Friday, November 28, 2008

November 8, 2008--Leftovers: Granny Fatima

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a world of difference. Would that her forty grandchildren had the same opportunities as my cousins and I have had. Maybe, perversely, that is what she was attempting to say.

Nothing else has any meaning.

First posted November 24, 2006

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008--Thanksgiving

Have a happy Thanksgiving. I'll be back tomorrow with leftovers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

November 26, 2008--To Grandmother's House

As more than 80 million Americans take to the road this holiday weekend, they will find gas prices about half what they were last year, but they will have less in their wallets and 401(k)s.

If they are driving GM, Ford, or Chrysler cars they are probably worried about where they will get parts or who will honor their warrantees if one or more of the Big Three go out of business.

Meanwhile in Detroit and Washington many hands will be on deck through the weekend, working on plans for a potential government bailout for the auto industry.

When the CEOs arrived in Washington last week via their private jets, tin cups in hand, to quote one congressman, they were sent back home to come up with a new business model that would convince Congress that they finally get it—that they have plans to produce the kinds of cars Americans want and at prices that are competitive with imports.

They were given until the first week in December to get that assignment done, and thus far all that we have seen as evidence that they are finally being sensitive to the mood of the country is GM’s decision to sell two of its fleet of corporate jets. And, I suspect, the next time they show up asking for money they will fly commercial.

We have also been hearing from Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs and others that there will be hopeful news emerging from Detroit if the automakers are just given enough time to get their new hybrids onto the market. To make his point he has been touting GM’s Volt. Due to be on sale in late 2010. A plug-in hybrid that will allegedly get 100 miles per gallon.

As I have been writing here, my experience with Toyota’s Prius has been very positive, but it gets “only” about 40/45 miles per gallon and if the Volt will turn out to be as advertised maybe we should give GM and the others the bridge loans they need to get from here to there.

In fact, though disgusted for decades with the stupidity and arrogance of America’s automobile executives, on the basis of the Volt’s promise—offering technology Professor Sachs claims that will leapfrog past what Toyota and Honda are producing—up until a recent report about the Volt in the New York Times I had reluctantly come around to supporting the bailout.

According to the Times’ widely regarded authority on the auto industry, Micheline Maynard, the Volt doesn’t sound all that advanced or promising.

Forget for the moment that it will not be brought to market for nearly two years while Toyota has been selling Priuses here for four, Maynard reports from its specs that its range will be considerable less than the current Prius, on its batteries it will be able to run for only 40 miles, and it will cost $40,000 as compared with about $25,000 for the Prius. Thus, it will likely be doomed to niche car status.

Further, GM plans to sell only 10,000 Volts in its first year, and when in full production they project sales of only 60,000 annually. In 2007, by comparison, Toyota sold more than 180,000 Priuses in the United States. (See NY Times story linked below.)

Perhaps I’m missing something here; but in the meantime, pass me the sweet potatoes and stuffing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November 25, 2008--Dancing With the FBI

I have a confession—now that Barack Obama is safely elected, I have turned my attention to the other national election: which couple tonight on Dancing With the Stars will take home the Mirror Ball Trophy? A trophy so coveted by the participants that retired pro footballer Warren Sapp said yesterday that to win it would mean more to him than his Super Bowl ring.

Will Warren prevail, I tossed and turned last night, in spite of his continuing lack of technical dancing skills? Will his popularity with fans carry him to victory?

Or will Lance Bass of *NSYNC fame, who has been coming on strong the past few weeks, be able to project his boyish punkiness to enough voters to bring him the trophy?

But then there is the gorgeous and sinuous Brooke Burke, the final finalist, who wowed the judges with her free style performance, a performance so smashing that curmudgeonly chief judge Len Goodman called it the best he had ever seen? Will enough fans with conservative values still vote for her in spite of the fact that she is a former Playboy centerfold? Or will enough guys who still covet that issue overcome those family-values voters?

I am not one to predict the outcome. I had thought that the kids from Staten Island would win the junior competition. But what do I know. The kids from New Jersey won. I had liked my little ones so much that I wanted to vote for them. Though addicted to Dancing I had never voted before, fearing the Department of Homeland Security, which monitors all telephone calls and text messages, would find out and then expose me for what I am—someone who pretends to be above these culturally debased entertainments, who looks forward to Monday nights even more than Bill Moyers Journal or Meet the Press or whatever, but is in reality a closeted Dancing fanatic.

In spite of this fear I had been tempted to vote for them; but as I reached for the telephone Rona said she’d divorce me if I did. She’s as eager to watch as I but not yet ready to fess up. Though I suppose I just outed her!

I’m so into it that a dear friend, who here would probably prefer to remain anonymous—she has a big job and I’m not sure she would want her colleagues to know how she spends her Monday and Tuesday nights: they think she’s reading reports—sends me the latest news and gossip. She, for example, ruined last week for me when she told me that my favorite (OK, I have a crush on her) Julianne Hough will not be returning next season. After hearing that I asked my doctor to up my Klonopin prescription since I’ll be needing those pills to help get me from now until she returns.

It’s my nature to worry about everything and everyone so if you know how Misty May is doing after breaking her tibia on the show last month or if it’s true that 82 year-old Cloris Leachman really does have pneumonia, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

OK, so I did vote for the finalist of my choice. Five times, in fact. Just like in the good-old-days in Chicago when everyone voted five times. Though don’t expect me to tell you for whom. This is still America and our ballots are secret.

But then again there is the Bush Administration listening in, and how I voted is probably right now on its way to my FBI file.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 24, 2008--But What About Condi Rice?

Gloria Steinem got it right.

As word spread that Hillary Clinton was going to be named Secretary of State, she saw its significance and compared it to being Vice President—a job presumably not offered to Senator Clinton, which at the time angered many women. Steinem said: “Secretary of State is far superior to Vice President because it’s involved in continuously solving problems and making policy, and not being on standby.” (See NY Times article linked below.)

Though Dick Cheney would disagree about the just being a standby part—ask Colin Powell about all the continuous problem solving in which he was involved—Gloria Steinem is correct about how much better a job it is than being New York’s junior senator. Underline junior.

But others got it wrong. Ironically, wrong in feminist terms.

For example, Marie Wilson, former head of the Ms Foundation and currently president of the White House Project, a women’s leadership program, said, “I feel real mixed about this. I think it’s better for women to be their own boss.” Adding that she would have preferred to see Hillary Clinton remain in the Senate and become Majority Leader.

A few things about this: You don’t become Majority Leader just because you want to be or you want to be a “boss.” You earn it through a combination of senate seniority (Hillary is years away from that—she doesn’t even now chair a committee) and being voted into the job via secret ballot by your colleagues. Then, if you manage to make it that far you in effect have two bosses—your Democratic colleagues who can vote you out and of course your ultimate boss, the voters, who can toss you out when you seek reelection.

When Hillary lost the nomination many activist women saw that, to quote the Times, “as an accumulation of all-too-familiar sexist slights.” At the risk of getting myself into trouble here, did any who expressed this concern concede that Hillary Clinton became a senator and then the almost-nominee in large part because of her last name? Her so-called married name?

She played with the idea some years ago of jettisoning the “Clinton” and restoring “Rodham” as her surname, but for reasons that should be obvious did not follow through. In politics, name recognition is the name of much of the game.

None of this is to say that she hasn’t been and effective senator or a formidable presidential candidate. As she said when she conceded, she put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling.

A final thought—if we want to apply a feminist gloss to any of this, even forgetting Madalyn Albright who served as our first female Secretary of State, what about poor Condi Rice? Shouldn’t there have been more shout outs when she was named head of the National Security Council and then the first African-American female Secretary of State? I don’t remember hearing all that much about that.

As a liberal, I wonder if it would have helped if she also had been a liberal, or, perhaps as important, a Democrat. Just wondering.

Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21, 2008--Neaderland

If you have any money left, for a mere $10 million you can regenerate your own Wooly Mammoth. I’m talking a living, breathing one. Not a Disneyland papier-mâché version.

The problem, of course, would be what to do with him or her.

The last of them roamed North America and the Siberian Steppes about 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age; and, what with global warming, a newfound natural habitat wouldn’t be that easy to locate.

So before you think about contacting the scientific team at Penn State University, who just announced that they have recovered a big chunk of the Mammoth genome from clumps of some salvaged hair and are thus ready to regenerate one as soon as someone comes up with the cash, think about what you would do with this distant cousin of today’s African elephant.

I’m OK myself with the skeletal remains on view at the American Museum of Natural History, but confess that if the Bronx Zoo or the Ringling Brothers Circus came up with one, I’d probably get in line to see it.

If you’re interested in how the scientists have gotten this far and how they would proceed to make one, check the New York Times article linked below.

In it you might note, as a sort of throwaway, that the same technology could be used to regenerate a Neanderthal Man whose full genome is expected very soon to be recovered. There is no price tag associated with regenerating one though of course there are ethical issues since Neanderthals are from the Homo genus—as are we—and are considered most likely to be a subspecies of humans—us again; and thus, Geico Insurance aside (who use modern-day Cavemen in many of their commercials), who would feel comfortable regenerating an extinct version of ourselves?

Anyway, anyone rich enough to come up with millions for contemporary Neanderthals would probably be more interested in having themselves cloned.

On the other hand, with the economy in the state it’s in, eager to attract shrinking tourist dollars, I could see the Disney people ordering up a family of Neanderthals and setting them up in a cave next to Tommorrowland. In a sort of Yesterdayland. It could be quite an attraction.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008--Priusing

We were headed south again yesterday down the Jersey Turnpike in our rented Prius. Since it came equipped with a satellite radio, we were able to listen to CNN. They were broadcasting the House of Representatives bailout hearing with the CEOs of the formerly Big Three automakers.

It was quite a show. Our favorite parts were when GM’s Richard Wagoner, challenged about the company’s leadership, had the chutzpah to say that he is very proud of their record of achievement; and when all three were pressed about why, considering the state of their finances, they flew to Washington in their corporate jets. Their companies, they responded, require them to—for security reasons.

I couldn’t help but think that their companies would have had a better chance of getting $25 billion of our money if they had been kidnapped on route. No one would ransom them and there would be the change at top all say is required if these companies are to survive.

We also thought that if they had been in the car with us instead of the cocoons in which they live and travel and looked around at who was on the road and what they were driving they would maybe “get it.”

To distract ourselves when we are taking a long and boring drive we often play the license plate game: we keep track of how many cars we spot from around the country—with Hawaii and Alaska before Sarah Palin yielding the most excitement.

This time around, considering what we were listening to, we kept a rough count of how many foreign and domestic cars were on the road.

Even including SUVs well over 60 percent were imports.

We also kept track of the number of car transporters we encountered—those rigs on which precariously balanced there are a dozen new cars being schlepped to dealers.

Usually, we would have expected to see a few dozen considering that our round trip was 143 miles. But we spotted just four—one hauling Mazdas, another BMWs, and two loaded with Toyotas.

(Though we did see, at Port Newark, thousands of imports sitting on the docks gathering dust—as reported in the New York Times article linked below.)

But the best lesson in what’s going on with cars was from the Prius itself. For $22,000 list it’s quite a piece of gadgetry, with my favorite part the data that’s available on its onboard LED screen as you tool along. Especially the information about your second-to-second fuel consumption, the highlight of which, when you’re running on the batteries, shows you topping 100 miles per gallon!

The future that the Detroit execs boasted about yesterday for 2010 and beyond, when it comes to Toyota, is now.

One final thing. With a rental car, in order to avoid the exorbitant refueling charge, before returning it you are wise to fill up the tank. In our case we did at the Holland Tunnel.

We knew we wouldn’t need much gas to top us off. From the data screen we had seen that we had averaged 47.9 miles per gallon and so Rona took only six dollars from her wallet. She got 25 cents change.

Not available on the screen, however, was how much gas GM’s Wagoner would need to be chauffeured back to his Gulfstream.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008--Obamafreude

I’ve been an Obamamaniac for almost two years. Since he announced his candidacy. And I have enjoyed every step along the way as he pursued his unlikely quest. I’ve used up many boxes of Kleenex since he was nominated. I’ve allowed myself to hope again and to believe in the need for fundamental change.

I’ve contributed more than I can afford to his campaign and am tempted to shell out even more for the inauguration, though they feel like an unnecessary extravagance. But he and Michelle and the nation deserve a big party to celebrate them and ourselves so I’m sure I’ll be sending in my check.

You know me well enough, though, and thus will not be surprised that I’m getting worried.

It all started when Time Magazine recently ran a cover with a picture of Obama in the guise of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Replete with fedora and a Chesterfield tipped jauntily in his mouth in that iconic FDR cigarette holder.

I’ve been more than OK with the Lincoln references—Obama’s interest in a Team of Rivals—and the speculation about his Rooseveltian first 100 days. But when they begin to morph Obama, as Time did, into Roosevelt himself and I hear that even 75 percent of Republicans are optimistic about the job he’ll do as president, I really begin to get nervous.

It feels as if Obama is being set up for a fall. Not intentionally. I do believe that almost all Americans are rooting for him to succeed. We are in such a series of crises that who except the masochistic lunatic fringe would be looking forward to him failing.

But with expectations soaring toward worshipful heights, can a fall be far behind?

If the economy doesn’t respond quickly to whatever he initiates, if Iraq tumbles into chaos as he begins to withdraw troops, if Congress fails to act on healthcare or education reform or fund public works projects, with so much hope invested in Obama, with him already, even before taking office, imbued with almost superhuman power, we may find Americans taking as much perverse pleasure in tearing him down as they are showing as they currently exalt him.

Look out, in other words, for schadenfreude, an American tendency with a German name—taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, especially when we have previously lifted them too high.

I can live with GQ naming him Man of the Year and the New York Times selling copies of the edition from the day after Election Day for $14.99 (plus shipping and handling), I like the idea that he is reading two, not one book about Roosevelt’s presidency and others about Lincoln’s—I like my presidents to know their history so that maybe they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past—but it worries me when the public gets so ahead of the reality curve that they are already seeing Obama as not just learning from Lincoln and FDR but already being like them.

We need to lower expectations a bit. Maybe he’s helping by naming more former Clinton administration officials to his own team than the promise of fundamental change would suggest. But I’m personally all right with that. It suggests he’s being smart and strategic and yet practical with an emphasis on getting things done.

Here I am doing it again—even as he contemplates naming Hillary Secretary of State and Eric Holder, another Clinton alum, as Attorney General, and Larry Summers to Treasury, I can’t help myself from seeing this to be inspired.

And then what’s this business with Joe Lieberman? Obama’s pulling him back from the brink sure looks like enough of a misstep to turn off some of his most enthusiastic supporters. Well and good. That should help lower our expectations a notch or two. Just what we need.

But then yet, yet, wasn’t that evidence of Obama’s magnanimity? In victory, extend the hand of forgiveness? Or was it to get 60 veto-proof votes in the Senate? In either case—brilliant again!

So I surrender. Let’s see where this all take us. God knows, we need to get to a better place.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November 18, 2008--Day Off

Back tomorrow, Wednesday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008--Obama World

While the pundit class is pleasuring itself over the prospect of Hillary Clinton joining Barack Obama’s Team of Rivals by becoming his Secretary of State, elsewhere in the real world things are beginning to change even more dramatically.

While it may not be entirely fair to attribute some of these changes to Obama’s election, it is hard to suggest that there is no connection whatsoever. It has of course been certain that the Bush administration will leave office on January 20th, but it had also been widely anticipated for some time that Barack Obama was likely to be elected and thus key players and institutions worldwide have been moving in new directions that reflect and perhaps are beginning to conform to what has now come to pass.

As examples, three reports in today’s New York Times:

Iraq’s cabinet yesterday approved a security agreement that calls for the full withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of 2011. While this still needs to be approved by the Iraqi parliament, the leaders of all the major political blocs there support this timetable and thus it is almost certain it will be passed. This plan is in virtual alignment with Barack Obama pledge to remove all US military personnel within 18 months of taking office. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Meanwhile, with regard to our other war—the one we are waging with less and less success in Afghanistan—President Hamid Karzai, also yesterday, said that he would guarantee the safety of Taliban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar (remember him?) if he agreed to come to a meeting to talk about a peaceful agreement to the conflict that continues to rage across the region.

Karsai is not naïve, saying “Right now, I have to hear it from the Taliban leadership, that they are willing to have peace in Afghanistan. They must prove themselves.”

And he is not playing the patsy any more to the US and Western powers who have tens of thousands of troops in his neighborhood. To them he said, “If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices: remove me, or leave if they disagree.” (See article linked below.)

Who is it who has been saying that we have to find ways to negotiate deals with our enemies? Our new president elect? Coincidence? I wonder.

And then look at what is happening in Europe. If any have been wondering how long it might take for a Germany or a France or an England to see the rise to political power of members of their various minority communities—mainly Islamic people—look no further than what happened within the Green Party in Germany again this weekend.

The Green Party is not a fringy Ralph-Nader-like operation but one of the country’s major parties, and they just elected the son of Turkish immigrants to its top post. Cem Ozdemir was born in southern Germany to parents who came to Germany as gastarbeiters, guest workers, back in the 1960s.

Gastarbeiters, like other guests, were supposed to come for a while and then leave, but millions stayed on and have not been widely embraced. Perhaps not until now. We will see how Mr. Ozdemir fares when he runs for chancellor against Angela Merkel. Undoubtedly not all that well, but neither did Jessie Jackson when he first ran for the presidency.

Coincidence? Too soon to say. But not uninteresting.

Friday, November 14, 2008

November 14, 2008--Gitmo

It appears that Barack Obama is intending to fulfill his campaign promise and close the Gitmo prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This is good news and long overdue. Americans and the rest of the world will be watching.

Concerned as I am about the value of real estate, I’ve been wondering what we will do with it once the prisoners, sorry, “enemy combatants” are relocated with some presumably put on trial and, if convicted, after six or seven years of detention formally sentenced. Certainly we won’t give it back to those Cubans Commies. Not this U.S. of A.

So what to do? Turn it into a Rock Resort? Or a Club Med? Use it for target practice? No, not that. I forgot. We have Vieques in Puerto Rico for that. Thank you Spanish American War for these lingering spoils.

But then I figured it out—use Gitmo to detain all those banking and investment house execs who ruined and pillaged our economy.

Blindfold them, haul them over to Gitmo, put them in what will be those leftover orange jump suits, chain them up, and then march them around in the hot Caribbean sun for the next half dozen years. Of course let them have any remaining Korans for nighttime reading.

If necessary, to figure out how much they passed along in bonuses from the $700 billion pool of taxpayer, sorry, “borrowed money” Congress naively dolled out to bailout, sorry, “rescue” their companies, use torture, sorry, “extreme interrogation techniques.” To get to the truth and the transparency everyone is clamoring for (who actually got the money and what the hell have they done with it? Are you listening AIG?), I’m not so sure I want just yet to see Obama outlaw water boarding. It could be very helpful in getting to the bottom of what happened.

Let’s begin by rounding up a bunch of folks from that esteemed institution Goldman Sachs, which not only has had its hand out to the Treasury (they received at least $10 billion thus far), but has also supplied us with a series of Treasury Secretaries, including the current, wonderful Henry (call him "Hank") Paulson.

Get the picture—they send former CEOs to Washington who then hire Goldman people to run the giveaway, sorry bailout, sorry “rescue plan,” and then pass along bushels of money to Goldman so they can . . . what?

It looks like fire people (thus far Goldman has announced and/or fired, sorry, “laid off” 4,700) and give execs their more-or-less usual bonuses. This while their stock has fallen from $240 a share 12 months ago to less than a third of that value--$70 as of yesterday.

It is reported that Goldman will use more than half of that Chinese money, sorry, the $10 billion of taxpayer debt, for bonuses. Including $41 million for current CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

So you remember when you write to him it's: Lloyd Blankfein, c/o Raul Castro, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And that's spelled B.L.A.N.K.F.E.I.N, Lloyd.

I must be in the wrong business.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 13, 2008--Teacher Tenure

I’m getting to an age when, if you asked me what should be our highest national priority, I should probably say fix our healthcare system.

But it shouldn’t be our highest priority. Though it was given short shrift during the recent presidential campaign, I was pleased to see that Barack Obama placed fixing the nation’s ailing schools near the top of his agenda.

Of course he will have to focus on the economic crisis and that will probably leave little time to pay attention to schooling and even less money for education; and though that would be a pity, there is a lot that can be done without a great deal of additional federal money, things we must do, and soon, to make sure our kids get a world class education so they can be prepared to compete in the 21st century economy. Because if we want to build our economy—forgetting fairness for the moment—it is imperative that we do a better job with our children: growing the economy is inexorably tied to improving our public schools.

About a third of America’s students are enrolled in low-performing schools. That’s 15 million kids. And though there is a federal role to play in helping to improve their schools, it is limited. The Feds supply only a very small fraction of the total cost of providing an education since, constitutionally, the control of education is left to the individual states. Even attempts by the federal government to set achievement standards can be ignored as long as school districts opt to not seek certain forms of federal support. Thus much of the resistance to No Child Left Behind.

A president, especially one like Barack Obama, can use the bully pulpit to urge kids to literally pull up their pants and get serious about studying if they want to have a better life. They can set an example, also like Obama. And I am certain he will do a great deal of this. If he names Colin Powell as Secretary of Education, which is rumored, Powell too can provide inspiration by example. There is already evidence that kids, African American boys particularly, in some schools are already telling their teachers that they want to learn more and are willing to work harder so that they can grow up and be like Barack Obama.

But if this aspirational trend continues and expands, will the schools, more specifically will the teachers we have be up to the challenge? Sadly, for the most part, I don’t think so.

There are reasons for this. Many cite low pay. Others the poor quality of teacher training and certification. Some claim that in the past when schools worked better it was because many of the country’s most talented women—who were blocked by discrimination from pursuing other professions—were left with teaching as one of the only careers open to them and that these talented women became excellent teachers. Critics on the Right blame the lack of competition for the public schools, which, they claim, thus have a monopoly and as with other monopolies are not accountable to the public. Or, that teachers unions have become so powerful in most cities where the challenges are greatest that they resist change out of their sole interest in protecting teachers from arbitrary principals and work rules.

There is truth in all of these critiques and of course there are in spite of them individual schools and a few districts that are beating the odds. And even in dysfunctional schools there are individual teachers who somehow manage to educate and inspire. But we cannot survive as a viable nation if we depend on these exceptions and a smattering of talented people.

At the heart of the matter, more than anything else, is that too few of our teachers are effective. There are many reasons for this. Some cited above. Perhaps foremost is any lack or real accountability after a teacher passes through her or his probationary period and receives tenure—a lifetime guarantee of employment no matter how well or poorly a teacher subsequently performs. After a teacher receives tenure it is virtually impossible to be dismissed. In most places you literally have to commit a crime for there to be grounds for dismissal. And therefore there is no real way to hold a teacher accountable for poor performance.

Those who favor tenure assert it is necessary to prevent teachers from being arbitrarily fired. That is not an entirely false claim—the tenure system came into being in the early 20th century to protect against patronage hirings and was expanded in the 1950s during the McCarthy period when there was some purging of teachers (rather little actually) because of their alleged pro-communist political views. The fear was that they would indoctrinate their charges.

But there are ways to protect senior teachers from arbitrary administrative behavior short of granting them lifelong tenure. In fact, the new school superintendent in Washington DC is attempting to take on the tenure system. She is proposing a voluntary program where teachers would receive $40,000 a year beyond their current salaries if they would give up tenure for a year. A year in which they would be reevaluated and then either retained or let go.

As superintendent Michelle Rhee puts it, “Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too.” (Quoted in the New York Times story linked below.)

Not surprisingly, the teachers union opposes her plan, which would be funded by private foundations, as do three-quarters of the teachers. So, we’ll see what happens.

My money is on the teachers union. Dramatic reforms of this kind have foundered in Washington and in big cities elsewhere and I suspect Ms. Rhee will be moving on before too long--superintendents do not have tenure.

But Obama’s right—improving our schools should be a top priority; and if he puts his shoulder to it, real progress is possible. Though, considering the odds and the forces of the status quo, it won’t be easy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November 12, 2008--What's Good for General Motors . . .

GM CEO “Engine” Charlie Wilson once famously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the United States.”

At the time it was considered a symptom of corporate arrogance and American chauvinism. A version of it today, “What’s necessary for GM is necessary for the United States,” is about to become public policy. There seems to be no doubt that taxpayers will be anteing up at least $25 billion to bail out GM and the other two major US automakers because unless we do at least three million jobs will be lost and we may plunge quickly from a recession into a depression.

So I guess I’m in favor of this. If both George Bush and Barack Obama agree that we have to do something like this, other than the few remaining free-market fanatics who believe that the Invisible Hand of capitalism will guide us to economic health, who can disagree?

But I would attach many strings to the deal.

It’s clear to most that the former Big Three, out of ignorance, greed, and mismanagement for decades missed numerous opportunities to build the kinds of cars that Americans and others worldwide wanted. The Toyotas and Hondas figured out that a large segment of the market wanted smaller, lighter, better-built, fuel-efficient cars long before the current series of crises set in. And so over time Toyota came to displace GM as the world’s largest auto manufacturer.

The strings I would attach to any bailout would require Ford, Chrysler, and GM to finally build the kinds of cars people want and which will help wean us off our addiction to fossil fuels. The money we hand over should be contingent on their developing a business model to move rapidly in this direction. If they don’t, then let them go under and we’ll figure out how to deal with the economic fallout.

The technology to do this is already available. All they need to do is put it into production.

I know this from personal experience. Admittedly, I know almost nothing about cars. We don’t own one and when we need one we rent and take whatever they give us at AVIS. Most of the time we get a Chevy or Pontiac and it is obvious to even me that they are essentially junk. Every once in a while, though, they give us a Toyota and from even a glance it’s obvious that it’s a superior product.

But then two weeks ago when we needed a car to visit Rona’ mother in southern New Jersey they wheeled out a Toyota Prius hybred.


Of course I needed lessons in how to start it (you just push a button on the dashboard—there are no cranking sounds from the starter since there isn’t one)—and you have to get used to the lack of sound and vibration from the reviving engine (there again is no sound because the gas-fired engine doesn’t start—just the silent electrical motors). So instantly you know you have entered into a very different automotive universe.

I could go on about the differences between the Prius and conventional cars but will spare you and mention just a couple of more things—most of the drive was south on the New Jersey Turnpike and our little beauty was peppy, kept up easily with traffic, and was not blown about by the gusty crosswinds. Then, the roundtrip was about 150 miles and since we had to refill the gas tank before returning the car to AVIS I wondered how much we would need. Amazingly, less than three gallons. I was curious enough to run the exact numbers and found with delight that we averaged more than 45 miles per gallon.

When we got home I did a little research about the Prius and was again amazed—I thought it would cost $30-40,000 but in fact it goes for “only” $22—25,000. And I’ll bet it is built in one of Toyota’s plants right here in the U. S. of A.

The point—what the hell is wrong with our Big Three?

And why don’t we simply require them, if they want the bailout money, to build Prius-like cars, millions of them, within two to three years?

That may sound like “socialism” or “big government” intrusion in the market, but isn’t this what the Bush administration has already led us to? $700 billion and counting to banking and insurance institutions sounds like a version of socialism to me. So why not in this case do some actual good and, while we’re at it, help save the planet?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 11, 2008--Day Off

Busy with chores. Back on Wednesday.

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10, 2008--Obama & Jews & Evangelicals

This weekend an acquaintance circulated an article about Barack Obama’s chief-of-staff to be—Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel comes from a fascinating family. His father is a pediatrician and was an Irgun fighter during Israel’s war of independence; his mother is a former civil rights activist; his older brother, Ezekiel, is a noted oncologist and bioethicist; his other brother, Ari, is a high-powered LA talent agent; and Rahm’s wife, Amy Rule, a Wharton School graduate, is a practicing Orthodox Jew.

But the real point of his circulating the email was not to pass along Rahm’s fascinating biography but to assure Jews that by appointing Emanuel chief of staff we Jews dodn’t have to worry that Barack Obama is going to tilt too far in favoring Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran: Rahn, who himself was a civilian volunteer in Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, would presumably not allow that to happen.

Here, slightly modified, is the note my friend appended to the article:

I wonder if this use of Jews by Obama will turn the black community from hatred of Jews to believers that we were the supporters of Selma, Alabama and that we fought alongside them for so many years.

Considering that 78 percent of Jews last week voted for Barack Obama (Kerry received “only” 74 percent four years ago), not all Jews require this reassurance. And certainly “the black community,” whatever that is, hardly needs to be reminded about Jewish support during the civil right era. Particulalrly in this way. They’ve already heard enough of that. But progress takes many forms and we should probably be glad for even this version.

But missing in the blizzard of data tumbling from the recent election is comment about turnout among Republican-base evangelical supporters and how they actually voted.

From Frank Rich, among others, we have been hearing not only about how Jews voted but also about how Obama won overwhelming support from Hispanics, the young, gays, women, suburbanites, and even did well among white Reagan Democrats—he carried Pennsylvania, for example, by 11 points and turned at least nine former red states blue.

What, though, about Christian Evangelicals who in the past were so reliably mobilized by Karl Rove and Jerry Falwell?

Well, as expected, John McCain, with the lift Sarah Palin may have provided, received the goodly share of their votes—in the aggregate 76 percent. Not much of a surprise there.

But if one disaggregates this there is an interesting tale revealed:

Among self-described Evangelicals under the age of 30, Barack Obama received 32 percent of their votes, exactly twice Kerry’s 16 percent. Of those between 30 and 44 years of age Obama received 23 percent to Kerry’s 12 percent.

So as with other groups that traditionally vote Republican (suburbanites, for example) or resist, it is claimed, voting for African Americans (Hispanics and Jew), this election Obama, as the pundits put it, “over-performed.” (See the New York Times article linked below.)

Especially among all younger voters he did much better than is traditionally expected for a Democrat.

This, then, may be the real meaning of the change that occurred last Tuesday. It is as much cultural and generational as it is about specific issues such as the economy and the war in Iraq. Of course Obama benefited by his positions about these, but he was elected more because he reflects who we are becoming as a nation.

Friday, November 07, 2008

November 7, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace Are Happy

“So?” my mother said when I answered the phone.

“So?” I said back to her, though I suspected I knew why she was calling. It was Wednesday morning, the day after Election Day and Florida had delivered its 27 Electoral Votes for Barack Obama.

“So,” she persisted, “what do you think?” I could hear the pride in her voice. I knew that she had been an Obama supporter for almost two years while almost all the other ladies of Forest Trace had been for Hillary, and after she lost many had thought about voting for John McCain. And I knew how hard she had worked to convince them to reconsider and how she had exhausted herself for weeks, helping dozens of the girls to fill out and send in their absentee ballots. Even those she suspected who were still voting for McCain. No small feat for a 100 year-old women who had had a mild stroke not too long ago.

“I think you did a great job,” I finally said.

“That’s not what I meant,” she shot back at me.

“You mean when you said So?

“Yes, what I was asking you. About what you thought.”

“You meant how good it was that Florida became a Blue State.”

“No, not that.” This surprised me because I had all along come to feel that she and many of the other women were working hard to atone, one had even used that word for what Florida did, what they did, in 2000 and then again in 2004. That they had accepted personal responsibility for George Bush’s election and reelection.

“Haven’t you been listening to Obama?” she pressed.

“Of course. Remember I too have been a supporter of his for a long time.”

“Then you would have heard him talk about how there are no Red States and no Blue States, just the United States.”

“And so you’re saying that it isn’t important to you that Florida, thanks in part to you, is now a Blue State?”

“You’re not listening to me and this is getting me aggravated. By missing the point you’re spoiling my good mood.”

That was the last thing I wanted to do and so I quickly said, “I do understand that and how important it is for our new president to say these kinds of things to us so that maybe, just maybe we can begin to get beyond the things that have for so long divided us."

“What you should mean is how we have been manipulated into seeing ourselves as a divided people. How did she put it? That dreadful woman.” I knew of course who she was referring to, “How there are real Americans and everyone else. With us of course being among the ‘everyone else.’”

“That, mom, could be the most important result of this election, how . . .”

“How,” she completed my thought, “we may be beginning to overcome those things that have turned groups against each other. Did you see that even Spanish people voted for Obama? I heard Wolf say that on CNN. When they had all along been saying that blacks and Spanish wouldn’t vote for each other. Even the Cubans here voted for him.”

Younger Cuban Americans,” I corrected her.

“Now you see what I was asking you about.” Her So? “How it’s about your generation.” I was pleased to be thought of as in any way part of the younger generation—she after all is more than 100 and that makes me . . .

“It’s about the future. We’ve been talking about this. You and I. And how I finally got the girls to think about it this way. It’s not about them, I kept telling them, and their healthcare and medications—as important as these are—but about their children and grandchildren. Their lives.”

Indeed, we had been talking about that for months. “And now all the ladies want to have one of my Obama buttons. But I won’t give them any because they are going to be worth a lot of money one day and I want you and your brother and your families to have them.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that there were literally millions in circulation, though to have the one she intrepidly wore when few where she lived were for Obama was of incalculable value to me.

“But this is not all that I mean when I asked you what you thought.” I had run out of guesses about what she was trying to get me to understand.

“You know how many of the girls, poor things, have aides?” From my visits I had seen through the years how more and more of the women were depending on aides to help them shower and dress and help with medications. “And you have seen of course where most of them are from.” It was casually obvious that almost all were Afro-Caribbean and Afro-West Indian. “Well, when I came down this morning, after the election, you know how they congregate on the benches by the elevator? Waiting there while their ladies have breakfast in the dining room?”

“Yes, I’ve seen them.”

“When the elevator door opened this morning, when I went down for my breakfast, there were at least a dozen aides there; and when they saw me they all got up off the benches, looked right at me, and broke into applause. All of them were smiling and also crying.”

“That’s wonderful, mom. You deserved that. I wish I could have been there with you.”

“Well, you should have been. Didn’t you tell me you were going to come down to Florida, rent a van, and take people to the polls?” Indeed I had. “You could have stayed here with me. I have an extra bedroom.”

Things had come up and I couldn’t manage to get there though I still was feeling guilty that I hadn’t tried harder. Thus to change the subject I asked, “Tell me more about what happened. With the aides.”

“I was getting to that. I told you how they were applauding. But did I tell you what they said?”

“No, ma, what?”

“’Thank you, Thank you,’ they said. ‘For what?’ I asked them. ‘For electing him,’ they said. ‘I didn’t elect him,’ I told them. Tears were coming down all of their faces. ‘You did, you did,’ they insisted. What could I say? All I could do was hug each one of them. I must admit by then I was as crying too as I had been doing all night. I didn’t sleep one wink.

“’But,’ I said one more time, ‘It’s not what I did, but what all of America did.’ I didn’t ask them if they had voted. I suspected that few if any of them were citizens. ‘That’s what we mean,’ they said, ‘that you and other Americans did this for us too and all the rest of the world.’”

“That’s wonderful, mom. But they were also thanking you because they knew what you yourself did. They knew about all your hard work.”

“I did work hard, that’s true, and as I said it was for the future. There’s as well as yours. The things they do to take such good care of us. We owe them this too. And everyone else in the world.”

Now I understood.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

November 6, 2008--My "View"

As a real man who has never been known to eat quiche, I have never watched The View. Yes, I am well aware of it from occasional clips that work their way into the news media—when a presidential candidate such as John McCain appears and gets grilled—but I have never watched a full episode.

Until yesterday.

The morning after the election, flipping around the dial desperate for a continuous stream of news and insight about what had happened the day before, and eager to figure its political and cultural meaning, at the stroke of 11:00 AM the wrist with which I had been for 24 hours manipulating the remote control gave out and left me stranded on Channel 7--in New York City on ABC.

The View came into view, and in a state of exhaustion and happy surrender I stayed tuned and watched the whole thing.

It turned out to be such a powerful experience that I used up my last remaining box of Kleenex.

Barbara Walters I know and with Whoopi Goldberg I am familiar. But how to put this--neither is my cup of tea. About Elisabeth Hasselback I only know that she is the show’s one out-of-the-closet conservative and showed up during the campaign at various Sarah Palin rallies to help her deal with the clothes thing. And isn’t her husband a quarterback or something? I’ve heard of Joy Behar but yesterday I became aware of Sherri Shepherd for the first time.

I am so out of it that I had to Google “The View” in order to get all their names straight and spelled correctly.

But it was amazing. Amazing. If you didn’t catch it look for it on YouTube.

I am told that welling up with tears is a staple on The View, but to see Elisabeth Hasselback crying openly about how proud she was to be an American after Barack Obama was elected moved me to more of my own tears.

To hear an equally-tearful Sherri Shepherd, who must be in her 30s or 40s, talk about how this was the first time she voted and how, as an African American, it caused her to remember conversations with her father in which he told her that the things she aspired too as a young girl were beyond the reach of black people and that she should think about a career in the post office, to hear this got me fighting with Rona for the last of our collective tissues.

And to have Whoopi Goldberg confess that on election night, when Obama’s Electoral College numbers finally reached 270, that she could finally “put down my suitcase” and for the first time in her life feel fully safe living in America, that she no longer needed that packed bag at the ready in case the KKK or whomever came for her, when I heard that my heart almost exploded.

I have known Jewish people who escaped pogroms and the Holocaust who keep cash and gold coins hidden in their houses here in America in case they feel the need to flee; but to learn this about someone as spectacularly successful as Whoopi Goldberg—also throbbing with understandable emotion—and the release she was now feeling, underlined how profound a difference Barack Obama’s election has already made.

Now of course the heavy lifting begins. It’s thus time to put these tears aside and begin to pitch in.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

November 5, 2008--Wednesday

Just let the meanings wash over and inspire you.

I am out of words but full of hope.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008--4:48 am

In 72 minutes Rona and I will finally be able to vote. I’ve been waiting my entire conscious life to be able to do this.

I think you know what I mean.

It would still be a remarkable opportunity even if Barack Obama were just an ordinary candidate—the lesser of two evils, Tweedledum to McCain’s Tweedledee. The usual kind of choice that we have had for decades. But like millions of others, hopefully enough to elect him, I have come to see him as an exceptionally promising candidate who has the capacity to be a great president just at a time when we desperately need one.

If I believed in a divine providence I would say we are being blessed.

So let me be explicit—in addition to all of this hope, not enough can be said about the stark fact that in 2008, “only” 142 years after slavery was abolished in America, we are likely to elect an African American to be the 44th president of the United States.

To state the meaning of this even more starkly—until 1866, all 16 of our country’s previous presidents could, if they wanted to, have owned African Americans as property.

In fact, 12 did--

Washington owned between 250 and 350 slaves

Jefferson, 200

Madison, 100

Monroe, 75

Jackson, 200

Van Buren, just one

Harrison, 11

Tyler, 70

Polk, 25

Taylor, 150

Johnson, before he became president, 8

Grant, before he became president, 5

It’s now, at last, time to go downstairs and vote.

Monday, November 03, 2008

November 3, 2008--The Ladies of Forest Trace Are Resting

It’s 1:30 pm, Monday, November 3rd, a full two hours before they begin serving dinner at Forest Trace, and the ladies are resting. Most are deep into their afternoon nap. Others are just resting, alone with their thoughts.

Some who are napping are dreaming about the election which will be decided tomorrow. At least hopefully. A few, who have lived in this Florida retirement community for more than eight years remember 2000 when the results from Florida wound up in the Supreme Court and how, because some of them had difficulty using their punch card ballots, appeared to vote for the hated Pat Buchanan when intending to poke out the chad next to Al Gore’s name.

As Bertha keeps saying, “It’s our fault that George Bush is in the White House,” and no amount of explaining to her about what really happened, that Republican vote suppressors were the real culprits, has assuaged her. She and others feel they have something to atone for and so for weeks they have been doing all they can to fill out their complicated absentee ballots carefully so they will not again be declared invalid. “We can’t let that happen again,” Bertha mutters, often to herself.

In the dreams of those who are asleep and among those who are merely resting, they are thinking back over the past six tumultuous months—what they debated, struggled with, and for whom they ultimately decided to vote. Not all came to the same conclusion, but all would agree that there had been a no more significant election since 1932 when the nation was experiencing another economic crisis and the winds of war were gathering. “It may even be worse now,” Anna said last Friday at the Canasta table.

Fannie is not sleeping but rather half-lying tipped back in her La-Z-Boy with the TV on, tuned as it always is, with the sound muted, to CNN. As she watches the crawl along the bottom of the screen, squinting to pick up the Breaking News—she has slowly ripening cataracts—she is thinking about her parents and sisters, all gone now, Fannie is 99, who came separately to America and the meaning of their lives. Her father arrived first, in 1913, and immediately began saving money from working endless days as a baker until after the First World War when he had enough to be able to send for his beloved Marta and their children—Fannie, the very middle daughter, and her four sisters.

Once in America, taking its promise of opportunity literally, Fannie became the most socially activated member of her family. At fifteen, already working a 72-hour week at a garment factory on the Lower Eastside, making shirtwaists, she became deeply involved in organizing what later became the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and in fighting to secure for women the right to vote. One of Fannie’s happiest recent memories was celebrating with the other girls old enough to remember the eightieth anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

And she is still, even at her age, among the most politically engaged of the Forest Trace women. During dinners the past nine months she had been the most vociferous supporter of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy; the quickest to resist switching her loyalty to Barack to Obama, smarting in the belief that he had won the nomination because of having run a sexist campaign; the first, she is now ashamed to admit, to be tempted to vote for John McCain after he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate; the quickest to be disenchanted with her candidacy after it became apparent that, as Fannie put it, echoing Lloyd Benson from the 1988 election, “I know Hillary and she’s no Hillary Clinton”; and now, as she twisted in her recliner to get comfortable, the most worried about the outcome of the impending voting.

She said out loud to herself, as she has been prone to do, living alone since Jake died from a stroke more that fifteen years ago, “They have been calling him a terrorist, saying he is not a real American, and that he surrounds himself with subversives. And some in their crowds call him names and shout that he should be killed. Oy vey. What this reminds me of. It is shameful. To see this again in my lifetime after the pogroms and much worse. What they did to my family who were too proud to come to America. I know they are not Nazis but still I worry because I also remember McCarthy and what they did to my Jake.”

Jake had been a teacher in Weequaic High School in Newark and lost his job because he refused to sign the required loyalty oath. To support them he had been forced to give piano lessons to the diminishing supply of Jewish children who remained in Newark as the other fled to the Oranges. And Fannie had to put her dressmaking skills back to work taking in skirts and pants to cuff and alter in order to supplement their income. It had become a struggle then and she thought about all the families who now were faced with similar prospects as they lost their jobs and homes. “Pigs,” she said about those whose greed was responsible for this disaster. “They should all rot in hell.”

“Before I die, which could be later this afternoon,” Fannie added, as she felt her heart fibrillate, “I hope to live long enough, until January God willing, until the Inauguration, so that I can see America again in good hands. This could be our last chance. Then I could rest. They are ruining the America we worked so hard to build and to bring opportunity to everyone.”

While Fannie tried to will for herself 89 more days of life, to January 20th, the CNN news ticker squeezed out the Breaking News that “John McCain . . . claims race . . . is tightening . . . in Pennsylvania.”

Gefailich,” she sputtered at the flickering image, “They’re trying to kill me.” Pressing the Up button on her chair she reached toward the side table. Rummaging among the clutter of bric-a-brac, family pictures, and medicine vials, exasperated, she asked, “Where’s my Nitro?”

Ruth is napping. Falling asleep is never a problem for her. As soon as she puts her head down she drifts off. Her problem is staying asleep because she wakes frequently with a start as her mix of medications causes her to have nightmares and occasional hallucinations. Her doctors have tried to alter the medical cocktail but with her blood pressure and platelet problems, chief among other afflictions, it is either treat the conditions or risk a stroke. And, they tell her, it could be a big one. So she puts up with the side effects. Her oldest granddaughter is engaged to be married in June, in Connecticut, in Greenwich--her son is a very successful thoracic surgeon--and she wants to be to make the trip there in one piece and be able, with both sides of her body working, to walk one more time down the aisle.

It continues to upset her that her son, Joel that golden boy, is still saying he plans to vote for John McCain. To him it’s all about taxes, taxes, taxes. He makes to her what seems to be enough, a fortune—he lives in a mansion by a lake with a suite of rooms and a telephone reserved just for her when she visits--and he worries that Barack Obama would make him pay more. He claims that Obama then would give this money to poor people. She knows that what he really means, but won’t say it to her directly, that he will give it, his money, to poor people, to minorities.

Though he tries not to upset his mother—he knows as a doctor how fragile her condition is—since she keeps pressing him about his plans, she can’t stop herself from saying to him how this election is less about him than his daughter and his eventual grandchildren and how Obama’s ideas for the future are so much better than McCain’s, when she does this, and she does during their daily calls—he is such a wonderful, devoted son to call her as he does—he presses back on her (he also cannot contain himself, he is after all her son, just like her) and tells her how she and Abe, his father, worked and scrimped so that he and his sister could go to college and then he to medical school and how they helped set him up his office after his residency was over—for which he loves them with all his heart—so that “they” should do the same thing for their children and not expect government to give them “a handout.”

Ruth knows just what he means by his “they” and won’t allow herself to say a word about it. This much control of herself she still has in spite of her age and all the medications. The best she is able to do is to tell him that Obama’s story is similar to his own. That no one gave him anything more than love and support. That Obama worked as hard as Joel and she and Abe for what he achieved and that he too, Obama, like her Joel, has a wonderful wife and daughters. “Did you see them together on TV yesterday? I think it was in Ohio.”

But this morning, which will be the last time they talk before the election tomorrow, she finally said to him, when he again raised the subject of taxes, that though he is a wonderful surgeon and operates in a public hospital one day a week, which is a mitzvah, that like Obama says, those who are doing very, very well, in these times have to do a little more, and won’t he think some more about the grandchildren he will certainly have and cherish before he pulls the lever in the voting booth. He promises her that he will, that he will think about it some more, and she believes him.

He says, “I love you mom,” as he always does; and she knows how much he truly does—almost as much as she loves him in return. But then, after he hangs up, and now as she turns fitfully in her sleep to find a comfortable position, she is happy to know he lives in blue-state Connecticut and not here in Florida where, if he did, she would have had to work on him harder.

Then there is Mary who is staring, wide awake, at the ceiling. Usually she has no trouble napping peacefully in the afternoon while waiting for dinner. She is awake now because she is having second thoughts about the election and wondering if there is any way tomorrow to retrieve her early ballot and vote in person for Barack Obama.

She, recall, was one of the girls who my mother helped fill out her ballot and who confessed that she was voting for McCain; and though my mother, even before Hillary lost the nomination was an ardent Obama supporter, in spite of feeling a personal obligation, like so many of the Forest Trace ladies, to make up for the last two presidential elections, in spite of these powerful feelings, dutifully helped Mary, making sure she filled in all the required information and checked it as carefully as she did for the Obama voters—she knew that Mary’s people also came to America to escape persecution and to enjoy the freedoms America promised and Mary’s vote was thus as scared as her own (in spite of her, to my mother, misguided choice of candidates)—she was tempted, my mother admitted to me, to allow Mary to leave one box unchecked so that her vote might not be counted (my mother reminded me again this morning how every vote counts, especially in Florida, since, isn’t it true, Al Gore lost by slightly more than 500 votes) because isn’t it possible, she wondered, that McCain might this time carry Florida by just one vote, Mary’s, and thus perhaps be elected president?

“Yes,” I had said, he could win by one vote, and confessed that if it were me I would likely not have helped Mary, but if I had I’m not sure I would have checked her ballot so thoroughly.

Mary now, like the other Forest Trace ladies is thinking about her grandchildren. Especially Rosalie, who like Sarah Palin’s daughter is not married and pregnant and considering her options. Including not to have the baby. Mary realized from something she heard yesterday on George Stephanopoulus that the next president may be called upon to name three or even four new Supreme Court justices. Until then she hadn’t thought about that. Nor had she thought about what that might mean for other women’s granddaughters. Rosalie had to make her decision soon and if she decided not to have the baby it would not be a problem—though Mary herself hated the idea, even though her own mother, after having six children of her own, had had a back-alley abortion, as they were referred to in those days, which not only terminated her pregnancy but, because of the infection she contracted, ruined her health.

What was I thinking, Mary asked herself, when I made my choice? I must have been overwhelmed by prejudice. That is the only explanation since I know that Obama has the mind and the energy to be a good president. What we really need. But still it was so difficult for me to vote for him. Being afraid of what some say he really is confused me. I am so ashamed of myself. I must ask if I can take back my ballot. I know they probably won’t let me. But, she realized, I know one of the other girls is voting tomorrow—she wants to do it in person—and I know she is planning to vote for McCain. For the same reason I did. Maybe I can convince her not to make the same mistake I did. She too has granddaughters.

And then there is my 100 year-old mother. This past Wednesday she and one of her friends made the trek to the election office, not trusting the mail—and I suspect because they wanted to do it with their own hands—to turn in more than 100 absentee ballots. Almost all, she trusted, for Barack Obama.

But she is not resting peacefully this afternoon though, like Mary, she is a generally a good napper. She should be at peace after helping dozens with their ballots and persuading many who were tempted to vote in protest for McCain, or not at all, to cast their votes for Obama. She continues to be very aware, and worried, about potential margins of victory. Not only does she remember the election in 2000 and by how few votes Gore eventually lost; but she too, like Fannie, has been glued to CNN, in her case with the sound at full volume, and she too saw the Breaking News about the election tightening in Pennsylvania. She had called me to talk about that and, though I assured her that this was more McCain spin designed to energize his supporters than accurate polling results, I couldn’t stop myself from sharing with her—even knowing it might upset her more--that I also was concerned. That I wished Obama had one more trip to Pennsylvania planned. That he shouldn’t waste money in Arizona when it could be put to better use there. And that . . .

She interrupted me as I rattled on about my fears, reminding me that, as we had discussed earlier in the week, she had helped enough people to change their minds and vote for Obama so that if the race turns out to be as close as it was eight years ago these people’s votes would help close a good portion of that gap.

Reminding me about this had comforted me this morning, but clearly not my mother because later in the same day she was not resting. She was still thinking about Mary and if only she had said to her that . . . .