Friday, December 28, 2012

Just Fix the Fiscal Cliff, already! Notes from Paradise

It's a big contrast between my idyllic surroundings in Hawaii and the stress my husband is feeling, and sharing (or foisting) with me about the impending fiscal cliff.

I think our President wants us to tumble, because he's in the position of power and revels in it. He wants Republicans to look bad, and after Speaker Boehner's failure with Plan B, you know we do. By so doing, he looks good, of course, his favorite way to look.

Even better for him is feeling powerful, and now's his moment. He wouldn't dare linger one more day in Kailua (on the other side of Oahu from Waikiki) with the fam, when he can watch the nation plunge off the precipice and gloat.

"Suffer, you poor stubborn Republicans!" And incidentally, everyone else, who very quickly will pile on his side and yell for the selfish, stinky, eeeeevil Republicans who want to protect their rich 1% cronies, to cave. Truth is, they--we--are stuck at the mercy of the grinning Potus once paychecks shrink and inheritances crumble--and stocks plummet and jobs disappear and we're all screaming--pleading!--for relief.

"Help us! Oh, help us, dear President!" And with his magnanimousness, our Nobel Laureate, who obviously knows a thing or two about keeping the peace, will accept the bow of those who once were too stiff-necked to see his truth.

There is no reason for our president to want to "cobble out" a compromise; no need for him to do more than stand parentally watching the bad boys and girls who want to protect the filthy rich realize their folly. He wants to save us. It frosts me, which takes a lot when the night-time low temperature is 75, that he gets to feel so superior and so right.

He thinks what he wants is best for the country. Going over the cliff, even to win his point, will hurt a lot of people. But in the end, he'll remind us, we'll be better off.  When that doesn't happen, possibly because people smart enough to earn more than $250,000 annually are also smart enough to figure out how to avoid taxes, he'll still blame Republicans.

It's a beautiful view here in Hawaii, with the aqua surf, stark Pali mountains, lush tropical flowers. Our president can certainly tell you that. But from his vantage, the view is even better in Washington, because he'll watch his opponents tumble into place like the white cascade of the waterfalls in paradise.

And the rest of us, no matter our surroundings, are left with stress...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sad, but sick of pondering Connecticut shootings

Newtown, CT memorial for victims of shooting rampage
I'm sorry not to be politically correct, but I don't want any more emails or alerts about whether my children are safe in school. I can't read any more pronouncements for banning handguns so that kids emerge alive from their classrooms. Don't replay presidential assurances that "something will be done" to prevent tragedies like the Connecticut mass shootings.

There is nothing to be said; nothing to be done (but, perhaps, weep for the children and the families involved). Seeing flags flying at half-mast everywhere I go makes me wonder what the signal of such gestures is, or can be. When I was young, upon the death of a statesman, president or unusually significant leader, flags would ascend only half their usual heights in recognition of the accomplishments of the deceased. The diminished loftiness of the flag acknowledged the loss of someone particularly influential and great. Now, it seems, if we have reason to be sad, even if it's because someone went berserk, the national symbol is lowered.

That a human being could murder in such a shockingly heartless and cruel manner--in a place we consider innocent and pure--so many blameless and even exemplary people is, of course, horrifying. It is fitting that those lost should be memorialized properly, and mourned.

But that's where the response should stop. Instead of generalizing and sermonizing; instead of attacking second-amendment freedoms or insisting that some policy or safeguard might have prevented this tragedy, we should simply grieve. Quietly and sincerely.

There is no sense to be made of this. There is no action needed or blame to be placed. There is no rule or safeguard that should have been enforced. This was unpredictable and nonsensical. The motivations of the individual who committed this unspeakable series of murders is incomprehensible. We do not want to accept that, but we should, and in the end, we will.

In the interim, we magnify the sorrow by endlessly succumbing to what my husband has dubbed "the do-something disease." In our powerlessness, we crave solutions. We want to address the problem to gain control.

But we have none, and this kind of wrenchingly awful crime cannot be addressed. There is comfort to be shared but no resolution.

What causes mental illness to manifest itself? What causes a person to "snap" or experience "melt down" or, in shooter Adam Lanza's case, endure "an episode"? What spurs any compulsion? Medications can influence the brain and thus behavior, but are they automatically appropriate for socially inept, quiet people? Are we to look at anyone with idiosyncrasies or even Asperger's Syndrome as a threat requiring treatment and "normalizing"?

Sorry. I seem to be indulging in the same mind games I eschew. Let's deal with this in our personal feelings and stop groping for answers to imponderable questions. Sometimes the message is to realize our vulnerabilities and our dependence on God, and become more humble. There's research to be done on how the brain functions, but that is ongoing and hasn't yielded what we want to hear now. Let's accept our inadequacies and our lack of control, and then, please, just be quiet.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Normalcy Bias" Makes Us Think Everything's OK...but it's NOT

I got a breathless email from a friend asking me what I thought of Normalcy Bias, "and how it applies to America and those of us who see and realize what the worst could be--and those who say the worst is impossible, and those who see it but can't take that amount of stress and so deny/go into the Normalcy Bias."

I figured she wanted my opinion as a psychologist and one hooked up to the punditry of politics. In our house, we live and breathe current events, which makes life interesting, and sometimes depressing.

Whatever my qualifications, I'd never heard of the Normalcy Bias, so I did what anyone would: check it out on Wikipedia. (I see they've got a fund-raiser going on, and frankly, that's one service that deserves supporting, given how it's become essential for understanding anything.)

To save you the clicks, Normalcy Bias is the human tendency to downplay or even deny negativity, especially extreme peril. People who didn't want to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, ignoring warnings because "it'll all be OK" are prime examples.

This is what I answered to my friend:

I wasn't really familiar with the normalcy bias, though it certainly makes sense. My reaction is that people respond to the world based on three things: their experience, emotions and logic, probably in that order.

If people have never experienced a potential disaster, they must respond to its possible existence in the realm of speculation and, in a sense, fantasy. Without any experience, they have few expectations, even if told what they may expect, which handicaps them regarding action.

Emotion is probably the most potent influence, I'd say. People definitely deny bad things; that protects them from the pain and anguish fearsome prospects or events cause. Normalcy Bias is therefore a matter of self-preservation against negative feelings, which, clearly, nobody wants to have.

Then there's logic, and when you say "the worst is impossible," even logic dictates that "the worst" case on a continuum of possibilities is unlikely. What is likely is something in the middle, neither the worst or best-case scenario.

In some situations, the BEST-case scenario is the most logical--take the case of LA, where I grew up, inhaling a LOT of smog. The city was a gray blob of inert, foul air. And there were forecasts that LA would be uninhabitable because the number of people and cars was
increasing.


Well, that ignored human capability--people researched and discovered what caused the smog and legislated it out of gasoline, thus significantly reducing the problem! Any projections must take into account THE BEST possibilities as well as the worst; focusing only on the worst is as biased a view as Normalcy Bias.

My friend, who's the type who put all her wealth in gold, and stores it someplace out of the country, is likely referring to the Fiscal Cliff, or perhaps some kind of Obama-driven take-over that would pare civil rights (including gun ownership). She considers her steps prudent; even if the worst doesn't happen she's prepared "just in case."

One wonders what level of "preparedness" isn't the Normalcy Bias but an optimistic outlook. I feel confidence that our nation has enough sensible people to correct missteps. After all, this election, like so many before it, was razor-close. Those deciding winners were actually the ones labeled "undecided." We are able to turn right or left, responding to circumstances. My friend brought up Nazi Germany, where the populace and even some in the know just refused to believe what was going on. Is it smart to "prepare for the worst but hope for the best?" Or is that going too far?

Sometimes I think that people who ignore warnings are just lazy. It's so much easier to succumb to inertia and do nothing. Moving your money takes investigation and planning and often, more money just to make the change. Keeping an earthquake kit in the garage with jugs of water requires maintenance. We have a couple gallon jugs of water and some freeze-dried food in our garage, and every time I see it there, I wonder if, in case of a disaster, we'd be in any position to find it or use it. We haven't switched out the water for quite a while. Is that stupidity?

I truly do have a bias toward normalcy, and I think it's because I'm incorrigibly optimistic. On the other hand, I intellectually understand that a range of perils is poised. No one ever thought a skyscraper could be collapsed by an airplane impact except the evil perpetrators of 9-11. Can we live in constant vigilance? Or does that diminish our quality of life?

I daresay I'm unsettled by the prospects of the Fiscal Cliff, but I'm probably more relaxed about it than my friend. There has to be a golden mean between attention to the frighteningly and the thrillingly possible.  I think the term "normalcy bias" actually contributes to unnecessary panic about what the future could bring.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Petreaus & Libya "Coincidences" Explained in my Fantasy


This is my fantasy, a series of thought balloons over Pres. Barack Obama's head, containing what he's been thinking to himself. Given the many coincidences developing about the timing of when authorities knew about Gen. Petraeus' affair with Paula Broadwell, and the general's resignation right after election day, as well as the real-time viewing of the Sept. 11 Libya terrorist attack, and its subsequent spin by Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton--well, I can't escape formulating this little cartoon timeline about the driving thought in the president's mind over the last few months. And now, he's bowing in Cambodia while Israel's defending itself. I don't think I'm the only one imagining this particular scenario.

May, 2012 thought balloon over Barack Obama: "Gotta get re-elected!. Must win this election! Nuts; what's this about Petraeus and this Broadwell woman? I appointed him; he's my guy. Gotta shut this up. Must get re-elected!"

July, 2012: "Must win re-election. Whatever it takes, get re-elected! Petraeus has to keep quiet about his affair 'til I'm elected. Shut him up til I'm re-elected..."

September 10, 2012: "Gotta get re-elected! Must win this election! Whatever it takes, win this election! Can't allow Romney any momentum!"

September 11, 2012: "Uh oh, trouble in Libya. Must get re-elected! Minimize what's happening in Libya; gotta win this election!"

September 12, 2012: "Big problems with Libya--deaths there, even!--but must get re-elected! At least there's that stupid video. Susan and Hillary must spin; 'Spontaneous demonstration against video.' Can't let it interfere with my re-election.  Must get re-elected!"

October 4, 2012: "I blew that debate. Why did I stick to those damn talking points? Must make up for it. Gotta get re-elected!"
October 21, 2012: "Too much leaking out about Libya. Must win re-election! How to stop Fox News jabbering about Libya!?! Dear GOD, stop these Libya questions so I can win!"

October 31, 2012: "I didn't mean that literally, but wow! Sandy knocked Fox off Libya; even Christie thinks I'm cool! Will win re-election! Will win re-election!"

November 6, 2012: "YES. I did it. OK, Petraeus, go ahead. Become honorable now. Doesn't matter. I'm IN."

November 11, 2012: I even won Florida. I'm set. Petraeus, you're history; big deal. Even if all the Libya stuff comes out, the worst I'll get is censure. Give it a few days and I might even have a press conference."

November 10, 2012: "Everything's going to be OK. Stocks down 500 points; ignore--I'm in. Israel pelted by missiles from Hamas; hand it off to State Department and ignore--I'm in. Petraeus affair heads the news; great distraction. Take more photos with hurricane victims."

And now, after days of stunning silence during which the leaders of Canada, Germany, France and Britain issued strong statements in support of Israel, Pres. Obama finally admits from Bangkok "Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes."

Final thought balloon over Pres. Obama's head: "Stay as personally non-committal as possible. Don't ever have enough information on anything to comment. Do whatever I want to do. After all, I'm IN."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Veterans, from The Greatest Generation to the Petraeus Affair

Veteran's Day should have been a lot more than a day to shop. Most Americans skipped participating in the national expression of gratitude for the untold disruption, pain, courage and accomplishment for the men and women who serve in our military.  Our service personnel deserve recognition far beyond a single day's pause.

From my dad's days in the service
My father was a Major in the Army in World War II, one of the Greatest Generation whose sweethearts and families were also directly affected by the war effort. My mother answered the call by working at Douglas Aircraft; she was a secretary but many other women there acted as iconic "Rosies the Riveters," taking on jobs considered masculine. Americans lived with product shortages and rationing, with blackouts when it was feared enemies might fly over and attack.

Here's a belated shout-out to all the veterans I know, and a fond remembrance to those gone who made real sacrifices to keep our nation safe and democracy flourishing. Thanks for your service.

So what do we make of this riveting scandal about General David Petraeus and his "biographer," as she's come to be called (not his "fellow adulterer" or even "nemesis" as are appropriate), Paula Broadwell? What about the twist of Broadwell's "harassing" emails to Tampa "socialite" and "unpaid social liaison" at MacDill Airforce Base Jill Kelley, and the extended connection to Afghanistan commander, 4-star general John Allen?

I'm a suspicious sort when it comes to politics, and see the logic in accusations by Fox News commentator Judge Jeanine Pirro that the Petraeus affair was kept under wraps until after November 6, lest his testimony or unofficial comments detract from the president's spin on the Benghazi embassy attack and murder of four--and thus prevent his re-election. It seems too much of a coincidence that the affair, which was apparently known for several months, is revealed and Petraeus resigned before spilling the beans on what really happened during the real-time viewing of the attack, which occurred after pleas for protection were denied.

Meanwhile, our sordid curiosity forces us to focus on Paula Broadwell, married mother of two little children, whose creepy anonymous emails scared Jill Kelley enough for her to seek an investigation. Which brought into the picture Gen. Allen, whose 20,000 pages of emails with Kelly have been deemed "flirtatious," and will occupy our dedicated Defense Department employees for many an hour.

Why is this even an issue; after all, it's "just sex," as defenders of President Clinton said of his Monica Lewinsky dalliance in the Oval Office. My skeptical brain tells me it's an intentional decoy away from the Benghazi mega-flub; away from the fact that Obama has yet to speak out about the 100 missiles lobbed on Southern Israel from Gaza while Syria shells the north. Our president has some serious international issues, and the news media are consumed by military flirtations and adulteries. This is not a good way to start a new term of office.


Paula Broadwell with biography of her 'close mentor'
And it makes our military look bad. If our most trusted officers don't have the self-discipline to keep their sex urges under control, how can we trust them to uphold the highest standards of propriety in their duties? How can they focus on our national security when they're juggling the tangled web of deceit required by affairs and even flirtatious emails? I'm sorry, "just sex" is the euphemism for larger ethical lapses. And it's going to cost in many ways as it continues. Transparency is the guarantee of honesty, but even the lauded term transparency can be smudged and fudged, and I'm very worried for our nation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Superstorm Sandy: Election Catalyst for Obama in an Act of God

I grew increasingly worried as I watched the approach of Superstorm Sandy toward the Eastern Seaboard last week--and not just for the safety of those in its path. Until the hurricane started monopolizing the newswaves, serious accusations about the president's role dealing with the Libya embassy terror attacks were gaining huge traction, but with the storm, God flipped the course of the election.

Fox news had previously featured nearly continuous coverage of serious issues calling into question the president's handling and spinning of a premeditated 9-11 Anniversary terrorist attack that left four Americans dead. Hillary Clinton's insistence immediately that the attack was a spontaneous protest of a YouTube video quickly was discredited as information surfaced about real-time viewing of the hours-long terrorist assault in the White House situation room. The executive deception aimed to squelch evidence of the president's incompetence in the embassy incident (and by implication any urgent foreign affairs). The truth of a premeditated, organized attack would destroy Obama's oft-asserted campaign boast that "al Qaeda is on the run!"  Its revelation could have Watergate-like effects, showing him complicit in concealing a major, deadly event. And as many note, nobody died in Watergate, the cover-up of a break-in to steal documents that led to the resignation of President Nixon in 1974.

But with Sandy's threat, the demise of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was swept aside. As the swirls on the weather map moved closer, the evacuation of thousands in the most populated areas of New York and New Jersey naturally overtook the airwaves.
With the touchdown of the hurricane and its attendant death and destruction, as well as the loss of utilities for cities that inconvenienced and even imperiled many additional thousands, the president gained the opportunity to step forward into the limelight non-stop. I don't own a TV, but imagined ceaseless coverage of a savior-president lifting muck-encrusted children from car rooftops and rescue rowboats.

Even my fantasies were surpassed by the over-the-top praise Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey lavished on Pres. Obama during his near-immediate damage-viewing excursion: “the President has been all over this and he deserves great credit.” He said Obama's response had been "outstanding," despite the fact that half a million citizens remain without power and gasoline is rationed a week following the governor's kudos.

After viewing tonight's results, my husband told me of exit polls that asked the role President Obama's handling of Superstorm Sandy had in voter's decisions: "About four voters in 10 say Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy was important in their vote (42 percent,)" notes Fox News, "and they backed the president by a better than two-to-one margin. Fifteen percent said it was the 'most important' factor in their vote."

The storm was an Act of God. No political strategist planned it, and yet none could have invented a better boost for Obama's reputation and aid to his success. It was as if God was speaking in favor of Barack Obama's re-election, or perhaps commenting on the behavior of those involved in the campaign.

It's a Jewish belief that God helps those go in the direction they truly want to pursue. If one wishes to pursue good, he receives help from Heaven; if his desire is toward evil, his path that way is smoothed.  I don't really know what God had in mind in bringing Superstorm Sandy at that very time and place, but I know it conveys a message, and last night's election results spur our urgent need to decipher its content.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nervous about the Election

Everywhere I go, people are confiding that they're losing sleep over the election. I didn't hear that four or eight or twelve years ago; in fact, I've never heard so many people blurt immediately that they're frightened about voting outcomes.

People I know, most of them conservatives, have a real fear of the implementation of Obamacare and its attendant tax and premium increases. They genuinely recoil at the thought of the fiscal cliff, which would devalue homes, cause businesses to go under, cost huge numbers of jobs and put our nation in jeopardy due to burdensome debt to such "frenemies" as China.

Many of my friends are religious Christians, who see the values on which our nation was founded--God-centric concepts that honor biblical direction--in peril. Foremost among these is the primacy of traditional marriage. I keep hearing in radio ads the term "homophobia" as a code for anyone who wants traditional man-woman marriage to stand as the norm. It would be an oxymoron for a gay person in my state of Washington, therefore, to reject the ballot measure approving gay marriage and dissolving all current Domestic Partnerships. Already, these partnerships are the legal equivalent of marriage, just by a different name, ie "everything but marriage." But should this measure pass, existing Domestic Partnerships cease, forcing presently registered gay couples to either marry or have no official status. What's a believing Christian or Jew or Muslim to do?

Many tell me that though they're not Mormon, they're fervently praying for the candidate who's dedicated 40 years' time and 20% of his money to furthering his good-neighbor-making faith.

Sleepless nights leading up to November 6. It's not just finances, it's values. It's not just style, it's competence. The conservatives I know see such a clear difference in principles and ability between the presidential candidates that they can't accept a loss.

I was disheartened about the Superstorm, not only feeling for the losses and hardships of those directly affected, but fearing its impact on the presidential outcome. I imagined copious views of a sympathetic president lifting photogenic children from the muck, with attention removed from his challenges in the campaign, especially questions about the handling of the Libya embassy terrorism. But now, a week after Sandy left its devastating mark on the East, there appears far more difficulty in rebounding from the storm, and so less savior-worship than expected (though a Libya coverup seems the exclusive purview of Fox News).

Democrats Are Different. I don't see the same kind of fretful reaction to this election among my Democratic friends. They're sleeping fine. In fact, some are so disenchanted with the present administration (for whom they voted last time) that they're sitting out the process all together. I predict a much-reduced Democratic turnout from four years ago. Many of these friends can't bring themselves to support Romney, but they also can't abide endorsing the disappointing Obama. That leaves the default of "skipping" this election, and feeling sanguine should others' balloting bring a change. The die-hard Democrats I know are mostly confident that they'll succeed, which leads them to relaxed nights, as well.

Still, most I know remain jumpy. My husband wrote The Odds Against Obama, a historical and logical look at election indicators that add up to a likely Romney victory. But even he is nervous, piqued by conflicting polls and signs. Until Wednesday, we suffer an undercurrent of uncertainty, the result of a heavy intuition that the results forthcoming will make more difference in our lives than any election outcomes before.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Waiting for a Tsunami in Low-Lying Honolulu

Results in Hawaii of the March, 2011 tsunami
So I was just talking to my family in Seattle as Shabbat ended here in Honolulu, catching up on the day when suddenly, I heard the familiar screech of the tsunami sirens, blasting out in the warm night. I was home alone, my friends and hosts out at a movie I deemed too tense for my taste.

I didn't know about any earthquake, but of course during Shabbat I'm off the news-loop, so my first thought was it was some kind of test or malfunction of the siren system. But no--the blaring, ear-piercing scream persisted.

I turned on local TV and was shocked to hear urgent warnings about an expected wall of water, and as I write this, the first wave blast is due in less than an hour. as I type, I hear warnings on the radio: turn off your computers. Turn off the lights and get out. The lines at gas stations are now long, as scared residents all seek to top off their tanks; supermarkets are busy with purchases of emergency supplies. On the radio: take your prescription medicines; take 5-7 days' food, including pet food, battery powered flashlights, eyeglasses, important papers in waterproof containers. Refuge centers are opening. Mike Buck, a local radio host I happen to know, is urging listeners to help neighbors out of their homes. Anyone lower than 4 floors in a beach-area hotel has to move upward.

Traffic in my area is jammed; reports two blocks away say it's moving at 3 mph. I packed my suitcase, but everyone here is just not worked up, having done this before in March of 2011 after the Japan quake--I was visiting at the time, joining my friends in filling the car and driving up the hill to the home of a neighbor.

There we watched on TV when the waves came in--cameras at various beach-points showed the whole process, the surf withdrawing especially far, a frightening pause, and then the tsunami surges rolling in, one long, deep wave after the other. A tsunami can last for hours; it's not the TV terror of a huge, hungry surf-type wave that devours all in its path in one gulp.

Probably the most suspenseful part is now, the last minutes before the expected impact. Tsunamis don't hit a single side of the islands--instead, they wrap around and hit all the shores, meaning the uncertainty affects all. So, rather than keep typing (and using the battery on my laptop), I suppose it would be prudent to leave now... with prayers (and expectations) that this tsunami, too, will be great for story-telling but minimal in its result. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Last Presidential Debate: Won't Change Anything

Yes, the president was aggressive and learned to look intently at Romney for those split-screen shots. Yes, Romney knew his strong suit was calling the president on his less-than-stellar domestic record. There were some tense, uncomfortable moments, and a few zingers, but in the end, the only question is "what does it mean?" and the answer is, "Not much."

First off, lots of potential viewers were already "debated out" after the first confrontation where Romney showed himself presidential and the president "had a nice, long nap," as he quipped to the Al Smith dinner last week, plus the Biden-Ryan chuckle-fest and the Town Hall Candy Crowley confrontation. Second off, people care about the economy and care far less about the complicated, bloody ins-and-outs of foreign relations.

That left the real die-hards to sit through this last debate and root for their favorites, because barring some jaw-dropping blooper, the real undecideds are not likely to vote based on what was or was not said this late in the game.

Even we who are invested in this campaign took a little snooze in the middle of this debate, when both guys reiterated their points and sounded confusing and boring. At the beginning, a combative president tried to nab the governor on changing positions, saying aptly given the topic, he was "all over the map," but after lots of verbiage, it seemed they had few differences. Both want out of Afghanistan by 2014; both say Assad of Syria has "got to go" (Obama) or "must go" (Romney). Neither supported Mubarak in Egypt, and both want America to be strong, "the one indispensable nation" (Obama) and "the mantle of leadership for promoting the principles of peace" (Romney).

So the meat of the debate covered the American economy, and focus groups on TV afterward said that was the issue that would determine their votes, anyway. Romney again, as in previous debates, enumerated his five-point plan for returning the nation to prosperity. This is where the interchange got good, because then Obama went on the offensive, answering Romney's plan with accusations rather than plans of his own. "First of all, Governor Romney talks about small businesses, but Governor, when you were in Massachusetts, small businesses' development ranked about 48, I think, out of 50 states" He went on to jab his opponent on hiring teachers, forcing Romney on the defensive, reminding Obama that his state's students rank first in the nation.

The two got into a redeux of their previous debate on balancing the budget and military spending, with Romney's zap about sequestration as the source of problems met with Obama's surprising assertion that it "will not happen," which after the debate was the subject of back-pedaling by Spin-Room advisors. He followed that up with a sarcastic jab at Romney's comment that "the Navy budget is smaller now than any time since 1917": "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

And we have this thing called respect, which the President provided mighty frugally.

Israel was an important issue where Romney could have been more aggressive. He mentioned Obama's campaign swing through the middle East four years ago, "skipping" Israel, but he never mentioned the meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu requested this August that Obama "skipped" in favor of a TV gig on The Late Show with David Letterman. Romney did remind us of the Obama desire to "put daylight" between the US and Israel, but both men assured viewers they'd "stand with" Israel, or "have Israel's back" should Iran attack. It was a spirited interchange, but very little new came out of it.

More memorable was the number of times each candidate discredited the other. When they both got frustrated, they devolved into "check the record." Listening to TV post-debate fact-checkers, it seems Romney was more accurate, but at the time, viewers' reward was a  little wake-up jolt.

China got some play, with Romney's intention to immediately declare the nation a "currency manipulator" spurring a follow-up from moderator Bob Scheiffer as to how that would affect the relationship. Notable, though, was Romney's mention that trade with Latin American was ripe for development, as its economy "is almost as big as the economy of China." The discussion of China, though, seemed pretty redundant, both candidates noting that the nation needs to "play by the rules" regarding counterfeit goods and currency. Yawn.

If you waited out the conversation to its end, you heard two well-delivered final statements, neither surprising. What I learned later, though, was that apparently Gov. Romney, suffering from a debilitating flu, refused suggestions to postpone the debate. Someone in the campaign called it "a 10 on the sick scale." Knowing that, I give the guy kudos.

I'm sure he's glad it's over with, as are we all. I could almost hear the TV remotes clicking off as the tense minutes ticked on, and at the beginning, I fathomed lots of them clicking to other channels. Flicking around TV commentary afterward, I found conservatives calling the debate for Romney and liberals for Obama. Those who saw the entire hour and a half probably shmushed it all together and proclaimed it a draw.

The good news from my perspective is that the evening's tete-a-tete likely won't affect the trajectory of a campaign that seems to be favoring Romney more and more. The debates have served to humanize the governor, and prove him to have presidential knowledge and demeanor (despite an annoying mini-stutter), and to allow the public to picture him in the role of POTUS. Obama didn't need or gain any of that, and in fact his first-debate flub, witnessed by 67 million people, was the harbinger of his demise.

The election is already underway. We in Washington State received our ballots last week for our all-mail-in voting. These last few days, with its media bombardments, are enough to deter folks from turning on radio or TV or answering the phone to robo calls. Even my email is accompanied by those obnoxious moving banner ads. I think everyone including the undecideds have made up their minds, and the ones who vote (many won't) will stick to old allegiances or confirm that, as James Carville coined for a successful Bill Clinton, "it's the economy, stupid," and give Romney the nod.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2nd Presidential Debate: Romney remains strong; Obama regains his verve

Watching the second of three presidential debates, this one a Town Hall format at Hoftstra University in Hempstead, NY was a tense experience for me. I was among 200 gathered in Bellingham, Washington under the auspices of the Whatcom County GOP, viewing the debate, hearing my husband's analysis, and sharing observations.

The consensus in my venue was, predictably, that Romney won. However, most felt that Obama's forceful demeanor, despite seldom answering questions head-on, compensated for the president's woeful performance in the first debate October 3, when by the end, he basically slunk off stage in shame.

The opening portion of the debate centered around energy, and Obama dodged a legit question about $4 gas becoming "the new normal," instead reiterating his desire to use resources we've got toward energy independence. He never revealed why the price of gas doubled under his watch, except to finally say when pressed that the $1.86 per gallon average when he came to office reflected an economy "on the verge of collapse." Meanwhile, Romney lost some of his precious time engaging the president in a back-and-forth over the dull point of the amount of public lands drilling permits he allowed.

Boring topic; head-to-head combat engrossing. How can you look away when you're just waiting for one of them to push over the line and call the other a liar? How can you relax when both debaters so blithely talk over moderator Candy Crowley with their accusations and corrections? When the TV cameras following the speakers include views of timers ticking through each's allotted two minutes, changing from green to white to red and finally off as the candidates charge way beyond with their answers? You're on needles wondering when Candy will command a stop, and she never does.

Answers on lowering taxes were more comprehensible and even informative. Romney enumerated the many ways Americans have been "crushed" economically during Obama's term, one of his fave memes, and then offered something new--the idea that taxpayers might select their deductions from a "bucket" of traditional choices, like child care, home mortgage or college, with no taxes for the middle class on investments or savings. That definitely sounded liberating, despite the on-camera audience staying stony-faced like cardboard cutouts no matter who said what the entire time.

Obama's tax response was equal measure attacking Romney for preserving cuts for the rich and touting his efforts on behalf of the middle class, which he said save them $3,600 annually. He zinged Romney for a 60 Minutes response the governor gave defending lower tax rates for capital gains, fudging by saying Romney called it "fair" when he really had explained how it differed from earned income.

And of course the president couldn't resist mentioning Big Bird and Planned Parenthood as Romney cuts. In fact, Planned Parenthood was an Obama meme that Romney never rebutted, as he should have. Meanwhile, the president ticked off Romney's proposed tax cuts, which he said total $7 trillion. In a strong touche, Romney called that "foreign to what my real plan is," zapping Obama for a $4 trillion additional annual national debt while in office, which "puts us on the road to Greece."  Now, that was fun.

The following portion about women's inequality was a yawner, though. Neither candidate could say the real truth, which is that despite women now comprising the majority of college graduates, their lower-than-men's average pay far less reflects misogyny 40 years post-feminism, than priorities that place family above work demands, and work's psychic reward above competitive salary advantage. Romney's recollection of seeking out women for his gubernatorial cabinet yielded a new buzz-phrase, "binders of women." All those talented ladies are out there, waiting in their binders to be tapped for high office.

Obama's citing the Lily Ledbetter bill as his accomplishment, without mentioning its purpose (to extend the amount of time women can sue for workplace discrimination), fell flat. His mention of Romney's defunding of Planned Parenthood as a "pocketbook issue," though, worked better.

Gov. Romney's concise response to differences between himself and George Bush was masterful, enumerated clearly. Obama's retort scolding Romney for investing in Chinese companies, however, backfired later, when the Governor noted the president, too, held such investments. And the accusation that Romney would "turn Medicare into a voucher" just doesn't sound that ominous; the seeming spectre of illegal immigrants' "self-deportation" came off as quite reasonable, once Romney elaborated on it.

Asked by a disillusioned 2008 Obama voter why he deserves continued support, the president offered an acceptable litany of his accomplishments--that were smashed by Romney's list of evidences of Obama's failure. His bottom line: "The president has tried, but his policies haven't worked. He's great as a speaker and describing his plans and his vision. That's wonderful, except we have a record to look at. And that record shows he just hasn't been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need..." What a respectful way to say the POTUS is untruthful.

But the zenith of excitement came with the candidates' dispute about the handling of the attack on the Libyan embassy. Did Obama call it an act of terror in his Rose Garden press conference the following day? "Get the transcript," insisted an irritated Obama, who holds he immediately termed the assassination of four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens terrorism. No, claimed Gov. Romney, "...it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror." Well, Candy Crowley knows: she interjected that the president did in the Rose Garden indeed call it an act of terror. Not her purview in the debate, and besides, she was wrong. But the night's most startling and memorable moment.

From there, predictable answers to questions on assault weapons, outsourcing jobs, and "misperceptions about you," a query neither candidate answered but used as their summaries. Whew. Both sides can say their guy held his own, and Obama's fans can feel relief that he redeemed his pathetic performance from before.

The event in Hempstead was not a game-changer, but in the end, I thought Romney continued his winning confident assertiveness. Obama's final image was tighter-strung, on the offensive. When it comes down to it, the impressions audiences take away of each man are more significant an influence than the content of their answers. I predict continued strength for Romney as Americans become ever-more-comfortable with his persona. There's one more debate next week, on the topic of international relations, but I believe that for most, opinions will by then be set.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden-Ryan Vice-Presidential Debate: Cringe

Too many cringes to make the Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan pleasant. Enough missed retaliations and corrections to feel like a lot was conceded. Mannerly smile-smirks met by toothy chuckles; words smothered by rude interjections.

Is this a bad haiku or two men who might be called upon to lead our nation's military?

You could see they were both well-practiced, Biden in his role as froth-mouthed attack dog aiming to make up for the feckless performance of his boss Obama in last week's first presidential candidate debate. But which of Biden's handlers approved his inappropriate laughter? With the split-screen Fox provided, Biden's toothy chortles while Ryan spoke seriously about terrorism were distracting (as Biden intended, I'm sure) but served only to make the current VP seem obnoxiously rude. These outbursts early in the debate showed such lack of respect that they're probably the single most-remembered aspect of the evening.

Ryan set his role as the confident intellectual prepared to parry Biden's jabs and keep focus like a laser beam on the failures of hope-and-change to revitalize the economy.

Both challengers knew what to expect, and applied their strategies in annoying ways. At the end, both had some meaty paragraphs and flubs. With Biden's giggles and Ryan's restraint when response would've helped, it could be called a draw.

Watching the debate in a theater with 250 listeners of the Michael Medved Show allowed instant, audible reactions, just where you'd expect conservatives to offer them. But I attempted to perceive the interaction through the eyes of an Obamaite, and as such found many places where Biden's stutters and hesitations could be overlooked in favor of never-refuted arguments.

Such as: the idea that Romney and conservative lawmakers "hold hostage" tax cuts for the middle class in order to protect them for the wealthiest. Such as his answer on abortion saying he "wouldn't impose" his Catholic life-begins-at-conception belief on those of other faiths, and "wouldn't interfere" with the Supreme Court. Ryan gave a serviceable answer on the role of his own Catholicism (recalling the ultrasound of his first child) but seemed to imply that Romney-Ryan might work to further their "policy" against abortion except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.

More score for Biden: Insisting that our troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by the planned 2014 replaced by Afghani troops they'd trained. Ryan kept repeating that a withdrawal would endanger the remainder of US soldiers, and seemed deaf to Biden's assurance they'd only leave when replaced by locals. Biden had a "gotcha" moment when he recalled Ryan's letter asking for some Stimulus money for a local project, right after Ryan put down the Stimulus package as wasteful and ineffective.

But Biden had plenty of missteps. As a commenter at our viewing said afterward, "If somebody has to tell me to trust him, I won't." Like this retort on Medicare: "These guys haven't been big on Medicare from the beginning, and they've always been about Social Security as little as you can do. (turns to camera) Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this? A man who introduced a bill that would raise it $6,400 a year, knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he'd sign it? Or me and the president?"

Biden did well to use the "talk directly to the camera" strategy, which he employed three times. Also on Medicare: "Any senior out there, ask yourself: Do you have more benefits today? You do. If you're near the doughnut hole, you have $600 more to help your prescription drug costs. You get wellness visits without copays...Now they got a new plan. Trust me, it's not going to cost you any more. Folks, follow your instincts on this one."

Ryan kept his gaze on the moderator, Martha Raddatz, which gave viewers at home an angled view of his face. He only looked squarely into the camera for his masterful summary statement, a pity, because when you felt he was focusing on you, he was superbly sympathetic. He gave Biden and the camera only a few cursory glances the rest of the time, so Biden's spaced-out full-frontal pleas reminded viewers he was aware of them, a definite advantage.

Ryan used the same tool three times to discredit Biden assertions: "You see, if you don't have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It's what he's (Biden's) doing right now." It was good the first time.  Advice to Romney for the next debate: Don't talk about your opponent's tactics unless you need filler and can't directly answer what he's saying.

Ryan's restraint at Biden's incessant interruptions at least allowed him a civility that seemed presidential. And when he did grab a few sentences, they hit the President's failures hard, like this: "Let's not forget that they came in with one-party control. When Barack Obama was elected, his party controlled everything. They had the ability to do everything of their choosing, and look at where we are right now. They passed a stimulus, the idea that we could borrow $831 billion, spend it on all these special interest groups and that it would work out just fine, that unemployment would never get to 8 percent. It went up above 8 percent for 43 months. They said that right now, if we just pass this stimulus, the economy would grow at 4 percent. It's growing at 1.3 (percent)."

Truth is, the take-away for viewers was formed in the first 10 minutes, and as the discussion ambled in a series of interruptions through a lot of confusing foreign events and policy, remote controls were clicking off across America. And that take-away was an earnest, focused Paul Ryan swatting away the disrespectful, chuckling insertions by Joe Biden, whose know-it-all finger-wagging and jiggle-jawed insistence was distinguished not by its substance, but by its style and tone.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reactions to The Romney-Obama Debate (watching in a theater with Michael Medved)

Michael Medved & Dave Boze analyzing first presidential debate
It didn't take long for the direction of last night's first presidential candidate debate, between Mitt Romney and Pres. Obama, to be set. For me, it was when Mitt broke early tension with his acknowledgement of Obama's wedding anniversary: "I'm sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine (to spend it), here with me..."

From there it was Mitt putting out facts and figures, quickly correcting Obama's mischaracterizations of his positions, and unflinchingly talking directly to his challenger. As the debate raged on, Mitt stayed collected and continued to face Pres. Obama and the camera, while Obama appeared increasingly exasperated, with eyes cast down greater proportions of the time. The climax of the president's loser delivery was, ironically, his final uninterrupted opportunity to make a good impression, the three minute summary. He glanced at the camera (and its 58 million viewers, to whom he was speaking) occasionally, mostly gazing downward uncomfortably. Romney, by contrast, looked squarely into the camera, conversationally reiterating the points of his plan to elevate the economy, hammering home his oft-repeated goal of creating jobs.

Sometimes it seemed Obama was so stuck in his talking points he couldn't respond to what everyone heard Romney just say. For example, after Romney put forth his five-point plan for turning around the economy, Obama's response was to suggest that his opponent hasn't offered anything specific to do just that.

Early on, Romney turned around the term "trickle down," usually a a slam against the selfish and evil 1% who Obama says ought to be paying "their fair share" to support the sagging economy. (Of course, progressive income taxing already sees to it that those earning more pay a greater percentage in taxes.) Romney cleverly bashed "trickle down government," Obama's grandiose scheme to help poorer earners by expanding programs on the federal level.

It was great that one focus of the debate was the debt, which gave Romney a field day repeating the increase in the level of deficit between Obama's entry to office and the present. He had equal fun detailing the list of Obama green energy failures, gleefully addressing his opponent: "but don’t forget, you put $90 billion -- like 50 years worth of [tax] breaks -- into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said, you don’t just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers." Another chuckle.

Obama tried to play into a general dislike for big corporations, suggesting he'd hike their taxes: "the oil industry gets $4 billion a year in corporate welfare. Basically, they get deductions that those small businesses that Governor Romney refers to, they don’t get. Now, does anybody think that ExxonMobil needs some extra money when they’re making money every time you go to the pump? Why wouldn’t we want to eliminate that?"

I thought for sure Romney would answer, "Because people don't like paying more for their gas, especially given that when you came into office gas was $1.79 a gallon, and now it's actually doubled." (Gas prices in California averaged $4.23/gallon this week; averages here in Seattle are a hair lower.)

Obama told only a few anecdotes, but the most detailed described his maternal grandmother's need for government help: "She worked her way up, only had a high school education, started as a secretary, ended up being the vice president of a local bank. And she ended up living alone by choice. And the reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare."

Except that easily-accessible biographies say Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham attended both the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley, top-twenty colleges.

A major component of the debate was Obamacare, which the president confessed has become a term he enjoys (narcissism?). The discussion, however, didn't seem centered on why it's so wonderful but instead why it shouldn't be scrapped. Two of its features, mandatory coverage of existing conditions and coverage until age 26, were touted by the president, and claimed by Romney as the only two aspects worth salvaging. Romney got no push-back when he repeated that $716 billion for Obamacare was taken from the Medicare budget, and would be restored under his presidency. This played into what polls reveal--people don't want Medicare dismantled, and don't like that Obamacare was imposed, especially since most already see hikes in their premiums.

What drew the most laughter in the theater venue where I watched (my husband and another radio host providing analysis and fielding comments) was Romney's good-naturedly-delivered dig on Obama's assertion that businesses relocating get US tax benefits: "...you said you get a deduction for getting a plant overseas. Look, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant."

Viewers in the hall with me (almost all pro-Romney) seeing the event on an enormous screen could scrutinize Romney's and Obama's faces. One asked, "Did you see Obama's eye started twitching a few minutes into it, and kept doing that until the end?" "Obama seemed aged, tired and nervous." And yet, a hands-raised survey before the debate revealed that at least half had been anxious about which candidate would prevail.

As Romney maintained his ease, and Obama seemed to sink into defeat, the level of joviality in the room increased. At the end, a joyful group helped celebrate my husband's birthday with a kosher cake, and renewed confidence that indeed The Odds Against Obama have bloomed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Anti-Obesity Ads Rile Some--But Empower Most

Some people are irate that a new series of short TV ads by Blue Cross in Minnesota, aimed at getting parents to think about the food-related example they're setting, implies Moms and Dads are to blame for their kids' overweight. They say a parent's ephiphany about his influence amounts to "shaming" them. I disagree.

One of the controversial ads, below, notes how children mimic their parents. A second ad in a fast-food restaurant (called "Eating Out") shows a dad bringing his heavily-laden tray to the table, catching his son and friend bragging about the amounts their fathers can consume. The underlying assumption is, of course, that obesity is an epidemic and scourge that will lead to all sorts of health problems for children, and that its cause is too much unhealthy food, provided by parents. That may be erroneous, but the theme of the ads is "today is the day:" Now, rather than later, is the time to improve.

I'm writing a book on the obesity issue, and my work leads me to conclude that the nation's expanding girth cannot be attributed to junk food. I've found there are dozens of possible causes for the rise in obesity rates that started in 1980 and leveled off in 2000. It's unlikely that, as in the following ad, people's shopping carts overflow only with cookies, chips, sugary cereals and soda pop (and nothing fresh).

 But no one can debate the notion that parents are powerful models for their children, and good parents want their children to emulate healthful behaviors. I say there's nothing wrong with reminding parents that their actions shape their children.

Being a "good example" is a worthy goal in every aspect of life. Considering the idea--and its immediacy--can relate to myriad spheres. Moms can ask themselves if they're modeling for daughters desirable ways to talk to a spouse; fathers might wonder if they're conveying to their sons what a husband should be. Everyone can watch their interactions with others to be sure they're kindly--e.g. Are phone conversations polite?

No parent on earth thinks junk food only is a healthy diet, though I've nothing against junk food, as long as a person chooses it in response to his own body's signals--in which case it's likely to be but a small part of an overall picture. Well-meaning authorities' pronouncements or emotional issues can interfere with the natural connection to one's physical nutritional needs; we're programmed to be omnivores. Unfortunately, our culture tells us to disregard that in favor of some program or rules devised by an expert.

My research suggests that most overweight and obese individuals are not to blame for their sizes (there are many hypotheses about cause, including a cold virus, environmental toxins, genetic and hormonal changes). It's cruel and harsh that our society confers diminshed respect on its larger members, often denying them recognition or even common courtesies because of unfair disdain.  Embarrassing or shaming are unacceptable approaches to anyone--but these ads really don't do that.

Instead, they offer empowerment. Some people just don't consider the effects of what they're doing, and they could.  The mom whose shopping cart is filled only with junk food is probably a fantasy, and how many kids get in verbal war about whose dad can eat more? But that's not the point of these messages. They let parents pause to consider their role as teacher in their everyday behavior, and take it a step further by urging adults to improve now.

By the way, taking responsibility is a theme in the health-promoting Blue Cross ad series. Nobody's complaining about the one that chides people for their own lack of discipline, using a parody of the song "Tomorrow" from the play "Annie" (below). I don't see much difference between taking responsibility for one's own unhealthy choices (smoking, being sedentary, pigging out) and a parent taking responsibility for the food environment of his children at home. I do not think parents should force any food choices on children, but at the same time, a parent realizing where she can make positive differences in her family's lives today is motivating and uplifting.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eulogy for my 106-year-old Aunt

Frank and Aunt Bo a couple of years ago, at the organ
My Aunt Bo's funeral was Saturday. She died in her sleep at age 106. For the past thirty years, she'd been living in sin with her boyfriend, Frank, age 105.

I couldn't make the funeral, as it was 1,200 miles away and on the Jewish Sabbath, which I observe. Aunt Bo wasn't Jewish, though she'd been married to my Uncle Milt, who passed away in 1983, for 52 years.

Our family's claim to Jewish fame was that my grandfather, the father of Uncle Milt and my dad, founded the first Jewish newspaper in Southern California, in 1897. At that time, there was a small Orthodox Jewish community in Boyle Heights but the choice of most Jews in the Southland was Reform Judaism, a branch that had developed in Germany as an embrace of the Enlightenment only a few decades earlier.

Jews in nascent Southern California tended to cluster in Santa Ana, the community where as a young man my grandfather began his paper. He brought his enterprise to LA when Wilshire Boulevard Temple was built, a magnificent structure that rivalled the grandeur of any church. Previously, it was called Temple B'nai Br'ith (temple of the children of the covenant), and so when my grandfather started his paper, he called it The B'nai Br'ith Messenger.

It was through the publication's non-Jewish advertising saleswoman, Byrdie Baker, that my uncle met her daughter, Bo. The dynamic Byrdie, who eventually rose to editor, was frail and old in my memories, a fixture at early family holidays, along with her second daughter, my Aunt Fern, whose son had been a famous singer in the 40's and had died before the 50's began. Talking about Ernie (Fern's son) seemed taboo, so I never learned about his untimely death, though in Aunt Fern's home hung a large photo of the handsome youth, hair slicked back, at a large microphone that said CBS.

Aunt Bo spent her working life at a desk at a local small business that sold tools, doing their accounting. She managed to obtain some jeweler's pliers and wire cutters for me, when I was in my teenaged jewelry-making phase. I never asked her about her worklife, about who sat at the other few desks, or whether she enjoyed the job. My uncle Milt was a traveling salesman, representing a company that manufactured cake decorations. You know, those little plastic ponies, birthday-candle holders, flowers and brides and grooms. He had a big case of samples he toted in his Southern California territory, and was always home on weekends.

On Sundays, my family drove the familiar 10-minute route to Aunt Bo and Uncle Milt's house for bar-be-ques, where hamburgers sizzled on a kettle grill with buns singed to perfect brown. In those days, a healthy meal always contained meat, and no one disparaged the hot dogs blackened on one side to what we now consider a carcinogenic char. I recall that my entire childhood was punctuated by these weekly patio meals at either Uncle Milt's or our own home, a custom my two younger siblings and I accepted as the rather boring norm.

My aunt and uncle never had children, an aberration then, though it was whispered that Aunt Bo had suffered four miscarriages. As the years passed and they moved into retirement, they travelled locally and took great pleasure in their social clubs, Sciots, an Egyptian-themed division of the Masons, and its women's counterpart, the Zag-a-Zigs, which provided its series of parties and meetings, the friendship network of their lives.

After my uncle's heart problems worsened and he passed away, I recall sitting at his funeral, the first and only I've attended with the coffin open. It was so peculiar to see dear Uncle Milt lying there, looking perfectly normal, as if asleep. I was told that my Aunt Bo, too, wanted to be "viewed."

It was few years after my uncle passed that Aunt Bo got together with Frank, and they lived together in her home for another thirty years. He survives her now and is apparently handling Bo's death well. I'd visit them occasionally, and Frank was always jovial, retelling his stories from his decades as a musician with jazz bands, often singing some of their standards, lyrics he knew perfectly. Aunt Bo and he would sit on their twin Lazy-Boy recliners and watch TV; they'd go to their weekly seniors meetings and have friends over to play the organ that was a major feature of their living room. Frank was driving until just a couple of years ago, deciding it was finally time to quit at 103. He still brags about his physical shape; he's strong and walks confidently, unassisted.

In the last several years I've taken several videos of Frank entertaining my children and me with his tales. Aunt Bo was conversational, but let Frank hold the limelight. Each time we'd ask the secret to their longevity, they'd answer in unison with a smile: "Keep breathin'!" Aunt Bo would inquire about everyone's activities, and tick off her own calendar items, though in the last year a fall suffered while getting out of bed to go to the bathroom left her with a fractured femur (successfully repaired in surgery) but unable to really walk.

The inclination is to ascribe import to the very unusual situation of two extremely elderly people living independently, flouting the odds by their very existence together. But my Aunt Bo and the two men in her life were plain people, unremarkable except for their mere physical tenacity. Everyone who lives is loved; every person allots his time to activities of one sort or another. Aunt Bo spent forty years at a desk in a windowless office, and enjoyed having friends sit at her home bar sipping cocktails. She liked playing the organ and making padded hangers as a Zag-a-Zigs charitable project. She loved her garden and noticed every rose. She was pleasant and cheerful and had no explanation for her longevity other than she kept living, noting, "it's better than the alternative!"

She wasn't particularly religious, though she went to her neighborhood church sporadically; she wasn't especially political (though a lifelong conservative) or excited by any field of academics or studies. She was competent, ran her affairs, was kind and generous to her friends and family. She was one thread in the fabric of Los Angeles, and outlived nearly everyone she knew.

Rest in peace, dear Aunt Bo.

Friday, September 14, 2012

In a 'tough world,' there's still food and fashion

Egyptian anti-Muslim film protester dodges tear gas, Voice of America photo
Today's Friday, the day of prayer for Muslims, as well as their riots against America. The disgusting YouTube video by a low-life criminal in Cerritos, California isn't the real impetus for the frightening and dangerous manifestations in Tunisia, Sudan, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and even Germany. Deeper hatred fuels the anger that would eradicate every power and faith that isn't Muslim. (And as the world has seen, branches of Islam can be equally violent against those in differing sects.)

President Obama won't need to launch an "October surprise" to boost his leadership profile; he's placed in that position presently and so far has yet to impress.  We hope and pray that the coming days will bring strong denunciation of the violence rather than placating apologies for offense. Ours is a land with freedom to speak, even if the content insults another. The world stage is not so generous.

Meanwhile, my daughter who lives in New York City can no longer purchase a 16-ounce soft drink, lest her petite frame become obese. Mayor Bloomberg proudly touted his city's restriction on large-sized sugary drinks as "“the single biggest step any city has ever taken to curb obesity,” adding, "we believe that it will help save lives.”

I'm all for saving lives, and if Mayor Bloomberg can show that unlimited refills in smaller-sized cups, enforced by a cadre of health inspectors, will either reduce obesity or keep citizens going, I'm willing to toast him with my, um, Venti Frappuccino (373 calories). I don't get many of them, but when I do, it's because I'm really thirsty and probably didn't have breakfast. The Starbucks frappuccino, by the way, is in controversy since drinks with more than 50% milk are exempt from the ban. If the ice-to-milk ratio is dropped, my venti could be safe. Sound silly to you?

If not, perhaps this news item will. A New York Times "Front Row" column in the Style section a week ago discussed the virtues of Michelle Obama's sparkly dress as a prop with a message for her address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Eric Wilson approved of the Tracy Reese design, noting that Ms. Reese "who happens to be black," designed a creation that "from a distance...had a shimmering effect...but in closeups, viewers could practically study the pattern of the gold brocade."

The message of the dress: A boost to the middle class. Why? "Ms. Reese's prices are also in the middle ground...which fits perfectly with the Democratic pitch for the middle class." Middle ground, ie, middle class dress prices for pieces by Ms. Reese run $200-500. The zinger at the end of the article was the single sentence, "Mrs. Romney's dress cost $1,990."

OK, Mrs. Romney wore a readily-available Oscar de la Renta red taffeta belted dress for her boffo speech to Republican conventioners (from the pre-fall collection). Ms. Obama's dress, one-of-a-kind and designed specifically for the first lady, is not available. Of course, it's being rushed into production, and according to reports will sell for "less than $500."

Now, no middle class woman I know--and certainly not I--would pay $500 for a dress. Nor $400. Nor $300, or $200 or, I will admit, in my own case even $100.  Middle class women shop at Nordstrom Rack or Target, and like bargains more than labels.  At least that's true for everyone in my sphere. If they do wear a label--maybe on a pair of good denim jeans--they want to get it on sale. I often wear hand-me-ups from my daughters from Forever 21.

I sometimes wonder: who are the women who buy from designer shops? There must be enough of them to support the fashion industry, but if they're not the wealthiest 1%, they're definitely in the richest 5%. You don't need to buy a $500 replica of Michelle Obama's dress to announce you're in the middle class.  And you don't need to diss Ann Romney for her (expensive) choice.

My take-away message: Democrats want to demonize success. Rather than cheering those who achieve, and making way for more to follow, the tack is to channel last year's Occupiers and chastise the Romneys for making it to the top.

The suggestion that wearing a custom-made dress from a mid-priced designer shows some fidelity to the middle class is here just another rap from the very biased press.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Warning: "Bachelorette" Movie too Disgusting to Watch

Yes, I'm immersed in politics now, and want to write about Pres, Obama's abysmal attempt to counteract his "You didn't build that!" blunder through his speech to the Democratic convention. But--I have to interject a strong warning about a new movie that might mislead my friends into wasting money for it.

The headline that occasioned this post was in today's USA Today: "The new 'L' word: Lewd, for the Ladies," with the sub-head, "Gross-out comedies could gross well." But "Bachelorette" won't. I started watching it, and walked out. It's that awful. It's about four friends reunited for the wedding of one of their high school band (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson), none of whom has come close to fulfilling her potential.

Do you like to see nice-looking young women snorting coke? Do you like wedding toast insults about the bride's size? How about if the rudeness is so ripping it halts the performance of a male stripper?

Or the scene that caused me to exit: girlfriends high on said coke decide to take the bride's gown and fit two of them inside to make a "hilarious" Facebook post? Yuck it up, stupid producers. You don't think highly enough of your audience to show women acting sanely, and I predict you'll be the only ones left in the theater.

Tell your friends to avoid this flick. Now, back to what will really make a difference for the future.

Three Democratic Convention Speeches with the Same Cringe-worthy Meme

These three know some businesses succeed and others fail
Last night I was in the car with my husband. You know, the political junkie who controls the radio dial whenever we're driving. He insisted on listening to the Democratic Convention speeches.

Within a few minutes I was begging--in vain, I knew--for him to give me respite and turn the darn things off. The speeches I heard that irked me were by a trio of victims of greedy Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, people who proclaimed their work-places had been shut down due to takeovers that not only led to their plants and factories closing, but more emphatically, to a rich guy lining his pocket from their suffering.

Aside from the ridiculousness of the proposition--companies Bain Capital couldn't rehabilitate were failures for investors and led to less rather than more profits to line those greedy pockets--I was struck by a nearly-identical phrase repeated within just a few-minute span by all three speakers, listed as former employees of companies controlled by Bain Capital.

Randy Johnson, a worker at an unidentified "plant," said "On July 5, 1994, Mitt Romney and his partners at Bain Capital fired me and more than 350 of my coworkers" without warning.

He qualified, "I don't fault him for the fact that some companies win and some companies lose. That's just a fact of life."  Keep that phrase in mind. Its sentiment is repeated by two more speakers offering testimonies about Mitt's heartless lack of ethics.

Randy Johnson followed his qualifier with, "What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits before working people like me. But that's just Romney economics." Boo, hiss.

The second Bain Capital victim, Cindy Hewitt, former employee at Miami's Dade Behring plant, decried "Mitt Romney and his partners" for "driving our company into bankruptcy," and with it destroying 850 jobs. How Romney and his evil crew profited from the loss of their investors' money is unknown, though "they ultimately walked away with more than $240 million," according to Ms. Hewitt.

"Of course I understand that some companies are successful and others are not--that's the way our economy works," she noted, quickly adding, "But it's wrong when dedicated, productive employees feel the pain while folks like Mitt Romney make profits." 

Now, a devious company can perhaps get away with losing investors' cash in a buyout bankruptcy once, but if they do it again, they're not going to stay in business. Especially when it's public that they somehow squeezed $240 million out of the deal for themselves. But what I noticed was the strangely-inserted aside about some companies being successful and others not. Sounded like the same speechwriter who penned Randy Johnson's "some companies win, some companies lose" line.

Then the qualifier popped up again. The third victim of "Mitt Romney and his partners," David Foster, a worker at Kansas City's GST Steel, told his tale of woe, in which "promises" by Romney and Bain Capital to plant workers were dashed when they borrowed money against the mill "to pay themselves millions," ultimately forcing the company into bankruptcy.

"Now, some companies succeed; others fail. I know that," echoed Mr. Foster. And then the zinger: "But I also know this: We don't need a president who fires steelworkers or says 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.'" The Washington Post fact-checker blog, by the way, found that Romney never used that term, though in a 2008 editorial suggested the way for auto-makers to beat their financial crisis was through a "managed bankruptcy" from which they'd emerge leaner and more efficient. The Post added that GM and Chrysler did, in fact, go through managed bankruptcies in order to survive.

But, we quibble. Everyone knows that some companies are successful, and others not. And that some companies win and some companies lose. Everyone agrees that some companies succeed and others fail. And some speeches just make me cringe (and others make me wince).

Please, turn off the radio! I've had enough Mitt-bashing and want to hear some new ways our future leader will create jobs and get rid of the debt and deficit. I don't begrudge households earning more than $250K the tax cuts everybody else is getting. I just want to know the innovative, concrete steps that will take our country out of this financial mess. I heard Mitt give five steps, in his speech to the Republicans. Now, Mr. President, it's your turn.