Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pies, Ipads and the Anna Karenina Principle

Thanksgiving is over, the opening salvo in the holiday season has been fired. Just back from the big city and here is what we learned.

* The Ipad is the new gadget de rigeur. Whipping out your tablet and googling a You Tube video to prove your point is the best revenge, at least until next year.

* Board games do keep older minds supple. My brother-in-law's mother, in her eighties, can stomp at Scrabble.

* Mark Sanchez and the Jets need a make-over, or maybe a GPS.

* As a nation, we are very good at pie. Making and eating.

* Tolstoy was right, at least at Thanksgiving. Happy families are all alike, and Thanksgiving is the most communal of our holidays because for the short period we are together, we are happy. Maybe we should amend the second half of the Anna Karenina principle to read ... and unhappy families need to limit their exposure to one massive meal a year.

Friday, November 16, 2012

No Jingle Bells Yet

No, it's too early. Not Christmas music on the radio. Not yet. Don't hurry me. I'm having too much shaudenfreude watching the Republicans stampede to see who can disown their Grinchlike karma the fastest. Listening to their top honchos on the talk shows, you'd think it was all a matter of window dressing, a couple more Bobby Jindall types, a few more Michelle Bachmann-like women running for office and their problems will be solved. They just don't get it, apparently. Their plantation South political strategy of racial divide and conquer with the intent of preserving a uber-capitalist status quo doesn't work any more. People looked at their platform, listened to the Romney flip flops essentially in the business of protecting the privileges of the one percenters because why? You could presumably end up with more jobs at Staples or Walmart at minimum wage with no health care? No, thanks. We could do better than that and now we will.
And in the end, even the forces of nature seemed to conspire to keep the Romney wave from reaching all the way to the White House, although the flooding from Hurricane Sandy came close.
Everything is apparently going to happen very fast now. The fiscal cliff will be just a speed bump as Boehner bends to the new political reality and Washington finds a way to do business again. Geopolitically, Palestinians feel that they have waited long enough and the only way to get Israel to the bargaining table is to start a war in Gaza and count on world opinion to step in and put a stop to the slaughter before it spreads. Hold on tight for that bloody mess.
And my favorite chess move - California initiated the nation's first cap and trade system to stem carbon dioxide levels this week. You recall cap and trade. No? One of Obama's first legislative initiatives, it died when Democrats from the coal belt allied themselves with Republicans to stall passage in the Senate, and then when the Tea Party swept to power in the 2010 midterm elections it was tarred and feathered as the idea from communist hell and then euthanized as us environmentalists went on a two year carrot fast. It's riding back in on the favorable wind of progress. Activists are hoping that the world's ninth largest economy, California, will provide a model of how to decouple economic growth from fossil fuel dependence using the market based incentives of the cap and trade model. That's the kind of hope I'm talking about. But hold off on Jingle Bells until after the turkey.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

All it Takes

Thoughts on Veteran's Day:

We remember the warriors and celebrate their service. It's about manhood, bravery, and of course sacrifice. It's about all of us. We are all veterans, and every life is made of campaigns. You win some and lose some and the thing is to never give up. In Spanish, darse por vencido, to give yourself over as conquered, has more resonance. I remember the Celts, who would go into battle naked and prefer death to slavery. Then there are some veterans of wars that have forged the Republic we are lucky to live in, after the war there is nothing left. You can see it in their eyes, the hollow look of having nothing left to give, to live for. War can do that, life can do that. I've seen photos, old prints of my great-great grandfather, a Civil War vet, drummer boy of the NY 166th Volunteers. After the war he tried farming in Ohio and failed. Then he came back and lived in Albany and sold kitchen appliances door-to-door. He was married and had four children. In the old photograph, he is posed with his wife and you can see he has no faith in the enterprise; there is no direction in his eyes. God knows what horrors he had witnessed as a 15-year old underaged so-called volunteer. His wife kept him going. One look at the photograph and the life story is there. The aimlessness of the veteran who gave up. Sometimes you can win the war and lose the battle. We don't talk about it enough, the veterans living with psychic wounds that do not heal. We all need something to live for. Today on Veteran's Day, give a veteran something good, a reason to live for. All it takes is a word, a look, a hug. Because one beaten down vet is a defeat for all of us.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Push and Shove of the Real World

6:00 am -- The line is forming in the dark. At dawn the stream of cars into the state capital is already obvious. By the time I show up it's a river of people, and the lines are already snaking around the downtown, blocks and blocks of people with more streaming in by the second. People with early morning faces and winter coats, lots of Obama-Biden stickers on baseball caps and pea coat lapels. Working class frumpiness prevails. Groups of adults with bunches of mixed race children, hospital workers, college kids, plenty of white men including myself, perhaps leaner and hungrier than the average, but also lots of slightly better dressed, scarves and fluffy coats, touristy looking couples coming up a little after the early birds. There is an entire city assembling and busloads beginning to be shuttled from the state office complex up on the Heights. Not too many on the buses, I notice. When the green-eyed lady in front of me says not to expect Clinton and Obama until 10:00 or 11:00, the prospect of no food for that long begins to gnaw at me. I cut my losses and jump out of line, walk away, don't look back, giving up my hard earned spot. I'm walking up the blocks, past thousands waiting for the show, for the appearance of the man of the hour. I'm feeling like a renegade. I'm that guy, yes, who decided coffee was a bigger draw than the future of the country.
For a few minutes I was part of the mass, the good people fighting the good fight, and the truth is I still am, but there is something about that energy, of being part of something so obviously larger than the sum of its parts. An army of good-humored, idealistic people. One thing I sensed in that line was determination. There is strength in numbers and we are strong. Well, maybe not me when it comes to breakfast. But who are we? In a deeply divided, polarized country, it is clear that our people are the fearless people of the now, not the people of what was once. We are continuing to put our money on change. It has been a long-time coming, and is still not showing its face fast enough for many, but it is in the air and unstoppable.
One caveat. The other guys, on the other hand, are to be feared. The willingness to play the country for chumps has been evident for decades. It has descended into criminality before, and it could do so again. The fact that nobody can pin down what policy platform Romney really represents, is truly frightening, given the context of historical Republican malfeasance and even recent anti-democratic moves like Citizens United. More learned observers than me point out the frightening similarities between what a Romney presidency would entail and the capitalist dictatorships of South Africa and Chile. Union busting, militaristic, resource gobbling countries governed in the interests of a small, corporate, international elite. Not that I believe Romney would descend to that level, but the tendencies are there. As evidence look to what he said behind closed doors in that Boca Raton dinner. Does anyone think that once in the White House he would not be pressed to kowtow to the likes of the Koch brothers and their ilk? Yes, Romney has been preaching bipartisanship in the last few weeks, but...why should anyone believe him?
For me, there are two men who have stepped up in recent days and decided that being an adult means showing that you care more about other people than you do about your own behind. Those two are Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Both those men show that when it comes to the actual push and shove provided by the real world, there is a chance for a bipartisan path forward out of this mess we are in.