Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30, 2010--Heading North

The birthday parties are over and it is time to return home. All went well but the plane leaves very early and so I will return to this spot tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 29, 2010--Troika Presidency

Back in the late 1780s, founders of what turned out to be the United States of America gathered in Philadelphia to work on what became our Constitution. This enduring document has served us well for more than 200 years.

Many aspects of it were complex and controversial. Among other things, delegates had to figure out how to balance the conflicting interests of northern and southern states. This mainly had to do with what to say about slavery but also how to think about the influence of the larger and smaller states. Slave-holding Virginia at the time was by far the largest and was concerned that if each state were given equal representation they might lose political power. Ultimately agreeing to a bicameral legislative system where population determined how many would sit in the House of Representatives while in the Senate each state would be granted two seats settled that dispute.

And since the American colonies had gone to war with England because of the feeling that the English government was too powerful and unrepresentative and further that government itself, unless unchecked, had the tendency to interfere with the liberty of individuals, the Constitution codifies that anti-government philosophy.

Our famous system of checks and balances is the product of that concern about the coercive potential of government. Our founders made sure that neither the legislature nor the executive much less the judiciary would have unfettered authority. They were set in motion in ways to limit the ability of any branch of the new government to interfere with citizens life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. In addition, to assure that the government that would soon settle in Washington would not dominate the lives of Americans, considerable powers were reserved to the individual states.

Anyone reading the history of that period and thinking about our Constitution in the context of contemporary times, will be struck especially by how the drafters and ratifiers of that document strove to limit the powers of the executive branch--the presidency. There was considerable concern that unless otherwise specified there was the danger that even our first president, the justifiably revered George Washington, might declare himself an American monarch. This of course did not happen. He voluntarily limited his years in office to two four-year terms at a time when the Constitution did not specify the amount of time a president could remain in office. (The two-term limit did not get added to the Constitution until the 22nd amendment was ratified in 1951.) But still there was this concern.

But though the president was given quite limited powers in the original formulation of the government, among the founders, James Madison thought that even with those limits and a much simpler than now range of issues to address and administer, the presidency was so vast a responsibility, that he and others thought that perhaps the presidency should be divided between three or four constitutionally-specified men.

This too did not get enacted; but it, again from a current perspective, makes at least conceptual sense. It is still a political non-starter, but if we think about the nature of the modern presidency, it would be worth thinking about a very different kind of presidency.

If we consider what was on Barack Obama's plate just during the past ten days, it is obvious that things today are so maddeningly complex, so fraught with dangers, so demanding of the time and capacity of a single individual as to make the contemporary presidency a job impossible to do well.

This has been true for some time. Have we had even one president who was successful in pursuing his legislative agenda while conducting effective war policy or diplomacy? Lyndon Johnson was adept at getting Congress to pass bold domestic legislation but an utter failure in the realm of foreign affairs. Have we had one president who was adept at diplomacy while successful in working with Congress? Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush were in many ways effective in foreign affairs but could not get domestic policy right. Bill Clinton generally got the economy right but failed to manage either himself or his administration, including allowing the economic bubble to begin to form that burst two years ago. George W. Bush managed to inspire the country after 9/11 but failed to understand the true nature of the threats we faced and waged at least one costly and unnecessary war. Even Ronald Reagan, who Obama got himself in trouble for calling a transformational president, though he helped bring about an end to the Cold War and did some good things for the economy was a careless manager of the nation's resources--he cut taxes but also nearly quadrupled the nation's debt.

Perhaps Franklin Roosevelt was our last more-or-less fully successful president. Though many would argue that he too failed in important realms, very much including bringing the nation out of the Depression until leading us into World War Two.

So what is the case for the one-person presidency? Certainly history does not present many good examples.

Again, during the past ten days Obama needed to function on the world stage while in Canada at the G-20 economic meeting; he had to deal with and very publicly fire an insubordinate General McChrystal; he needed to attempt to guide through Congress an imperfect but still massive financial reform package; and of course he has needed to lead the national government's feeble efforts to manage and clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Four very separate and distinct roles. Is it any wonder that he, or anyone from the past, at best got half these kind of things right?

Can any of us name even one person who would be good at all of these kinds of challenges?

In fact it's hard enough to think about who alone might be entrusted to lead our efforts to restore our and the world's economy. Or who best could figure out what to do in the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan. Or who is best suited to work with a highly-divided and fiercely partisan Congress. Or who might have the ability to mobilize effectively the considerable resources of the government by cutting through the intra-government rivalries and red-tape that impede efforts to deal with the disaster in the Gulf.

I am not only incapable of thinking through how a troika presidency might work much less suggesting who might be best to take on these individual roles and functions. But it is clear from history and common sense that the structure and people we have in place are not capable of getting all these jobs done. Maybe, then, James Madison had the vision to at least get us to consider this. It may just be time for a second Constitutional Convention. The system we have is feeling creaky and antiquated.

Friday, June 25, 2010

June 25, 2010--Travel Day

We are en route to Florida to celebrate my mother's 102nd birthday. Blogging here will resume on Monday.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24, 2010--Afghanistan Redux

Barack Obama had no choice but to accept General McChrystal's resignation, though I would have preferred if he had fired him for insubordination. The constitutional issue--civilian control of the military--trumps personality conflicts, political positioning, or the media feeding frenzy that is unleashed when they sniff out as juicy a story as this.

But the McChrystal to-do is a distraction from the real story: why are we any longer fighting a full-scale war in Afghanistan and where are our efforts heading?

George W. Bush also had no choice but to have us become engaged there after 9/11. It was where Al Qaeda trained and made its plans to attack us. But Al Qaeda is no longer operating from Afghanistan--what is left of them is located in Pakistan--and we have somehow become involved in nation-building in the region. Our current war is against the Taliban who only indirectly were involved in the 2001 attack on the United States. Yes, they are reprehensible, having suppressed the people of Afghanistan, especially women, but there is sadly a long list of other countries where leaders are tyrannical and the people subjugated. Thankfully, we have not determined to invade any of them.

And if history tells us anything, Afghanistan is the last place in the world where a country with empire-building aspirations (us in this case) should be picking a fight. They do not have any resources that a superpower requires (opium poppies are their one viable export item) and the terrain on which battles must be fought is about the most forbidding on earth.

Just ask Alexander the Great about what it's like to attempt to conquer what we now call Afghanistan. Just ask the British. Or the Soviets. Empires have begun their falls in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. And now we are in danger of meeting the same fate. More than 1,000 our our young men and women have already been killed, this month we are on track to setting a record for the number of our troops killed in combat, and of course we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars there that could have been put to better use rebuilding our own nation.

So why did Barack Obama, back in the fall of 2009, decide to triple the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan? He is a literate man; he knows history; he knows about the Greeks and the Brits and the Soviets. So what was he thinking?

As I attempt to get inside his head I can think of only one explanation--he was politically motivated. Domestically politically motivated.

He was relatively new in office; he had no military experience of his own and thus he had to portray steadfastness; he was an anti-war supposed liberal who had to demonstrate his Commander-In-Chief chops; and he was attempting to put together a bipartisan coalition in Congress so he could get his domestic legislative agenda approved. So he escalated.

He was pandering to his two prized Cabinet appointments--Robert Gates who had been appointed by Bush and who Obama was eager to have stay on as Secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton, who he envisioned as the captain of his Team of Rivals. Both hawks who Obama, in his accommodating ways, was attempting to appease.

And then he must have thought that if he flexed his newly-found military muscles in Afghanistan he would hear kind works from the likes of John McCain, who in another version of a Team of Rivals, this time with Republican congressional leaders, would work with him in a bipartisan way on health care reform, immigration, and energy policy.

Obama misread the political realities on all fronts. Gates and the generals and Clinton rolled him on foreign policy, getting him to agree to a disastrous expansion of our involvement in Afghanistan, that graveyard of empires; and John McCain, who hates Obama more than he despises Sarah Palin, along with virtually all other Republicans, has been a mean-spirited political opponent on every conceivable issue. Including ones that he previously supported!

Obama is thus left reaping the whirlwind.

So let us not be too distracted by this McChrystal business. It is a sideshow. The real issues involve our strategic overreach and the fact that some of the best of our young people are being sacrificed for craven political purposes. Failed ones at that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 23, 2010--Common Sense

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet with this title. It became a bestseller. No book written during the Colonial Period was as widely popular nor as influential. Paine, not inappropriately, became known as the Father of the American Revolution.

In it, he presented the American colonists with a powerful argument for independence from British rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided. Paine wrote and reasoned in a style that people could understand, forgoing the philosophical references frequently used by writers of that era.

Everywhere we go while summering in Maine, we hear a call for common sense in government--local, state, and federal. People are angry about the taxes they have to pay not so much because they are greedy and want to keep "their" money but because they see it going to waste. The owner of a paint store the other day said to us, "If they could make the schools work, fix the roads, and take better care of our old folks I'd be all for them even raising my taxes. But nothing seems to be going right where the government is concerned. What we need is more common sense. So put me down as angry."

I asked him to be more specific. To give me a example of common sense at work. He proceeded to tell the story about the plan to dredge Round Pond, a charming cove not far from here that is not only a coveted spot for second home owners but also an important lobstering center.

"They had this town meeting and a representative from the Army Corps of Engineers was there. It appears they're in charge of these things. So he presented a study they got some experts to do that concluded that the harbor needed to be dredged. It would cost I don't-know-how-much. What I do know is that it was a lot and the town's share was $80,000. Real money 'round these parts."

"So what happened?" Rona asked, "Did they approve the money?"

"That the point I'm gettin' to. They said we needed to do the dredging but there was lots of unhappiness among the local people who had come to the meeting. So the town supervisor, who was conducting the meeting, asked if any of the lobstermen who were there thought it needed dredging. There were a least a dozen of them there. You would think that having a clear channel to get in and out to work the traps would be a priority for them. Even if the town, I mean all of us, had to come up with all that money to do it."

"And?" I said.

"Well, not a one of them saw any problem. To a man they all said there was no problem at all, even at the lowest tides, when the moon is full. And so with that, one-two-three, the selectmen on the town board voted unanimously not to have the harbor dredged."

"That's impressive." Rona said.

"Common sense is what I call it. Simple as that. Ask the experts--there are things we can get from them--but before doing anything, use your common sense.

"I wonder," I asked, "if there are any lessons from this for the folks in Washington."

"Sure are. I can give you one right from the headlines. About that oil spill, or whatever you want to call it, in the Gulf of Mexico."

"Go on," I said.

"So Obama, who I voted for and am still trying to feel good about, appointed someone he has a high regard for to be in charge of the agency that oversees oil drilling. To head up the Interior Department."

"Ken Salazar," Rona said.

"He's the one," he said. "Obama and Salazar said the office that deals with offshore drilling was full of cronyism and corruption and they were going to clean it up. No more licenses to drill in our waters without the feds doing an honest review. No more sweetheart deals with the big oil companies. A new day was coming they promised."

"I remember that," Rona said. "I listened to the press conference when Salazar was nominated and they did make those promises."

"And what did it get us? A disaster in the Gulf. And if you take a look at who's in charge of the offices like that Minerals one that were supposed to be cleaned up, most of the people Bush and Cheney appointed are still there, still cozied up to the big oil people."

"We agree about that," Rona said, "but how does common sense apply to this?"

"Easy. Obama appoints Salazar who he feels is a good choice. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. Which is the whole point. Common sense would say that if you are askin' him to do something important for your administration, for the American people, which this is, after you appoint him you ask one of your top people to keep an eye on him and his department. Trust him, believe in him, but keep an eye on him and everyone else you appoint to do these kinds of things."

"And?" I asked.

"And, if Obama had been using his common sense and not just trusting Salazar and what Salazar was telling him, and rather than just trusting the experts, like the kind the Army Corps hired, he would have discovered what was really happening and maybe some of this tragedy could have been avoided."

"I can't disagree with that," Rona said.

"Mind you, I'm not against using experts and trusting people--after all it's a big government with complicated things to do--but I also say, when it comes to making big decisions, use your common sense.

"This also, by the way," he added, "wouldn't have been a bad thing when deciding what to do in Afghanistan. Maybe we wouldn't be headed for a disaster there. Yes, ask the generals what they recommend--they're the experts--but then use your common sense when deciding. And then keep an eye on them because whatever it is they wind up doing the buck is still going to stop with you."

"I can't disagree with that," I said.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22, 2010--Spill Baby, Spill

My brother-in-law sent me the attached article from a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

To access it, click on "Original Article" at the bottom of this posting.

It is a remarkable piece of investigative reporting about the Gulf oil spill. How it was set in motion during the anti-regulation Bush years but significantly aided and abetted by the Obama adminstration. Which continues in that the parties responsible, mainly Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, are not only still in office but also still in charge.

I will say no more now because the RS article is long and I hope you will take the time to read it.

It is very upsetting. I alert you to that. But things are even more upsetting for people living in the Gulf region.

This report must be read and circulated since these kinds of disasters will happen again and again unless we hold the responsible parties accountable. I am afraid, including the current occupant of the White House.

I urge you to read this.

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 21, 2010--Midcoast: Screen Doors

We needed some work on our screen doors. The one on the road side, the other the bay side. Rich Cash who was working on them said that an old wood screen door was something to take good care of. “They don’t make them like they used to” was the way he put it. “Look at how they fit the pieces together. No one does it like that anymore. Yes, the new ones, wood ones included, may give you a better seal but when these swing closed on their hinges they make a sound that just says ‘Summer’ to me.” And to us. Very much to us, I thought

So when he recommended that he take them to his shop so he could replace the screening in the right way and also rehab them—not to change them in any essential way, but to give them there once-in-every-eighty-year reconditioning—we were agreeable to letting him take them. He said that it wasn’t buggy and he could get them back to us by the next morning, early the next morning, and through the evening and over night we probably wouldn’t be missing them. He smiled, “You’ll miss that solid thump sound, that I know. But it will make it that much the nicer having them back tomorrow. Good for at least another 80 years,” he promised.

I said, “I should live that long.”

So he took them down and noticed that the hinges themselves were “hinge bound”—“You see how metal touches metal?” He flexed the hinges to show us. “This means the door won’t close smoothly or all the way. That’s what all the salt in the air does to ‘em. Eats right into them. You can’t expect them to last forever. Or for that matter,” he nodded toward me, “anything.”

“What should we do about them?” Rona asked.

“I’d replace them,” Rich said. “I have a few old brass ones back in my shop still in good shape so, if you’d like, when I bring the doors back I could replace them.”

That sounded worth doing and we agreed to that too.

Rona said, “These doors are worth good treatment. Look how long they’ve taken care of the families that lived here. We want them to do the same for us.”

“And don’t forget that thump,” Rich said with a wink as he finished loading them gently into his truck.

It was the first hot evening of late June and, as we do on such days, when the air cools down, as it always does, to replace the air in the cottage that had been heated up through the day, we open both doors to allow the cool air to replace the hot. A rush of air occurs like a natural form of air conditioning. And Rich was right, few bugs were out toward dusk; and even without the screen doors we were fine, just fine as the house filled with air that had been chilled by the water.

I was on the daybed making my way through a book of Raymond Carter stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, about men who step out on their women who in the process got stepped on by life. Spare, lapidary-like stories where just a word or the name of one of the forlorn characters can tear at your heart as they daily pronounce another doom. Perhaps a little dark for this sunny situation, but real life of the Carver type abounds here too and there is no one better at representing it. So I read on.

Rona, stretched out on the sofa, is revisiting May Sarton. Her exquisite journals of life on the Maine coast. A House By the Sea, I think she is reading, the first one in Sarton’s exploration of the meaning of a life of solitude. Reading all six or seven of them last summer while we were renting this heatless cottage convinced Rona that this was a place for her, for us, to spend some real time struggling with the isolation and elements.

We’re now approaching the year’s longest day; and since the sun doesn’t set across the bay on the Christmas Cove side until almost 9:00, we can read well into the evening without turning on a light. May Sarton style.

With less than a half hour of light remaining, out of our peripheral vision we saw something fly in through the unscreened bay-side door and flap into the kitchen. “Must be a big bug,” Rona said, putting Sarton down.

“I saw it too,” I said, putting Carver down, not entirely unhappy to get some relief from my reading—yet another husband had just emotionally abandoned his woman. “Let me see if I can kill it.” In the previous story Dummy, a quintessential Carver invention, had murdered his wife with a hammer and then drowned himself. So you can see killing and death were on my mind.

“No need to do that,” Rona implored me. “Just try to get it to fly back out. You know, get behind it with a newspaper or something and direct it toward the door. I’ll get you a towel. That should work.”

“Good idea,” I said. I wanted back from Carver’s world. As little swatting and killing as possible. “This is not much of a problem. We’ve had the doors open for two hours and this is the first bug I’ve seen.”

I was standing by the entrance to the kitchen looking around for the insect. It was quite a large one from what I had seen of it and thought it would be easy to spot and then guide toward the door.

“I think it’s a mouse,” Rona said. She was now standing next to me with a hand towel from the bathroom.

“That can’t be,” I said. “We both saw it fly in. Mice don’t fly.”

“Of course I know that. But look over there. One the floor.” She was pointing. “See that little head? I don’t have my glasses on but that looks like a mouse to me. Maybe we have both a bug and a mouse. I’m having second thoughts about having let Rich take the screens.”

“I think it’s a bird. A little sparrow.” Now I was pointing.

“I see. You’re right. It’s a bird.”

And with that, it flapped its wings frantically and flew toward one of the windows. The big glass one that looks out over the lawn to the water. He slammed into it repeatedly thinking, because the slant of the light made the glass invisible, that it opened to the outdoors.

“She’s going to kill herself,” Rona said all concerned.

“I don’t think so,” I said, “Maybe he’ll knock himself out and then we’ll be able to pick him up and take him outside. We’ve seen that happen before with birds crashing into windows, not knowing they’re there. Knocking themselves out and then when they come to they just pick themselves up and fly away as if nothing had happened. Maybe that will happen to him.”

The bird continued to thrash around and slam into the glass. There was no sign that he was slowing down or close to knocking himself unconscious.

“We can’t just stand here watching her kill herself. You need to so something. Like I said, take this towel, get behind her, and try to direct her out the door.”

So I did. I walked as slowly and silently as I could into the kitchen and positioned myself behind where the bird was still thumping into the window, thinking that I might then be able to gently encourage him to fly toward the open door.

I did manage to make this happen. More or less. More because the bird did fly back into the living room closer to the door; less because he was now busy smashing himself into one of the large windows there.

“This is not working,” Rona said even more upset. “We can’t let her kill herself. Use the towel to try to grasp her. Carefully of course. And then walk her to the door and release her.”

“Good idea,” I said, “but easier said then done.”

“Try it, would you! Don’t just stand there! She’s helpless and more and more frantic. Poor thing.”

By then the bird had fluttered into one of the corners of the room and, seemingly panting for breath, sat on the windowsill. I could see the condensation on the windowpane from his quick breaths. He didn’t or couldn’t move or try to avoid me as I slowly closed in on him towel outstretched.

“Have you got her yet? I’m worried that her heart is beating so fast that it will give out.” I moved in closer. “Do you have her?”

“Just about,” I whispered. “I think this is going to work.” And with that, as quickly and carefully as I could, I reached out to cover the sparrow with the towel, which I succeeded in doing, and gently grasped his palpitating little body. A flurry of feathers from his wings came loose and fluttered to the floor.

“Oh God,” Rona said, “Look what happened. I‘m not sure you should release her. Will she be able to fly after losing all those feathers?”

“I don’t know,” I said as I moved toward the screenless door, holding the bird in the towel before me as if it were an offering. “There’s only one way to find out.” And with that I let the towel fall away and with the bird itself in my hands I set him free. He dropped to the deck, flapping his wings furiously. They twapped the deck but he was not able to lift off.

“I don’t think she can fly,” Rona said. “Just what I was worried about. Now what should we do? Should I call . . .?”

But before she could complete the thought the bird rose from the deck and flew toward where I knew there was a nest in the bayberry bushes.

“I think he’ll be all right,” I said with relief.

Rona, smiling, was bathed in the last light of the day.

I was up, as usual, very early the next morning and went out into the garden to check on the rosa rugosa bushes we had planted the day before. From the bedroom window it looked as if one was wilting and I thought I would give it some water in order to try to revive it.

There’s a small path back to where the roses are and, to avoid the wet grass, as I stepped carefully on the granite stones that lead back there, there was, hopping along right behind me, a small sparrow. Just like the one we had freed the night before. It can’t be, I thought, there is no way it can be him. Or might it be?

There is no way of knowing. But he did fly up to and perch on the rose bush I had come out to check. It is not the kind of thorny bush where these birds usually come to rest. And he did remain there, struggling to keep his balance, as I poked around the root ball to see if it had retained the water we had doused it with when we set it in the ground.

The bush seemed fine. The leaves were not drooping. But it had been good to check. The bird remained on its highest branch as I turned back toward the house; and, as when I had gone out along the path, the bird fluttered off and followed me, not more than a few feet behind, as far as the steps up to the deck.

I couldn’t wait for Rona to get up so I could tell her what had happened. When she did, still half asleep but excited, she said she was convinced it was the bird from the night before. “There’s no other explanation. Birds don’t act this way. Follow you on the path or fly right up to you as you do your gardening. Unless maybe if you feed them. Which you weren’t doing. So it must have been her.”

The next three mornings, up again at dawn, I went to check that same bush. Thinking, as I am prone to do at that time of day, before I resume my worldly ways, that it was our rose bush.

But there was no sign of the sparrow. Maybe, I thought, he had retuned to the small flock that typically at this time of day work the bayberries in search of ripening berries or the proverbial early worm.

So, after a few days of fruitless waiting, I returned to my life and routines as I assume he had to his.

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 18, 2010--Dr. Hyppocratous

As the health care reform bill was making it's slow way through Congress, a physician friend of mine told me about a conversation he had with some of his colleagues. It was not about expanding coverage to the uninsured or the effects of the potential new program on the federal deficit or the public option. Rather is was about their own personal concerns, about how much it would cost them in lost fees. In other words, how much less money a year they would make if it passed and was signed into law.

My friend said that most of his colleagues were doing very well. One average they were making at least $300,000 a year. Some, especially the surgeons, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and urologists were earning between $500,000 and a million a year. In fact, one of the most vigorous complainers about the health care legislation had just bought a garage full of Ferraris. Six of them. It seems he collects Ferraris. Like I used to collect stamps. He was moaning that if the cuts in doctors' reimbursements were to go through he might have to sell one or two of his prized cars.

it seems, though, that he has little need to worry. According to a new study reported about in yesterday's New York Times (linked below), many doctors have already figured out what to do in the face of potential cuts in Medicare. A federal program the medical profession furiously opposed back in the 1960s, labelling it socialized medicine (sound familiar?), which ironically quickly became their bread and butter. Very lucrative bread and butter at that.

What then did this new study reveal about how limits on doctors' billing affected their bottom lines? Not very much at all. In fact, many studied are doing better than ever.

How might that be since lawmakers for some years have been passing legislation to cut how much Medicare will pay doctors and hospitals? By scaling back on the time they spend with patients so they can cram in more each day; and, if that doesn't get the income-generating job done, by over-prescribing tests and treatments.

The study focused on how doctors treated cancer patients in a changing billing/reimbursement environment and found that when under cost-cutting pressure doctors also routinely made up the difference by increasing the amount of chemotherapy they administered. The authors of the study looked at the records of more than a quarter of a million patients with lung cancer and found chemotherapy treatments increased to 18.9 percent of the patients seen as compared to 16.5 percent the year before the cuts went into effect.

Further they found, doctors discovered that they could buy the chemotherapy medication for 20 percent below the price Medicare set for the drugs, which meant they could buy cheap and get reimbursed high.

And if even that didn't add enough to these doctors' income there was one other thing they could do--and did: switch to more expensive options. For example, in the case of these oncologists, order up Docetaxel for which doctors were paid by Medicare about $2,500 a month rather than considerably less than they would get paid for other, less expensive drugs.

But, is Docetaxel a better, more effective drug that would justify its use? To quote Dr. Craig Earle, director of health services at Cancer Care Ontario, "The financial incentive seemed to have an effect where there's not strong evidence of more than one equally good treatment program" (My italics.)

Neat. Just what Hippocrates had in mind when he authored the oath named for him and which all physicians swear to follow when they graduate from med school.

Even the doctor with all the Ferraris.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 17, 2010--Wanted: Dead or Dead

Now we're finally getting somewhere. Remember all that swagger drugstore cowboy George Bush put on when he said, "Bring it on" when he really meant, "Leave it for the next guy"? And when he put a multimillion dollar price on Obama bin Laden's head, calling for him to be brought back "dead or alive"?

George Bush is thankfully gone, but bin Laden still walks around free and continues to plot terrorist attacks against the U.S. and the West.

But, though I know the Obama administration will not take credit for this, there is something afoot on the ground on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan that sounds more like what George W. and his tough-guy cronies could only dream about undertaking. A version of bounty hunting. And I'm not talking about how Barack Obama, the alleged wimp, has unleashed a fury of drone attacks on al Qaeda and managed thus far to wipe out most of its senior leaders. Do you hear that Dick Cheney? You of five draft deferments.

There is this guy, Gary Faulkner who is currently in jail in Pakistan, arrested for, on his own, tracking Osama. Tracking him with intent to kill. The New York Times is all over this intriguing, crazy story which is linked below.

Faulkner, a Colorado construction worker, has been at this for years. Supposedly saving his own money to finance this, he has made numerous trips to Pakistan in search of bin Laden. I say "supposedly" because it costs a fortune to make even one such trip and on a construction worker's pay how, without someone backing him, has he been able to get there repeatedly, especially during the last couple of years? And, I ask, who has been president during that time?

He's not some nut wandering around out there. According to his family he's as sane and you are I. His brother, a physician, says, "He's not a psychopath. He's not a sociopath. He's a man on a mission."

His brother-in-law adds, "How many people thought Paul Revere was a nut?" Good question.

When Pakistani officials picked him up the other day, he was armed and dangerous. Though he does not speak any of the local languages, he somehow managed to put his hands on a dagger, a pistol with 40 rounds of ammo, a sword (nice touch), night-vision goggles, Christian texts, and some hashish. In regard to the latter, he didn't need any special language skills to secure that. There is a universal language for hash.

One theory about super-patriot or bounty-hunter Gary Faulkner, which makes no sense to me, is that he feels a special connection to bin Laden because he too has issues with his kidneys. Recall, bin Laden it is said has such serious problems with his that he requires regular dialysis, though how he manages to get that done in a cave in Tora Bora is anyone's guess.

I like my theory better--frustrated that bin Laden is still out there plotting and mocking us so many years after the 9/11 attack on America, feeling that the best way to repair his image that he is soft on terrorists, even refusing to call what we are undertaking all over the world a War on Terror, Obama came up with this scheme. In addition to unleashing the drones, he ordered his people to unleash folks like Gary. Rather than just having Christian millennialists and militia fanatics spend all their time making trouble in the U.S., why not turn them loose where they can actually do some good?

It's a win-win. Get them out of here and send them over there. We hire Blackwater mercenaries, don't we? So what's the difference with putting some of these guys on the payroll? I say, anything that gets the job done. Then when Gary Faulkner gets home won't he make a great guest on the Larry King Show? And of course, book deals must be in the works. I can see Matt Damon playing him in . . .

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16, 2010--Bloomberg For President?

For nearly three years whenever Barack Obama made a speech or held a town meeting, if I possibly could, I would cancel other plans in an attempt to listen to him. He was that interesting, that compelling, that eloquent and smart. What a relief, I felt, after eight years of the less-than-inspiring, foot-in-the-mouth George Bush. And I knew many people who felt the same way. My sister-in-law, Sharon, for example, called it getting her daily "Obama fix."

But last night I took a pass. Even though he was to give his first Oval Office address, I was feeling that I've had enough of him for a while. So we went to a late dinner and almost finished a bottle of wine. I'm sure the disenchantment I was feeling had something to do with all the drinking.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson had a lot to do with my state of being. In his column yesterday (linked below) this otherwise erstwhile supporter of Obama took him and his administration to task for not responding quickly enough to other nations' offers to help clean up the massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and for deferring for too long to BP and its estimates about the extent of the spill and its promises to cap the well, protect the beaches, and clean up the fetid mess.

Many nations from Sweden to Mexico to the Netherlands for weeks, for months now have been trying to get BP's and our government's attention, to respond to their offers to send state-of-the-art oil skimmers to the area and to in other ways help. We have responded to some; but others, frustrated, are still waiting to hear back from either BP or the administration.

Often it has been a matter of entangled and competing bureaucrats protecting their turf and being off the case. In other instances politics or corporate rivalries are at play. Here are some examples from another Washington Post article that contains original reporting:

In [some] instances, domestic politics are at play. Dutch authorities have worked in Louisiana since Katrina hit and were among the first to offer to help. After some hesitation, BP has obtained the state-of-the-art Dutch skimmers, two of which are in operation. Meanwhile, a massive sand-dredging operation is moving slowly.

In some cases, the administration rejected offers because they failed to meet U.S. specifications: The private consortium that serves as Norway's spill-response team uses a chemical dispersant that the Environmental Protection Agency has not approved.

In other cases, domestic politics are at play. Dutch authorities have worked in Louisiana since Katrina hit and were among the first to offer to help. After some hesitation, BP has obtained the state-of-the-art Dutch skimmers, two of which are in operation. Meanwhile, a massive sand-dredging operation is moving slowly.

A plan by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) to create sand berms to keep oil from reaching the coastline originally came from the marine contractor Van Oord and the research institute Deltares, both in the Netherlands. BP pledged $360 million for the plan, but U.S. dredging companies -- which have less than one-fifth of the capacity of Dutch dredging firms -- have objected to foreign companies' participation.

Reading Gene Robinson and digging deeper into stories made me so crazy that I decided to tune Obama out. Not because the Obama administration failed to act in a timely way (and I am not talking about his seeming indifference and lack of outrage at the tragedy--though he could do much, much better in this regard) but rather because he did not see this to be a national emergency and respond to it as if war had been declared in the Gulf. This time, in our Gulf.

After the lessons of Katrina (a lesser disaster) and the lack of federal government caring and its incompetence I expected much more, much better from my president.

So we went out to a late dinner and drank too much wine.

And over dinner we talked about the 2012 presidential election. This in the context of having recently read a number of histories and biographies about the American Revolution and the first of our presidents--Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. Especially how Washington was by far the most effective of the four. He was not as well educated as the others, he was not as polished, he was not as fully versed in political theory and philosophy, he was the least eloquent, and could barely write a coherent sentence (Hamilton and Madison wrote most of his stuff); but yet he had the clearest vision of America's future, our place in the world, and how to get there. He was supremely gifted in what we might today call practical intelligence.

Obama, in comparison, though as intellectually talented and as well educated as the other three of our founders appears to be lacking in this kind of real-world experience and intelligence. I'm sure last night's speech was another masterpiece of thought and execution; but, again, I opted to ignore it. I have been looking for effective leadership, for effective action, and beyond some significant legislative victories (health care reform at the top of the list) it is lacking. Not only is the Gulf of Mexico ruined fo generations and the lives of millions destroyed, but Obama's efforts (his, not Bush's) in Afghanistan are turning into an on-going disaster, no progress is apparent in the Middle East (things actually seem to be getting worse there since he took office), we are in danger of losing Turkey as an essential ally, and of course the economy is still reeling.

So, over dinner, Rona and I began to talk about New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg as a possible independent candidate for president in 2012. He is as boring and uncharismatic as they come, but drips competence and accomplishment. First in business, where he built from scratch a colossal financial services company and amassed a personal net worth of at least $18 billion, and now as mayor serving in, as it is said, the second toughest job in America. He could self-finance a national campaign (writing a check for $2.0 billion wouldn't be a problem or leave him strapped--he could still pay for his daughter's horses) and thus he would be less beholden to the usual funders of politicians--the banks and oil industries.

He's far from perfect. For example, though he hasn't needed their money for his campaigns, he is too cozied up to the financial industry as it is currently structured (perhaps he has to be, considering their essential contributions to New York City's economy), but he gets the job done. Think about how he would have responded to and took charge from day one of the Gulf catastrophe. We wouldn't have heard a lot of fancy speeches or seen much faux passion, but I suspect he would have gotten the attention of the parties responsible, held their feet to the fire, and mobilized a well-organized and effective government effort.

It grieves me to be coming to this conclusion about Obama and his administration. Like most Americans I still like him, but George Washington was not likable and he was arguably our most successful president. I am thinking that in these perilous times, perhaps almost as dangerous as in the early days of our republic when our very future was uncertain, we need someone in charge who knows how to accomplish big and complicated things. Someone who has demonstrated, not just promised, that he or she can successfully take on big challenges. Bloomberg is for certain no Washington, but he may be the very kind of person we need in the White House.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15, 2010--Cyber Offerings

Not only do the Chinese hold most of our debt and make most of the things we buy, but now they're beating our time when it comes to memorializing the dead.

And, silly me, I thought we'd always be Number One in that regard. After all, for a half million or so you can have your loved one's ashes blasted into outer space or for about the same amount you can get yourself frozen literally stiff and then get defrosted when science comes up for a cure for what killed you. And you'd have good company while waiting--there's Walt Disney on ice and the great Boston Red Sox slugger, Ted Williams in the freezer chest. Though I think they only froze away his head.

I suppose this means that we're still hegemonic when it comes to what to do with remains. But what the Chinese have apparently perfected is how to pay tribute to the departed, wherever they are and however they've been interred or flash frozen.

I understand that this is a big deal to them. They do after all revere old people and remain very fond of their ancestors, doing all sorts of things to honor them. Especially children honoring parents since they brought them into the world and nurtured them. Thus, after the parents have passed on, it is the children's filial duty to tend to them by visiting their grave sites regularly and bringing them offerings, including food.

If it is thought that one's loved one is in the netherworld, or hell, elaborate or even creative offerings such as toothbrushes, combs, towels, slippers, and water are provided so that the deceased will be able to have these items now that they are no longer around or, where they now sadly are, are not readily available.

But this is 2010 and for some these practices feel a little old fashioned. For them, then, the government has set up a Web site where relatives and friends of the deceased can send them cyber-messages. All free of charge. That's socialism for you. The government gets involved in everything. From cradle to beyond the grave. I wonder if Obama got something like this hidden in the recently-passed health care reform bill. I wouldn't put it passed him. He's so sly.

If you want to look in on this, or, better, participate, the Web site is (For more about this see the linked New York Times article.)

The Web site is the brainchild of some faceless bureaucrat in the Honk Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the organ of government in charge of the dead. Surprisingly, it was not designed by a hotshot 20-something.

Via the Web address, family members can choose from a variety of layouts for their messaging, add appropriate background music, and send along photos and videos. For food, the living still have to go to the cemetery. The Web site doesn't do takeout. Yet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010--Midcoast: The Jam Garage

After establishing a relationship with the town dump, next on our list of settling-in priorities was a visit to the Jam Garage.

This probably requires some explanation.

Wherever we are we are addicted to finding an indigenous place (as opposed to an IHOP) to go for breakfast. Half the reason we bought this cottage on the Midcoast of Maine was because of the Bristol Diner. A tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of establishment right across the road from the town hall, which, even before we entered it for the first time, had the look which conveyed the promise that while there we would encounter a diverse, very local clientele. And that, with a little luck, the people we would meet would be friendly and welcoming. So that we could have some instant social life and learn about the area in addition to finding good coffee and whatever the chef might throw together.

Well the chef-co-owner, Doug, does a lot more than throw things together. What he prepares for breakfast and lunch is blue-plate exceptional. Saturday morning, for example, I had one of his legendary egg dishes. This one scrambled eggs saturated with chopped sautéed asparagus (still crunchy), browned onions, sprigs of fresh thyme, and melted-in layers of Parmigiana cheese. All accompanied by a side of perfect hash-brown potatoes and a homemade biscuit. Um, um.

And the people—the wait staff and the regulars, which we quickly became—are as fine as the eats. There is Doug himself. Of west coast origin he is in Bristol now fresh from a stint of living in Alaska, and is not only a gifted chef but an accomplished artist and wit. Both are in evidence on the walls and diner’s chalkboard. “We Don’t Serve Fast Food” one sign proclaims, “We Serve Good Food As Fast As We Can.” And in case one day you are looking for soup at lunch, Doug, on another sign, tells you that the Soup of the Day is “No Soup.” But he will also let you know that they do have soupspoons for the daily chili.

His art is also on display. Currently, intricate ink line drawings that appear to have been influenced by what he must have seen and experienced among the native people in Alaska and the northwest. Mysterious and haunting stuff.

Crystal McLain, the other co-owner, is the place’s guiding spirit. And I mean both “guiding” and “spirit” literally. When in attendance, she is the diner’s impresario. When not there, she is pursuing her rapidly budding career with an ever-growing clientele as a licensed massage therapist. But to just encounter her at the diner is like receiving a massage of good cheer, ever-resilient optimism, and doses of wisdom that belie her years. And she makes sure, in her impresario way, that everyone feels paid attention to and gets to know each other. Shyness is not acceptable behavior when Crystal is in attendance and gliding between and among the three booths, two tables, and the six or seven stools at the counter.

It is not an uncommon occurrence that the10 to 12 of us who might be there at any time are all together engaged in a conversation that might be about the state of lobstering, the local primary elections, the latest show at the Farnsworth Museum, the Celtic-Lakers series, or the affects of social networking on American culture. All conversations from last Saturday morning.

And engaged in that conversation might be, as it was then, a former successful New York City accountant, John, who now with his son runs an international manufacturing company that produces world-class manways (look it up) and seems to have read pretty much everything important; Rod, a retired school superintendent from Ohio, who the other day had a lot of insight to share about the plague of bullying—though he is the nicest man in town he informed us that there was none of it in any of his schools; a former contractor, Al, who specialized in the design and construction of huge spaces who now does lots of things, very much including producing books of his photos that do a remarkable job of capturing the beauty of this place and the lives of the people who work the waters (his latest, just published, is about Muscongus Bay); a former employee of a locally-owned telephone company, Ken, who has the driest wit around (and there is a hot contest here for that coveted title); a South Bristol women with roots that go back more than 300 years who, though she does not have the most worldly goods, doesn’t pursue them or keep score that way but has devoted her life to the care of others and does so with so much generosity of spirit that if the encyclopedia needs an illustration for the Golden Rule a picture of Lynn would do very nicely; and then of course Rona and me, hanging out, sharing the conviviality. Fully welcomed by these wonderful people and the many others who make their way to the Bristol a few mornings a week. They make us feel part of their community, as if we have lived here all our lives.

We by now are fully ensconced and settled in there every day at the counter or in one of the cozy booths. So if you are in the neighborhood (and I recommend it) be sure to stop by. Doug has lots of good coffee waiting and the best hash ever, which I could go on about at some length but will restrain myself.

But what does any of this have to do with the Jam Garage?

Though all the food at the Bristol, as you’ve seen, is to write about, the jam, in little plastic punnets, though Smuckers, is, well, still Smuckers.

I don’t blame Doug for this. He keeps his prices affordable and those little things are cost-effective, control portions, and are easy to clean up. Homemade jam in jars or pots is more than anyone is entitled to expect. Thus, thankfully, about five miles from here, there is Simply Delicious Jams where we get incandescent homemade preserves. These are found just down the Pemaquid Harbor Road (of if you’re not at the moment nearby, you can order them on line via I recommend the Marion Blackberry. The self-titled Jam Lady sells them unattended from her garage. Thus, the Jam Garage.

On beautiful display she has Maine Wild Blueberry, distilled from those ubiquitous late summer local delicacies; Maine Strawberry and Maine Strawberry-Rhubarb (my second favorite); Old Fashioned Peach (I lied, this is my second favorite); Pure Raspberry (Rona’s choice); and, among a few others, Blackberry-Pomegranate (a little exotic for me in these climes). They range in price from $5.00 to $7.00 a mason jar and you pay by the honor system. There’s a box to stuff the bills into and in a large bowl there are a couple of fistfuls of quarters for change. Just perfect.

We began going there a couple of years ago and quickly became addicted to the jams that we take with us to the diner where they are an ideal accompaniment to Doug’s biscuits, muffins, and, especially the blueberry, to his steaming stacks of pancakes.

But the Jam Garage is not just about jam. There is something else about the place that draws us. Set in a meadow that lopes gently to Lockhart Cove, it also partakes, in that rural splendor, of the magic of theater. Like a stage set, the jams appear each day as if by magic. The door rolls up with no stagehand or jam-maker in sight like a proscenium curtain set in motion by a timer switch that must be secured within the house; and the lighting is so dramatically designed, as it would be for some screen ingénue, to show off the jams’ best side. Even if they were not so delicious, rather simply delicious, the setting and the lighting alone would cause one to stop and try a jar of Patriots Blend, which is, as the brochure puts it, concocted from “New England’s two native berries—Blueberries and Cranberries—with a hint of orange.”

Also intriguing, though we have made our way through enough of the Jam Lady’s jam to bring us back there at least a dozen times, we have never caught site of her of anyone else. Which is a surprise because her acres of meadows and gardens and berry patches are in perfect order. Just like the garage and the jams and her house and everything in sight. This unattendedness,, the sense of peace it instills, only contribute to the illusion that the jams are products of artifice and nature—they are there like the grass and trees and bushes and wild flowers and the air and breezes off the cove. But also, like the gardens, tended to and shaped by the hand of man. Or in this case, woman.

We are thus left to imagine her and her life.

She must of course be from a long-established family. Going back at least a hundred years; or perhaps like Lynn from South Bristol, her people were among the original settlers. Thus the Jam Lady’s recipes must have been passed down across many generations. Maybe even the local Indians, who for the most part were friendly, taught her ancestors some of their ways. How to cultivate the wild berries so as to assure a bountiful crop year after year and thus could serve as a carbohydrate staple in their diet and thereby help fend off the inevitable scarcities that are a consequence of the long and harsh Maine winters.

And then, considering the homestead’s location near some of the best fishing grounds in early America, some great, great great-grandfather would have taken to the sea to fish for the bountiful herring or another relative from the distant past would have taken up ship building. Around these parts then, and still, some of the new country’s best wood-hulled boats—schooners then, lobster boats and cruising yachts now—were constructed from the native oak and spruce and hickory.

Maybe a great, great-uncle had taught in one of the area’s first normal schools or been pastor of the South Bristol Congressionalist Church. Or a great aunt had been a nurse in the Second World War and another had been the town’s first female lawyer.

Rona and I build up quite an imaginative head of steam while contemplating that Jam Garage. Something special for sure happened there, well before there were garages, and is, we are convinced, continuing until at least today.

Friday, June 11, 2010

June 11, 2010--Jewish Genes

There are further developments on the Jewish DNA front.

Back in January 2006 I reported here about genetic studies which revealed that all Ashkenazi Jews (me included), those of Eastern Europe lineage, are descended from four women. At the time I wrote:

I am not at all surprised to learn from a piece in the New York Times that recent research reveals that at least half of us (4.0 of 8.0 million) are direct descendents of just four women who accompanied their husbands (assuming they were in fact married) a few thousand years ago when they left the Middle East for points north and west.

You see, if you, like I, grew up with Aunt Bertha, Aunt Tanna, Aunt Fannie, and Aunt Gussie, you would have known all along that all eight million actually descended from the four of them. So it was no surprise to find scientists using the latest DNA evidence coming to the same conclusion.

Now, also reported in the Times (linked below), there is emerging evidence that all Jews--the Ashkenazi as well as the Sephardim--are genetically related. This is new since these two groups for many centuries lived very much apart and it had been thought that there was little cohabitation before they went their separate ways.

Many thus believed that Jews in the Diaspora were not necessarily of the same people, the same genetic stock, but rather through the ages became Jews through conversion rather than birth. Sephardic Jews in Spain, this would mean, were not descended from other Jews who once lived in the Levant (the eastern Mediterranean) but became Jews by marrying, say, local Christians or otherwise converted to Judaism.

But very early on there apparently was, in the biblical sense, a lot of getting to know one among the ancestors of these two Jewish communities.

And where did this DNA-sharing occur? It appears in what is now northern Italy.

From science, here then is the real story. Or at least what geneticists and anthropologists think happened--

The First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. and the Jews as a result went into exile. Mainly to his capital at Babylon in today's Iraq. Subsequently these Babylonian Jews began to wander. It seems a good number to what is today northern Italy and the people who later became Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews genetically were in effect one people while there. So that later when one group went west toward Spain and the other toward Eastern Europe, they carried their common DNA along with them. So much so that now Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews have roughly a 30 percent common European ancestry.

Again, this the result of their time in Italy.

And so, in addition to the evidence about common ancestry, is it any wonder that there are so many Italian restaurants in Jewish neighborhoods all over my boyhood Brooklyn? And, come tho think of it, so many Chinese ones as well. Obviously further genetic testing is required to figure that out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 10, 2010--Cold Seat

The Helen Thomas silliness continues.

First, as noted here yesterday, no one in the press is taking a long look at her remarkable career, including how she paved the way for women to move toward more equal status with male reporters and columnists. When she began her career in journalism, how many women were featured political writers? How many anchored the news on TV? How many were to be seen at presidential press conferences? How many got to have one-on-one interviews with the presidents? Simple, sad answer--none. Of course she is not alone responsible for the advances we have seen; but she contributed mightily to them.

And after her fall earlier this week, when she intemperately called for Jews "to get the hell out of Palestine," pretty much all the news about that was about that. There was no context whatsoever. Nothing about her long-standing and trenchant criticism of Israeli government policy. She was treated as if she was exposed as an anti-Semite and calling for the resumption of the Holocaust.

Then yesterday, as the story continued, the press shifted its attention to its favorite subject--itself.

Many of the stories were about Helen Thomas' reserved literal seat at the center of the front row in the White House briefing room. Even though it hasn't yet grown cold, there is a mad scramble for it.

In case you missed these stories, one from the Washington Post is linked below.

Also missing from much public consciousness is the fact that all seats in the briefing room are reserved. Not just Helen Thomas'. In the coveted front row, for example, with their own reserved seats, from left to right, are NBC, the Associated Press, CBS, ABC, Reuters, and CNN. There is something called the White House Press Association (the group that sponsors its own silly dinner each year to which the president is expected to come in order to be "roasted" and then deliver his own standup comedy act) that makes these coveted assignments.

Arrayed in the second of seven rows, behind the TV elite, are seats for Fox News (more about them in a moment) and Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and AP and CBS Radio. To members of the press having an assigned seat is a big deal. First and foremost, reporters' mothers can see them on CSPAN. Then, did you know this, if you have a seat in the first or second row it is pretty much a given that press secretary Robert Gibbs will call on you during his daily briefings and at presidential press conferences (which with Obama seem to occur once every 10 months--FDR had three or four a week), if they occur in the briefing room, this means that you are pretty much guaranteed that you will get called on to ask a question.

And, if you are anywhere behind the third row, you have to be satisfied by just having a seat (everyone else has to stand) because maybe once a year you'll be lucky enough to get called on by Gibbs or, better, Obama. Back in the boonies one finds the poor Dallas Morning News, the Christian Broadcast Network, and the Washington Examiner among other lesser lights.

Does this remind you of anything? To me it feels like elementary school where the wise-ass kids spent all day waving their hands frantically in front of the teacher in a desperate attempt to get her attention and to show off how smart they were.

So the mad scramble for Helen Thomas' not-yet-cold seat is underway. In a rare act of gallantry, CNN, the last media outlet to be moved up to the front row, is already on record as saying Fox News should get Thomas' glaringly empty seat. Yes, CNN is calling for Fox, its hated rival, to move to front row center. (Or at least the front row since there is talk about doing some shifting around so as not to have Fox right under Gibbs' nose. They don't pay him enough for that.)

CNN is advocating Fox because when CNN got moved up to prime time Fox did not object; and now CNN, good liberals that they are, is wanting to return the favor. CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry said, "When CNN bid for the front row in 2007, Fox could have challenged it and had a knock-down, drag-out fight like the one we might have this time. But they did the gentlemanly thing and said CNN had more seniority. I've got to honor that commitment."

What a guy.

And wouldn't it be poetic irony that as Obama's presidency flounders in part because of all the unsubstantiated ranting about him on Fox by the likes of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Fox-paid personality Sarah Palin, that Fox as an institution should be thus honored.

Finally, for history buffs--

The current White House briefing room used to be the White House swimming pool. It was built by the March of Dimes so that Franklin Roosevelt, who had polio and as a consequence was paralyzed from the waist down, could exercise. Richard Nixon, who was never known to disrobe, had it filled in and installed a single-lane bowling alley for himself and a lounge and briefing room for the press. Later, the lounge was banished to the basement (no one on any president's staff wants to share the first floor with the pesky press) and the briefing room was enlarged to it current 49-seat configuration.

Oh, I almost forgot, the space of course was a swimming pool when John Kennedy was president. According to Seymour Hersh in his biography of JFK, Dark Camelot, it was used almost daily by the chief executive. He was anything but paralyzed from the waist down, and Hersch reliably reports that it was the site of frequent sex orgies.

How fitting as now another form of self-gratification is underway in that very room.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

June 9, 2010--Former Dean of the White House Press Corps

Who doesn't know Helen Thomas. The little old lady who had a front row seat at all White House briefings and presidential press conferences. For years, no one has taken her seriously. It has felt like an act of benevolence not to unseat the 89 year-old who, from listening to her questions cum statements, seems decidedly over the hill.

Now she has really stepped in it. It's bad enough for almost anyone to say anything critical about the current Israeli government. Or any Israeli government. For more than 50 years all our presidents and the overwhelming majority of members of Congress have moved in lockstep support of whatever it is that Begin or Netanyahu or whomever have chosen to do. Including last week's massacre in international waters on board that Turkish supply ship.

But when poor Helen Thomas pulled up her socks and let the Israelis have it, she had to be sacrificed under pressure from our pandering politicians, pre-millennialist religious fanatics, and the various ober-powerful lobbying organizations that flack for Israel. To them Israel can do no wrong.

If they sense any hint of criticism from the U.S., the Israeli regime begins defending itself by talking reasonably about how Israel is our only true strategic ally in the region; that it is a version of a democracy and thus entitled to our unstinting support. If that doesn't work, they next raise the specter of Iran, reminding us that we need to stand by Israel so that when the time comes they can be depended upon to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities; and then, if that doesn't dampen the criticism, they lecture us about how anti-Semitism is not dead (again bringing up Iran); and if that and all else fails, they remind us about the horrors of the Holocaust.

This list of rationales for the unwavering support of the Israeli government is supposed to Kosher Israel for all time from any questioning, any criticism.

Before getting back to Helen Thomas, considering how hot all of this is, I feel the need to state the obvious--

I am Jewish and I feel that Koshers me to speak critically about the Israeli government. Of course whenever a Jew does this he or she is accused of being self-hating. In fact, I am a self-loving Jew who hates much of what the current and many previous governments of Israel have been about--primarily, in the name of self-defense their abusive and frankly racist behavior toward Palestinians.

There is a distinction between being self-hating, even anti-Semitic, and being a critic of Israeli policy. An analogy--am I being anti-Christian every time I am critical of one of our Christian presidents? The very preposterousness of this rhetorical question in itself makes the point.

Israeli super-patriots and unquestioning supporters will say that this analogy doesn't hold because what has been perpetrated on Jews for millennium makes them special. The argue for Jewish exceptionalism. All right, I get the point about Jewish exceptionalism, but to conflate that with Israeli government excetionalism is to say the least a stretch.

Back to Helen Thomas.

About what she said the other day we have to unpack its parts. To say, as she surely did, that it would be better if there were no Jews in the Middle East, or at the very least no Jewish state, is outrageous. And then when asked where Jews should go, she really stuck her foot in it when she added, "They should get the hell out of Palestine and go home to Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else." (See linked New York Times article,)

For this she deserved to be roundly criticized. If we're sending Jews back to where they came from where should we send everyone who lives here, Helen Thomas included, who took over lands originally inhabited by Native Americans?

But when we look more closely at her views about Israeli government practices, I think she got it pretty much right.

For quite some time she has been one of the few mainstream reporters to question the expanding Israeli ambitions in the Middle East. Read her columns and listen to her questions in the White House briefing room. She has been a constant and forceful critic of Israeli settlement policies and practices and has made the case that Palestinians have the right to a state of their own and the right to return to it. Rights identical to those Israelis have and have fought to secure and defend.

She has seen no significant distinction between Israeli and Palestinian aspirations for homelands and security and recognition. And in doing this she has been consistently and sharply critical of what she, to me correctly, sees to be the anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian prejudice that under girds much of Israel's policy toward its neighbors. Neighbors who have an equal historical claim to a land of their own. In Palestine.

About these views we have heard almost nothing. Her critique is too hot for most to handle. Perhaps because of its essential truth. In fact, in the Times article about her "get the hell out of Palestine" outburst there is literally not one word about this other, more credible and serious side to the "Dean of the White House Press Corps." As long as she could be dismissed and marginalized as an eccentric distraction and a foil for press secretaries and presidents to have some fun with, she was given a front row, center seat with her name on a small plaque. The only reporter to be thus distinguished. But now, for a few misspoken or mean-spirited words she has been sent ignominiously packing.

Also either conveniently forgotten or unreported has been her persistent criticism of the Bush and the Obama administrations' war policies. She has been the only reporter to so publicly hold their feet uncomfortably to the fire as first Bush and now Obama pursue disastrous policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And so with Helen Thomas unceremoniously "retired" things will be a little less perversely fun at the White House and a lot less contested. I for one will not miss the fun. But something more important will be missing--some of the last remaining integrity of the Washington press corps.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

June 8, 2010--Past Perfect

Even people who hate baseball, especially those who can't sit still for it, who find it anachronistic and boring, have some awareness that something strange and disturbing happened last week when Detroit Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga lost his chance to become only the 21st man in all of history to pitch a perfect game because, on what would have been the 27th and final out, the first base umpire, Jim Joyce, blew the call on a not-so-close play and called the runner safe when even without instant TV replay it was clear to those sitting a mile away in the bleachers that he was out.

A perfect game is one in which 27 batters come to the plate and 27 in a row are retired, with none of them reaching first base by any means whatsoever--by making a hit, receiving a base on balls (a walk), or getting on base by someone on the pitcher's team making an error. Or, as in the case in point, by an umpire blowing a call. Even that destroys the possibility of perfection.

That egregious call the other day on the potential last out has unleashed a chorus of demands to use instant replay in baseball as they now do in football, basketball, and hockey. To review close, bang-bang plays.

A few, me very much included, are totally opposed to this notion.

Yes, there is the technology to do it, but there is the technology to do a lot of things that we opt to ignore. For example, some feel that setting off a small atomic bomb buried in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico could cauterize the breach in the wellhead and thereby stop the gushing leak. We choose not to try that. We probably could begin to clone humans as we do farm animals, we have the technology to do that, but as a society we find this repellent and do not allow it.

These admittedly are hyper-examples as compared to something as seemingly trivial as a game. One in which men in funny outfits play a boy's (and girl's) game.

But perhaps the comparisons are more appropriate than one might think.

Have you wondered why baseball has motivated significant writers to turn attention to it? John Updike, for example, about the great Ted Williams last game, his final at bat, when he hit a home run, in "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," who wrote:

For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.

Never, not even after that farewell home run, did Williams tip his hat to the cheering fans. Gods do not answer letters.

Pretty good stuff.

To Updike, to me, and many millions of other Americans, mainly boys listening to the game in the middle of the night on the radio when our parents thought we were asleep, baseball was not just a game but about life. It was teaching us subliminal lessons.

Before we knew the concept, it stood as a metaphor for what is possible and what inevitably spoils everything. Like Williams' last hurrah back on August 26, 1960, and last week's ruined perfect game. The 60s full of promise; our era fraught with peril and imperfection. Metaphors.

Writing in Sundays New York Times, another decent writer, Bruce Weber, got more of it right. He wrote:

That reality [the umpire's botched call], in fact, should tell us something about the nature of baseball, which is the least programmatic, the least technological of games. It doesn't even have a clock. The fields have widely varying shapes and sizes, and the primary battleground between offense and defense--i.e., the strike zone--is a box of air with dimensions that have proven impossible to specify. There's a lot less science in baseball, a lot more art, than in any sport you can name. . . . It's an irnony that only in baseball do there exisit perfect games.

Not having a clock is a big part of baseball's metaphoric appeal. Especially in our speeded-up age. To quote another great thinker, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, this means that it "Isn't over till it's over." One more metaphor; but this one with a few extra layers because even without a clock it still will be over. But in the meantime, play ball!

Monday, June 07, 2010

June 7, 2010--Midcoast: The Dump

We arrived for the season and at top of our list of things to do was finding the town dump and buying a resident's sticker since we planned to take charge of our own garbage.

This was our priority since we hauled quite a bit of stuff up here and knew before unpacking that we would have a lot to throw out. Both the bags and boxes in which we packed things and a great deal that the previous owners left behind which we either didn't need or like well enough to keep. We also want to live as green a life style as possible up here in Maine so sorting things out the right way--their way--and recycling them as directed was something we wanted to get right on top of.

So where the dump is, its hours, and how we needed to behave and interact with them was something we have been thinking about for weeks.

You may be wondering why all this seeming angst about garbage. Why all this concern about how to behave and interact with it and those in charge of its disposal. Fair enough. These concerns derive from our experiences some years ago with the East Hampton dump. As with much else out there it was not always pleasant.

First of all, to control the amount of rubbish tossed into the landfill the town limited the number of dump stickers it sold to residences each year. So there was a rush at Town Hall to purchase them the first day they went on sale. If you were too late to acquire one, your only choices in regard to your trash were to arrange for expensive private carting (this is the Hamptons after all and everything comes at premium); you could take your garbage back to the city with you Sunday evening (more than you might imagine did this); or you could skulk out in the middle of the night and dump your garbage either in the woods or stack it by the fence at the entrance to the dump.

This later option disappeared one summer after the dump managers set up a closed-circuit TV monitoring system that caught the likes of Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart disposing of their refuse in this unsavory manner. Among other things, those of us in the relatively low-rent district muttered, "This is how the rich get richer." It also for months gave us lots to gossip and chuckle about. “Can you imagine? Martha?

One more thing--in the tony, status-seeking East End having a dump sticker affixed to your front bumper was another way of letting everyone know that you owned a house in the Hamptons. And if you were able to get in line at the Town Hall at 6:00 on the day they first went on sale three hours later, after filling out half-a-dozen forms, showing two pieces of photo ID, and either the deed and/or two local utility bills, not only would you secure one, you would also be assured of getting a bumper sticker with a low number.

Low numbers of all kinds were symbols of status--low-number beach parking permits were coveted (these were for gaudy display on your car’s side window) and especially low telephone numbers.

324-0002, for example, is the number for the legendary local paper, The East Hampton Star, which has been around for seemingly hundreds of years. For so long, in fact, that when they started publishing telephones hadn't even been invented.

Therefore, to have a number of your own in which the last four digits were less than 1,000 meant that you were in residence before the Wall Street bonus babies and the other nouveau riche descended on the place and plopped McMansions into million-dollar-per acre potato fields. In fact, when we sold our modest house, the buyer paid us an extra $1,000 for our phone number. True, it was "only" 324 3026, but at least it had the coveted 324 (the population had grown so large that the telephone company ran out of 324s and instituted the prefix 329); and 324 with 3026 was thus worth literally more than, say, 329 5024. And $1,000.

You get the picture. And thus, considering our history with garbage, you might understand our dump anxiety as we were taking possession of our Maine cottage by the bay.

On Friday morning with our back seat and trunk almost as full of trash as it had been the day before of clothes and dishes and pots and glassware and food mills and knives and bathroom items and tagine pots, we found our way to the Bristol dump. Actually, the Bristol-South Bristol “Transfer Facility.” Everything these days seems to be a facility.

To get to it, off the Bristol Road, you turn up Transfer Road and the first thing you notice it that there does not appear to be a guardhouse at the entrance. In East Hampton there was one that was a mini-mansion unto itself and ensconced in it at all times was an imperious, dour sort of municipal worker who took great pleasure in scrutinized dump stickers and turning away anyone whose sticker had expired or was affixed too far to the right or left or, better yet, any of the uninitiated who wandered in without any sticker at all. Actually, his greatest pleasure seemed to be to slow down and especially scrutinize anyone in a car costing more than $75,000. As if he suspected there was an illegal immigrant hidden in the trunk.

Into the Bristol Transfer Facility we trailed behind a couple of battered pickup trucks and a 25 year-old Volvo. We felt a bit out of place in our new Passat station wagon still shiny from the car wash back in New York, not yet coated with splatterings of the ubiquitous Maine mud. The car is still a work in progress.

At the facility there is no signage in easy sight, nothing to direct you to any of the huge bins into which others were purposefully transferring recyclables. But before wandering about among them, we though to go to the office to ask about acquiring a dump permit and how to display it.

The office was easy to locate and so we parked and wandered over. There was no one in it and so we turned toward an area where it appeared people were dropping off still useful items such as old pots and pans and bicycle parts and toaster ovens and floor lamps, the sorts of things we would subsequently be wanting to dispose of after sorting through what had been left behind at the house.

At a makeshift counter, receiving these items, were three men who clearly were employees of the town. With lots of bantering back and forth they seemed to know everyone lined up with still-good stuff that might be of interest to others in need of a second-hand Mixmaster.

“This here one is still working,” said a woman with an old electric fan.

One of the grizzled workers was holding it up close to him so he could scrutinize the wiring. “Bet better than Old Jeb,” he chuckled. “Workin’ I mean.” She laughed along with him. I felt certain he was referring to Old Jeb, her husband. Times are hard in these parts and lots of folks are not workin’.

Someone else passed parts of a drum set across the counter. It too underwent close inspection to see if all the mechanisms were intact. They appeared to be. “So Junior’s finally given up on this I see,” a younger facility worker in a New York Yankee cap said to the middle-aged man, Junior’s apparent father, dressed all in flannel.

“Not exactly. I’m the one’s givin’ up. He’s still sleeping so I thought to scoop this danged thing up and bring it over to you. Let someone else take it home to his kid. Spread misery around I always say.”

It was then our turn. Expecting to be treated as an outsider, again from our East Hampton experiences, I turned to the Yankee fan, thinking at least as a fellow Bronx Bomber fan, he might look more favorably on me. I thus took the stranger’s risk to say, “Hey, I see you like the Yanks. Must be a rarity ‘round these parts.” Glancing toward one of his colleagues, I added, “They let you wear that here?”

Let me,” he said with a half smile, “They insist upon it. This is a dump after all. Fit place for those chumps.” He pulled at the beak of his cap to make sure I understood that he meant the Yankees, not the other men. I chose not to follow up. I was pleased to have seen that half smile and didn’t want to push my luck.

“We just moved into a house here. Down the road toward the Point and want to join the transfer facility. I mean, learn how to use it.”

“Well, good for you,” it was the grizzled worker, “Thanks for helping us out with your taxes.” At that he broke into full-throated laughter. Friendly laughter. I was beginning to feel the tension draining from me.

“I mean, can you tell us where we have to go to get, I mean buy a dump sticker.”

“Right here,” the Red Sox fan said now with a full smile, pointing at office.

“Great,” I said. Thrilled that we didn’t have to find our way to the Bristol Town hall and get on line next Thursday, or whenever, before dawn. “I pay you? Here? Or wherever?”

“Right here.”

“An how much does it cost?”


Nothin’? I mean nothing? Really?” He nodded. “That’s great.” By the time we left East Hampton a sticker was costing about $100.

“Can I get one now?”

“Any time. Any time we’re open. That’s five days a week. We’re closed on Wednesdays and Sundays and on as many holidays as possible. Even Arbor Day.”

“That’s terrific,” I said. That sounded like a green thing to do—to close on Arbor Day. “Bet you spend the whole day plantin’ trees.” It was my turn to throw him a grin.

“More likely cuttin’ ‘em down. But I was just foolin’ you ‘bout that. We’re open that day, whenever it is, but you should check the schedule before draggin’ yourself over here with a carload of rubbish. Nice car, by the way.” He pointed over toward our Passat. I was glad to see that it had acquired more mud from the pitted road that lead to the dump.

“Now about that sticker. Let me go inside and get you one. In the meantime just put your name and address down here. So we can have a record of you.” He passed a clipboard to us on which there was a crumpled sheet of paper that already was half full of names.

“Looks to me,” I said, “that the last name on the list is George Clooney. Does he have a place near here?”

“Not likely,” I received another smile, “This ain’t one of those fancy kind of Maine towns. Like Kennebunkport. Though we do have the Kesges nearby. You know, the folks who own K Mart. Real nice folks. But no Hollywood types. Thank goodness.” He turned to the office, “Give me a moment and I’ll get right back with you.”

I asked Rona if she wanted to put her name on the list. “Only if it’s after George Clooney,” she said with a touch of irony, suggesting I was trying too hard to fit in. “You need to calm down a bit. This is not East Hampton. That’s in part why we want to be here. To get away from all that posturing, and here you are doing your version of it. Try to relax. Everyone thus far has been friendly and welcoming.”

“That’s true,” I admitted, “I am overdoing it a bit.”

“Just a bit?” I shrugged.

“Here you go. One transfer facility sticker. And the price is right.”

“Thanks. Much appreciated,” I said. It was slipped into a brochure that listed the hours of operation and the various recycling categories—tin cans; newspapers with inserts; clear, green, and brown glass; corrugated cardboard; brown paper bags; aluminum foil and trays, magazines and catalogs; and bulk waste such as shingles, brush, furniture, mattresses, and “demo wood.” I thought we’d have some of all of these and realized that being green in Maine looks like a full-time job.

As we walked to the car, I found the yellow facility sticker in the brochure and must admit hoped it would have a low number. Old habits die slowly. I noticed it did not have any number at all—not a high one, not a low one.

I showed this to Rona and she passed me a look that said, “I told you so.” But, she noticed, there were no instructions about where to affix it to one’s car. “Go back and ask them. I’ll begin to unload the trunk.”

I walked back to my new friend and asked where they required us to attach it.

“Oh, I forgot o tell you about that. Just put it in your glove compartment.”

“In the compartment? Not on the bumper or window or anything?”

“You can do anything you want with it, but around here everyone puts it where I told you.”

When I rejoined Rona, with a combination of confusion and delight, I said, “We’re not in the Hamptons anymore.”

She just smiled.

Friday, June 04, 2010

June 4, 2010--Happiness

For years, for many years, I have claimed there are good things about getting older. But try as I might, I haven't yet come up with one example to support this view. There is the wisdom thing, but it for most of us a dubious hope and hardly compensates for my aching right shoulder, swelling waistline, and rising cholesterol numbers.

Now, thanks to a report in the New York Times (linked below) there is something to hope for. And it's an important one: according to a study of people of all ages, it appears that as one grows older one gets happier.

As evidence they cite a recent Gallup poll. All along I thought the Gallup folks were just about political polling. And from that miserable work what if anything qualifies them to tell us anything about happiness? But desperate as I am for any rationalization to make me feel better about my own aging, I plunged right into the story.

Gallup didn't just call a few folks to ask them about their state of being. They phoned 340,000--many more than they do when trying to figure out how Obama is doing. About that they don't need to call anyone. They spoke with people from 18 to 85 years of age and, true, they asked them about things only marginally associated with happiness--current events, personal finance, health, and age and sex. This was a one-size-fits-all kind of survey.

If you are thinking what I think you are thinking, no, it's not that sex gets better as old age approaches. First of all, in addition to the unmentionable things, at some point there are only women around. Have you ever visited a senior citizens residence? There are two men there for every 50 women. They of course are very popular, but maybe women without men are the source of the happiness gap Gallup is reporting.

Actually, not. It seems that other forces are at work

They asked those polled a series of specific questions about what might be thought of the happiness quotient: "Did you experience the following feelings during a large part of yesterday--enjoyment, happiness, stress, worry, anger, sadness?" Yes or no is all they wanted to know. They didn't want their phoners on the line for hours with each person telling them about the details of their stress or sadness much less their aches and pains. That would be too stressful and sad for those asking the questions and would cost Gallup a fortune in overtime.

But they also asked a "global well-being" question--"On a scale of 1-to-10, rank your overall satisfaction with life."

Here's where things get interesting.

It seems getting to 50 is a big problem. In the trajectory of a life there is a kind of upside-down bell curve phenomenon to look forward to.

People start out at 18 feeling pretty good about themselves and their lives. No surprise. But they subsequently appear to feel worse and worse until they hit 50. Also not much of a surprise. Then, big surprise, after 50 the curve reverses with people getting happier and happier. Incredibly, by the time they reach 85 they feel even better about themselves than when they were 18!

It must be a flaw in the methodology. Or all the meds.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

June 3, 2010--The De-Merritt Parkway

This is my third or fourth anecdotal report from the road about how the nearly $1.0 trillion dollar federal stimulus program is faring. At least in regard to highway projects along the routes we have been plying from New York to Florida and just yesterday New York to Mid-Coast Maine.

Rather than race up one of the newer interstates that cuts diagonally across Connecticut, I-84 for example, we decided to take things more leisurely and drift up the scenic Merritt Parkway. Opened in 1938, the Merritt is a limited-access road that traverses affluent Fairfield County. It is famous for its scenic layout, its uniquely styled signage, and the architecturally elaborate overpasses along the route--no two are the same. And it is so noteworthy that it is designated a National Scenic Byway and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Not a bad choice of roads to begin our summer in beautiful settings.

But before we reached even Greenwich, those familiar orange highway cones appeared and directed us into one lane and a long snaking column of traffic.

"Ugh," I said. "I told you we should have taken I-84. This will turn our six hour trip into a nightmare."

"Relax," Rona said. "Let's see what happens. And for record, you were the one to choose this route."

Of course, she was right. From childhood on the Merritt Parkway has been one of my favorite roads and taking it seemed like a nice nostalgic idea.

"And look," she said, pointing to a sign announcing the up-coming roadwork, "Another one of your favorite things."

"What? What are you referring to?" I had to keep my eye on the road since traffic was stop and go and the lane we were now confined to was very narrow.

"Your stimulus money at work. Just up ahead. That's what the sigh we passed said. While you creep along you can count how many men are working and report about it tomorrow in your blog. No?"

"Well, yes I could do that. Help me out, will you, on a twisty road like this I don't want to do too much looking around."

Just as I was saying that another sign came into view. This one I was able to read. It said something like:

This Highway Project Is Being Financed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

"The 'Recovery and Reinvestment Act'? I thought it was the Stimulus Act. You know," I said, "to stimulate the creation of jobs."

"Yes, but there's also a lot of money tucked in it to invest in education reform, clean energy, and things of that sort. Obama and the Democrats put hundreds of billions into the bill for that and other things that they realized they would never get Republicans to support. But enough about the politics, let's start counting how many are being put to work as part of the recovery effort.

Not too many we quickly noticed. Yes, there was lots of equipment scattered along both sides of the parkway but only a few highway workers were visible. It was about 10;30 in the morning and not yet lunch time. So that wouldn't explain why there were so few to be seen.

Rona said, "At least it's good to see so much heavy equipment. I noticed that most of it was manufactured by Caterpillar. In America, I presume." I nodded.

"But wait. Don't look. Keep your eyes on the road. But on the other side there are about half a dozen men working." She was clearly excited.

"Doing what?" I asked, keeping my eyes riveted to the car just ahead which was bumping along in fit and starts.

"I can't see yet. But there's a backhoe in operation. But it's not a Caterpillar. It's a . . . I can't quite make it out. Oh, I see now, it's a, what, Wuhan? What's a Wuhan?"

"I think they're made in China," I said with a sigh. "I believe they're supposed to be the best backhoes in the world." I shrugged my shoulders in resignation. "What are you going to do? At least there appear to be some men working. Let's hope they're Americans."

"That's pretty nasty," Rona shot back. The traffic and lack of evidence about major construction was making us both testy.

"What are they doing? The men. I mean. Can you see?" We were creeping closer to where the work was underway.

"Can you believe it," Rona spat. "I think they're working on a highway beautification project. One of those kinds of things Lady Bird Johnson used to advocate. Remember her?"

I nodded and took a quick glance across the road. And Rona was right--they were planting bushes. "This is real work," I said, trying to rationalize, "the Merritt Parkway is a National Scenic Byway, isn't it?"

Ignoring me, Rona said, "They're laying off teachers in Connecticut and they're planting fucking rhododendrons?" She glared at me as if it was my fault.

"What do you want from me? You're right. I agree with you. But what can we do?"

"Maybe join the Tea Party," she shot back.