Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31, 2012--The Neurology of Ideology

Everyone down here is obsessed with the presidential election.

This is understandable. Back in 2000, Tim Russert, covering the national election, famously and presciently said it would all come down to "Florida, Florida, Florida." He was right and thanks to hanging chads and the Supreme Court George W, Bush was ruled to be president and the rest is history.

Today voting in the Republican primary is underway and it is expected that the ultimate nominee will be the winner here in Florida, Florida, Florida. (A hint--it will be Mitt Romney.)

Yesterday, over coffee at the Green Owl, one of the regulars, who up to that point we had not more than nodded hello to, found himself on the stool to Rona's left and took the opportunity to introduce himself and then proceeded, after saying he did not want to talk politics, to keep us engaged in a civil but disputatious conversation about why, though he does not like any of the GOP candidates, he will vote for the eventual nominee since he wants in the White House "anyone but Obama."

This for the usual reasons--he does not want a socialist as president; he is worried about the deficit and "all Obama wants to do is spend, spend, and spend"; but above all he sees the need to outlaw all unions--"We needed them in the past when there were factories and sweatshops, but now these no longer exist and the unions are there only to protect incompetent members, especially the teachers unions and, here in Delray, the firemen."

"The firemen?" Rona asked, sounding surprised, "What's the story with them? I thought there were no municipal worker unions in Florida."

"I'm not sure about the union issue," our new friend said, "but one thing I am certain about is that the average fireman here earns $90,000 a year. Plus benefits, and they can retire on full salary after only 20 years."

"This is hard to believe," I said, "I'll have to do some fact checking when we get home," thinking why don't I have an iPhone so I can check out these sorts of things right on the spot.

Later that morning I did the research and found that the average salary for a Delray firefighter is actually $50,000, "lead" firefighters get $53,000, and the captain earns "only" $68,000.

When I mentioned this to Rona, she said, "I can't wait to see him again to hear what he has to say about this."

"Also," I added, retired firemen need to have worked 25 years, not 20, to collect a full pension."

"I wonder," Rona said, "why we are in general and so frequently finding that most of what people claim to be true when attacking Obama and Democrats is so often not based on facts. Actually, made up."

"I have been reading," I said, "about how some of this may be hardwired. That one's ideology may be neurologically influenced."

"That sounds interesting."

"It may be that Republicans and Democrats, really liberals and conservatives, are neurologically different."

"Tell me more."

With an invitation to pontificate, I of course couldn't resist.

I told Rona about research by cognitive scientists at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. They have found that a person’s politics are heavily determined by the physiological responses to primal feelings such as revulsion, fear, and confusion. Their studies suggest that people’s physiological predispositions help to shape their political orientation.

With our current divisive political atmosphere, the neurophysiology of conservatives and liberals, an outgrowth of the study of the biology of morality, has become a hot topic in the field of cognitive research. Ultimately those who identify themselves as conservative have a deeper and faster “disgust” reflex, a physiological reaction to images and ideas they find revolting.

Neurologists focus on feelings of disgust because, as it’s such a fundamental sensation, an emotional building block so basic that feelings of moral repugnance originate in neurobiological processes shared, among other things, with repugnance for rotten food. In the UN study this was measured through the viewing of photos of a man eating earthworms. Conservatives had a faster and stronger reaction to the photos than liberals.

The broader findings of similar studies equate this with a difference in cognitive flexibility. According to the broad consensus of data, conservatives tend to have greater level of discomfort with ambiguity and respond more quickly to feelings of fear and disgust. Those identifying liberal tend to have greater comfort with ambiguity and are less emotionally reactive to stimuli.

It is important to note that there are no judgements of intelligence, creativity, or any other inherent characteristics about either political ideology. Instead, it is simply a sensitivity to stimuli that is more active (or reactive) to unpleasant or undesired information.

To illustrate, below is a taste of ideological neurology in vivid action. From this past weekend here is something from Republican Congressman Allen West, who happens to represent Delray Beach.

He ranted:

We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, (audience boos) and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain't on the table," West said. "Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.

Talk about repugnance.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30, 2012--Among Newt's People

From the haircuts and hairdos, you would have thought it was 1950 again. And I am not talking about Newt's or Calista's. Rather the many among the enthusiastic audience of 700 Boca and Delray Republican Jews. Lots of close-cropped sideburns and teased up helmet-dos. Not my crowd, but we there on reconnaissance and so attempted to be inconspicuous.

Rona whispered to me, "I knew I should have used some spray on this." She tossed her loose, totally-natural, shoulder-length hair. I had less to do to disguise myself--I have very little left on top.

"I'm so excited," said the sun-seared, leather-faced woman seated to my left. "I was for Donald Trump and then Herman Cain until they dropped out." I nodded as uncommittedly as I could make myself appear to be. "But now I'm for Newt."

"Really? Why's that? I would think that since Trump and Cain are businessmen you might now be for Romney."

"That's a good point," she acknowledged and, leaning closer to me as if not to be overheard, added, "He's so boring. Just think how much fun it would be if Trump became president. He's still my favorite. And he would have no trouble telling it like it is. I like that. And Newt does that too. So that's why I'm for him."

"I understand the fun part, but what about his ideas? Do you like those too?"

"He'll balance the budget. Didn't he do that when he was Speaker?"

"And when Clinton was president. But how specifically would he do that? Balance the budget?"

"By cutting Medicare. That's what needs to be done."

"I'm not sure that I'd like that," I said, "Now that I'm old enough to be on Medicare. How will you feel about it when you're 65 and it's already been cut?"

"Thank you for flattering me," she was smiling broadly, "But I've already been on Medicare for nine years."

"And what do you think about it?"

"I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Medicare. I had a mastectomy seven years ago."

"So what would happen to a woman who's now 60 and 10 years from now has breast cancer?"

Ignoring that, she said, "All I know is that I paid for it and don't want mine cut."

"But whose then would get cut?" Rona jumped in to ask.

My seat mate looked directly at her and pointing said, "Yours." Talk about telling like it is.

"But I paid for it too," Rona said, no longer clinging to uncommittedness. "I don't know what you did for a living and how much you paid into the system, but it could very well be that I've paid more for Medicare than you."

After a moment of no response, changing the subject, she said, "Newt will make sure Obama doesn't make America socialist."

"I'm not exactly sure what Gingrich means by that," Rona said. "If Obama wanted to bring socialism to America he had his chance to nationalize the banks and the auto industry rather than just extending loans to them and then giving up control of them as they began to pay them back. And with interest."

"What about Obamacare? Isn't that socialized medicine?"

"Not really," I said, "The expanded coverage is provided by private insurance companies, not by the government."

"And," Rona couldn't resist noting, "Medicare, which you said saved your life, is in fact socialized medicine. It is provided exclusively by the federal government."

Almost as a non sequitur, not wanting to deal with that, she said, "Well, I still hope Trump decides to reenter the race. He would be better than Newt."

By then Newt and Calista had arrived, only a half hour late. Knowing his audience he began by saying, to loud cheers, that he made an effort to be on time since he knew many in the audience had to be home before sundown to begin observing the Sabbath.

Most of his remarks were about Israel and how Obama has driven a wedge in the relationship between the United States and Israel, our only friend, he repeatedly said, in the Middle East. His second biggest applause line was his pledge, as soon as he finishes delivering his Inaugural Address next january, to sign the required papers to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Topping that red-meat line, he then received a standing ovation when he spoke about how he would make certain that Iran never builds an atomic bomb because if they do the ayatollahs, he said with certainty, will bring about another "Holocaust" by detonating three within Israel's borders.

With cheers still filling the room he checked his watch and said he and Calista had better leave so that those in the room could get home before Shabbos. That elicited a full-throated chorus of "Newt, Newt, Newt."

After they slipped out, I sidled up to a glammed-up 80-something woman who was being interviewed by a reporter from the Guardian. She was clearly agitated, waving her arms so excitedly that the overhead lights ignited her diamond bracelets. I needed to relocate myself so as not to be blinded by the glinting.

"Sixteen trillion in debt," she bellowed to the harried reporter who could barely take notes fast enough. "What are we going to do about this? Nothing, if Obama is reelected. All he wants to do is spend, spend, spend. I wish Morris was still alive. He'd tell him a thing or two. He should get rid of the Education Department. That's what he should do. You know how much that would save?"

"How much is that?" the reporter asked, not looking up.

"Enough to end the deficit. Of course he'd also have to eliminate the environmental department, or whatever it's called."

"Environmental Protection Agency," I heard Rona say sotto voce. She as I was still finding it difficult to remain quiet.

"That too," the Boca woman snapped.

"What about Medicare?" the reporter wondered, "Isn't that the biggest budget problem? Long term?"

"It's not the problem," she said with certainty. "Morris was a CPA and before the Parkinson's took him he looked at the figures and was positive that Medicare was not the problem. There's enough for that. It's these other things that are bankrupting us."

"I'm not sure he was right about that," I said. The reporter winked at me, welcoming my participation. "Pretty much everyone agrees with that. The disagreement is what to do about it. No?"

"No is right. How I wish Morris was here. He was such a mensch. He could explain everything. Like with foreign aid. He always said, they also need to get rid of that."

"How much would that be?" the intrepid reporter pressed. "How much would it save and how much would it contribute to cutting the deficit."

"Billions," she said.

"But you began by saying the deficit is $16 trillion. How would cutting a few billion--real money I'll grant you--eliminate the budget?"

"Not eliminate it; but if you do all the things I mentioned, it would."

"Eliminate all of it? Even without touching Medicare?"

"Yes. As I told you," her voice rising, "keep your hands off my Medicare. We seniors paid for it and have the right to get what we paid for. If you're in a store and pay for something they wrap it up and you take it home. It's yours. They don't put it back on the shelf." She smiled at her analogy.

"I think," I said, "If you add up all the budget cuts you mentioned they would represent less than one percent of the accumulated deficit. I agree, we have to be serious about cutting it, but not by just elimination the Department of Education. Assuming that's g good idea." She turned to scowl at me. "This is something I know about. They have 5,000 employees, not hundreds of thousands. Even if all were to be let go, it would only . . ."

". . . cut the deficit. Along with everything else. As I said, especially that aid to countries that hate us. We should give billions to Egypt? Now that the Muslims have taken over?"

"We do give them military aid," I said. Furiously the reporter continued to take notes. "But less than two billion a year. Not that much in the big picture. But since you mentioned foreign aid and the Middle East, what about the billions we give each year to israel?"

"That's different," she said, turning back to the reporter.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because it's Israel. That's why. I'm surprised at you," she scolded, turning one last time to face me, "You look like a nice boy. You should know better."

And with that, she wheeled about and stomped toward the door.

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27, 2012--Jews for Newt

To attend Newt Gingrich's appearance this afternoon at a rally in Delray Beach sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, to reserve a place, I had to become a member.

I told them I'm a registered Independent and they said that's OK. All I needed to do was agree to allow them to add me to their e-mail mailing list. No fees were required to become a member and I do not have to make a contribution to the Gingrich campaign. So I joined and made a reservation for Rona and me.

If Gingrich welcomes questions from the audience I have one for him that should be of interest to my fellow Jews--

"Mr. Former Speaker, since you are an historian and scholar I have a theological question for you. I am curious to know your views about the role assigned to the Jews to help bring about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ."

I suspect he will look at me skeptically and so I plan to add--

"I assume you know that tens of millions of American Christian Fundamentalists expect events leading up to the Final Days to begin during their lifetimes. The so-called premillennialist or Rapture people. As the author of 23 books I am sure you know about the Left Behind series of novels that describe all of this and are so popular that they've sold more than 70 million copies."

If Gingrich hasn't by then cut me off, wondering why the RJC let me into the auditorium, I will continue--

"Pre-millennialist thought says that before events leading to the Second Coming can commence all the Jews of the world must return to Israel and convert to Christianity."

I suspect that many in the Republican Jewish Coalition audience will begin to get restive.

"According to these Fundamentalists the Jews will then need to be in the vanguard to convince everyone else to turn to Jesus. And any who do not, including all non-converted Jews, will be condemned to eternal damnation when the Last Judgement occurs. That's what the organization Jews for jesus is about. If you believe this--and I hope you will disavow this extra-biblical teaching--isn't this subordinate role for Jews an indication that ultimately Judaism is an incomplete or false religion?"

I plan to get there early and secure an aisle seat close to where they hopefully will set up a microphone. In any case, on Monday, if I am able to pose my question, I will report back on the rally and what Gingrich says in response.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 26, 2012--Banks Feeling the Pain

Mitt Romney, who famously declared corporations to be people, stepped in it again yesterday while campaigning in Lehigh Acres, Florida.

According to the Associated Press--

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came to ground zero of the housing crisis Tuesday to assail rival Newt Gingrich over his ties to the government-backed mortgage companies that helped make it worse, a message Romney has been pushing since he landed in the state. But that meant he also had to talk about banks - and he continued what's become a habit of comparing companies to people.

Romney was standing outside a Fannie Mae-foreclosed home in a struggling neighborhood telling a small crowd why they're having so much trouble. "In this case, it's because of the banks," he explained. "Well, the banks aren't bad people. They're just overwhelmed right now. . . . The banks are scared to death, of course," he said. "They're feeling the same thing that you're feeling."

The banks are feeling the same thing people are feeling who are facing foreclosure? If this represents his new strategy of demonstrating that he feels American's pain, this is a strange place to begin--showing empathy for Bank of America.

He is managing to do the impossible--make Newt Gingrich seem compassionate.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25, 2012--Obama the Class Warrior

I have a good friend here who continues to condemn Barack Obama as a class warrior. This in spite of the evidence that he led the fight to save the American auto industry and our major financial institutions and did so in a way to make money for taxpayers (collecting interest on the loans we made to these companies) and by relinquishing government control of them as soon as our loans were repaid.

No real socialist or class warrior would have done either of these things--it would have been the opportunity of his ideological lifetime to nationalize these industries.

Now there is more evidence that Obama is a friend of capitalism.

While he continues to be excoriated for having forced "Obamacare" down our unwilling throats, the claim that it is socialized medicine by those who have no idea what the Affordable Health Care Act actually includes and requires is, in the face of the facts, false.

Buried in the news last week while we were attempting to figure out the political consequences of Newt Gingrich's serial relationships and desire for an open marriage (no consequences), UnitedHealth, the nation's largest provider of private heath care insurance announced record profits.

Compared with 2010, net income for 2011 rose by 21 percent to $1.26 billion as compared with $1.04 billion the year before.

This amounts to earnings of $1.17 a share with the company projecting that 2013 will be even better. Much better--its stock is projected to soar to $4.75 a share.

When asked to explain all the corporate good news, according to Bloomberg, UnitedHealth has had an uninterrupted string of increasing profits beginning the first full year after President Obama signed the health care overhaul. They saw dramatic increases in the number of individuals and businesses buying insurance from them and, again thanks to the new law, significant savings in medical costs.

This is not my favorite way to expand health care services (I still would prefer the single-payer, Medicare model), but Obamacare ain't socialized medicine and is turning out to be hugely profitable for the private insurers.

Also lost in the shuffle of Newt news were the reports about increases in U.S. exports.

Two years ago when in his State of the Union address Barack Obama declared that it was his intention to spur American exports--doubling them in five years--even as they applauded his aspiration, economists and trade experts were skeptical. For example, at the time, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Affairs, said, "How will he perform this? It really is a mystery."

There is in fact no mystery nor sleight of hand. Almost half way into that five-year effort, the export numbers show that we are on track to reach Obama's ambitious goal. His administration's practices have also pressured China to increase the value of its currency (you can ignore the Republican candidates' demagoging this issue) and open its markets to American businesses (ditto). And it has worked successfully with American companies looking to sell good and services throughout the world.

None of these numbers lie. Too bad we cannot say the same for the hyper-partisan critics.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24, 2012--Food-Stamp Candidate

Newt Gingrich has taken to calling Barack Obama the "food-stamp president." He claims that Obama "put" more people on food stamps than any other president in history.

Before taking a look at the accuracy of this assertion (hint--be skeptical), let's be clear about what this label is really meant to evoke.

Associating Obama with food stamps is not unlike the political ads from back in the 1960s in which it was claimed that there were "welfare queens" ripping off the system. To be more specific, and to the real point, they were represented to be black women because in the TV ads that applied this slur all the "queens" pulling up to welfare offices in Cadillacs were black.

Newt Gingrich the self-praised historian is well aware of this and by resurrecting the charge and applying it to our first African-American president is his slimy way of not-so-subtly appealing to lingering racist feelings among his party's frustrated and angry political base. He is speaking in familiar code and the message couldn't be clearer.

From data gathered by the Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for the food stamps program, here are the facts:

Gingrich would have been correct to say that the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it is also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office.

But Gingrich goes too far when he says Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service month-by-month figures going back to January 2001 show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.

And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.

It is possible that when the figures for January 2012 are available they will show that the gain under Obama has matched or exceeded the gain under Bush. But not if the short-term trend continues. The number getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October. And the economy has improved since then.

So Newt is wrong in his assertion that Obama put more Americans on food stamps than any president in history. So much for Newt the historian.

What about the dog-whistle or coded part of his allegation? That the program serves unemployed, free-loading black folks?

The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the food stamps program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:

--47 percent of beneficiaries were children under age 18.

--8 percent were 60 or older.

--41 percent lived in a household with earnings from a job--the so-called “working poor.”

--The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.

--36 percent were white (non-Hispanic), 22 percent were African American (non-Hispanic), and 10 percent were Hispanic.

So much for Newt the racist.

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23, 2012--The Spanish Way

This from the travel section of Sunday's New York Times got me remembering whist-fully many good times in Spain. They may be going broke faster than we are, but they sure know what's important and thus how to live:

So you’ve skied the chutes of Jackson Hole and you’ve risen at dawn to porpoise through the powder from a helicopter. But are you ready for your greatest challenge--learning to throttle back and enjoy skiing the Spanish way? Then stop counting the day’s vertical feet and follow this itinerary.

6:30 a.m. Wake up.

Remember that you’re in Spain. Go back to bed. You’ll still get first tracks. Trust us.

9 a.m. Wake up.

Continue to fight the urge to buckle your boots and run out the door. Proceed to a civilized breakfast of meats and cheeses.

10:30 a.m. Hit the slopes.

Start easy. No need to be a hard-charging American here. After all, no one else is hustling.

11 a.m. Coffee break.

What’s that? You just had coffee? No importa. Order a cortado (espresso with a little warm milk). Or better yet, a warming nip of the local liqueur. Park in a deck chair on the sundeck. Sip. Relax.

1:30 p.m. Lunch.

You may see foil-wrapped burgers languishing under heat lamps. Resist this Yankee temptation. You are not a teenager. And besides, you’ve thought ahead and made a reservation at an on-mountain restaurant. Now, sit. Pop off those boots. Don’t worry, the slopes aren’t going anywhere. Red or white?

3 p.m. Skiing, Part II.

You may be full and lethargic, but take a few languid groomers just for show, before pointing ’em back to your hotel. You realize that you haven’t skied much today. You also realize that you no longer care.

4 p.m. Siesta.

6 p.m. Tapas

Just a few small plates. After all, you’ve got dinner in a few hours.

7:30 p.m. Spa.

A little kneading before the bread.

10 p.m. Dinner.

In the mountains, expect something meaty and hearty. Expect wine. Expect to take your time.

Midnight. Lights out.

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 20, 2012--Occupy Delray Beach

We were hanging out at the counter in the Owl nursing our third cups of coffee when Ted burst in. It was obvious that he was more agitated than usual.

"Did you see this?" he asked, skipping "Hello," waving what looked like the Wall Street Journal.

"Come join us, Ted," Rona said, patting the empty stool next to her. "Sit here with us. You need to calm down. Aren't you on all sorts of meds?"

"I'm calm. I'm calm," he said not very convincingly. "But this is making me crazy." He punched the newspaper her was holding.

"What's that?" Rona asked, placing her arm around him as he slid in next to her.

"Actually, it's from the Guardian." I get that as well as the Journal. They have a good business section and as you know I have quite a few international investments."

Indeed he does. Mainly stocks in South African gold mining companies and hundreds of gold coins. He is devoted to the apocalyptic idea that the global economy is about to implode and the only things that will be worth anything will be his gold bullion and the hundreds of pounds of dried beans he has stashed in his second bedroom. These beans, he says, will become his full time diet once everything "goes to hell in a hand basket."

He sees this cataclysm to be imminent, especially if Barack Obama is reelected. He doesn't have a favorite alternative candidate but one thing he is sure about is that Obama is a "total disaster."

There has been no talking with him about this nor have I been able to get him to see that blame for our economic conditions is widespread. Even though he is someone who follows the stock market closely, and through the years has been taken advantage of by a series of brokers, I have been unsuccessful in getting him to acknowledge that most of the large financial institutions have contributed to the mess at least as much as government, as he would put it, "interfering with the free market."

And so he waits for the beginning of the end with sacks of gold coins, investments in his mines, and a room full of pinto beans and bottled water.

"Read this," he stammered, passing the Guardian business section to Rona.

She squinted at it and read out loud:

Goldman Sachs Sets Aside $12bn to Pay Staff in 2011

The Wall Street investment bank reported full year revenue of $28.8bn--down 26%--while earnings almost halved to $4.4bn

The investment bank's staff will get on average payout of $367,000 including bonuses and benefits.

Goldman Sachs set aside $12.2bn (£8bn) to pay its staff in 2011--an average of $367,000 each--sparking criticism that the Wall Street firm was living in a "parallel universe."

"To tell you the truth," I said with a sense of triumph, "This is what I've been trying to tell you for years. How places like Goldman have been raking in billions while living as if the party is still going on and the rest of us pay the price for their greed and corruption."

Rona jumped in to add, "But at least they're cutting back on the bonuses they plan to give employees. I recall that the year before the average payout was about half-a-million. Though $367K sounds pretty good to me."

"It sounds too good to me," Ted shot back.

"What?" I said, quite surprised. "Don't you believe in capitalism? Isn't this just another example of the free market?"

"I'm starting to get sick of it. Maybe I'm beginning to see things your way. Not everything," he winked, having calmed down somewhat, "but a few things. I'm not ready to move into a tent on Wall Street, but this business about Mitt Romney's money and this Goldman Sachs story has me good and ticked off."

Rona nodded and kept rubbing his back. "I'm an old fashioned kind of guy. I believe that you should do something productive to be entitled to make the big bucks. What these guys at Goldman did to earn their $367 thousand per is not productive. They're just a bunch of money manipulators. And the way Romney made his money at Bain and put half of it in the Cayman Islands, as they're beginning to say on TV, is not my idea of the way American should be."

"So what do you think should be done about it?" I asked.

"To tell you the truth I don't know." He took another sip of his iced tea and looked out toward Atlantic Avenue. His voice softened, "I don't know. I really don't"

"Maybe you should . . ."

He cut me off before I could complete my thought. "Don't even try to get me to think about your boy, Obama. Sorry about the 'boy.' It was just an expression." I smiled back at him. "I don't go for what Gingrich said the other day about him being a 'food-stamp president.' That's code. Especially in South Carolina and even here in some parts of Florida. But I don't have a boy of my own to get behind. We have some mess on our hands."

"Indeed we do," Rona said.

"Maybe I should get a tent," Ted said, "and consider . . ." He trailed off.

"And a Coleman stove," I suggested. "To live in, I mean, when everything crashes. You already have the water and beans."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19, 2012--Day Off

I will return tomorrow with "Occupy Delray Beach."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 18, 2012--NumbersUSA

"I think I just had a hallucination." It was about midnight and Rona was having trouble falling asleep, so she was watching TV with the sound turned down.

I stirred. "Sorry to wake you. I thought I was talking to myself."

"That's OK," I yawned, "What's going on?"

"I just saw a commercial--at least I think I did--for an anti-immigration organization."

"What's so unusual or hallucinatory about that? There are lots of these kinds of groups out there. Historically, whenever times are hard, nativist Americans want to close our borders."

"One thing that's not a hallucination is that even when I inadvertently wake you in the middle of the night you're not too tired to deliver a lecture about American history."

"Well, you brought up the subject and all I did was . . ."

"Sorry. I don't mean to get on your case. But that commercial was very disturbing. Maybe they'll show it again so you can see it."

"Maybe we just turn off the TV so we both can get some sleep. I'm sure you'll be able to find it on the Internet tomorrow morning. I mean," checking the clock, "later this morning."

We both did manage to get some shuteye and first thing after breakfast Rona found the ad she had seen. From a group called NumbersUSA.

What is unusual about them is that they are not just against illegal immigrants, but immigrants in general. All of them. Legal as well.

They claim not to be anti-immigrant just that they want to so dramatically reduce the number of legal immigrants as to be in effect anti-immigrant.

From their Website, here's what they see to be the problem--

The 1990s saw the biggest population boom in U.S. history. This is truly astounding news coming three decades after widespread agreement among Americans that the country was mature and probably already overpopulated. No wonder Americans became increasingly alarmed at their deteriorating quality of life due to sprawl, congestion, overcrowded schools, lost open spaces and increasing restrictions on their individual liberty caused by the new population explosion!

And here's their version of the solution--

Contact your senators and representatives and urge them to vote for bills which would help stabilize the United States’s population numbers, and to vote against bills that would worsen the problem. Use NumbersUSA.com to send e-faxes to your congressmen for free, to stay informed on all the latest immigration bills in congress, and to find the latest news on the effort to reduce immigration numbers to a traditional level.

My research about NumbersUSA suggests that their view as to what constitutes a "traditional level" is basically to turn off the legal-immigrant spigot and restrict those very reduced numbers allowed to come to the Land of Opportunity mainly to Europeans.

The money behind the organization comes from John Tanton who is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center--

NumbersUSA [is] part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the “puppeteer” of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots. . . . Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has met with leading white supremacists, promoted anti-Semitic ideas, and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a “neo-Nazi organization.” He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were outbreeding whites. At one point, he wrote candidly that to maintain American culture, “a European-American majority” is required.

No mention in any of this is the clear evidence that up to half the new jobs created in America during the last decade is the result of immigrant entrepreneurs forming businesses.

It is sad that in our current political environment this cannot even be mentioned. We instead "debate" the role of private equity capitalists--such as those at Bain Capital--and the wealthiest one percent in creating jobs when in truth it is more these new Americans who are the real job creators. And most of them are not from Europe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January 17, 2012--Kim Jong-rand

While reading about how the North Koreans will soon be moving their recently-deceased supreme leader Kim Jong-il into the same mausoleum that features his predecessor-father, Kim Il-sung, on permanent display, and how the North Koreans have reached out to the caretakers of Lenin's body (on permanent display in Moscow) to make sure they have the embalming and preserving just right, just as I was thinking about whether or not there is room for Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's son and Kim Il-sung's grandson, while worrying about this and trying to keep all the Kim names straight, I somehow found myself thinking about Ron and Rand Paul.

It was during last night's GOP debate less than a week before South Carolina's primary that the Kims or ils also came to mind.

While the pundits were weighing whether or not a clear non-Romney was finally emerging--did Rick Santorum seem credible enough especially now that the assembled Christian right endorsed him; did Gingrich manage to sufficiently wiggle out the shadows of his compromised political and personal past to propel him to first-runner-up status--while the Fox folks were struggling to figure out who to unequivocally get behind (I was taking perverse glee watching them do their own wiggling--how good is it when bottom-feeders such as Karl Rove and Dick Morris lose their smug sense of surety), all the while I couldn't take my eyes off Ron Paul.

At nearly 100 (I just made that up) there he was still on his tired feet after what seemed like an endless two hours. If they had pulled the plug--on the debate I mean, not old Ron--after the first half hour we'd be getting ready for President Rick or President Newt. They had by then so chewed up Mitt as if he was a delicious appetizer, that they had him stammering his way through a tortured justification of his "vulture capitalist" years at Bain Capital. I was almost feeling sorry for him but stopped myself when i remembered that if all else fails he still has his quarter billion to fall back on. More than enough to keep him and his family of thousands supplied forever with hair gel and teeth whitener.

What was old Ron up to, I asked myself. He hardly makes sense any more (being ancient will do that to you) and wasn't it cruel for the questioners to keep pressing him about what he really meant it when he said it was uncontitutional for the United States to enter a "sovereign nation," Pakistan, to "take out" Osama bin Laden.

I tried hard to listen to his uncomfortable rational and to understand his constitutional problem; and I did enjoy watching the packed Republican house rise to its collective feet to give Newt a standing-O when he fed them the red meat they so crave--quoting Andrew Jackson (Newt is an historian after all) about the only way to deal with enemies is to "kill them"--the thrill of killing bad guys will do that to real Americans, especially on MLK Day--but try as I did, I continued not to be able to figure out Ron Paul's appeal to young people (I know they like his anti-war, isolationist stance and he can be adorable--just like gramps) much less being attractive to anyone with a genuine understanding of the Constitution or interested in anything later than 18th century economics.

Then it all became clear to me--including why Mitt Romney does not have to worry about Ron Paul running as a third party candidate and will not have to promise to make him Treasury Secretary or head of the Fed to get him not to do so.

Like the Kims, the Rands are thinking about inter-generational succession and, eventually, mausoleums. The only question will be where to locate theirs--in Ron's Texas or Rand's Kentucky?

If Ron goes fully off the reservation that will leave young Rand with no role to play in the Republican Party; and with no role there, who will put him on TV? Four years from now when Chris Christie and Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio are fighting with each other for the 2016 nomination, Rand will be relegated to the sidelines, curled up with his battered copy of Atlas Shrugged.

True, we do have the Bushes (Jeb hovering out there with 2016 on his mind), and we did have the Kennedy Camelot years, but they are not imperial minded--no Lenin-like embalming in their future--and they're not nearly as much fun as the Pauls. In fact, the Bushes are no fun at all. And to get us through the rest of this century we do need as much fun as possible.

So, Ron, don't turn into Ralph Nader; and, please Rand, hang in there. Four years from now is just around the corner and the campaign for 2016 begins in just a few months.

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16, 2012--Tebow Ecclesiastes

Thankfully, Tebowmania is over. At least until next football season. This thanks to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who trounced the Denver Broncos Saturday night 45 to 10, we now know the difference between a real quarterback (Brady) and an impostor (Tebow).

But why did last weekend's and this weekend's Bronco games garner the largest TV audiences since the last Super Bowl? More than 30 million of us tuned in. Not because Tim Tebow is a Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback but because he is a second-rate quarterback and winning games, often against great odds while playing his best at the most opportune times.

For a large segment of the population (43 percent according to a recent poll), Tebow’s success is proof that God intervenes in human history, even in football games.

For these people of faith, particularly evangelical Christians, it is completely reasonable that God would intervene on Tebow’s behalf. Doesn’t God reward faith? Lord knows Tebow has faith. Why wouldn’t God make Tebow successful in order to demonstrate that faith matters, and that something positive can come from it? Why wouldn’t God allow Tebow to throw for exactly 316 yards, for a 31.6 yard passing average, with a 31.6 television rating at the end of the game, a game where Tebow had John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.") written under his eyes?

Many people of faith believe they see God’s intervening work in the world every day. They watch Tebow because they know a miracle when they see it, and with him, this year they’ve seen it a lot.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who question God's existence or, minimally, that He cares about the outcome of football games. These agnostics and atheists watch because they want to see Tebow fail, and with it the faith that God actively and routinely intercedes in human affairs. These people aren’t just rooting against Tebow, they’re rooting against what they perceive to be ignorance and superstition.

And between these two eschatological extremes are those who do not know if God is helping Tebow, but want to believe He is.

In many ways this sums up the cultural situation in America, underscored currently by the ecclesiastically-charged political season where at times it seems that God Himself is on the ballot.

During the same weekend when the Tebow-inspired religious drama was literally being played out in Foxboro Stadium, conservative religious leaders were meeting in Texas to figure out who to support for the Republican nomination. Who to get behind in order to deny the Mormon Mitt Romney the designation he is rapidly winning.

With no Mike Huckabee or Jeb Bush to anoint, with a choice of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum, it was, even for the various reverends and "family-values" folks a no-brainer. The latter Rick was their choice.

Let's see if that enables him to finish higher than fourth in the upcoming South Carolina primary.

Perhaps now that Tim Tebow's season is over he's available to do some campaigning. I'm sure the faithful already have some explanation for why God did not intervene in the Broncos-Patriots game (there is the Book of Job to refer to), minimally to affect the point spread. I am at least as sure that Tim could turn out a crowd for Rick, the Republican version of a second-rate candidate awaiting and needing divine intervention. They could make quite a team.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13, 2012--Triskaidekaphile

Friday the 13ths are Rona's favorite days.

Yesterday, on the 12th, while walking along the beach, I thought--Wouldn't be nice for me to be able to calculate when Friday the 13ths will occur. That way I could tell her she had one to look forward to on ____ and then after that on ____ .

I realized this would be complicated. There are only twelve thirteens per year and 52 Fridays. Then there is the complication of the months being of different lengths; and, making matters worse. there are those darned Leap Years. How then to determine when Friday the 13ths will occur?

I'm not smart enough to figure this out on my own so I turned to the Internet.

Of the methods I found there, here's my favorite algorithm:

Assume year is known and is an integer.

Loop from 1 to 12

Create date with loop index, year and 13 for the day

Determine day of week as per established algorithms

If day of week calculated above is Friday, do your work

If you want to start with a month and year (you have to assume some sort of year), your algorithm becomes

Assume year is known and an integer

Assume month is known and is an integer


Create date with index of loop as year, known month variable, and 13 for the day

Determine day of week as per established algorithms

If day of week calculate above is Friday, return date, or else

Increment year by 1

Got it?

If like Rona you have Triskaidekaphile, to save you the effort, the next Friday the 13ths are set for April and June of this year and then September and December, 2013.

They are not that rare, but are something to look forward to.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 12, 2012--Mitt's New Best Friend

He is Ron Paul. That Hobbit candidate who came in second in New Hampshire with 23% of the vote. (Mitt got 39%; and poor Jon Huntsman received only 17%.)

Romney may not be be turning on the Republican base, but he has now won the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary. This is the first time in history that a non-incumbent candidate, a sitting president, won both contests.

One can discount this by saying that he is running in front of a mediocre field--how can we forget Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, and Herman Cain--but to so successfully parley his flip-flopped pretense of being a conservative with his Mormon religion with his cool personality into being just one primary away from, for all intents and purposes, wrapping up the nomination is nothing short of, well, brilliant.

According to Politics 101 the first thing to do is attempt to deine your opponents before they have a chance to define themselves. At this Romney has excelled. He not only has defined Barack Obama as a "European-style socialist," but characterized each of his GOP opponents as they one-by-one approached him in the polls. Look what he, sorry, his Super PAC group did to old Newt. It destroyed the soaring Gingrich candidacy by going negative, spending millions in Iowa to take him down. No matter that the content of the ads there were based on the truth--Newt has, to say the least, a checkered past.

So one after the other his challengers have fallen by the wayside. This would be impressive enough if Romney and his minions caused this to happen.

In fact, what he has succeeded in doing is even more effective and brilliant--he has attacked and eliminated threats selectively.

Which brings me to Ron Paul--the current number two.

Romney has been careful not to attack him or even challenge him and his crackpot ideas about the economy. Who better to have in second place soaking up 25 percent of the total Republican vote than someone, Paul, who has no chance whatsoever of being nominated? This is allowing Mitt to slip through to victories with only 30-40 percent of the vote.

This looks to me like 2000 all over again, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore because and only because Ralph Nader was running as a third party candidate. Nader absorbed enough otherwise Democrat votes in places such as Florida to give us Bush.

Of course, Obama and the Democrats are hoping that in November Paul will run as a third party candidate. They think it might tip enough votes away from Romney to reelect Obama. To preempt that possibility is another reason Romney is being so deferential to Paul. Even calling him "our constitutionalist" during last weekend's debate.

The real deal may be that if Paul doesn't run and Romney is elected president he'll make Ron Treasury Secretary so he can bring America back to the gold standard.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11, 2012--Sick Call

I have a head cold and am not up to doing any blogging. But I will return tomorrow to talk about "Mitt's New Best Friend."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January 10, 2012--Advanced Neurosurgical Care

A friend sent me an innocent-seeming email that linked to a recording of a phone call to The Mark Levin radio talk-show.

The note said--

"Steve, one of my doctor clients sent this to me over the weekend. Are you familiar with this provision this neurosurgeon is discussing here?"

Back in November a caller to The Mark Levin Show (who identified himself as a brain surgeon) claimed he had recently attended a meeting in Washington, D.C. where the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) presented its purported guidelines for treating neurological patients under various scenarios.

The caller made two disturbing points.

First, he noted that HHS used the term “units” when speaking about patients. He likened this description of humans as units to practice in Nazi Germany, thus comparing the Obama administration to the Nazis.

Second, he provided an example derived from the alleged HHS document that mandated that the standard “treatment” for a 70-year-old patient who arrives in an emergency room with a brain aneurysm is to be “comfort care,” unless more comprehensive care is authorized by a medical review board. Comfort care means keeping the units comfortable until they die, otherwise untreated. A version of Sarah Palin's infamous, and bogus, death panels.

The "doctor" noted that when he gets a call to treat a brain aneurysm in the middle of the night, he is not going to wait for a medical board from an insurance organization to review his decision; rather, he will defiantly and courageously do what is right to save a life—something that will no longer be the standard of care.

My friend is a busy person so I assume he did not have the two miniutes to spare that it took me to track down the truth. which is contained in a joint statement from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons:

Washington, DC--On November 22, 2011, an individual claiming to be a “brain surgeon” made several statements referencing neurosurgical care on a Mark Levin radio show segment. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) reviewed this segment and found that it contained several factual inaccuracies which we wish to clarify.

The AANS and CNS are unaware of any federal government document directing that advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70 years of age will not be indicated and only supportive care treatment will be provided. Furthermore, in conducting our own due diligence, the caller who identified himself as a brain surgeon is not actually a neurosurgeon, nor was there any session at the recent Congress of Neurological Surgeons’ scientific meeting in Washington, DC at which a purported government document calling for the rationing of neurosurgical care was discussed.

Neurosurgeons are committed to providing timely, compassionate, and state of the art treatment for all patients--regardless of age--who have neurosurgical conditions. As such, we have requested numerous times that this podcast be removed from Mark Levin’s website as it portrays inaccurate information which could potentially be harmful to the patients that we serve.

I of course urged my friend to pass this along to the other people to whom he circulated his initial email. I included a little lecture, which I hope he will also send out:

I am not familiar with this because it is totally untrue.

It is an example of why I urge you not to pass along bogus commentary. As you will see, it is total garbage. I suspect you are prone to pass this kind of thing along without researching its veracity because of your political views and distaste (mild word) for anything having to do with your president. You, and I and everyone else, need to put our ideology aside when attempting to have a meaningful discussion of any fraught issue.

You should pass my note along to all those to whom you circulated this scurrilous recording of a phone call to a ultra-right-wing radio show. I would expect nothing less of the host Mark Levin, but I expect a lot of you.

The good news--he assured me that I was the first person he sent this to since he knew I would check it out. I then asked him to at least send it along to his doctor client. He told me that he had already done that since he does not want this kind of slander to be in circulation.

That's why he is my friend.

But still--is this any way to engage in discourse in 2012?

Monday, January 09, 2012

January 9, 2012--God & Sex

When listening in on the Republican debate, sexual and marital issues continue to loom large. So it might be a good idea to go back to the ultimate source of their beliefs and policy positions--the Bible. Both the Old and New Testament.

In his book, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College and Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, Michael Coogan notes that in the Old Testament, a man's sexual history was never an issue (thus there was no such thing as a virginity requirement for men). The only religiously celibate Jews were the Essenes, but this was contrary to mainstream Judaism. Saint Peter was married; Saint Paul thought that Saint Joseph had fathered Jesus; "Joseph 'did not know' Mary 'until she has given birth to a son'" and she did not remain virgin, according to Saint Matthew.

Continuing in no pareicular order, here are a few more of Professor Coogan's biblical readings:

Prophets were both male and female but the priesthood and the rabbinate were for men only. The Bible states that men are superior to women, polygyny was frequent, and abortions were so rare--though they existed--that they were not a problem for the authors of the Bible. There was, though, a ritual meant for making unfaithful women abort.

Ishmael had probably sexually abused Isaac. The Bible does not state if Adam and Eve were married. And though there are Biblical laws regulating polygyny,"concubines," which were common among the Patriarchs, meant "secondary wife" as were multiple wives. Widows, rape victims, and divorced women were "used goods", thus unworthy of a priest. The Bible is inconsistent on divorce and "pervasively patriarchal."

Marriage meant transfer of property, but women were inferior to real estate; adultery was about property rights. In the Hebrew Bible there was no ban on men having sex with unmarried women (including prostitutes). In David's time Jerusalem had only a few thousand inhabitants and perhaps for that reason father-daughter incest was only a devaluation of a daughter's value. The Bible is inconsistent about brother-sister incest. Sodom's sin was being unhospitable to strangers. Saint Jude does not say that Sodom's sin was homosexuality. "Sacred prostitution" nowhere and "never took place" there.

The Old Testament does not say anything about lesbianism, but Saint Paul thought that God made homosexuals. Having sex with prostitutes was seen as a way of losing money and Saint Paul opposed the use of prostitutes, but "Judah's use of a prostitute was normal and acceptable," This also applies to Samson.

Mary Magdalene wasn't a prostitute. God has reproductive organs and had a wife or wives. Jews were originally polytheists. Genesis 1:26-27 says that the elohim were male and female and humans were made in their image. God's sons had sex with women. Yahweh is a sexual being and gods used to have children. "All theology is metaphor" and Yahweh was "a jealous and abusive husband."

During Saturday night's 90 minute GOP debate, with Mitt Romney sailing self-confidentially above the fray, a full third of it was devoted to questions about burning issues such as homosexuality, marriage, and contraception. This in 2012 with the economy still very much struggling; Iran about to literally go nuclear; a transition in leadership in North Korea; crises in Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, and of course Israel. But much of what Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos could think to ask was whether or not it was constitutional for states to ban condoms.

What they were really asking was what the candidates thought God would do about birth control.

Friday, January 06, 2012

January 6, 2012--Santorum's America

If you are wondering what a smaller government would look like under President Santorum, here is one small, but not really small example.

He would have the government, in effect, make contraception illegal.

He has for long opposed the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling that invalidated a Connecticut law banning contraception and has also pledged to completely defund federal funding for contraception if elected president. As he told CaffeinatedThoughts.com editor Shane Vander Hart in October, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think (sic) the dangers of contraception in this country."

Here's more:

Many in the Christian faith have said, "Well, that's OK . . . contraception's okay."

It's not OK because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal . . . but also procreative. That's the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that's not for purposes of procreation, that's not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can't you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure. And that's certainly a part of it—and it's an important part of it, don't get me wrong—but there's a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most presidents don't talk about those things, and maybe people don't want us to talk about those things, but I think it's important that you are who you are. I'm not running for preacher. I'm not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues.

This is just a glimpse into his mind at work. To him it is not OK for the government to be involved in regulating the kinds of business institutions that nearly brought us to our economic knees, but it is OK to Rick Santorum to have big government telling us what we can do in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

One of the places in the world where sexual codes are enforced by religious police is Iran where couples can be severely punished for kissing in public. I am sure Santorum is not in favor of bringing sharia to America, though many of his followers accuse Barack Obama of wanting to do just that, but Santorum's views feel uncomfortably close to calling for an American form of religious law. We are a democracy, not a theocracy. He needs to reread his Constitution.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

January 5, 2012--Meanwhile, In Samoa . . .

While the rest of us New Years Eve popped a few corks and watched the ball drop in Times Square, while Dick Clark was trotted out for the 40th time to wish us a happy new year (could it be true that he's "only" 82?), while Mayor Bloomberg lindy -hopped the night away with Lady Gaga (I am not making this up), while all of this fun-fun was underway, out in the South Pacific, in the island archapelico of Samoa, some very serious business was transpiring.

They eliminated Friday. Not forever but for last week only. Their local calendar went from Thursday right to Saturday. This to enable them to move to the other side, the western side of the International Date Line.

The International Date Line is an imaginary line on the surface of the Earth, running between the north and south poles, that demarcates one calendar day from the next. It passes through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, roughly along the 180° longitude, on the opposite side of the globe from the Prime Meridian, which runs through Greenwich, England.

Without it, as one moved across the time zones, at some point about half-way round the world there would be confusion as to what day of the week it was. Thus, the international agreement in 1884 was not only to set the Prime Meridian near London (after all, at that time, England ruled the oceans and the sun never set on its empire) but also to establish and situate the IDL.

Thus, traveling east on a Tuesday, after crossing the Line in the middle of the Pacific, it would suddenly become Wednesday.

But things such as this are not as simple as the may at first seem. Some countries, really island nations near the 180th, opted to chose to have the Line bend around them so they could be one either the eastern or western side.

Which brings us to Samoa.

Until recently, a few days ago, this island territory had been on the eastern side of the line and thus observed the same day of the week as countries in Europe and North and South America. But for years their cultural and economic orientation has been shifting from a Euro-American one to an Asian-Pacific focus. This shift last week to the western side of the IDL was to reverse Samoans being persuaded (which is a benign and only semi-accurate way to put it) by America in 1892 to move from the western from the eastern side so as to align themselves with West Coast U.S. business interests. At that time, much of Samoa was called American Samoa since it was, in effect, a possession of ours.

Get it?

As a preview of this reorientation, two years ago Samoa moved to drive on the left side of the road, just as they do in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Countries that these days more constitute their sphere of affiliation than the United States.

Since most of their commerce is with New Zealand and Australia, to quote Samoa's prime minister, because of their previous position on the eastern side of the IDL, "We lost out on two working days a week. While its was Friday here it was Saturday in New Zealand; and when we were at church on Sunday, they were already doing business in Sydney and Brisbane."

So what they did makes perfect sense. Except perhaps to some Americans who see this as yet one more example of America's loss of international stature and influence. If the Samoans can diss us this way, what can we expect from the . . . ?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

January 4, 2012--Late Night

I stayed up, for me, very late riveted to the TV while the Iowa tallies trickled in. I'm pooped but will have more to say about the results this week.

But hasn't this been a remarkable political story? More entertaining than the Kardashians.

Only one thing is certain: Republican voters do not want Mitt Romney to be their nominee. He may still win, but they sure have been eager to find someone else. No matter how preposterous. Donald Trump? Herman Cain? Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich. They all, for at least a week of their own, have been in the lead in the polls. And now, if he had received 9 more votes, it would be Rick Santorum? But he still was the story last night. At least that will be what the media say. Actually, the real winner was Barack Obama.

I'm going back to bed.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

January 3, 2012--Snowbirding: Parallel Parking

“I just had a very disturbing phone call.”

“With whom?”


“Is she all right?”


“So what was disturbing?”

“The things we talked about.”

Rona was looking concerned. “The things? Such as?”

I was reluctant to say much more. “Just things.”

“I can’t be helpful unless you tell me what’s going on.”

“I told her about Florida.”

“What’s disturbing about that? The weather’s been perfect; and with the exception of . . .”

“That’s part of what was disturbing.”

“The weather? That’s it’s been beautiful is a problem?”

“No, not that.”

“Then what? You’re totally confusing me.”

“The very fact that we spent so much time talking about the weather. She and I usually talk about books, the theater, what’s going on in the galleries, politics. New York kinds of things. But now, we talk about Florida kinds of things—the weather, the cost of vegetables in the supermarket, medical tests.”


“So, I think I’m changing. But not in good ways.”

“If she wanted to talk about Newt Gingrich then everything would be fine?” I could tell Rona was already becoming exasperated with me.

“Not necessarily fine but better.”

“I can’t believe you’re so disturbed just because you spent some time talking about the weather. I’ll bet she told you about how mild a winter they’re having.” I nodded. “And I’m sure she’s not sitting around moping because she spent ten seconds telling you about the temperature in New York.”

“We spent more than ten seconds talking about the weather here.”

“Well, maybe that’s because it’s been so perfect that it deserves more air time.”

Under my breath I said, “That’s not all.”

Not all? Like what? Early-bird dinners? I know that’s one of your favorite subjects. How, you can’t stop reminding me, people here eat dinner while it’s still light out.”

“It’s not just that,” I protested, “It’s more the obsession about how much things cost.”

“Well, a lot of people here are living on fixed incomes and with the economy the way it is it isn’t easy for them to pay their bills. Even for necessities. You’re a big liberal and you should have a little more compassion for people who are struggling.”

“About that we’re in complete agreement. I’m talking about people with lots of money who seem as obsessed about not spending it as people with very little.”

“This is what has you so upset? Because you were busy telling Peggy about how people looking for two-for-one specials make you crazy?”

“If that was only it I’d be . . .”

Only it? I assume then there must be more to have gotten you so agitated. Please, I don’t have all day. Tell me everything? Maybe then you can move on and we can talk about which movie to see. This is the best time of year to go with all the serious pictures not released until December so they can get Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.”

“I told her about my haircut.”

“Your haircut? You really are something. What’s to tell about having your two hairs trimmed?”

“If you’re going to give me a hard time, I’d rather not talk about it.”

“But with Peggy it was all right to talk? But not your wife? I’m busy. I have things to do. So when you’re ready to tell me what’s troubling you, I’ll be available. Until then . . .” She scooped up the New York Times and turned toward the bedroom.

To her back I muttered, “How I was upset that they raised the price of haircuts from last year to this.”

She whipped around to face me, “It was by a dollar! A single dollar? This is too ridiculous to take seriously.”

“I don’t take it seriously. I mean I shouldn’t take it seriously. But I did, I do. That’s what’s disturbing me. That I’m becoming just like the early-bird people. I confess I’m being ridiculous. That fortunately the prices of most things—even if they’ve been raised—don’t mean that much to me. To us. But, I’m being honest. It’s the way I’m feeling. That’s what’s got me so worried—the awareness of what I appear to be turning into.”

“That spending winters in Florida is having this effect on you?” Rona was sounding more sympathetic. She had some similar concerns last year. How she couldn’t wait for the after-New-Years sale at Neiman-Marcus when many things were marked down 75 percent. Even if waiting this long to shop there meant she would miss out on some things she wanted and could easily have afforded when they were “only” 50 percent off.

“Yes, the snowbird effect,” I said.

“That’s an interesting way to put it; but the important thing is to remain aware of what’s happening to you, really to us, and to try to accept the good changes—and there are many—while continuing to struggle with the ones like fretting about the price of haircuts. Eight dollars as opposed to seven dollars is still quite a bargain. How much do they charge you in New York? At that salon you go to? You’ve told me for years how they should charge you half price since you have only half-a-head of hair.”

“But even if they did it would still cost $35. Which is ridiculous.”

“That’s New York. We pay a premium to be there. And up to now we’ve always felt it’s worth it.”

“Agreed. But since I’m confessing let me tell you some other things that I mentioned to Peggy that are disturbing me. Also as a consequence of the snowbird effect.”

“I’m listening. Let me sit down since I think this is going to take some time.” Rona plopped down into the recliner. “I wish I still smoked. I’d love a cigarette right now.”

“You remember the other night after seeing Young Adult at the Regal?”

“I do. You liked it a lot. Feeling it was an amusingly dark send-up of classic romantic comedies and . . .”

“True, but that’s not what’s on my mind about that night. Actually, I mean afternoon since we went to a one o’clock show. Which is part of the point I’m trying to make.”

“Because the tickets at that time only cost . . .” Rona cut herself off, not wanting to go there, not wanting to encourage me to obsess again about the cost of things.

“What I told Peggy about was how though it was only 4:30 when we got out of the movie I was hungry and suggested we go to the China Diner at early-bird time. Though I hate eating that early we had skipped lunch and I had an appetite.”

“I did too.”

“Right. So we went. It’s right across Federal Highway in a shopping plaza. As you like to point out between a nail salon and a place that does MRIs.” Rona chuckled at that.

“And,” I continued, “when the waitress told us that when you order that early egg rolls are included at no extra charge, I said, ‘Fine.’”

“That did surprise me. You never like to have things that are included in a dinner special. Even the pistachio ice cream, which is also included. And you love pasticcio. At times you can be so silly.”

“I prefer to see it as a small way of preserving my sense of self.”

“And I consider it silly. But go on. Please.” She saw that I was sulking. This confession and her reaction weren’t going as well as I had hoped.

“This time I agreed to both the egg roll—though they’re so greasy—and the ‘free’”—I made air quotes—“ice cream. Which in fact was quite good.”

“And this is what’s got you so crazy? How much they charged you for a haircut and your agreeing to have the ‘free’ egg roll and pistachio ice cream?” There was a hint of understandable mockery in her tone.

“There’s more,” I said softly.

“Why am I not surprised?”

“I feel that we’ve, I mean that I’ve fallen into a totally medicalized reality.”

“This I understand.” Rona was now smiling.

“Everyone we know seems to spend at least half their time seeing doctors and having medical tests. Let me give you an example. Talking to Cousin Sam the other day he was telling me about how, since they found a few polyps in his large intestine, they recommend he have colonoscopies every six months.”

“At his age and in his circumstances hat seems sensible to me.”

“And I suppose to me. But in addition to getting drawn into a discussion with him about what he had to do to prep for the one he just had—and, graphically, what the prep did to him, if you get the picture,” Rona made a face and held her nose. “Exactly.”

“So, what’s so new about this? We’ve had them done and everyone we know has as well. What’s the big deal? It’s just life. Biology. Get over it.” I could see her reaching toward the coffee table as if looking for a pack of cigarettes.

“I don’t have issues with the gory details. I’m an adult. In fact, I’m fine with them; but it’s how I reacted to the whole situation.”

“Go on. I’m listening. Or at least trying to.”

“Since talking with Sam I’ve been plagued by cramps and am thinking I too should have a colonoscopy.”

“But you just had one. These are empathy cramps. Your gastroenterologist said to come back in four years, not four months.”

“You’re making it difficult to tell you what I’ve been thinking and agitating about.”

“Sorry. You’re right. I apologize. Go on.”

“Since speaking with him and having all this gas I’ve been wondering if I should wait five years between colonoscopies.”

“You’re thinking . . . ?”

“Maybe every year makes sense. Or even every six months. With my family history . . .”

“You’ll live to be 103 just like your mother. And I doubt she has them every six months or, for that matter, every year.”

“Your point is well taken. But I’m trying to tell you how I’m feeling. Don’t you always tell me that one shouldn’t argue about feelings, but only about facts and opinions? So I don’t want to argue about what I’m feeling, even though I know you’re right. I’m hoping that by talking about this maybe I can put some of what I’m feeling behind me.”

“Sorry. I’ll try just to listen. Is there anything else? My Week With Marilyn starts soon.”

“One last thing. It happened this morning. I suspect it’s was a version of the last straw and got me thinking about calling Peggy.” Rona, I am glad to report, did not chastise me by word or look for talking first with a friend rather than with her.

“As usual we drove over to the Green Owl for coffee.” Rona nodded but with a quizzical look. “And when we were a block away there was a parking spot. A single one by the curb.” She nodded again but more vigorously as it was coming back to her. “I pulled up alongside the car in front of the space, signaled for the car behind me to pass, and then began to back up slowly, cutting the steering wheel hard so as to swing the rear of the car into the space.”

“I’m sorry. I’m doing my best to be sympathetic. But parking the freaking car is what’s making you crazy? To tell you the truth, you’re making me crazy!”

“Sorry about that,” I was peeved by Rona’s response, though I certainly understood it, but wanted to get my confession over with. So I continued.

“It’s what happened while attempting to parallel park. Down here in Florida mostly we park perpendicular—we pull right into spaces between two cars. In New York and most cities, you have to parallel park, which takes some skill in the backing up and swinging back and forth. Especially in tight spots.” Rona rolled her eyes.

“When I tried this this morning what happened? Do you remember?” Rona didn’t seem to. “Well at the time you said something about it.” I paused but there was no response. “Though it was a big spot, I not only hit the curb hard when backing up but jumped over it onto the sidewalk. Not far enough to run anyone over, but it sure shook me up. And you got on my case about it. Deservedly so.”

“I remember that, even though I was only half-awake, not yet having had any coffee. But I do recall you seemed more upset than I would have expected. It was no big deal. Really.”

“But to me it was.”

“How so?”

“I used to be an excellent parallel parker. One, two, three and I would squeeze the car into the smallest spaces without even touching the bumpers of the cars in front and back of us. No problem. But after spending three winters in Florida, I’m parking on the sidewalk.”

“That’s a little overstated, don’t you think?”

“Maybe if one is thinking about this objectively. Not, on the other hand, if we’re talking about how I feel about it.” Rona smiled. “And I’m not feeling very good at the moment.”

“I get it.” With effort, she pulled herself up out of the recliner and moved to put her arms around me. “Don’t worry,” she said soothingly, rocking me in her arms. “You’re still a New Yorker. My favorite New Yorker.” Feeling that I teared up. “Maybe a little warn around the edges but . . .”

This was in fact helpful. Talking it out. Confessing my concerns even at the risk of seeming silly. I do, after all, believe in “the talking cure.”

“But promise me one thing,” Rona said.

“Sure. What’s that?”

“That you’ll never--and I mean never--even consider wearing a white belt.”

Rona was smiling so I knew she was being only half serious. “I promise. You’re right about that. But I still think it makes sense for me to have an annual colonoscopy.”

Monday, January 02, 2012

January 2, 2012--2012

I am taking the day off but will return tomorrow with another episode of Snowbirding. If you have been following these, I think you will enjoy it.

And, of course, have a very happy new year.