pigs; and if that is successful, as many suspect it will be, it will then be time to move on to humans. All told, it is estimated that this will take 10 years; and of course there is no certainty that the ultimate goal, using this method, will work.

Everything sounds promising. Except the 10-years part.

Why, if this is potentially such a breakthrough (and recall non-involved scientists feel all other organs might one day be created this way) why will it take 10 years? Anti-FDA types will blame it on their tortuous system for evaluating and approving new medical procedures. Some may believe that insurance companies might have some unfathomable objections

In addition, I suspect it will take this long for at least two, to me unacceptable, reasons: there will be a problem securing sufficient funding to turn this into a research campaign of the scale required to move it along as expeditiously as its significance suggests it deserves; and, second, as is often the case with medical research, the scientist who makes the initial breakthrough has proprietary rights to control the direction and pace of the research.

In this situation, I hope Dr. Taylor is not that sort of researcher and will both allow and help many others to become involved and that the funds will somehow be found to fast-track this. Millions awaiting organs are waiting.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 14, 2008--The Second Black President

If Bill Clinton was our first black president, who will be our second? Barack Obama? Or Hillary Clinton?

From the tempest that Senator Clinton unleashed last week when she said, and let me quote her fully since I do not want to be accused of “personally offending” her—which is how she described the blowback reaction to her words—it appears that race has finally raised its corrosive head in the Democratic campaign. She said:

Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done. (See NY Times article liked below.)

Putting aside for the moment how this carefully-crafted statement (evidence of careful crafting is the fact that Senator Clinton uttered almost exactly the same words later in the day), notice how this assertion is in the form of one of those analogy questions we all hated on the SAT exam—to remind you, here’s an easy one, Doctor : Hospital :: Professor : College.

In her analogy, Hillary Clinton was asking us to fill in the blanks thusly:

Barack Obama’s dream of hope and unity will be realized when President Hillary Clinton passes the Civil Rights Act of 2009. And it will again take a president to get it done. Me.

Also put aside her (intentional?) carelessness in speaking about how King’s dream began to be realized by President Johnson when in fact it was the articulation of that dream and lots of on-the-ground protesting, mobilization, and suffering that effectively forced political leaders to pass civil rights legislation. It hardly began to happen only when LBJ got involved. Dr. King and his followers began it. The legislation, incidentally, required Congressional action and not just presidential action as Senator Clinton also in a self-referential and (intentionally?) self-serving way misstates.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I have a few questions for both of the Clintons and for those African-American spokespeople and politicians who support them and designated remember, Bill Clinton as our first black president. (This occurred in 2001 at a dinner in his honor hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.)

First, what exactly did Bill Clinton do during his presidency to earn this distinction? Can you cite one piece of legislation he proposed or executive order he executed that was of direct and significant benefit to the black community? In fact, as I recall, he struck a deal with Newt Gingrich and the Republicans who controlled Congress to “reform” welfare, which many continue to claim disproportionately disadvantaged black people.

Yes, one of his best friends was Vernon Jordan and he was genuinely comfortable appearing and preaching in black churches. As Congressman John Lewis put it at the Black Caucus dinner:

"Bill Clinton has the rare capacity of connecting with African- Americans. He understands the hopes and dreams and the frustration of African- Americans. We identify with him and he can identify with us."

True, but where was the beef?

And then what about Hillary Clinton? What specifically has she accomplished during her 35 years of experience? I may be missing something, but again I cannot think of anything noteworthy that she has accomplished that shows a unique sensitivity to issues of race. In fact, when just yesterday Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, while introducing the senator scurrilously slandered Barack Obama, again making a crack about his youthful drug use, she just sat there and smiled. If she is so concerned about not injecting race into the campaign and is such a force for racial justice, why didn’t she, why hasn’t she disavowed Johnson’s comments? I think we all know the answer to that one. As we do recall Hillary Clinton not too long ago appearing in a black church and speaking to the parishioners in her version of Ebonics.

It’s taken a while, but we’re approaching crunch time, and this is when those inspired by Karl Rove emerge from under their rocks.

Friday, January 11, 2008

January 11, 2008--Fanaticism XCX: Hell's Bells

Just when I was beginning to think that New York City was becoming boring with everyone racing around buying up $10.0 million condos and waiting in line at Gucci to spend $5,000 for a pocketbook or two or three, something comes along to remind me of the New York I grew up in and still want to love.

Did you hear about the two guys who were arrested the other day for loading their dead roommate onto a desk chair and wheeling him over to a neighborhood check cashing store, Pay-O-Matic, where they attempted to cash his Social Security check? (See NY Times story linked blow.)

It didn’t work out—they were having so much trouble keeping their pal from flopping out of the chair and onto the sidewalk that they attracted a crowd of onlookers, including a NYC detective who was having lunch at Empanada Mama, a diner next to the Pay-O-Matic. So the two perpetrators, as the cops there refer to them, were arrested and booked for attempted forgery. As far as I know there is no law on the books in the Big Apple for schlepping around a corpse. My kind of town!

This sort of stuff used to go all the time. I don’t mean to go Sweeney Todd on you, but some while ago there were these funeral directors in Brooklyn and Staten Island who got busted for stealing body parts from various deceased in their care and then selling them to middlemen who then turned a buck by selling them to companies that supplied bones and such to doctors who needed them for tissue transplants. That’s a New York story for you.

And I should spare you the details about the gravediggers who were in cahoots with undertakers who after the mourners left the cemetery . . . . You’ll just have to use your imagination. Which you can also do if I merely mention that owners of a couple of pet cemeteries did unkind things to some of New Yorkers best friends and pussycats.

There’s a recurrent theme here triggered off by the check-cashing scammers, but I could share numerous more benign examples about a grittier, more diverse New York than the current city which seems to be all about stories of Wall Street bonuses and getting and spending.

There’s even a little irony here surrounding Jimmy and Fox, as they are known in the neighborhood, the two who were nabbed for attempting forgery. Their neighborhood happens to be the wonderfully, non-euphemistically named Hell’s Kitchen. We’re not talking Soho or Tribeca or Nolita. But Hell’s Kitchen where years ago it resembled nothing more than the ultimate place after which it is named.

Ruled then by a legendary Irish gang called the Westies, it was a place of mayhem and murder, it is now one of the fastest gentrifying areas of the city. High-rise condos are sprouting up all over the Westies’ turf, and I can’t begin to imagine what two-bedroom places are going for. But I can imagine what James O’Hare (Jimmy) and Virgilio Cintron (Fox) must be thinking about what’s going on all around them: Probably, it’s time to cash in and sublet their three-storey walkup. It should go for . . . ?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January 10, 2008--Cheers for Tears

The polls in New Hampshire had it right—18 hours before voting began Barack Obama had a sizable lead. But then something happened to dramatically reverse things: Hillary “teared-up,” as the media described it.

But they did much more than relentlessly show her show of emotion—they analyzed it to death. Was it sincere or just another Clinton ploy to reveal her human, vulnerable side? If it was in fact genuine, why then did she, without stopping to dry her eyes or catch her breath, move on to attack Obama?

OK, others said, it was a genuine emotional moment. But after all these years of demonstrating that she has cajones as big as any previous Commander in Chief, didn’t her breaking down when in a (personal/political) crisis suggest she wasn’t “man” enough to run the military in this violent and dangerous world? And so on. Never forgetting to run and rerun the videotape. Gotcha!

Allow me to diverge for a moment.

If you rummage around in Barack Obama’s website you will find some interesting, even new things. For example, some of his stuff about the economy. Much of it is based on the latest hip economic theory—Behavioral Economics. Its proponents contend and provide evidence that unlike mainstream economic theory where the struggle is to quantify and thereby explicate and explain macro- as well as micro-economic behavior (all of this assuming that humans and markets act rationally in pursuit of their own best and long term interests), behavioral theory sees individuals and the larger economy frequently emotion driven.

Among their favorite examples are how people make decisions to buy houses—most individual’s largest purchase and ultimately major asset. Since it is thus such a significant decision, we would expect that rational homebuyers would do their due diligence—that they would check “comparables” (how much equivalent houses in the neighborhood have sold for), evaluate the quality of local public schools, have an engineer do a survey to see if the house is sound.

But it has been discovered that an astonishing number act no differently when buying a house than when making an impulse purchase. Real estate agents report that most of their sales are made to people who moments after stepping through the front door “fall in love” and make an offer without doing much analytical reflection.

Back to Tuesday in New Hampshire. There is evidence that perhaps a quarter of the voters made up their minds about who to vote for within just hours of going to the polls and that many of these, disproportionately middle-aged and older women, decided to vote for Hillary Clinton for at least, they say, two reasons—

First, her emotional display made her a more, not less, attractive candidate. Perhaps it rounded out her persona—she could be tough when necessary but now these voters knew she was also a “real person.”

Second, there was a more overtly gendered reaction: why, some asked, did the media not make an equivalent big deal when Mitt Romney teared-up on Meet the Press recently when he recalled crying after hearing in 1978 that his church, the Mormons, changed its policy to exclude blacks from membership? Was there, is there a double standard? You bet.

And further, did the late-deciding Hillary voters catch a whiff of that media aphrodisiac schadenfreudee that they didn't want to yuk along with? The Boston Herald’s headline on Monday, riding the Obama youth-change wave, accompanied by an image of a 78-rpm record and a tired-looking picture of Hillary was one word—“Yesterday.” Imagine how that made post 60-year-old women feel.

Then there were the thinly-veiled snickering by hosts and “experts” on all three cable news channels that the torch, thank God, was about to be passed to a new generation that at long last didn't include the Clintons. (Notice, incidentally how often we hear the plural rather than the singular Clinton.)

Perhaps what happened overnight that was not picked up by the polls might be thought of as a form of Behavioral Voting. Which is not to say that a vote for Senator Clinton (or Obama) is necessarily an impulse vote. But it sure seems that a lot of emotion was flowing that may better explain why there was such a huge swing in voter preferences.

Thus, moved and appropriately pissed off, several thousand who might have voted differently, cast their lot in solidarity with Hillary, and I suspect they feel very good about what they wrought. It wasn’t just the result of a lot of folks staying up all night studying her heath care plan.

If you’ve been following me the past few months, you’ve probably picked up some of my own snickering and considerable Obama infatuation. Guilty on both counts. I’ll try to reign in the snickering, but I’m not ready yet to let go of the infatuation.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

January 9, 2008--Traveling

I'm on route south and hope to resume on Thursday. Perhaps I'll have something to say that isn't too stupid about what just happened in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

January 8, 2008--Where Have You Gone Billy Boy?

When I heard that a political opponent of Barack Obama’s claimed that what many are calling a phenomenon was in fact more like a “Fairy Tale” I assumed, considering the double-entendre possibilities embedded in the comment, that the Swiftboating of Obama was beginning.

What next, as in the racist campaign against Harold Ford in Tennessee, a picture of the Senator with a blonde? Or a parade of former Harvard law students “revealing” that Obama was their dope dealer? Or, and this is a joke, that like what Karl Rove did to John McCain in South Carolina, that Obama has not one but two black children?

No, this Fairy Tale crack came from hithertofor political savant, Bill Clinton. And on the same day that he said that voters will have to take Hillary as she is because, to quote him, “I can’t make her younger [like Barack], taller [like Barack], or a man [also like Obama].”

Is this just the frustration of a loving husband (I leave that to you to decide), a tired campaigner, someone who desperately feels Senator Clinton would make the best president, or someone who desperately wants to be back on the world stage and see his tattered legacy reaffirmed?

Whatever the political or psychic source of these, let me put this kindly, faux pas, he is not helping.

For someone who seemed so incandescently smart, even if at times stupidly out of control, it is a sad spectacle of perhaps dynastic entitlement. Above all others, Bill Clinton, genius politician, should recognize the equivalent in others. In this case, Barack Obama who, if he isn’t the real deal, is minimally a once-in-a-generation political wonder.

Perhaps he does recognize this and that more than anything else, for someone who always wanted to be the smartest one in the room, is what has frozen his circuits.

Monday, January 07, 2008

January 7, 2008--Huckabeezers

From the look on Al Sarpton’s face the night of the Iowa caucuses, you could tell that he realized that the earth had moved. It said, my time is passing. The era of “race politics” (black as well as white) is ending. Obama’s victory, especially all the “internals” (he got more women’s votes than Senator Clinton, more independents that all other candidates combined, and young people did in fact turn out in hordes to vote for him), all of this in a “conservative” state where fewer than two percent are minorities signals that we may be seeing yet another generational shift in culture.

And that’s what this is all about—culture.

Think of the post-caucus tableaus—sharing the platform with Edwards were his family but packed behind them were his endorsers, union leaders, local Iowa pols, and other hangers-on. Behind Hillary were of course Bill (looking traumatized and much older) and a sampling of Clinton retreads and warhorses, with Madeline Albright front and center—not the picture of change.

Sharing the platform with the triumphant Obama were just his wife (in a tight knit dress) and his two daughters. No one else. And when he spoke, unlike Edwards and Clinton who delivered versions of their stump speeches, he delivered a speech that was a political, inspirational masterpiece. Even Republican pundits on the news channels conceded that it was about the best speech of its kind that they had ever heard.

Why had so many missed the fact that Obama’s kind of blackness is cool? Hadn’t anyone noticed that African-American celebrities and entertainment stars had already made the crossover and were now appealing big time to youthful white audiences? Denzel Washington is now Hollywood’s most bankable male star. Not to mention Oprah who help kosher Barack among young women of all races.

And then there is the Huckabee phenomenon to understand. It’s not so simple to just chalk up his appeal and success to the fact that he is attracting Evangelical voters. Time will tell, but there is considerable culture-shifting among conservative Christians as well. They are not the two-dimensional cartoon characters the mainstream media have been describing only fulminating about Evolution, abortion, and same-sex marriage. There is growing diversity in their ranks as well, perhaps exemplified by Mike Huckabee. Many, taking the Bible literally, fundamentally, see a Christian responsibility to care of God’s creation—the Earth—and to take seriously the Christian virtue of Charity which is deemed first among the rest. There is that explicit requirement to love thy neighbors.

And what is it that the Bible says about passing through the eye of a needle? I don’t think hedge fund managers are first in line among the meek who are to inherit the Earth.

No one of course knows where all this is headed, but anyone with even a cursory sense of American political and cultural history knows that there have been times like this in the past and what we are now witnessing may be in its own way historic.

Friday, January 04, 2008

January 4, 2008--Hope Is Alive

Most post-Iowa analyses see the message of last night’s caucus results to reflect Iowans’ and perhaps American’s desire for change. A willingness ironically, to quote Bill Clinton, to “roll the dice.” How else to explain Barack Obama’s stunning victory or, for that matter, Mike Huckabee’s?

Perhaps, though, it was about something related to a desire to see fundamental change, something beyond change--the release into the political atmosphere of something rarer and more powerful: the intoxicating power of hope.

The following words were spoken last night by Barack Obama in one of the best political speeches in decades. Note the nuances as he speaks about the deeper meaning of hope:

This was the moment, this was the place where America remembered what it means to hope. For many months, we've been teased, even derided for talking about hope. But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism.

It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path.

It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.

Hope is what I saw in the eyes of the young woman in Cedar Rapids who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can't afford health care for a sister who's ill. A young woman who still believes that this country will give her the chance to live out her dreams.

Hope is what I heard in the voice of the New Hampshire woman who told me that she hasn't been able to breathe since her nephew left for Iraq. Who still goes to bed each night praying for his safe return.

Hope is what led a band of colonists to rise up against an empire. What led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. What led young women and young men to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause.

Hope -- hope is what led me here today. With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America.

Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

January 3, 2008--No Big Deal In Iowa

With just hours to go before Iowans meet in caucuses to reveal their presidential preferences, all eyes are on what appear to be two extraordinarily close races—polls indicate a virtual tie between Clinton, Obama, and Edward as well as a dead heat between Huckabee and Romney. Nothing like this has ever been true so close to when the balloon goes up.

Yes, Iowa has historically been full of surprises—just ask Howard Dean about that—but since it has an uncanny record of identifying eventual nominees (did I hear that something like eight of the last twelve were Iowa winners?), the media and the larger electorate pay a great deal of attention to the outcome of the funky caucus process Iowans have devised for themselves.

Further, since Iowa is the first place voters actually cast versions of votes in national elections, the major candidates virtually move into the state and spend up to a year there working their way from large rallies (often measured in just hundreds unless Oprah, Bill, or John Mellencamp shows up) to local living rooms.

It’s what the experts call “retail politics” writ large. When after Iowa will a mega-political celebrity such as Hillary Clinton show up at the modest home of some just-plain-folks and hang out with them for an hour over coffee? Pretty much after Iowa, and to some extent New Hampshire, most campaigning will revert to fund-raising events and a rush of TV ads. There’s no other way to carry out a campaign simultaneously in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, etc.

So let’s speculate about a few potential headlines and the spin surrounding them on the Democratic side that we are likely to hear later tonight and through the days that follow.

If there is a dead heat—

Iowa Vote Indecisive. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama Move On to New Hampshire Where Senators Obama and Clinton are Running Neck-And Neck.

If Edwards comes in first—

In An Upset, Edwards Vaults Ahead of Clinton and Obama. He Now Looms as the Favorite in South Carolina. Millions of Dollars Pour In via His Website. Can He Go All the Way?

If Hillary wins—

Clinton Reestablishes Her Front-Runner Status. Supporters Claim this Again Makes Her Nomination Appear “Inevitable.”

If Obama wins—

Obama Wins Decisive Victory, Upsetting Claim that Clinton’s Nomination Was “Inevitable.” New Hampshire and South Carolina Appear Within Reach.

If outcomes of this kind are political big deals, lost in the shuffle, relegated to the back-story, is an even bigger deal: no one will be including at the top of any of these headlines that Hillary Clinton happens to be a woman or that Barack Obama is an African-American.

This is not to say that for X percent of the voters the fact that Hillary is female influenced them to vote for or against her and that the same is true because of Obama’s race. Let’s not be that naïve.

But what was it that they used to say about Virginia Slims cigarettes?

“You’ve come a long way baby.”

But though cigarette ads are banned and referring to women as “baby” is no longer politically correct, we sure have come a long way baby.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

January 2, 2007--Awe for 2008

Imagine a 3rd grade class in Philadelphia. As in so many, this one too has a Science Corner. There one would find a small fish tank with a few guppies and tattered angle fish, a gerbil cage, and a terrarium in which the teacher has placed, among the grasses, a butterfly chrysalisis. This one for a Monarch.

The children feed the fish, clean up their droppings, watch the gerbil race to nowhere in the wheel in it cage, and peer at the seemingly inert chrysalisis as it perhaps swells in the overheated classroom.

An occasional guppy dies sparking some sadness among the children, but beyond that all proceeds without incident. But then one Monday morning, when the kids return from the weekend, they discover that the cocoon has split open and flitting among the plants is a newly emerged butterfly.

Putting down their readers, all race to the rear of the room to peer at the metamorphic miracle. But there will soon be more for them to wonder at—their teacher tells them that for the butterfly to survive they will soon need to release it.

“But what will happen to it?” one seven-year-old whimpers.

“It will fly away to join other butterflies of the same kind,” the teacher attempts to assure him, “And he will be all right. You do not need to worry.”

Not entirely assured, he asks, “And the what will happen to them?”

“Well,” she is a teacher who knows her science, “later in the year they will all fly to Mexico.”

“To Mexico? Isn’t that very far away?”

“Yes, it is. More than 1,000 miles.”

“They can fly that far without dying?”

“Most will manage to get there safely.”

“Why do they make such a long trip? They are so small. It even takes big airplanes a long time to get there.”

“They fly to Mexico to breed. To make baby Monarch Butterflies.”

“Why can’t they do that here?” another student asks.

“They need the t conditions—the right climate and the right food. And there is only one place in the whole world where they can find these. Only in a very small area in Mexico.”

“And then next year they will fly back here to Philadelphia and make new cocoons?”

“Yes, they will do that.”

“How many?”

“You mean how many from here or from all over the United States?”

“From all over.”

“Well, many millions will migrate from the United States. That’s what it’s called—to migrate. Other animals do that too. In Africa. And here when there were millions of buffalo. They migrated across the middle of our country. Across the Great Plaines.”

“Wow, this is so cool. So amazing.”

“It is.”

“And how,” one child asks a final question, “how do the butterflies know how to get from here to Mexico? Do they have tiny maps?” At that, the other students giggle.

“No, silly, they do not have maps. But,” she pauses, “nobody knows for certain how they find their way there. Even the scientists who have been studying them for years.”

“I like that,” one tike muses, “that no one knows. Just the butterflies. It’s their secret.”

With that, they return to their reading lesson. But a few of the children ignore their book and stare out the window at the trees and the sky.

Some day, perhaps, one of the children will discover the butterflies’ secret. Or let it remain one forever, feeling that there are some things we should leave undiscovered.

Or, some day they will come upon David Wilcove’s recent book, No Way Home, in which he tells about how the phenomenon of migration is disappearing. We know, for example, what happened to America’s bison. (See NY Times article linked below.)

Even the magical Monarchs are seriously threatened. And as a result there will be less available to inspire awe and fire young imaginations.