Friday, October 31, 2008

October 31, 2008--Hey Big Spender

During the entire campaign John McCain has attempted to make the case that if Barack Obama is elected he will raise everyone’s taxes while increasing government spending by nearly a trillion dollars.

So then I read this piece in today’s New York Times that compares Obama’s tax proposals with McCain’s. It is based on analyses conducted by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which concluded that contrary to McCain’s relentless accusations that Obama would raise everyone’s taxes “those who make less than $250,000 a year would not see their taxes raised under Senator Barack Obama’s plans.” Also, Obama would cut taxes more than McCain for households with incomes under $100,000. (Article linked below.)

If this constitutes socialism, call me a socialist.

But then, two pages on in the Times there’s an equally interesting article about what kind of spenders both candidates are. Here we learn about how much and for what purposes both candidates have been spending their money. In sum—it appears that John McCain, who presents himself as a budget cutter, is outspending his so-called liberal tax-and-spend opponent.

For example, from both campaigns, only two of all of the fifteen highest paid staffers are Obama’s. And even though Obama has raised $400 million more in contributions than McCain he has spent less in total on fund-raising consultants.

When it comes to local field offices around the country, though Obama has 700 to McCain’s 400, again in total he is spending less in rent, partly because he has figured out how, fully legally, to allow campaign workers in some circumstances to use their own offices and to bill them as in-kind campaign contributions.

The Obama people dramatically limit per diems for their staff. In order to be reimbursed for trips to the airport, workers at the Chicago headquarters must take public transportation; and staffers on the road get only a $30-a-day allowance for meals while McCain permits $40 dollars a day.

At Obama headquarters, David Axelrod his chief strategist, jokes—or perhaps this is true—that in the men’s room, where there is an electric paper towel dispenser, when staffers wave their hands in front of it to get a hunk of towel, if they wave twice to get some more, the extra towel that is dispensed has printed on it “See Plouffe,” Obama’s notoriously frugal campaign manager.

So much for who is the real taxer and spender.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 30, 2008--The Battle for Khirbet Qeiyafa

You think the battle between John McCain and Barack Obama is intense? Well, unless you check out the story in today’s New York Times about an archeological dig in Israel of literally biblical proportions you ain’t seen nothing yet. (See article linked below.)

It’s over the disputed history of a 3,000 year-old fortification in the Valley of Elah. A five-acre site just a two-day walk from Jerusalem. Is it, as it’s excavator claims, an outpost of King David’s “kingdom,” with kingdom in quotes because it may turn out to provide evidence that David in fact had a kingdom--which is controversial—or it was it a relatively insignificant place from a time other than when David was supposed to have united Greater Israel?

This is a critical matter since there is very little archeological evidence that David ruled over more than a small part of present-day Israel. If he was more a tribal leader than a major political figure who presided over a kingdom that the Bible says stretched from the Nile to the Euphrates it changes things on the ground in the Holy Land. Among other things, it would suggest that a lot is less holy than ultra-orthodox Jews now claim and would give more sanction to the Palestinian case for a state of their own.

And if David is either further exalted or diminished by the archeological record it would have a profound effect on how Evangelical Christians view the current and future situation in that hotly-contested part of the world because their view of history sees it as leading to a particular version of Armageddon right there. With “right there” to be determined by biblical geography.

Their view of the Final Days sees events unfolding in Greater Israel, and what constitutes Greater Israel is very much what is in dispute. In fact, some critics of the war in Iraq take note of the fact that born-again George W. Bush may have begun that war not just to find weapons of mass destruction or to bring his version of democracy to the region but to secure Greater Israel for Christians so that the events that some claim need to occur to trigger these Final Days have the geographic space in which to do so.

Thus, what’s going on in Khirbet Qeiyafa is much more than a battle between one researcher who claims that the site dates from the 10th century B.C., David’s time, or to a later era, the 9th century B.C., as other archeologists contend. If it is later it is does not support the notion that David presided over a kingdom and as a result perhaps wasn’t a king at all.

I’m far from an expert on biblical exegeses, Middle Eastern archaeology, or millennialist thought—though I do know that many orthodox Jews, and Muslims, are as millennialist-minded as certain Evangelical Christians and that all see the Final Days unfolding in that same compressed piece of real estate. But I wonder about the way the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavators are going about attempting to date the site—which is critical to the argument on both sides.

They are using carbon-14 dating techniques to do so. All organic matter contains some radioactive carbon-14, and since it decays over time in measurable stages it is useful in determining how old a site is or when a geological layer was deposited. At Khirbet Qeiyafa Yosef Garkinkel and his team have found four olive pits and have thus far tested two of them for carbon-14. He claims this yields a 10th century B.C. date for the site.

Ilan Sharon, a radiocarbon expert at Hebrew University, says that using just two olive pits to date a site that is 3,000 or so years old is “working very close to the limits of measurement accuracy.” He says that to zero in on a date from that long ago which is within 50 years of accuracy requires many more olive pits—perhaps hundreds.

I guess this means that all the millennialists out there are hoping that King David hosted a cocktail party at Khirbet Qeiyafa during one of his visits and that among the hors d’oeuvres served there were lots of local olives

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October 29, 2008--Sarah Palin: Spiritual Warrior

From the high end to the low, the ongoing vetting of Sarah Palin includes: her preparedness to be vice president much less president; the truth behind the spin about her life and history up in Alaska; and, how can we resist, fun things like her clothes, hair, makeup, and whether or not she’s a diva, or--as claimed yesterday by a McCain senior advisor--a “whack job.”

Colin Powell dealt best with the former in his incandescent endorsement of Barack Obama and various reporters have been all over her home state rummaging around to find out the truth about Troopergate, her actual tax and spending practices, the truth about the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, how much of a maverick she has really been, and of course if one can really see Russia from her hometown.

In the fun and gossip realm, besides her wardrobe we can’t get enough about Todd, which newspapers she reads, and her involvement with an African witch doctor.

In regard to that Kenyan preacher, Thomas Muthee, who visited her church in Alaska to lay hands on her in order to anoint her when she ran for governor, we can see for ourselves that he also came there to protect her from possession by witches. This ceremony, captured on video, is a YouTube favorite.

But behind the comic relief this provides lurks what may in fact be most disturbing and least examined about the prospect of Sarah Palin becoming vice president. It reveals deeper truths about her religious beliefs.

Beyond mentioning God in almost every paragraph in her stump speeches, she remains remarkably silent, even secretive about the detail of her faith. One would think that someone who sees herself as so representing traditional values such as family and church would not keep so much about her spiritual life off the record.

Thanks, though, to an intrepid New York Times reporter we now know more about the full range of those beliefs. (Article linked below.)

To get a glimpse of this there is a second videotape that shows Sarah Palin this June in her Wassila church nodding exaggeratedly while her former preacher prays over her and speaks about how Alaska is “one of the refuge states in the Last Days.”

For those of you not up on your eschatology—the study of the Last Things on those Last Days—he was referring to that time when the Rapture will occur and God will take all true Christians, soul and body together, right up to heaven, leaving the rest of us to struggle through the horrors of strife and warfare that will follow the appearance on earth of the Antichrist (some say he is none other than Barack Obama!) while waiting 1,000 years for the actual Christ’s return, the end of all earthly life, the Last Judgment, and Resurrection.

When all this occurs, Alaska, because of its geographic isolation will be one of the best places on earth to get through this nightmare. That’s why the good governor was nodding along so enthusiastically: not only does she believe this extra-biblical prophesy but she also must have been feeling fortunate to be leading the one state in America so blessed.

Maybe this is what the McCain aide meant yesterday when he referred to her as a whack job. Though I doubt it. McCain has been pandering to those many millions in America who share these beliefs. That’s at least half the reason he selected her to be his running mate—to appeal to these millennialists. I hesitate to speculate about the other half of the reason why he found her so compelling.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 28, 2008--Tomorrow

Back tomorrow with my last Sarah Palin posting ever--"Sarah Palin: Spiritual Warrior." Last, of course, until 2012.

Monday, October 27, 2008

October 27, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace: It's In the Bags

“I have a problem.” It was my 100 year-old mother calling from Florida.

“With what? Is it your blood pressure again?”

“No, that’s fine. 110 over 70. It’s about Tuesday.”

“What’s happening Tuesday?”

“The election.”

Knowing that on occasion she’s a little confused about time and dates, I said, “The election isn’t until next week. Tuesday, November 4th.”

“I know, I know the 4th is Election Day and that’s eight days from now. That much I still know.”

“So then what’s the problem with the election this Tuesday? Tomorrow?”

“I have a car arranged to take me to the election office.”

“What for? What do you have to do there?”

“A few things.”

“Really?” I couldn’t imagine what. She already has her absentee ballot.

“Well, you know how I’m helping people here with their ballots.” She has been telling me that for weeks—how she and some of the other ladies are doing this. “I think by now we must have helped quite a few. And you know the best part?”

“What’s that, ma?”

“The ladies here are wonderful. They are so interested in the election. Many say they are voting for their grandchildren. I don’t mean literally for them but for their grandchildren’s future. So almost all are voting for Obama. Not everyone was for him originally. Most were for Hillary. But now they have gotten to know him and his wonderful wife. Did you hear her on Friday in Ohio? She was taking his place there while he was in Hawaii visiting his grandmother. He’s such a wonderful grandson. After the girls saw how fine he is and how intelligent and after to listening to his plans, almost all say they will try to stay up late on Election Day to watch the results on CNN.”

“That’s wonderful mom, but I still don’t know what your problem is for tomorrow.”

“I’m getting to that.” I knew I needed to allow he to tell her story her way. “As I said, we’ve been helping people with their absentee ballots. You know they’re eight pages long and very confusing. You have to check here and then there and then after getting through all the propositions and amendments you finally come to the place where you vote for president and then after that you have to turn the page over and sign your name exactly as it appears on your registration form. I’m sure you’ve been watching Wolf Blitzer. He’s been talking about how in many places there is concern that election officials will declare ballots invalid unless they’re filled out perfectly.”

“I have been hearing about that and I too am worried because I think the worst problems will be in Republican-controlled states like Florida.”

“That’s why they are asking us to check their ballots—to see that they are properly filled out. I’m allowed to do that if they ask for my assistance. The ladies remember 2000 and all the problems we had here. They want to be very careful this year to do everything by the book. This is not easy for people our age with such a confusing ballot. They want to make sure every ballot is counted. Even the ones for McCain.” She chuckled at that.

“Of course.”

“So I’m helping them too.”


“The ladies who are still voting for him. McCain. Though I do try to convince them to think about changing their minds.”

“Is that OK to do while helping them with their ballots.”

“I always ask if they mind my talking with them about Obama and almost everyone says that’s fine. In fact, I think quite a few have changed their minds.”

“What do you say to them?” I was sincerely looking to hear what she was doing to have so much success.

“I talk mainly about the future and all the crises we’re facing here and in the rest of the world and who has the best ideas about how to deal with them.”

“And that works?”

“Not always as well as I would like. Some of the girls feel McCain, because he’s older, has more experience to deal with these. But I don’t give up. As we work our way through the propositions and amendments I keep talking.”

“So for the ones who change their minds what works best?”

“It’s when I remind them that McCain is 72 years old and has Stage III cancer. I read that last week in the New York Times. Old they understand. And cancer too. Then I ask them how they would feel if something happened to him and Sarah Palin, God help us, became president. How would they feel about her meeting with Putin and talking with Sarkozy or that president of Iran whose name I can never pronounce.”

“Arm-a-din-e-jad,” I said slowly, not sure I got it right.

“Yes, that’s the one. That gets to some of them.”

“I’ve beginning to hear the same thing from some McCain supporters I know.”

“There are McCain supporters in New York City? I though everyone up there were socialists.” I knew she was joking. “I think we may have convinced about ten people to change their minds. I’m not sure of this because when the ladies I help get to the place where they vote for president I look away. It’s a secret ballot. But I can tell from what they tell me or from the look on their faces. From their smiles who they voted for.”

“That’s amazing.”

“If that’s true, if ten people changed their minds, isn’t that a 20 point swing? Ten fewer for McCain and ten more for Obama?”

“Yes, mom, that would be a 20 point difference.”

“And by how many votes in Florida did Gore lose to Bush? About 500 wasn’t it? That is, if he actually lost.”

“I think is was 537.”

“So if between now and next Tuesday I can convince five more, all together that would be a 30 vote swing, right?” And wouldn’t that be more than five percent of 537? Am I correct?”

“Actually, if 269 people who voted for Bush in Florida voted for Gore, Gore would have won Florida and been elected president. So if you and the other ladies contribute to a 30 vote swing this time, as you’re saying that’s more than five percent of what Obama would need in Florida if the election this year there is as close as it was in 2000. And it very well could be. Some polls today are saying it’s a tie.”

“That’s what we’re thinking and why the girls and I are working so hard.”

“You, and they, mom, are remarkable. You’re doing more than I am and you’re much older.”

“Well, it’s true that you’re getting up in years but that’s no excuse not to be making phone calls and helping people vote.”

“By your inspiration I promise to do more. But again, mom, you called to tell me about a problem.”

“Yes, that. Did I tell you I arranged for a car for tomorrow?”

“You did.”

“To go to the election office?”

“You told me that much but not why you’re going there.”

“To drop off votes.”

“What? Didn’t you mail in your ballot?”

“I don’t trust the mail with something this important. That’s why I arranged for the car. For us to take them in.”

Them? Not just yours?”

“We have more than 100.”

“How many?”


“Filled out?”

“Of course. What do you think we’ve been doing here? Like I told you, the girls have been very busy.”

“And you can bring all of them in?” I was concerned they might be doing something inappropriate or not allowed.

“I checked and it’s fine as long as they’re properly sealed and filled out and we have written permission to turn them in. And they are. We checked every single one.”


“Remember when I and many of the girls were born women were not allowed to vote. So voting is very important to us. Especially this election. For many reasons. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Obama was elected? And wouldn’t it be poetic justice if Florida, which was segregated, put him over the top in the Electoral College?”

“It would be.” I remembered the separate water fountains for “White” and “Colored” the first time I visited back in the 1950s. “But, again, I don’t understand why any of this is a problem for tomorrow. It sounds as if you have everything arranged. What you’ve done, what you’ve all done is wonderful, but still I don’t see what . . .”

“You know how big the envelopes are? The ones with the ballots?” I didn’t. “Quite large. In fact so large that I have four shopping bags filled with ballots.”

“Really?” I was incredulous.

“And they’re heavy for us. I don’t know how we’ll get them all down to the car. I’m not that strong any more and I’m supposed to use my walker.”

“Why don’t you . . .?”

“That’s what I’ll do,” she interrupted me, “I’ll put them in my shopping cart, the one I take to Publix, and take them that way to the car. And then to the election office. That way I won’t need anyone to help me.”

“You’re amazing.”

“But only if we can get those last five people to change their minds and vote for Obama.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008--Recessionistas

I don’t know if technically we’re in a recession. But with Alan Greenspan yesterday looking like a ghost of his former Delphic self, acknowledging that his free market mindedness blinded him to the economic tsunami headed our way, and the markets this morning crashing around the world, still I am looking for a brass if not a silver lining in all this cataclysmic news.

Maybe, just maybe they’ve got it figured out in England. Not only did they come up with the ideas we eventually embraced to bail out our faltering financial markets, but they also are talking intelligently about how the current situation may prove to be a tonic for some of our profligate ways.

Of course the Brits are well versed in austerity. During the Second World War nearly half the population of London moved for years into the subway tubes during the Battle of Britain to escape from Germany’s relentless bombing. And when they emerged they learned to live with very little. Food and fuel and even electricity rationing persisted for years even after V-E Day. Some claim it toughened the British mettle and thus enabled them to figure out ways to get through life after losing the last remnants of their empire.

Some now in England are saying that the current meltdown will force folks to emerge from the past 15 years of overleveraging and spending madness and come out the other side with regained “old values.” (See linked New York Times article.)

The Times of London columnist India Knight wrote:

I am happy to observe that the decades of vulgar excess are finally over. There is a strong collective sense of all of us coming back down to earth. It’s like a huge national reality check and, unwelcome as it may be, there is the possibility that it will result in our straightening out our realities.

We could use a little of that here.

Of course we need to do all we can to soften the landing for what both of our candidates call “average Americans,” those who are in danger of losing their homes and jobs and savings. But we should let the greediest and most vulgar come crashing down to earth and make sure that those who deserve it wind up in jail.

If that represents the “redistribution of wealth,” so be it. Enough wealth has already been redistributed by the current administration. In a perverse form of socialism more wealth than ever in our history has been redistributed--but upward from those average Americans to hedge fund managers and their ilk.

It’s reckoning time. And time to rediscover those old values of fairness and shared responsibility.

Can we vote now?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October 23, 2008--Sarah Palin: Married With Children

At the risk of piling on, I can’t restrain myself from a brief comment about Sarah Palin’s new wardrobe.

My favorite un-politically-correct sitcom is Married With Children. If you haven’t caught it in reruns, it’s about a totally dysfunctional Chicago family, the Bundys, where the husband is a hapless shoe salesman who makes about 50 bucks a week while his wife spends her days on the sofa watching Oprah and their two children are left to forage for themselves. Al Bundy dreams about his glory days back in high school when he scored four touchdowns in a single game and looks forward to evenings with his buddies at the Nudie Bar.

This shouldn’t be my kind of show but I confess it is since it does make me laugh at its over-the-top humor.

One thing the Bundys do is to look for every opportunity to rip off their yuppie neighbors and anyone else who is doing better than they. Which in their case is just about everyone.

As the revelations pour out about the Palins they more and more remind me of the Bundys. Of course most recently and outrageously what we are learning about the entire family’s new wardrobe. According to reports in Politico and today’s New York Times (article linked below) not only did the Republican National Committee shell out well over $100,000 for her new outfits, mostly by non-American designers such as Valentino, but they also paid for a makeover for the First Dude and all five Palin children, including the five-month old Trig for whom they spend $98 on a pacifier.

I can only imagine the conversation that went on in the Palin home, where she was receiving a per-diem from the State of Alaska to live, when the call arrived from McCain to invite her to join the ticket.

After the governor hung up she said to Todd, “You’ll never believe who that was.”

“Who, First Mama?”

“John McCain.”

“The hockey player?”

“No, Senator McCain. The dude who’s running for president.”

“I though his name was Osama bin Laden.”

“No silly, that’s the other one. The A-Rab. McCain is ours, the Republican, and he asked me to be his runnin’ mate.”

“Well, I can understand that. Didn’t you finish third in the Sled Dog 5K?”

“Not that kinda runnin’. He wants me to be his vice president.”

“Cool. Does that mean we get our own plane to fly around in? After you auctioned off the governor’s jet on eBay we’ve had to fly commercial, though you did manage to get the state to pay for me and the kids. Hey, don’t we represent the state too?”

“He did say we would have our own 737 and that they’d buy me some new duds to dress up in. To make me look more presidential.”

“I thought you said you’d be the vice president.”

“Well, yeah, but he’s an old codger and before the end of our first term I’ll probably be movin’ into that round office. So I’d better have the right outfits for that. All my governor stuff is fleece and track suits.”

“But won’t you look too fancy dressed up in all those designer things? You are a Hockey Mom after all.”

“Well, the senator told me that his wife dresses all spiffy and everyone loves the way she looks. It makes him look younger with Cindy on stage in those outfits of hers.”

“But who’s gonna pay for your new stuff? We’re only getting’ sixty bucks a day in those per diems.”

“He said they would.”

“That’s cool,” Todd said, “You think maybe they’d get me a new snowmobile?”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 22, 2008--OBAMA for President

Early voting is underway and I here want to formally endorse Barack Obama for the presidency.

This will be no surprise to regular visitors to this site. But in case you missed what I wrote about him almost two years ago, back on January 18, 2007, here it is again. I think it's still true.

Did I wake up this morning in a version of media-induced trance after all the excited talk about Senator Barack Obama forming a “presidential exploratory committee”? In a form of such deep celebrity-infatuation that I found myself on automatic pilot logging onto his Website and, like an addict, zapping him a $200 contribution?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

So I downed a double espresso and after the caffeine took effect had a little talk with myself. Here I am, day-after-day, writing about how we place ourselves in peril when we distract ourselves from harsh realities through various kinds of diversion--be they elevating and then tearing down sport and entertainment and political celebrities; seeking to lose ourselves in various indulgences and belief systems, eager to overload our senses and thereby ironically numb ourselves into insensitivity; or plunging into cults of many kinds that bring us comfort and security by telling us what to believe and how to act.

Is Barack Obama just another fantasy? Another intoxicant?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. But my $200 is a bet on “no”—that he may, just may turn out to be the real-deal . . . and electable.

More than that, if he does turn out to fulfill his promise, he may be just what the U.S. and world so desperately right now need.

I know that his every utterance and every vote will be scrutinized, as they should be, and the pundits in the media and blogisphere will parse and analyze his every action to see if he is drifting left to appeal to the Democrat base who vote disproportionately in the primaries or is embracing the middle in the knowledge that to be elected he must appeal to the vast majority of voters who are more moderate. We will be speculating about what he thinks about not funding the troop escalation in Iraq and where he stands on the economy and health care and education and immigration and abortion and gays and . . . you know the list.

And while I care about all of these issues and many more, right now I care about other, very different kinds of things. First among them, our position in the world—how we are perceived by our former allies and those who wish us harm. It seems essential to figure out how to again connect ourselves to those with whom we share obvious common interests and how to talk to and, yes, make deals with others who are currently viewed to be our adversaries.

Who better to send out into the world on that latter mission of healing and reconciliation than someone like Barack Obama? And here I emphasize the "someone-like" part. He appears to be a living, breathing example of what America is supposed to be about, and when we calm down enough to stop beating on each other over all sorts of cultural wedge-issues, what we are really about: diverse, polyglot, tolerant, smart, ambitious, practical, self-made, brash, not fully-formed, generous, and above all hopeful.

He is the literal face of the America of this still-young century, and by the time he is 60 will even more represent what we will inevitably become.

Of course these characteristics are also his political weakness—for those who fear the "other" or need to place blame on those who are different to explain and deny their own failures and frustrations, for them he too is the perfect face.

But of course the big question is who he really is. Is he as authentic as he appears? Or is he just another hollow political self-creation? Does he have the stamina, courage, and vision to be a fine, maybe even a great leader?

It’s good to have him in the race so early so he can be tested and we will have the time to find out. Infatuations sometimes turn to love. Other times they come crashing down and we turn on those who lured us.

My $200 is betting that he is the real deal.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 21, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace: McCain & Mary

My 100 year-old mother was all excited. She and the other ladies at Forest Trace in Florida had received their absentee ballots.

The day before they had been upset. The ballot was supposed to include two envelopes—one in which to mail the ballot back and the other, to be placed inside the first, was to enable them to cast their ballot secretly since it was supposed to have nothing on it that could be used to identify voters. Missing, however, was the privacy envelope. And, she and the “girls” were concerned, the outer envelope not only included their names and some sort of coded number but also had “Dem” printed on it. Suspicious as they had a right to be after 2000 when many of them had hung the chads that elected George Bush, thinking the local Republicans in charge of the election process were up to their old shenanigans, they called the Democratic Party office and got things straightened out.

But that’s not why she was excited yesterday when she called.

Perhaps because of more hanky-panky, she reported that the paper ballot was eight pages long, full of all sorts of amendments and propositions, as she put it, “none of which I understood.” And she said, “It wasn’t until the very end where you were to vote for president.”

“Why is that a problem?” I wondered out loud.

“Because when you’re our age, which I hope one day you’ll see, eight pages is a lot to go through. It’s easy to get confused and give up before you get to the place where you vote.”

This in fact did sound like a potential shenanigan—what, after all is the meaning of the phrase, when describing presidential candidates, as their being “at the top of the ballot” and “heading the ticket”? She was right. Shouldn’t those running for the presidency be more than metaphorically at the top of the ballot?

“So what did you do? I know you solved the envelope problem. But this sounds much more serious. I can’t imagine they’re going to print a different version of the absentee ballot.”

“I already checked and of course they’re not going to. We’ll just have to deal with it.” I knew she at least was more than capable of doing that. “But what about some of the ladies who you say have trouble reading the newspaper because of their eyesight? Or those who you tell me are getting more and more confused?” “Confused” was her euphemism for those slipping into Alzheimer’s.

“We’re working on it. The girls who are still with it are organizing ourselves to help the others fill out their ballots.”
“What a great idea.” They continue to amaze me. “How is it working? Are people letting you do this? After all, it’s supposed to be a secret ballot.”

“No problem. Those who are very private and don’t want us to know who they’re voting for just have us show them how to fill it out but then ask us to turn aside when they mark the paper and put it in the second envelope. I told you, didn’t I, that we solved that problem last week?”

“Yes, mom, you did.”

“But this is not why I called this morning.” She still sounded excited. Did I ever tell you about little Mary who lives here? Poor thing. She lost her husband six months ago. They were such lovebirds. When they would have a musician come here to play some of the old songs for us, she and her Joe were always the first ones to dance. How they clung to each other. It was beautiful to see. And not because they had to to keep her from falling and breaking her hip. But because of how much they loved each other. Most of the girls would get teary from watching them.

“Well, I don’t remember if I told you, she has cataracts and is afraid of the operation. Though I had mine done years ago and it’s wonderful. All I had was a little discomfort from the stitch. To tell you the truth, I think after Joe left her I she lost her will to live.”

“So she was having trouble with the ballot?” I wanted to get back to the election.

“Exactly. And as I told you, we have ourselves organized and I offered to help her with it. Which she was happy about.”

“Excellent. Barack Obama can use every vote he can get, especially in Florida where things are still very close.”

“Well, this is not exactly what happened. But if you would stop rushing me—I assume like the other day you’re racing to a meeting—I’ll tell you what happened. I’m an old lady and sometimes it takes me a little while to tell my stories.”

“I’m fine with the time, mom. Sorry. And you’re the least old lady 100 year-old that I know.”

“How many others do you know to compare me with?” She had me there. Just her sister Fay who had lived to 102 and was pretty remarkable.

“Here’s what happened. I was talking her through all the pages of propositions that I told you about, which I had to learn about so I could help people with their ballots. Some want to go over everything. What else do they have to do with their time?

“Well, in Mary’s case she was only interested in the president but while I was turning the pages for her, I asked her, as I do with the others I help, who she was voting for. Here, after some of the girls who were angry with Obama for beating Hillary, some said they were voting for McCain. But now after they know more about him and that woman from Alaska, who we all despise,” that was the word she used, despised, which was uncharacteristic of her, “by now they’ve all come around to voting Democratic. But I still want to know who they are voting for, to make sure, since I’m such a big Obama supporter. I want to be sure so in case they are still undecided I can try to convince them about how special he is and how now with some much going wrong, how much we need him.”

“And Mary?” I interjected to get her back to her own story.

“I’m getting to that if you can only be patient. As I was talking her through the ballot, she told me that she wanted me to help her vote for McCain. Can you believe that? When she told me that I stopped where we were, it might have been on page six, to ask her why. She told me, and this didn’t entirely surprise me since I’ve heard the same thing from a few others. She told me she can’t vote for a ‘Colored.’ That’s exactly how she put it.”

“Ugh,” I said.

“But you know me, I tried to get her to see how much better Obama is for seniors. His healthcare program, his views on Social Security, on pensions, on everything that I know the old people care about—only things that concern them personally. That they care about today. So many don’t think about the future. With some of them I talk about how they should vote for their grandchildren. Like that adorable Sandra Silverstein girl is saying on TV. The one who is schlepping the vote. Do you know about that?”

“Yes, mom, I do. It’s ‘Sarah Silverman.’”

“Yes, she’s the one. That’s who she is. You see, as I tell you, I have no memory any more.”

“I should have your problems.”

“Well, this is neither here-nor-there. With Mary I tried and I tried but she would have none of it. She kept saying ‘I’m too old to be voting for a Colored. Who’s he going to appoint that Sharpton?’ Can you believe that?”

“Unfortunately I can. This is a real problem among older people. Some can be very prejudiced. It’s very upsetting. Especially with those people who have in their own lives seen the results of racial hatred. You were just telling me about that the other day. About some who are Holocaust survivors.”

“Don’t you want to hear about Mary? About what I did?”

“Sorry, of course I do. You see I too can lose track of things.”

“After about ten minutes of trying to convince her I was so angry with her that I handed her back the ballot, got up, and told her, ‘You’re on your own. You may be too old to vote for a Colored,’ I threw that word back at her, ‘but I’m too old to help someone as prejudiced as you vote for someone like McCain.’”

“And I couldn’t help adding as I left, ‘Just think for a moment what he and that Cindy of his really think about people like us.’”

“Good for you!”

“And by the way, how many outfits and hairdos do you think she has?”

Mary? I don’t think I ever met her.”

“No, Cindy. I’m talking about Cindy McCain. When people don't have the money to shop at Walmart, I’ve never seen her wear the same thing twice.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

October 20, 2008--Not Just Another MILF

One of the most interesting phenomena of the Sarah Palin candidacy is the fact that she is doing so well at rallying men to the McCain-Palin ticket. So well that by 44 to 36 percent men more than women indicate they are “favorably” disposed to her. (See New York Times article linked below.)

One would think that macho Joe Sixpacks who hate anything having to do with a feminist agenda, who feel threatened by liberated women, and who love their guns more than their wives or girlfriends would not want to see a woman in the White House except as First Lady, a First Lady at that who would stand by their man no matter what. And we know what that “what’ is.

So what’s the story behind the story of so many men showing such enthusiasm for even a gun-tottin’ gal?

I’ve thus far thought it’s because she’s such a Babe. A babe, actually, of a specific type--a MILF.

In case the concept of a MILF is new to you, it represents a particular subcategory of pornography. And the most popular one among Sarah Palin’s male constituency.

At the risk of getting too graphic here, suffice it to say that MILFs are mature women--mature meaning older than 20 but younger than 50. The “M” in MILF stands for “Mothers” and if you want to know what the “I” and “L” and “F” represent, I’ll give you a hint—they stand for “I’d,” “Like,” and “to F***.”

If you tuned into Morning Joe today you heard both Republican Joe Scarborough and Democrat Lawrence O’Donnell drooling over her in this way after seeing her on Saturday Night Live. Fairly or not, Sarah Palin looks the part, and I have been suspecting that this is the source of much of her appeal to men.

It may be more complex and interesting than that.

According to the same New York Times story it may be that many of her male followers are more than letching her up. Yes some at her rallies say they are there to ogle her. One at a crowd in Bangor, Maine confessed that he turned out “to look at her.” “Just call me John Deere,” he added.

But other men were there for different reasons. Larry Hawkins, a former truck driver said, “They bear us children, they risk their lives to give us birth, so maybe it’s time we let a woman lead us. The sexual drives and big egos of male leaders have gotten in the way of politics in this country. Palin is our kind of woman.”

Doesn’t this view, if in any way generalizable, represent progress? Putting her qualifications and appropriateness aside, isn’t this the kind of cultural shift what we are looking for? To have so many men attracted to her politically, no matter what we think of her candidacy, suggests that gender (and of course race) may no longer in themselves determine who is fit to serve in high office.

If true, having this many men wanting to see her elected, though she may be the wrong woman, may be the right idea.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 17, 2008--Overheard On The M1

The M1 bus on Broadway goes to South Ferry, a couple of stops past Wall Street.

As usual, we caught the 8:33 at 9th Street. Our plan was to get off at Spring Street in Soho and then pop into Balthazar for coffee; but a conversation taking place a couple of seats away from us, which was impossible not to overhear, was so morbidly and sadly interesting that we went past our intended stop.

Sitting across from each other and thus needing to talk quite loudly to be heard over the traffic noise were two acquaintances who work downtown. It seems, though they didn’t not mention any names, at a couple of the largest of the remaining banks.

“I was told yesterday,” one said, “that in my group I won’t be getting laid off for at least two months.” He didn’t seem all that disturbed by the news.

His friend said, “I’ll be out of my job by November first.” She too did not appear to be overly upset. They were both surprisingly calm about their circumstances.

He said, “Some of the people who have already lost their jobs tell me they’re going to take time off until January and then begin to start looking for a new job.”

“Don’t you think,” she said, “that in the current environment they should be looking now?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe they have a lot saved up and can afford to take a break?”

“Not really,” he said, “most of their savings were in 401Ks made up of their bank’s stock and now that’s sort of worthless.”

“Maybe they’re young and have lots of time to recover.”

“Not really. They’re about my age and most of them have children in private school or college.”

“Wow,” she said. My thoughts exactly I said to myself.

“So, what about you?” she asked. “They told you yesterday that you have maybe about two months or so before they let you go. What are you planning to do?”

“To tell you the truth I’ve known for a few months that this was coming but I’ve been in a state of denial. In fact, my partner and I just got back from two weeks in the south of France. We blew quite a lot of money with the dollar still so weak.”

“Wow,” she said again, and I hoped they didn’t see me nodding my head in agreement.

“Life is short,” he said, still nonplussed. “But there is still one good thing about all of this.”

“What’s that,” she asked, looking at him skeptically.

“At least when you go looking for another job they won’t ask you why you left your old one.” With that he laughed so loud that everyone on the M1 turned to look at him.

Rona and I got off at Canal Street and walked back to Balthazar. By the time we got there it was about ten after nine and all the tables were taken. So we had to wait. It’s quite a large place and happily it took only five minutes to be seated.

Footnote: At, Balth, two scrambled eggs cost $8.00. A bowl of Granola ten bucks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 16, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace: The Obama Effect

“Did you hear what John King said?” Indeed I had but before I could get a word in edgewise, she excitedly raced on, “That after last night’s debate it’s all over. That no one any more cares about that William Ayers.”

It was my 100 year-old mother calling from Forest Trace, her retirement community in south Florida. Usually she’s the one who can be cautious and pessimistic so I was surprised to hear her quoting CNN’s John King. She was born in Poland and with her family had to flee to save themselves from the endless pogroms and later lived through the Great Depression and the Holocaust where she lost everyone from her family who couldn’t escape to America. This left her, understandably, skeptical about any scenario that seemed too rosy. She had seen too much suffering and evil to be taken in by anything resembling optimism.

But here I was being the cautious one, “It’s a little early, mom, to be taking a victory lap. I agree that Barack Obama did very well last night. He . . .”

“I’ll tell you how he did, he, how did someone put it, ‘smashed’ McCain.”

I had never heard her use such violent language but was feeling a version of that way myself. “What I was trying to say was that Obama, yes, won the debate. That’s true. And John King was referring to CNN’s post-debate poll. The numbers looked very

“Yes, from my notes here, 54 percent said he did better. And only 30 percent said McCain won. That I call smashed.”

“I agree but there’s still four weeks to go before Election Day and . . .”

“Four weeks minus one day,” she corrected me.

“True, but remember how long four weeks can be. How much can happen in that time. We didn’t know Sarah Palin four weeks ago. We didn’t have the financial crises then. John McCain didn’t step all over himself with suspending his campaign and saying he wasn’t coming to the first debate. Think about all that can happen, I mean will happen between now and November 4th.”

“I know. Who said in politics a few days can be an eternity? I’ve seen that before. How many days before Election Day was it that they did their Swiftboating?” I couldn’t remember. “I think it was only two weeks. And what about an October Surprise? But,” she chuckled, “I think it may already have happened what with the stock market; and, though I hate what it’s doing to everyone, especially the girls here who are living on fixed incomes, maybe this time the surprise will be on the Republicans.”
I too had been thinking that. “So I agree with John King.” I was hoping he and she were right. In my euphoria about the debate results I had begun to allow myself to think he could actually win. That once in a while the right person comes along just when needed and may, maybe this was one of those times.

“But,” her voice darkened, “still I worry.” That was the mother I knew and loved. “You remember Bertha? You met her the last time you were here. One of my ladies who was a school principal. So smart. So elegant. But she’s beginning to get all mixed up. I have to help her with her checkbook. Bertha, who was the residents’ organization treasurer for so many years no longer can balance her own checkbook. But that’s not my point. Poor thing. She has a daughter who lives in Pennsylvania. One of the toss-up states. And her daughter, who is an internist, is very concerned. All she hears about from her patients Bertha says is that they are not going to vote for him. These are people, many who have seen jobs lost in their community and even before what is now happening to the stock market have seen their life savings disappear. So you would think that they might vote for Obama.” I knew where this was headed. “But Sylvia, the doctor, tells her mother they are still voting for McCain.”

“But, mom, didn’t CNN last night also show poll results that had Obama leading even in Pennsylvania? By I forgot how many points. But more than the margin of error?”

“Yes I saw that too. But not by enough. You read everything . . .”

“Not really.”

“Enough I’m sure that you’ve heard of the Bradley Effect.” I knew about that but she couldn’t resist reminding me. “How people, actually white people, lie to pollsters when it comes to black candidates. Like with Tom Bradley, who was black and ran for mayor in California . . .”

“Actually, he was mayor of Los Angeles and ran for governor in 1982.”

“I stand corrected. But my point is that he was leading in the polls right before Election Day by about 5 points, I think, but then lost the election to a white man.”


“What?” It was early in the morning and even with her hearing aides she often had trouble on the telephone.”

“Who won the election. George Deukmejian. He beat Bradley.”

“Yes, I remember him. A weasel. But the point is, Bertha’s daughter reminded her, though living down here in the South who needs reminding, that with the Bradley Effect no lead in the polls is enough for a black man. Look what that Sarah Palin is up to. Here in Florida over the weekend with her insinuations she almost started a race riot. People in the crowd were yelling ‘Kill him.’ The FBI I heard is investigating.”

I too had heard that and it made me shiver. That fear, as well as the Bradley Effect, were my greatest worries.

But just as I was sadly about to agree with her, my mother was buoyant again. “Here’s what the girls think. Over breakfast this morning it was Esther who said that maybe this time there will be another kind of effect.”

“I’m not following you.”

“If you can sit still a moment and let me finish you’ll see what we think.”


“This time things might be different. Esther said that maybe in Sylvia’s community . . .”


“Sylvia, Bertha’s daughter. The doctor. Are you paying attention? You did eat something for breakfast? You know how you get when you don’t eat. What with your sugar.”

“I did. I did. I had toast and . . .”

Ignoring me she resumed her train of thought, “That this time in places like Pennsylvania where there is so much hardship, but also a lot of prejudice, that some of the people there, white people, who actually want to vote for change, for Obama, will once they are behind the curtain in the voting booth, they will hold pull the lever for him. Then when they are back with their friends they will pretend that they voted for McCain. Bertha called it the Obama Effect. She’s so clever, poor thing.”
I wasn’t so sure, but it was an intriguing hypothesis. So much this election cycle didn’t fit the conventional wisdom. Starting with Obama being the Democrats’ nominee. Maybe, just maybe . . .

As I considered the possibilities, my mother quickly changed the subject. “And one more thing. If Bertha is wrong there’s always Cindy.”

“What?” Now it was my turn to be heard of hearing.

“McCain. Cindy McCain, that scarecrow.”

“Now, ma, I thought we agreed that the candidates’ wives are off limits. We don’t want to go back to Michelle Obama fist-bumping with Barack.”

“That was a lot of silliness. As I told you at the time, the ones who said it was what terrorists do never watched a baseball or basketball game. Definitely the lowest sort of McCain’s supporters. What I mean about Cindy McCain now is how she behaved last night. Did you notice how she refused to greet Michelle, who by the way looked lovely? She so reminds me of Jackie. But that’s neither here nor there. What I mean is that when voters look at her, Cindy, they will see what she and her husband are really all about. They don’t care about average people. In spite of all his ‘My friends.” They are like typical rich people and it comes through loud and clear.

“Like again last night. Not only did she walk away from Michelle, they couldn’t wait to get off the stage. Did you see that?” I had. Actually it stunned me more than McCain’s referring to Obama disrespectfully as “That one,” the fact that the McCain’s rushed away while the Obamas stayed there until they had spoken individually to every one.

“More important than rushing away, maybe John McCain needed to get to the bathroom—he is after all 72—did you see how Cindy while she followed after McCain for the brief time he greeted the voters who asked the questions, how she stayed behind him not shaking anyone’s hand, with her own hands clasped behind her back?”

I had noticed that. “Who did that remind you of?” Someone, but I couldn’t remember just who. But then it came to me. “Queen Elizabeth! You’re right, her! How when she greets commoners she walks down the rope line with her hands behind her back. Wow.”

“You’re only half right,” my mother chided me.

“Half right? No, you’re right—Cindy is the Queen.”

“Actually Prince Phillip, that Nazi. He’s the one with the hands behind the back.”

She was right. That’s who avoids greeting people by doing that. As if he doesn’t want to touch common flesh. The Queen at least wears gloves. “True, true. He’s the one who . . .”

“So, sweetie, what does that tell you?”

“That Phillip and by comparison Cindy are . . .?”

“That too.” She was reading my mind again. “But in this case she’s the one wearing the pants.” Before I could interject, sensing what I might be thinking, she hurried on to acknowledge, “I know this is an old fashioned notion, but if the girls here are thinking this—and how he is hiding behind Sarah Palin’s skirts by having her do his dirty work, another old-fashioned idea—you can only imagine what many of those Joe-Sixpacks must be thinking. I’m sure you young people have an expression for it. A politically-incorrect one I’m sure.” She laughed again.

I’m not that young but I did know what she was referring to—another old-fashioned expression. But if it can help Obama get elected, I’ll take it. Let’s call it the Mother’s Effect.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 15, 2008--Ides Of October

Back tomorrow. I'm taking a day off.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14, 2008--A Taste of the New Economy

We’re trying to be prudent with our IRA money.

In a world where markets are gyrating so wildly that on Friday there was a 1,000 point swing in the Dow Jones average—initially down 700 points then up a 1,000 then closing down more than 200, all in one day—and then yesterday an almost 1,000 point rally, we thought to get some of our money out of the market and into safe six-month FDIC-insured CDs. Not a very intrepid or optimistic thought on our part but over the long-run we have done very well and wanted to get out in time to preserve most of our gains. So we did that in a fairly timely way and wanted to take the next step—move from the cash we have parked in money market accounts and switch it in appropriate chunks into CDs with a handful of banks.

The first problem was to think about which banks might still be in business before they could complete the transfer of our funds to them. Whatever happened to Wacovia and Washington Mutual? There are branches of both in our neighborhood, I mean there were branches, but now they are boarded up. I know they still literally exist, taken over for bargain prices by other banks, but it is unnerving to walk by their vacant offices on our morning walk to Balthazar for coffee and commiseration.

Thus, among other narrowing options we selected Chase as one place to enquire about their CD deals.

For what they call “new money” at the relatively high level we were considering trusting to their care—actually to the protection of FDIC—they offered pretty good rates, about 4% for six months (interesting how good 4% now sounds to us after years of looking for at least 8-10% appreciation gains from our stock portfolio) we said let’s talk about how to go about buying a couple—one for me and another for Rona.

“Oh, in that case you will become Preferred Clients” the banker said, “so if it’s all right with you, let me invite Tommy T____ to join us. He’s our vice president.”

We sort of liked being preferred at something and so we nodded our approval.

Boldly, in strode Tommy. A fine looking young man who appeared to be in his lat 20s and as if to convince us—if his moussed hair and pin stripes didn’t convince us that someone looking so young could actually be a vice president of David Rockefeller’s bank—he slid two copies of his business card across the desk. Sure enough in embossed type it proclaimed him a VP.

While shaking our hands he puffed up and said, “Nice to meet you. You can call me Tommy. Can I call you Rona and Steve?” We both nodded. “I’m a Chase vice president. In fact the number two vice president downtown.” When he saw our puzzled look, he explained, “That’s how they rated me. For the work I did over the past six months.”

Since we were there simply to acquire two CDs we didn’t ask about just what that work would be that had caused him to be ranked so high, assuming of course that there were more than two VPs downtown. All we were there for was to fill out a couple of forms, give them the information about our current IRA accounts from which the money would be transferred, and then get out of there so we could go over to Bank of America to get two more CDs—our plan was to spread our money around among a half dozen or so of the still most stable banks.

“Can I see your IRA forms please?” Tommy asked.

“Sure,” we said and passed the most recent statements over to him.

He glanced through them and, looking up at us with the sun glinting in his hair, said, “Have you thought about annuities?” We hadn’t been. “Let me get you something to look at that will tell you about them.”

“But we want CDs. Something as safe and secure as that.”

“Well, these are just as safe and pay at least seven percent a year. I think you should consider them.” He kept his eyes riveted on us, alternating between Rona and me. “Joey, can you get the Zwerlings printed copies of the materials that describe our annuities.” His assistant, Joey, also with glittering hair, at Tommy’s command spun on his heel and raced out of the office.

Tommy leaned across the desk to take us into his confidence. He winked at us, “What I’ll be giving you,” he said in a whisper though we were in private and no one else was nearby, “is a copy of what the bank prepares for those of us who are vice presidents. We’re not supposed to share it with anyone. You’ll see, when you get it, that across the bottom it says ‘For bank staff only.’ I’ll cross that out and if anyone asks where you got it I hope you won’t rat me out.”

Rat me out? I had not ever heard a bank official speak that way. But these are uncertain times and Tommy is very young and has that Gordon-Gekko street side of him still intact. Not a bad thing, I thought: don’t the best of the downtown bankers retain evidence of their origins in Brooklyn or Staten Island? Perhaps we had fallen into good hands. We felt we deserved a little good financial luck.

“But while we’re waiting for Joey why don’t we begin by transferring your Fidelity IRA money into a new IRA account at Chase. Then from that we can transfer the money into one of our best annuities. Seven percent—and it could go higher over the next ten years—sounds pretty good to me, doesn’t it?” As he was saying this he had turned to the computer and from our Fidelity forms was busy entering data about us, I assumed, in order to open our Chase accounts.

I was impressed by his energy and entrepreneurship and was, in truth, thinking how fortunate we were to have met Tommy—seven percent as safe in an annuity as in CDs was sounding very attractive to me.

“Wait,” Rona said, “What are you doing?”

“Transferring your Fidelity money to Chase.” Tommy kept tying.

All of it?”

“Well, as we said, that’s the first step. Then we’ll take the money from that and put it into an annuity. That’s what we said, didn’t we?”

I was wondering how high the yield might go. Joey had returned with the papers, which sure enough had “For staff only” along the bottom, and I was scanning the text to see how under what conditions it could yield more than seven percent. But I could still listen to Tommy and Rona.

“No, that’s what you said.” It was Rona. “We came in here to talk about CDs. Not annuities. What you say about them sounds interesting,” he was now typing even faster, “but we have financial advisors and they never mentioned annuities to us. We’d want to talk with them before doing anything like this.”

“Are they with Fidelity?” Tommy asked Rona, and while still entering data he turned to me and asked, “What’s your Social Steve?”

What a multi-tasker, I thought, and began to give it to him. But before I could finish Rona, interrupting me, said to Tommy, “No they’re not with Fidelity.”

“Well, that’s good,” he said, “because after you have you account with us they can still advise you. Though so can I, and I won’t charge you an annual percentage fee as I assume they do.” I thought I saw him wink at her.

“We’re not ready to do this. So let’s roll thing back. We’re here to talk about CDs.”

“We can do that,” Tommy chirped. He had stopped typing. “We can take the money from the Chase IRA and roll it into CDs for you and then if you decide into annuities. It’s simple. And everything will be consolidated with us. Onto one statement. It doesn’t get much easier than that.”

Rona was fingering his business card and while he was saying that took another look at it. “Are you with Chase?” She asked. “Because it says here that though it’s on a Chase card, it says here that you’re a vice president with JP Morgan.”

“Chase, JP Morgan they’re the same thing. One company. So yes I’m with Morgan but since Chase owns them I’m also with Chase.”

“So this means that you’re a broker and not a banker?”

“Technically that’s correct. But as I said . . .”

Rona cut him off, “That’s decidedly not the same thing. We don’t want to talk to a broker; we want to talk with a banker. And,” getting up out of her chair and tugging at me as I continued to pore over the annuity information, running the percentages in my head, “not with a banker at Chase.”

Tommy by then had also gotten up and walked around his gleaming desk to us. “I’m sorry if I confused you. I only want to be of help to you during these trying times.”

He looked at Rona empathetically and reached out to her as if to take her into his arms and comfort her. She backed away, bumping into my chair.

“I, we can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.” She had retrieved her purse from the arm of her chair. “As a matter of fact, I suspect better than you might be able to. I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about this economic crisis and it appears that some of the bank-brokerage house mergers which were permitted in recent decades contributed to various forms of conflicts of interest that have brought the system to its knees.

“And here we are,” she glared at Tommy, “having a firsthand taste of that. So at least thank you for that. You helped me understand things a little better.”

With that she pulled me from the office. “And please leave those papers with them. I wouldn’t want anyone to see that we have them and get Tommy in trouble.

He meanwhile, as we turned away from him, said, “But Chase has more assets than Citibank and we . . .”

It felt good to be back on the street.

Friday, October 10, 2008

October 10, 2008--Long Weekend

Along with everyone else, I need to take a few days off to think, reflect, and just plain hide from reality.

See you on Monday.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

October 9, 2008--Pooped

I've exhausted myself watching cable TV all day and am falling victim to the MNBC-syndrome: things are bad enough but watching the Dow tick down every two seconds for 10 hours a day is a killer. It's like being in a hospital ICU unit, all hooked up to monitoring equipment, and watching your every heartbeat on the monitor. That can’t be a healthy thing.

Observing myself acting in this seemingly unhealthy way, I am trying to figure out the role of emotion in all of this. The mechanism that gets me and so many others behaving in ways that rational market analysts and financial advisors say "makes no sense." Ours, befuddled, included.

I'm coming to conclude that they are right . . . but that so are we.

That acting emotionally, for example, not trusting the markets to correct themselves, with all the current massive interventions, not to trust the wisdom and logic of the blind hand has a logic of its own. That the great supposedly self-organizing system--the meta-economy--which is supposed to make sense since it is driven and globally directed by literally trillions of individual, “rational” choices and decisions, that within it, defining it, there is supposed to be a collective wisdom at work, that this too is a necessary but insufficient explanation for how the market part of the economy functions.

The same kind of creative, culture-shaping, millennia-long self-organizing system and effort that is responsible for the creation and evolution of languages is claimed to be the cultural insurance we need to trust in the direction of all things (the economy very much included) because the human species, survival-oriented, is always individual-by-individual, as well as tribally, is to be depended upon to seek and find ways to survive. And, this view assumes, survival depends on rational choice-making.

Yes, but also no. We tend not to trust the role of emotion in anything other than love and sex and poetry and thus see them as cultural embellishments separate from the mainstream of man’s real purpose—and I am here using “man’s” to talk about all humans intentionally since I see this view to be equally anachronistic. We have difficulty seeing much logic in emotional behavior. When we see it at work in “serious” situations we look sideways at it with a deprecating smile bemusement.

But why would we have this powerful capacity as well as our ability to reason if it were not biologically necessary? It is not an incidental cultural artifact found in history and now only in societies that can afford and tolerate it as a luxury.

Emotion of course drives us to procreate—obviously essential to species survival—but since nature is if nothing both profligate and efficient, there are other roles, other functions assigned to emotion-motivated behavior.

It could be then that every other Dow-tick is the result of emotion at work. And the ones between based on rational analysis. I do not thus trust only the reason of what they proclaim on TV or what our financial advisors are promoting.

I trust the blended wisdom of our aggregated minds and hearts.

In that way, and in only that way, we will get through this and survive.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

October 8, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace: The Brown Shirts

“I’m so upset.”

It was 9:00 am and my mother was calling, much earlier than usual, from Lauderhill. She had changed her medication schedule recently to help her get through early morning anxiety attacks and I assumed that this was not working, not taking the edge off her worries about the world and the family, some of whom were struggling with personal and health and financial problems. She took all of this on, even for those who moved far away and who she hasn’t seen or heard from for decades. As the 100 year-old last survivor of her generation she feels it her responsibility to take care of everyone, literally everyone—even strangers struggling with shopping carts in Publix—so that, as she put it, “When they take me for the last time to Mount Lebanon, where my mother and father are, and all my sisters and brother, and dad, I can tell them that ‘Everyone is as you, Momma and Papa would want them to be.’ I will have to put it that way since I can’t lie to them.”

I knew what she meant. Though most in the next generation were well and doing all right, times for others were hard and for the next, the youngest generation, the one with whom most hopes now resided, many were not doing well at all. So I said, since I couldn’t lie either, “Things are fine but they will get better.”

“It is that that has me so upset. Things. About which I’m not so sure, as you, that they will get better.”

“We of course can talk about that, but I am sensing that something more specific is upsetting you.” I was hoping to get her to tell me about her Xanax. That that was what was on her mind. It would be good to have something that specific to deal with, with everything else in the world seeming to be gyrating out of control.

“This morning, at breakfast, Fannie, who is always so strong, before she could finish her prunes, which is what she has before her cereal, you know how she can talk, well, after not saying a word, not even a hello, she broke down in tears.”

“Is there something wrong?”

“What else? Of course there’s something wrong. This is not my Fannie. As I told you she just sat there crying to herself, not saying anything.”

“Did you find out why?”

“You know the girls—of course we did.”

“Is she sick? Didn’t you tell me she had a doctor’s appointment? Is there bad news?”

“Not that kind of bad news.”

“So what is it then?”

“The election.”

“She’s was crying about the election? As you said, that doesn’t sound like Fannie. She’s a fighter. Didn’t you tell me once that she was a suffragette? That she fought to help get the vote for women?”

“Yes, that’s true. But now she’s afraid about what they are saying about Obama. Not about his policies. But about him. How they are attacking his character. Making up vile stories about him. McCain and that witch.”

“This is nothing new, mom, isn’t this what Republicans do when they get desperate? You know that, and from what you tell me Fannie’s been around a long time and has seen things just as bad. I’m sure she remembers Willie Horton.”

“Yes, she does and so do I. What they did to that poor little man from Vermont.”

“It was Massachusetts, mom. Michael Dukakis was the governor there.”

“You see how I’m losing my memory.” She wasn’t—hers is much better than mine--but I didn’t contradict her. “But I do remember other things, much worse things, which Fannie reminded us all about. Not that the ladies and I need much reminding. That in fact was what had her so upset. What this kind of campaign reminded her of. Which so upset her and spoiled her breakfast, which she needs to eat, poor thing, she’s so thin.”

“So what was it, mom?”

“Did I ever tell you about her family? Her sister and brother-in-law?” She might have but I didn’t remember. “Not her sister Sharon who I know you know about.” I didn’t know about her either. “She’s a wonderful person and lives in Virginia. Not her, but her oldest sister. The one who never came here.”

“To Florida?”

“No, to America. The one who stayed behind.”


“In Germany. With her husband. The professor. At the law school in Berlin.” This I would have recalled and so I was sure she had never mentioned them. “The one about whom she is so proud—his learning, his reputation, the life they were living before.” She trailed off; but though this was the first time I was hearing about them, I know of course about what my mother meant by “before.”

“What a wonderful wife and hostess she was. Rifka, Fannie’s sister. She came from a fine Orthodox family but she had an education. Fannie’s parents were wealthy and though girls then did not then receive much of a formal education, especially in religious homes, they had tutors for her. Rifka was in her own way also a scholar. She spoke six languages. The parents owned a department store. One of the finest in Germany. Like so many, they thought they would be left alone. They were ‘fine’ Jews with many gentile friends. That was before.”

“I know how so many people believed that they would be all right. They saw themselves as assimilated and German. Not as Jews.”

“That was not true for Fannie’s parents. They were proud of being Jewish. But for her sister and her husband, that was another story. Especially her husband. His family were like goyim. Look, you know all about the history of the Nazis and what they did. You always tell me about the books you read about those times.”

It was true. I grew up in Brooklyn during the late 1940s and 50s and knew a few survivors. Like other kids who heard stories about the camps I had a morbid fascination with displaced persons, DPs we called them, who had somehow managed to make their way from Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen after the war ended and had, to us who were still naïve and innocent, strange and mysterious looking numbers tattooed on their arms. It was only later that we came to learn the full horror of what that meant.

“Without upsetting you with the details so early in the morning, you can only imagine what happened to Fannie’s family.”

In truth, in spite of my lifetime of reading about that time and attempting to understand how humans could act that way, still I could not understand or imagine. So I asked, “That was so long ago but what had her in tears at breakfast?”

“To her it was only yesterday.”

“What happened to her yesterday?” Again, I was thinking about Fannie’s doctor’s appointment.

“Not that kind of yesterday. Not Friday, but then. Then to her is like yesterday.” I finally understood.

“When we got her to talk with us she told us about her granddaughter who lives in Pennsylvania. In Bethlehem. Her husband is a lawyer there and Jackie, her granddaughter, teaches at the community college. English. She is such a wonderful darling. She never forgets to call Fannie every Thursday. Such a sweetie.”

“So what did she tell you about Jackie?” I had an appointment in less than half an hour and needed to keep an eye on the clock.

“They were there last week.”


“McCain and that Alaska woman.” I said that I had seen some of their rally on TV. That is was getting a lot of coverage because it was in Bethlehem or all places that they had spoken about Barack Obama “palling around with terrorists.”

“I know what you are thinking. About how they were slandering him with innuendoes.” In fact, that is what I had been thinking. “That was bad enough. But what Fannie heard from Jackie, which was covered on the local Bethlehem news, was who was there at the speeches and what they were saying about Obama. The names they were calling him. And how some, when his name was mentioned not only booed but screamed ‘Traitor’ and ‘Kill him. Kill him.’”

I had heard that too and seen their angry, hate-filled faces. “Fannie said that unless this is stopped, with the economic crisis such as it is, it could become here like it was in Germany in the 1930s, where desperate and fearful people turned on the Jews, seeing them as the source of all the problems.”

“I don’t think that will happen here. There isn’t the same history of anti-Semitism in America.”

“I hope you’re right. But that’s what Fannie’s family thought, and look what happened to them. Everyone dragged away and put in gas chambers.”

“But ma, I really think . . .”

“I know what you really think. We’ve spoken about this before. But I’m old and I remember and am not so sure. So I worry.”

I couldn’t think of what to say to make her feel better. “But now it’s not the Jews that Fannie and the rest of the girls are concerned about. It’s him.” I knew who the “him” was. “I saw those faces in Bethlehem and heard them calling for him to be killed. This rage and hate is very deep and very powerful. Also, very familiar. And not just to Fannie.”

About this I had even less to say. “They killed every one of them.”

I knew that it wasn’t “everyone,” that some somehow managed to survive but did not move to contradict her with my knowledge of history since my mother and Fannie and the rest of the women were right to worry.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

October 7, 2008--Back Tomorrow

With hopefully something more from the Ladies of Forest Trace. They've been talking about race in the presidential race. It should be interesting.

Monday, October 06, 2008

October 6, 2008--The Real Mavericks

Near the end of the vice presidential debate, clearly exasperated that Sarah Palin had called her running mate and herself a maverick at least a half dozen times—including once labeling McCain as “the consummate maverick” and the two of them “a team of mavericks—Joe Biden blew. This time appropriately.

He in effect said, “I’ve had it with this maverick business. I know John McCain and he’s no maverick when it comes to issues that closely affect the American people. He’s no maverick when it comes to the war; he’s no maverick when it comes to expanding health care for children; he’s no maverick when it comes to improving education. Since 2000 McCain has supported Bush more than 90 percent of the times. Some maverick.”

Sarah Palin chirped on but the point stuck. Post debate polls indicated that Biden had won by a wide margin.

And now it seems that there are other reasons not to let McCain and Palin get away with strutting around calling themselves mavericks.

I had not known until yesterday when the New York Times noted that the word “maverick” itself comes from the name of a literal family of Marvericks, one of the earliest of whom, Samuel Augustus Maverick, a Texas cattle rancher, who, back in the 1800s, became well known for not branding his cattle since he cared more about keeping track of his land than his cattle. Which, as unbranded, were called “Mavericks.”

Thus, one version of the dictionary definition of “maverick”—one who doesn’t bear another’s brand.

S.A. Maverick’s predecessors and descendents were also by that definition true mavericks. Back in the 1600s, in Boston, an ancestor got in all sorts of trouble when he agitated in favor of granting rights to indentured servants.

In fact, politically, for generations, they have been of the decidedly liberal persuasion. So much so that 82 year-old San Antonio native, Terrellita Maverick, whose brother is a board member of the ACLU of Texas, fumed that John McCain, who voted almost always with his party, “is in no way a maverick, in uppercase or lowercase. It’s just incredible—the nerve!—to suggest that he’s not part of that Republican herd.” “Every time we hear [him or her] claim to be mavericks all my children and I and all my family shrink a little and say, ‘Oh, my God, he’s said it again.’ He’s a Republican,” she said. “He’s branded.”

She may be 82 but she sure knows her metaphors.

Friday, October 03, 2008

October 3, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace: The Glass of Water

“You know how it is when you get to be 100.” It was my mother calling from Florida.

“Not yet. But I am beginning to get a glimpse of how that might feel.”

“I mean how you tend to remember things from the past while not remembering what you had for dinner?”

“That’s beginning to happen to me too.”

“Come to think of it, what did I have tonight? I think it was the chicken.” I wasn’t sure if she was joking. She has been showing some signs of a failing short-term memory,

So to change the subject and perhaps make her feel a little better about growing old I said, “To tell you the truth I can’t remember either. In fact, I was so nervous about the first presidential debate tonight that I couldn’t eat a thing.” I wasn’t quite sure how that was relevant--I too clearly was showing signs of discombobulation, “Though I did take a piece of klonopin to calm me down.”

“That’s very strong medicine. But if you did I hope you won’t make a habit of it.”

It was late for her, and in truth for me as well, almost 11:30, and we had both been watching the post-debate discussion on CNN. “So what did you think?” I asked.

“That’s why I called. To tell you what it made me think about. It took me all the way back to when I was much younger.” I thought she was again going to tell me about her sisters who were suffragettes and union organizers and who weren’t allowed to vote until they were in their thirties. But, she said, “I could see him as president.”

I wasn’t following her and asked, “Him? Who? See him as president?”

“I mean Obama. Barack Obama. Until tonight, though I’ve been supporting him for more than a year, to tell you the truth I couldn’t picture him in the White House. I wanted him to win, but I couldn’t visualize that. I don’t know exactly why but it was hard for me to imagine him there. In the Oval Office I mean. In the Cabinet Room. Making speeches in the Rose Garden. I don’t think it was prejudice. Though if I’m honest it could have been some of that. Remember how old I am. Things have changed since I was young, and I’m happy about that, but still I grew up a long time ago and it’s hard, no matter how you try, to overcome prejudice.”

“I do understand that, mom. What you’re talking about is something that’s very difficult to deal with. For me too. Though I have always been a liberal and was involved in the Civil Rights movement.”

“Maybe it’s because he looks so young.” I could hear her struggling with this. “Don’t misunderstand me because I know how this may sound—because until tonight he seemed to me more like a boy than a man.”

“He does look younger than his years. Though I think I saw some gray hair tonight. Which is good, or maybe it’s because we
have a new TV that’s high definition.”

“But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about—about just being able to imagine him as president. It’s why tonight for the first
time I was able to do that.”

This interested me because for some weeks now I’ve been checking in with my mother to see how she and especially her retired friends who live together in Forest Trace are viewing the election. How they are leaning since many, after Hillary Clinton lost the nomination, considered voting for John McCain. Some even more so after he named Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The women of Forest Trace for me have become my private focus group in this very swing state.

“It was because of the way, at the end when I was about to fall asleep, that he talked about his family. From what he said I realized that he had lived the same kind of life as I had. As poor Jews struggling to survive on the Lower Eastside, we, like him, experienced discrimination and poverty. We had to find ways to pull ourselves up. Like his father and his mother had to do. We needed to work very hard against all odds to make a living and to do well in school. And like them we not only survived but we, especially our children did well. America offered us that opportunity. Just as it did for him.”

“I know, mom, I too am the beneficiary of those opportunities. How you and dad both had jobs and saved so I could go to a good college.”

“And make something of yourself. Just like he did. So since I lived a version of the same life as his parents; and you, who went to the same college as he did, became successful, how we all overcame obstacles, I feel that I understand him better and appreciate what he has achieved.

“But,” she quickly added, “that’s not the entire story. Many struggled and did well. Others were less fortunate. But very few of those who did do well are ready to be president. That is a very different thing. Tonight, in the debate, he showed me that he is ready for that. To be president. Maybe he will even turn out to be a great president. Time will tell that of course; if, God willing, it happens. It will still be very difficult because of what he has still to overcome. To be elected I mean. None of that, the difficulty, is his fault.”

I didn’t need to say anything. What continued to concern her, and me, was obvious. “But this is not why I called. It’s something that I remembered from more than 50 years ago. When we went to Florida for the first time. Do you remember that?”

“It was to visit your sister Aunt Fannie and Uncle Harry who had moved there from New York. It was the first time I hade been south of New Jersey. The first time I had ever been in an airplane. I do remember that. Very well.”

“Well, do you remember what surprised us the most?”

“How green and lush everything was even though it was December?” I was struggling to resurrect my first impressions.

“That too. But that was not the most important thing.” She paused to give me a moment to connect to the stream of her memory. “It’s something I’m ashamed to admit. But what do I have to hide now. I’m such an old lady.”

“That’s true but only in years.”

“Stop saying those kinds of things to me. When you do that, I know to make me feel better, it only makes me feel worse—how you talk to me as if I am an old lady.”

“But ma . . .”

“I’m trying to tell you something important so please just listen to me. I don’t have much time left.” As if she felt my heart stop beating she added with a laugh, “I mean before I take my Milk of Magnesia.” She had had me worried so I tried to laugh along with her.

“You remember how the day after we arrived Fannie drove you and me from her house in Coral Gables to Miami Beach?” I indeed did. It was a glorious day and we drove there across the MacArthur Causeway with the glistening water of Biscayne Bay on both sides of the road and drawbridges. I realized like Dorothy, who no longer was in Kansas, that I was far, far from
Coney Island.

“Do you remember—look how it’s as fresh in my memory as this morning’s breakfast—that we had to stop for gas?” This I could not recall. “And you were thirsty.” It was remarkable that she would remember such things. “How you went to the water fountain next to the garage?” It was coming back to me. “And when you got back to the car remember how you asked Fannie why there were two water fountains—one that said ‘Colored,’ and if that meant that soda came out of it since Coca Cola was brown? I thought you were being so cute.”

That in fact remains vivid to me. Seared in my consciousness. “That I do remember. When I learned what it really meant it made me very sad that human beings could be treated that way.”

“But what I remember most is how embarrassed I was that I also didn’t know what it meant.” I heard her take a deep breath.

“The only way I can justify my not knowing was that it was well before the Civil Rights movement and since at that time we didn’t have a TV I had never seen pictures or films of things like that. Of course I knew about prejudice. Up North we had that too. It was awful and ugly but not like that. Not so blatant.”

In a rush that day back in the 1950s was coming back to me. “And then I remember Fannie telling us that there were beaches where colored people were not allowed to go. As if their black bodies would pollute the water if whites swam there.”

“This is my point exactly. But also how we, I mean I, did not act much better. We had a ‘cleaning girl,’ remember Bessie? We called her that—‘Bessie,’ even you did who were only eight years old at the time and she a grown woman. And she called me

‘Miss Zwerlst’ and you ‘Master Steven.’ Remember that?” Of course I did.

“And how did everyone in the family and in the neighborhood refer to their cleaning women?” I knew that too. “That’s right,” as if she had read my thoughts, “Shvartzers. And some of the girls here still refer to their aides the same way.”

She paused to gather herself. “I hate that and myself for that. That I sit there and listen to that and don’t say anything. What do I have to lose? I’m 100 and shouldn’t care any more what they might think of me. But still I just sit there and smile back at them as if to acknowledge that it’s all right to talk this way.”

To absorb the full measure of this, neither one of us said anything for a few moments. Only the static on the line between New York and Florida crackled.

I didn’t know how to respond and could only stammer, “Mom . . . you’re being too hard, I mean . . . on yourself.”

“No I’m not,” she shot back. “I’m not being hard enough on myself or I wouldn’t just sit there.” To that I couldn’t think of anything to say to make her feel better. She was right.

And I knew on too many occasions I didn’t behave any better. I recalled a time, and told her about it, when I was trying to raise money for a worthy project—one ironically to help minority children prepare for college—and I had a meeting with a very wealthy Jewish investment banker and philanthropist, someone who eventually made a significant grant, during which he incredibly referred to the students who would benefit in the same way—as shvartzers—and like my mother had just confessed I didn’t move to correct much less confront him. I wanted his money. So I just sat there being polite and acting obsequiously.

“Which brings me back to my point,” my mother interrupted my train of thought. “About what I saw and learned on that trip to Florida and Barack Obama. Not just about the drinking fountains and the segregated beaches about which I could justify to myself that I had no personal responsibility, but more important I caught myself acting in a version of the same way the following day back at Fannie’s house.

“You remember it, a small cottage in a yard surrounded by grass and palm trees?” It was indeed lovely, an image in Kodachrome color especially to a young boy who back in his native Brooklyn knew only front yards made of bare earth and packed clay. “Fannie had a gardener who acme once a week to cut the grass and prune the bushes and trees.” Of this I had no immediate recollection. “He was an old black man. Or at least he looked ancient.

“Fannie was out shopping and you and I were alone in the house when he came. And even though it was December, down there in the sun it was very hot. Through the window I watched him struggle to push that heavy lawnmower. He was soaking wet with perspiration and so I went out into the garden to ask if he would like to come in, get out of the sun for a while, and have a cold drink.

“I’ll never forget this. He took off his hat and stood there dripping, with his head bowed, not looking up at me, and said, ‘No, ma’me, I’m doing just fine. Though you’re very kind.’ With that he turned away and returned to his work.”

This was coming back to me as if through a thick and forgetful haze. My mother pressed on. “Well, it was very hot out and so I put a glass of ice water out on the back step and watched through the window curtains. He saw the glass; and after looking around to see if anyone was nearby came over to it, again took off his hat, and with the kerchief he had around his neck, which he removed, he with great care used it to lift the glass in a way so that his hand did not touch it. And rather than put his lips against the glass, he tipped his head back and let the water drip into his open mouth.”

This indeed I remembered vividly. I had been standing right there by the window with my mother. She had had her trembling arm around my shoulders.

There was silence again on the other end of the line. But I could hear my mother softly sobbing. “Mom, mom, it’s OK. That was so many years ago. That was a good thing that you did. And you’re a different person now. You’ve done so many wonderful things. Think about your students. So many of them black children who largely because of you became good students and went on to college. How you still hear from some of them; how . . .”

“But I should have tried to say something to him,” she said either not having heard me or choosing to ignore me, “I should have found a way to acknowledge what we all had done to him. Even if not directly, me included.” I could hear her sigh.

Again I didn’t know what to say; but just as I was about to try, she pulled herself back from her painful memories and, her old self again, buoyantly said, “But think, just think what happened tonight. How I now know what is going to happen. As I told you, I can now see that. Not because we owe it to him or to make up for the past. Not that at all. Because he is so exceptional and has earned it.”

“There are still five weeks to go,” I said, always the worrier. “and you never know what . . .”

“Believe me, darling, I know what even a day can bring. You can’t not know that when you live in a place like this with ambulances here every day schlepping people to the hospital or funeral parlor.” Once again she chuckled as if she were offering a cosmic joke—which I suppose she was.

“After all these years, you know me. That I’m a witch and I can see the future.”

And with that she hung up before I could tell her that I loved her.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

October 2, 2008--It's My Birthday . . .

And I plan to visit the Museum of Natural History to see some bones older than mine.

Back tomorrow with, hopefully, what the Ladies of Forest Trace have to say about the VP debate. Can you think of a better birthday present?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

October 1, 2008--Take Hermès For Example

After 9/11, when asked what ordinary citizens could do to help in the War Against Terror, George Bush offered a one-word answer—Shop.

Many took his advice and paid for their spending spree by running up huge credit card debt and taking out sub-prime mortgages. We know where that got us.

But in the fiscal territory in which we now find ourselves, with markets clogged and gyrating, it seems, in downtown New York at least, that many, mixing metaphors, are shopping their way through troubled economic waters.

Take Hermès scarves for example. With the stock market experiencing alternating record down and up days and most everyone worrying about having enough money to pay for essentials, some folks just gotta have more. And are willing to wait in line for hours for a sample sale, apparently a great place to scoop up bargains on rarely discounted so-called luxury goods.

This doesn’t sound all that rational, especially in downtown New York where banks and investments houses are disappearing every day and the people who work for them, one would imagine, should more likely be found waiting in unemployment office lines.

But when a New York Times reporter the other day spotted the Hermès sample sale line stretching around the corner on 18th Street, befuddled by this evidence of seeming denial, here’s a sample of what she heard:

One woman who refused to give her name since as she, with only slight exaggeration put it, was supposed to be at work at one of the city’s four remaining banks, “Even if the economy’s down, a sale is all the more reason to buy something nice.”

A Long Island woman said that shopping “makes you feel a little better—like maybe there’s some normalcy left in the world.” She revealed that since her husband’s construction business has ground to a halt, she was unlikely to seek that normalcy with a $2,000 jacket and would probably have to settle for a $300 change purse.

Perhaps sensing that some might ask what she was doing on that line when all around her was unraveling, she said, as if wondered out loud with something resembling moral qualms or is-that-all-there-is self-awareness, “What right do we have to be here?”

Not helping, the woman ahead of her in line shouted, “We don’t!” Though there was no evidence that she was about to give up her coveted spot. She had been in line for well over an hour.

Another, a former speculative investor confessed, “I used to buy Sirius stock to keep myself from buying Hermès scarves. Now my Hermès holdings are much more valuable than my [90 cents-a-share] Sirius stock.”

When I read that (linked below) I wondered why my broker never told me about this—I have a bunch of Sirius stock, which is worth basically nothing; but Rona has, I think, just one Hermès scarf.

You know who I’ll be calling first thing this morning.