Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Notes: Shopping, Woody Allen, Huckabee

Were you one of the 247 million Americans who trudged down to the mall over the 4-day Thanksgiving holiday to celebrate our collective good fortune by spending a record $59.1 billion? I wasn’t. Not that I don’t have lots to be thankful for, but I make it a point to abstain from the in-store frenzy. I didn’t even participate in the $1.5 billion Cyber Monday buy-fest. 

Perhaps because for 32 years I had to report on this ultra-patriotic shopping activity I developed a certain disdain for Black Friday, followed by Saturday and Sunday at the shopping center. Coverage of consumers fighting over Xboxes or big screen TVs or Ugg boots was all too predictable. Also predictable was the supposition that strong Thanksgiving weekend sales presaged an overall strong holiday shopping season. Yes, that could happen. But what usually transpired was a lull in spending that picked up only in the last 10 days before Christmas. Meanwhile, newspapers and electronic media wondered who would win the game of chicken between retailers who did not want to reduce prices and hurt their profit margins and consumers who wanted to wait until extreme discounts opened up their tight hold on their wallets. I’ll be very surprised if such stories don’t start appearing in about a week.

Too Awed to Ask: I’m a little behind in my reading, so I finally looked at a NY Times conversation with Robert De Niro printed November 18 in the magazine section. Written by the film critic A.O. Scott, the article highlighted a challenge many journalists confront when interviewing a famous person. Scott wrote, “I confess, however, that it took all my professional discipline to resist squandering the time I spent with De Niro on a recent Saturday afternoon in a slack-jawed fanboy recitation of his greatest hits. Oh, my God, you’re Jake Lamotta! You’re Johnny Boy! Your Travis Bickle! I’m talking to you.”

That paragraph reminded me of my year at Syracuse University earning a master’s degree in newspaper journalism. One of my classmates and best friends, Steve Kreinberg, got a freelance gig as a movie critic on the Syracuse New Times, an alternative lifestyle newspaper launched just two years earlier in 1969 (and still around today). After we laughed our way through Woody Allen’s Bananas in a suburban Syracuse movie theater—there is nothing that makes you feel more Jewish, and alone in the world, than guffawing at Woody Allen shtick when the rest of the audience is sitting cold, stone silent—Steve announced in the parking lot that he landed an interview with Allen the following week in New York City. Though Allen was in the middle of editing Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask, he agreed to meet Steve at his studio.

He drove down to Manhattan. When Steve returned he was uncharacteristically quiet. When the next edition did not run his interview I demanded an explanation. Sheepishly he admitted he lost all professional composure in the presence of the great man. He just kept gushing, “You’re Woody Allen. I love your work.” There’s only so many times he could say that before Woody determined this interview was going nowhere. 

Steve eventually recovered his moxie and went on to become one of the five question writers for the old Hollywood Squares show (the one that featured Paul Lynde in the center square). He was expected to write 50 acceptable questions per day, and yes, celebrities were counseled before each show on topics they would be asked. After Hollywood Squares Steve and his writing partner Andy became staff writers for Archie Bunker’s Place (Carroll O’Connor’s successor show to All in the Family) as well as for Herman’s Head, Saved by the Bell, Head of the Class, Nine to Five and Mork & Mindy

Funny, He Doesn’t Look Jewish: I’m always amused when out of left field a famous person has it revealed that deep in their past a Jewish gene lurks. Think former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (though how an intelligent woman like she could not figure out her parents chose to flee Prague in 1938 because of their Jewish origins is beyond my ken). 

Anyway, I was reading this week’s NY Times magazine when I came across this response from Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, also-ran 2008 Republican presidential primary candidate, Southern Baptist minister and Fox News Channel talk show host. Asked how to celebrate the holidays, Huckabee said, “On Christmas Eve, we go to the service at our church, and when it’s over, we go out for Chinese food.” 

Funny, I didn’t know Huckabee was Jewish (for my non-Jewish readers, ask a Jewish friend why it's funny). 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do We Really Need to Know This?

How would you like to have been the PR person assigned to write the press release accompanying the following headline?

“More than 38 Million Online Americans Shopped While on the Toilet”

Do we really need to know this? I know shopping has become more than just part of the fabric of the American way of life. To many it has become the total blanket. Still, do we really need to know that even on the potty people are dialing up their smartphones so they won’t miss that bargain of a lifetime. It used to be sitting on the john was reserved as “quality” reading time. If you remember the movie The Big Chill, the Jeff Goldblum character, a writer for People, said he and his colleagues were instructed to keep stories short enough so they could be read in total during the time it takes to complete one average dump. 

Anyway, back to the, ahem, news ... A Harris Interactive survey paid for by CashStar, suggests “that more than 38 million online adult Americans admit to having shopped online while on the toilet.” Compare that to “almost 17 million shopping via a mobile device while standing in the retailer's physical store.”

Among the other enlightening though not projectable findings of this online survey of 2,104 adults aged 18 and older conducted Nov. 6-8:
*Potty shopping was more of a male than female activity;
*Shopping online trumps safety as more than four million said they shopped while driving;
*The business of business is business, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that more than nine million said they have secretly shopped while in a business meeting;
*Seven million-plus Americans shopped from their mobile device while at the grocery store.

Get to Work Thursday: I never liked Sunday Blue Laws, the civic ordinances that required retailers to be closed Sundays, or another day of the week if one’s religion celebrated the sabbath on a different schedule that Christian America. Blue Laws mostly vanished in the last 25 years except in some hamlets like Paramus, NJ; some companies, such as Chick-fil-A, remain closed on Sundays because of the religious belief of their founders, Truett Cathy in the case of Chick-fil-A. 

I like having access to stores every day. But I also believe store personnel are entitled to some family life. They should not be deprived of holidays with their families. Or friends. With the exception of drug stores and partial hours for supermarkets, stores should be closed on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. I’m also okay with no retailing on Christmas and Easter. No one should go into cardiac arrest because they can’t get their Target or Victoria’s Secret fix. Yet these stores, and a whole lot more, have scheduled openings for Thanksgiving. It’s not enough they make workers get to the store before the sun rises for Black Friday sales, now they are thrusting a consumer frenzy mindset onto a day that had always been reserved for family. There’s enough tension already in these family gatherings without the extra hype shopping demands. 

My daughter’s brother-in-law Rob posted a neat idea—“Any stores that start Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving this year will be getting zero business from us.” He included a list of stores opening on Thanksgiving: 
http://retailindustry.about.com/od/2012ThanksgivingDay11222012/a/2012-Thanksgiving-Day-Store-Hours-Opening-Times-November-22-Complete-Roundup-List_2.htm. It’s going to be pretty hard to stay away from many of these stores, but the sentiment is one worth considering.

Lots of people, nearly half the country, will struggle to shop in stores this weekend, but there’s growing evidence the activity does not rate high on people’s preferred activities. According to Western Union Holiday Gifting Index, 68% of those who shopped on Black Friday last year said they did not think the experience was worth the money they saved. 

I Love You, Craig: As long as we are on the subject of waste matter (see above), Gilda has embarked on a composting binge. All manner of uncooked vegetables, fruits, tea leaves, cooked egg shells and cardboard egg cartons are making their way into our compost pile. Normally, I fill up the pile with free compost from our city municipal dump. But I got there too late this year. Without compost, Gilda’s flower and vegetable garden would not be extraordinary, so we’re now a composting family. 

Composting, however, requires leaves. Lots of leaves. Shredded leaves. The electric blower/shredder I borrowed from my brother last year doesn’t really work (no wonder he let me have it). New electric leaf shredders cost about $200. I opted to try to find a used on on Craig’s List. Score! I found one today 60 miles away in New Jersey for just $25. 

While I’m at a meeting tonight, Gilda will be surprised when she comes home from work and sees the Craftsman Leafwacker Plus where my car usually rests in the garage (don't worry about her finding out before she gets home; she rarely reads my posts the day they go up). I even bagged six large loads of leaves from around the neighborhood. I know what you’re thinking—I’m such a thoughtful husband. There’s lots of truth to that. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m retired and able to spend time, thanks to Craig’s List, fulfilling her dreams. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twinkie Twinkie Stars No More

I wasn’t too distraught to hear Twinkies would no longer be processed by Hostess Brands. But Devil Dogs!!! Now that’s hitting me where it hurts—in my memory bank.

Drake’s Devil Dogs, along with Yankee Doodles and the occasional Ring Ding, were as integral to my first 30 years as wearing socks was. They sustained me, until, that is, my blood sugar levels oozed créme. Growing up, we always had fresh cake from the bakery, marble loafs or seven layer cakes or checkerboard chocolate cakes in the bread drawer or simply out on the dinette table. But for a quick fill me up, nothing came close to a Devil Dog or three-pack of Yankee Doodles. 

I continued this childhood gluttony even after marrying Gilda whose concept of a sweet tooth somehow never reached full development. She tolerated, barely, my sugar-laden eating habits which included a breakfast of Devil Dog with, not being a coffee or tea drinker, 6-8 ounces of Coca-Cola. My 10 am snack in the newsroom was another Coke and a Baby Ruth bar. Even after my triglycerides topped 1,100 I didn’t forsake my sweets. I’d drink Coke in front of our children. They were not allowed to imbibe any. Gilda told them, “Daddy has an addiction.” It worked. To this day, Dan and Ellie rarely drink sodas. But I did, until my internist demanded I change my eating and drinking regimen some 25 years ago. I now drink Diet Coke or Crystal Light lemonade. I haven’t had a Devil Dog in decades. Or a Yankee Doodle. Perhaps that’s why Hostess, which bought Drake some years ago, hasn’t maximized sales.

Twinkies? I think I might have sampled them two or three times. They really tasted ... tasteless. I never could understand other people’s fascination with them. Maybe it was their “white bread” sheen, so sterile within the plastic wrapping. Devil Dogs and Yankee Doodles came out of Philadelphia-based Drake, urban, ethnic, mixed races. Twinkies was middle America—white on white. It was like mayonnaise on a white bread pastrami sandwich. Don’t cringe or laugh—that’s how airlines served deli sandwiches 30 years ago. At least they left the crust on the bread. Twinkies had nothing to sink your teeth into. Just air. And créme.

Financial watchers expect the equity bankers who own Hostess to sell off several brands, including Twinkies, to recoup some of their losses. I hope someone buys the rights to produce Devil Dogs and Yankee Doodles. Even though I won’t buy any, it would be comforting to know part of my childhood and young adulthood lives on.

There have been many articles commemorating the 82-year rise and fall of Twinkies. Here’s one I particularly enjoyed:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Media Equivalency is No Public Service

We've just concluded one contest wherein the mainstream media felt an obligation to practice equivalency, a bizarre belief that meant it could not point out factual mistakes of one candidate without noting miscues of the other, no matter how egregious the former’s lies were and how insignificant the latter’s were. Brazen and emboldened by a comment from his pollster, Neil Newhouse—"We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers"—Mitt Romney constructed a campaign of lies and innuendoes, confident that for every whopper he told, the mainstream media (I know, I sound sooo Fox Newsy) would soften the correction by pointing out one of President Obama’s misstatements. 

We’ll return to Romney shortly, but first let’s consider another media mess, the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Last night CBS News aired video of an Israeli air strike assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the military leader of Hamas. It also mentioned other air strikes within the Gaza Strip. Aside from marveling at the precision of the takeout of al-Jabari, the report left the uninformed wondering just why Israel had sent its planes into Gaza at this time. CBS failed to mention the rocket and missile attacks Arab terrorists had launched over the last month, 1,000 in all, according to Israel’s U.S. Ambassador, Michael Oren. Anyone listening to Scott Pelley might have concluded Israel was the aggressor when it simply was retaliating for repeated attacks no nation would tolerate.

CBS was not alone in its under-reporting. NPR’s All Things Considered program today said “fighting began” after the Israeli air strike. Doesn’t NPR think indiscriminate rocket fire amounts to fighting? Do we really think Hamas and its more evil cousins launched those missiles with no hope or expectation they would murder or at the very least maim Israeli civilians? Are we expected to admonish Israel because its military is more precise and effective? 

Tensions along the Gaza frontier could escalate into a mini-war or a full scale affair there, as well as in the north with Hezbollah. I hope not. One thing to remember is that Israel's Iron Dome missile defense is not impervious and by that I don't mean infallible. As I explained six months ago after spending time with trauma care providers who live and work in the border settlements near Gaza, Iron Dome is meant to protect larger cities, such as Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv, not the small kibbutzim and moshavs adjacent to the Gaza Strip. 

Residents of the districts near the border have about 15 seconds’ warning of incoming rocket fire to seek shelter. Homes within four and a half kilometers (2.7 miles) of the border have been outfitted by the government with “safe rooms” built to withstand a direct hit. In communities four and a half to seven kilometers (4.2 miles) from the border, no safe rooms are retrofitted to existing homes. The only government funded security is a shelter for kindergarten children. Beyond seven kilometers, everyone is vulnerable. No safety measures are provided.

For a modest depiction of conditions in the border settlements near the Gaza Strip, read this post from May 2011: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/05/well-deserved-rest-relaxation.html

Now back to Romney. We found out Wednesday just how much of a scuzzball the Mittster really is. After disavowing his infamous “47%” comments during the campaign, Romney exposed himself once again as a bigoted, boorish man. In a telephone call to donors and supporters, he explained away his loss as a natural outcome after President Obama gave away stuff to buy votes. Free contraceptives (because college girls like to have sex). Free health care for children until they are 26, (presumably because they like to get sick). Tuition loan relief (because not everyone has millionaires for parents and can afford to pay for college out of pocket). Romney took no responsibility for running a lousy campaign, one that essentially wrote off half the country as “victims” who only want to take handouts from the government (http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/romney-blames-loss-on-obamas-gifts-to-minorities-and-young-voters/). 

Though Romney showed he is beyond redemption, GOP governors apparently comprehend the shallowness of his and their party’s appeal to young people, women, Latinos, Asians and Afro-Americans. During a meeting Wednesday of the Republican Governors Association, several rebuffed Romney’s representation of the election results as a gross misrepresentation (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/11/15/republican-governors-put-blame-on-romney.html). 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Predictions Come True

I warned you the day before the election last week we were on the cusp of the inauguration of the 2016 presidential campaign. If you took my warning to heart you would not be too depressed by the insipid chatter from pundits already handicapping the race four years hence. They’ve conducted polls—Hillary and Mike Huckabee are frontrunners of their respective parties. 

Personally, I like Stephen Colbert’s idea. Let’s not spend time on 2016. Tuesday night Colbert zeroed in on the 2072 election, a contest he said would be between Robo-Cheney and a swarm of sentient nano hornets. He did not predict the winner.

Hornets. Seems Tuesday was a big hornets day for me. Earlier, in Bible class (Exodus 23:28), hornets were part of God’s arsenal in support of the Israelites’ conquest of the land of Canaan (“And I will send the hornet before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee”). 

Last week’s post on the election also contained a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the United States bifurcate itself into Blue and Red State countries. Seems I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. The Huffington Post reported residents of 42 states have submitted petitions to secede from the Union. Here’s the list: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The list included Blue and Red States. Maybe we are making progress toward thinking alike.

While we’re on the subject of the election, I wonder if you noticed an article in the business section of The NY Times the other day. It dealt with patent law and the problems American companies have protecting their unique products. Here’s how The Times described the article: “Sears, which sold many Bionic Wrenches last holiday season, is selling a similar product (the Max Axess) this year — only now it is made in China instead of America.”  

You can read the full article by linking here (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/business/popular-wrench-fights-a-chinese-rival.html), but the real meat of the story came near the end. Here are two telling paragraphs:

The company that makes the Max Axess wrench and other tools for Craftsman, the Apex Tool Group, is being acquired by Bain Capital, the company founded by Mitt Romney, in a $1.6 billion deal.

“Throughout the presidential campaign, Bain was criticized on the grounds that it encouraged outsourcing by companies it buys at the expense of American workers. Apex makes many of its tools overseas. A company spokesman referred all questions to Sears.”

Romney hasn’t run Bain Capital since 1999, but his management philosophy of outsourcing American jobs is enshrined in that company. 

And remember my cautionary advice last week about buying cars from the flooded areas. Well, there's been a slew of warnings from attorneys general and consumer protection officials about cars with engines flooded not just by Hurricane Sandy but also by storms and floods in other parts of the country (dealerships across state lines have been known to swap swamped autos). So be wary out there. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Flying High on Potatoes, God's Will and The View

Just back from a quick weekend trip to Tucson for the wedding of our nephew Gabe to Laura. Was colder in Arizona than back home in New York, but the real eye-opener of the trip was reaffirmation of my antipathy toward flying. I am soooo glad I no longer have to fly several times a month. Especially when our connecting flight from Houston to LaGuardia was delayed, the heaviness of sitting around the airport, eating airport food, was overwhelming. 

Eat Your Veggies: Last week WNYC’s The Leonard Lopate Show aired an interview on the origin of potatoes as a staple of Western cuisine. Originally from the Andes in South America, most of the spuds we eat today are cloned varieties of Chilean potatoes. Central to the diet of South American natives, the potato was introduced to Europe in 1530 by the Spanish. 

In the small southeastern Polish town of Ottynia where my father was born, potatoes dominated mealtime, so much so that by the time he left the village at 16 and made his way to the free city of Danzig (now Gdansk) on the Baltic Sea, he vowed never to eat another potato. He managed to maintain that self-imposed prohibition for some 10 years until sitting in a restaurant one day a waitress prevailed upon him to try a potato with his meat. 

The rest, as they say, is history. From that time forward rare was the day a potato did not take up space on his dinner plate. Boiled potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Baked potatoes. French fried potatoes at the delicatessen. Potato latkes. The man loved potatoes. His palate hardly ever entertained a vegetable. Nothing green made it onto our dinner table. On the rare occasion my mother tried to introduce a vegetable, say asparagus or Brussell sprouts, she failed miserably. Ordinarily a good cook, she grossly overcooked vegetables until all their nutrients and taste were eliminated. Her asparagus resembled a limp question mark with no hint it was once a spear. Naturally, I grew up disdaining vegetables.

As an early member of Trans World Airlines’ frequent flyer program some 30 years ago, I often upgraded to first class (back then you could do so without having to redeem miles; you qualified for an upgrade simply by flashing your frequent flyer card). During one first class romp to California, I accepted the stewardess’ invitation for cold asparagus under Hollandaise sauce. My taste buds exploded. To Gilda’s everlasting joy, I came home eager to eat vegetables. To my everlasting joy, Gilda knows how to prepare them properly and tastefully.

God’s Will: Last posting I opined that by sending Superstorm Sandy a week before the election God must have been on Obama’s side since it stymied Romney’s momentum in the crucial last week of the campaign. I failed to remember God previously intervened to thwart Romney’s initial push by hurling Hurricane Isaac at Tampa just before the city hosted the Republican National Convention. Coupled with losses by Republican candidates who believe rape is God’s will, I’d say there’s significant evidence God is definitely not a registered Republican.

For a moment, it looked like God would be neutral. A storm did, after all, prompt the Democratic Party Convention to shift Obama’s acceptance speech from an outdoor stadium to an indoor arena. But the threatened downpour never happened and Obama’s rhetoric, not as lofty as four years ago, probably played better inside than it would have outside.

Barbara Bests Bibi: Most of the pundits have analyzed the election far beyond my meager efforts, but it’s worth noting Obama was criticized in October when the United Nations General Assembly met for making a guest appearance on The View instead of meeting with Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. In light of the overwhelming support women provided his re-election effort, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge sharing yucks with Barbara Walters and her crew was more beneficial than making nice to the head of a foreign state who clearly favored his opponent and, like so many caught up in distaste for the current occupant of the White House, came out on the wrong side of history. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oy Vey Moments

No religion is safe from ideological bigots. 

After reading the names of organizations to which viewers could donate Superstorm Sandy relief funds, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show Monday night said a nor’easter was expected to hit the New York metropolitan area Wednesday, meaning there’d be more places to send in money “because somehow we’ve annoyed God.” Apparently, Stewart had not heard about Rabbi Noson Leiter, executive director of Monsey, NY-based Torah Jews for Decency.

Speaking Oct. 30 on Crosstalk, a syndicated radio program, Leiter intimated that passage of the state’s same-sex marriage law could have kindled God’s wrath toward New Yorkers. “The Lord will not bring another flood to destroy the entire world, but he could punish particular areas with a flood, and if we look at the same-gender marriage recognition movement that’s occurring, that certainly is a message for us to learn,” Leiter said. 

Leiter joins Pat Robertson and other evangelical ministers who have linked natural and man-made disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the September 11 attacks, to retribution for liberal positions on abortion and gay lifestyles. Stewart might have missed an opportunity to ridicule Leiter, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not. Leiter’s comments were “as offensive as they are ignorant,” Cuomo said (http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201211060230/NEWS/311060078&nclick_check=1).

Pray for Heat: Last Saturday there was no heat in the main sanctuary of our temple, which reminded me of the way churches and synagogues were in Europe a thousand, even hundreds of, years ago. Many a congregant in today’s Orthodox shul sways back and forth, or side to side. It’s called schuckling, said by some scholars to be a means to increase concentration and emotional intensity during prayer. I prefer thinking the practice started in the cold, drafty synagogues of Europe as a means of keeping one’s circulation going, of staying warm. 

Dumb or Cagey? Chevy Volt’s television ad uses real people to plug the benefits of its extended distance electric car. There’s Noble, Priya, Eric, Adam, Elissa. 

Priya? What possessed Chevy or its ad agency to pick a customer whose name evokes one of its main competitors, Prius? Who knows, maybe Chevy hopes that expanding the pool of hybrid car buyers will benefit it in the long run. 

It just seemed a little whacky to me.

Whose Side Was God On, Anyway? Republicans are blaming Superstorm Sandy for blowing an ill-wind Romney’s way and lifting Obama to victory. Could be some truth to that, if you truly believe in Divine intervention. Which would mean God wanted the president to be re-elected. So all you God-fearing Republicans out there, accept God’s will. Obama’s our president for the next four years and let’s work with him to make our country better and stronger.

Republicans Eat Their Young: The abuse being heaped on Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey for complimenting Obama for his relief support after Sandy is reminiscent of the cries of traitor hurled at Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court after he cast the deciding vote upholding Obamacare’s constitutionality. After that post-decision smack-down by conservatives, court watchers speculated Roberts might abandon long-held principles and become more liberal, turning into a latter day Earl Warren or David Souter. Too early to tell if that will happen. But after Christie’s supposed life-line to Obama, whispers about his future went public. “It would not surprise me if Chris Christie at some point became a Democrat,” said Laura Ingraham, the right wing radio personality.

Perhaps nothing delineates the moral bankruptcy of the GOP more than its treatment of members who sway from party dogma, even if doing so is in the best interests of their constituents and the nation. Christie’s state is reeling from the devastation, yet he is called a Judas for acting like a governor should when the president of the United States provides support and comfort to his flock. Long-time Republican senators Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett, and before them Arlen Spector, are defeated in primaries for not being conservative enough. 

Speaking on NPR Wednesday, Norman Orenstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, likened GOP political tactics to “tribalism,” especially at the state and local levels where special interest groups are investing huge sums of money to pack elected boards with right-thinking members. In the past, these races were run out of the proverbial shoe-box. But the introduction of PAC money has far-reaching consequences. School boards, for example, can influence whether evolution or creationism is taught. It’s not a very pretty prospect to contemplate.

A Foreign Thought: Speaking of Lugar, here’s a far-out, not far right, idea that just floated into my head. Lugar’s strength has been as a foreign affairs expert. With Hillary Clinton poised to step down as secretary of state, perhaps Obama might entertain appointing Lugar as her successor, assuming John Kerry doesn’t take the job. Yes, Lugar’s a Republican. But so was Robert Gates, whom Obama retained as secretary of defense. The position of secretary of state is supposed to be apolitical (notice, Hillary never campaigned during the election), so naming a Republican would not be too crazy if he shares Obama’s world vision. Plus, it would fit Obama’s “team of rivals” Lincoln-esque view of his presidency.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kickoff Time for the 2016 Elections

It’s all over but the shouts of joy or despair, the air of resignation or elation, the couldabeen, shouldabeen cries of missed opportunities, the atta-boy, way to go hurrahs of “yes, our country has been saved from (you pick it) socialism or 19th century-style robber baronhood.” 

Hard to believe that, barring a hanging chad-like controversy, we will settle into the 2016 presidential election cycle in less than 36 hours. I know, you just can’t wait. Who’d have thought there was an actual silver lining to gender neutral Hurricane Sandy (like the Saturday Night Live character Pat, who’s to say Sandy was a female or male hurricane), when it knocked the campaigns off front pages and TV screens for days, giving the nation respite from the shallow, often offensive tones of the candidates and their surrogates. 

As anyone who has read my blogs knows, I’m hoping for an Obama victory. No need to review why. But there’s still time to point out some interesting and perhaps fun thoughts about the election.

For instance, I wonder why so many Republicans deny the reality of evolution when they’ve witnessed it in warp speed before their very eyes. During his years-long run for the White House, Mitt Romney has evolved from a moderate to a conservative to an extreme conservative to a moderate (at least in his eyes). It’s not so much survival-of-the-fittest as survival-of-the-whatever-it-takes-to-win. We’ll see Tuesday if the public swallows his brand of political posturing.

From the Republican party and presidential debates, Romney came across as a silver-tongued salesman. Rapid fire delivery of purported facts. No countenance of disagreement. Aggressive to the point of disrespect. A manner more suited to the manor than to the general public. It was a type of behavior I’ve seen before, in captains of industry. Even in public companies, they broached no dissent. Shareholders at annual meetings who questioned their authority were barely tolerated. Shareholders could submit resolutions and get to vote on the election of corporate directors, but the tally was usually stacked in favor of management. For Romney to win he would have successfully convinced enough voters that he knows best. 

I found an insight into his character in a story that didn’t get as much play as I would have suspected, given its human interest nature. The Associated Press reported that after the second debate, the town hall debate where Obama woke up from his first debate coma and attacked Romney’s misrepresentations, Romney's son Tagg was tempted to "take a swing" at the president for criticizing his father. Tagg made that admission in a radio interview. He apologized for his thoughts. Forty-two-year-olds don’t make those kind of statements if they haven’t been brought up in an environment where the powerful are not meant to be challenged. 

During one of his campaign stops last month, Romney predicted stock markets would likely rise if he wins. "There will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country," he said. "We'll see capital come back and we'll see—without actually doing anything—we'll actually get a boost in the economy," he said. "If the president gets re-elected, I don't know what will happen. I can­, I can never predict what the markets will do."

What does he think has been happening to the stock market over the last four years? Here are the facts: On Election Day 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 9,625. On the next three Election Days under Obama, the DJIA went up to 9,771, then 11,189, then 12,170. As Americans troop to the polls Tuesday, the DJIA is at 13,113, a 36.2% increase under Obama. Compare that to what happened under George W. Bush’s presidency. The day he got elected, the DJIA was 10,952. Eight years later it was 9,625, a 12.1% decrease. For all their bellyaching about Obama wanting to increase taxes on their oversized earnings, Wall Streeters have done quite nicely under our “socialist” president.

It’s apparent that once more the country will be divided in politics and philosophy. So why not adapt an idea from Britain and separate the country in two, much the same way Ireland was divided as was the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan? Actually, the idea of two entities precedes British action. The Confederacy thought it up first. You’d have the Republic of Red States stretching across the South, Midwest, and Plains states separating the two sections of the Republic of Blue States in the Northeast and West Coast—having two parts is like the original Pakistan, the eastern section is now independent and known as Bangladesh. (For the moment, let’s not concern ourselves where Florida, Illinois and perhaps Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota fall.) Let’s remember that Texas governor Rick Perry thought his state might want to secede from the Union. This idea just elaborates on that birdbrain notion.

The Red States would have lots of natural resources, lots of agriculture, lots of nuclear rocket silos, lots of tornadoes and drought, lots of Bible belters. Lots of people working with their hands and big machines. Blue States would have lots of earthquakes and shore erosion. Lots of lawyers, bankers, geeks, surfers, media stars, fashionistas. Lots of people dedicated to making money from  intellectual capital, with no guarantee their ideas are anything more than schemes to make money out of thin air. 

I don’t have all the details worked out, but it’s worth keeping in mind as we start the next presidential selection process on Wednesday. Assuming Romney loses, the GOP will undergo an internal contest of values. It will either veer further right or return to a more moderate, just right of center, position. If it does the latter, NJ governor Chris Christie has a shot at the nomination. He’d have to fight off Jeb Bush. If it swings further right, Christie would either have to alter his stances or Congressman Paul Ryan would have an inside track, along with Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Dement. 

On the Democratic side, the battle for the nomination will be between Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and Andrew Cuomo. Those are easy predictions. My real crystal ball forecast is the vice presidential pick—Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, NJ, or Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts. 

That’s it for now. Go vote. Pray. Cross your fingers. Light candles. Vote again (just kidding). Pray some more (not kidding).

Fair, of Should I Say, Storm Warning: Anyone, anywhere in the market for a new or used vehicle in the next half year or so better check where and when that car was manufactured and serviced. With so many cars swamped by Hurricane Sandy, lots of autos and trucks will be bought as replacements. But if you’ve ever wondered what happens to the cars and trucks salvaged from the deluge, even those that were on dealers’ lots, listen up—they are often “repaired” and many times shipped to other parts of the country to be sold to unsuspecting customers. 

That’s where CarFax or other services that can trace a car’s provenance come in handy. Trust me, you don’t want to buy a car or truck with an engine that was under water. For a new car, it’s probably a good idea to buy one built after November 1. It also would be a good idea for any new or used vehicle purchase to get the dealer to give you a sworn statement that it has not gone through Hurricane Sandy.

Tragic Bookends: New York mayor Michael Bloomberg moved into city hall months after the devastation of September 11. He will be leaving office at the end of 2013 while the Big Apple is still in the midst of recovering from the big bite Hurricane Sandy took from it. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Never Really Liked Halloween

Just five kids braved our cul de sac to trick or treat last night. Can’t really blame them or their parents who tagged along. I wouldn’t have gone out last night, either. Then again, I never really liked Halloween. I don't remember dressing up in a costume to go trick or treating as a youngster. My antipathy toward Halloween carried over to my parenting. I reasoned that since Halloween really was All Saints Day it was a Christian holiday, one good Jewish children shouldn't celebrate. Besides Gilda and I didn't want Dan and Ellie eating candy. I'm also not into scary movies, especially ones wherein a haunted house plays a central role. 

Perhaps my aversion to haunted houses goes back to my early childhood. Across the street from our brick row house on Avenue W in Brooklyn in the early 1950s stood a dirty grey, two or three story clapboard structure recessed back from the road. I say dirty grey, but in truth the house started off white. Years of neglect turned it dirty grey. The small plot of lawn in front of the house was overgrown with weeds.

No children lived there. The only person we ever saw going into and out of the house was a wizened geezer. He walked stooped over, his grey suit jacket draping a skeletal body. His cheeks appeared sallow and shallow, as if he had no teeth to keep them from caving in on his gums. A stub of a cigarette dangled from his lips. His grey hair ran wild. He was, to a young boy and his friends with furtive imaginations, a most scary fellow, the type of shadowy figure Scout and Jem envisioned of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. Even his name made us squirm—Pupkis. 

My friends, Lenny and Richie, and I weren’t old enough to cross Avenue W by ourselves, so we never threw rocks or fuzz balls at Mr. Pupkis or his home. One day, maybe when I was eight or nine, Pupkis and his home were gone. In short order they were replaced by side-by-side adjoining brick homes. Into one of them moved a family with a daughter, Sherry, who became one of my sister’s best friends. The most memorable aspect of Sherry’s home was her living room furniture. Her mother encased the sofa and chairs in protective plastic. People did that back in the 1950s and early 1960s. 

One other noteworthy event occurred on Avenue W between East 18th and East 19th Street. A few years later on a Friday evening in the spring, just as our family was sitting down to Sabbath dinner, we heard sharp popping sounds—gunfire— from across the street, followed by a man’s anguished cry. We looked out the dinette window to see police detectives stuff a portly man handcuffed from behind into an unmarked car. Turned out he was a drug dealer. The detectives had pursued him down his driveway into his back yard, firing their pistols in the air to get him to stop fleeing. We didn’t know the family. I don’t think they would have been the type of folks my parents would have had as friends. 

More Sandy Fallout: Wednesday’s NY Times carried a letter from Joseph McCaffrey of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., arguing for early voting legislation in all 50 states so that future disasters, wherever they may occur, don’t limit suffrage opportunities. “Mother Nature is nonpartisan and could take out red or blue states in the future and severely affect national elections,” he wrote.

McCaffrey must be a Democrat as he tagged Mother Nature (another euphemism for God) as being nonpartisan. No self-respecting Republican, at least in this time of Akins, Santorum, Bachmann and Mourdock, would declare God to be anything but a card carrying member of the Grand Old Party. 

My Mistake: Another example of why it’s very hard to copy edit yourself. In Wednesday’s post I wrote Hurricane “Sally,” not Sandy (since corrected). My apologies. To those who wrote in, thank you. To everyone else, this is another example of seeing what you want to see, not what the reality is.