Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tired of this 'Politics of Envy' campaigning

The politically correct among us will stoop to anything to distract from our nation's pit of debt and unemployment, and so they redirect discussion to Mitt Romney's wealth.

It's a plausible strategy to foment resentment of the rich, given how many people are suffering financially. The Occupy Movement is but a sorry asterisk in recent history, but the hatred it engendered for "the 1%," a group that the rest of us wouldn't refuse if offered, is being carefully managed toward saving Obama's presidency.
Trainer Jan Ebeling on Rafalca 

In May, a front-page New York Times story detailed Ann Romney's interest in dressage, formal horse-riding, an expensive sport that she began in order to combat physical weakness when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Mrs. Romney's interest led to part-ownership of a few steeds, and one of those, Rafalca, will compete in the London Olympics August 2. The Guardian snarker Hadley Freeman wrote, "...the only sport the Romneys could be involved in that would make them look wealthier than dressage would be gold-coin diving in their family safe (previous winner: Scrooge McDuck)."

Stephen Colbert is all over dressage, noting on his show, "There is basically no better way to dispel the myth that Romney is detached, patrician, elite than competitive horse prancing--I mean, it's basically Nascar in a velvet top hat." He then dons what appears to be a donkey head and hoofs, dances around, and adds, "by the way, I'm available to stud." LOL.

Of course Colbert's TV competition, Jon Stewart, had his own jabs, especially when Donald Trump endorsed Romney: "If two ivy-league-educated business tycoons from wealthy families can find common ground, even when one is a billionaire and one only a multi, multi, multi-millionaire, maybe there's hope our country isn't so divided after all."

Then, yesterday's New York Times Travel section featured a half-page photo with vantage from the bow of an expensive, vintage boat on Lake Winnipesaukee, "where Mitt Romney has a house." The reporter, seeking to "vacation like Mitt Romney," tried boating on the lake, renting a jet ski, and dining at Mis en Place: "I smiled deeply," Henry Alford writes, "Romney-impersonating can be so broadening." Snicker, snicker.
Romneys at their vacation house
While touring on "a handsome, 1928-style mahogany runabout," he viewed "the 13-acre Romney estate with its $630,000 boathouse and its 768 feet of shoreline." By the way, a brief sidebar to the story laments that the Obamas' skipping their usual Martha's Vineyard vacation this year means a quarter-million-dollar loss from the 70 hotel rooms that would have housed secret servicemen. I get it: their expensive vacation creates jobs.

And of course anti-Romneyites love vilifying Bain Capital, as if turning around companies from debt to profit is greedy rather than helpful. So far, I've seen lots of ink about how conniving Bain attracted and disbursed funds, and heartlessly laid off workers while restructuring. But no one suggests Bain acted illegally, and even critics concede its efforts resulted in a net gain in jobs.

Why is Bain Capital so despised? Because its partners earned what every American wants--wealth. And what do they do with that wealth? Well, Mitt Romney, for one, gives a whole lot of it to charity. Yes, he gives the largest chunk of his donations to his church--as any religious person would--and its university. But the Romneys also give to a range of other causes, many of them devoted to children.

Stirring up voters' envy encourages anger directed to others, rather than gratitude for the many privileges our citizens share. And how does that feel? Envy adds to stress and feelings of incompetence and frustration. Not good for personal psyches.

Envy relies on the notion that wealth is a zero-sum game, where rich people steal from a limited pot, thereby depriving everyone else of that amount. The issue caused a fuss four years ago with then-candidate Obama's suggestion to Joe the Plumber that wealth, a static, finite bunch of money, ought be "spread around" out of fairness.

The fact of Romney's success, however, speaks to an uplifting and inspiring possibility--that wealth can be expanded by industrious entrepreneurs, and, being unlimited, is available to all. No need to snatch away a well-off person's profit when you can amass your own. You can give the 1% a tax break with the rest of the nation if you believe you can become one of them.

It might be a convenient distraction for Obama's campaign to criticize the Romneys for their lifestyle expenditures, but in so doing the strategy disheartens constituents and suppresses economic recovery. The message that "the rich" are selfish, greedy and uncaring makes normal folk want to distance from them, rather than emulate them.

And I'm tired of reading about it. Since when is the president supposed to be "the little guy" or struggle financially? I'd rather have a leader who's demonstrated competencies, and received rewards for his efforts. I want an emblem of success, a brilliant thinker whose educational accomplishments demonstrate that. I want the president to be better than me; better than the general populace; I want him (or her) to have emerged as the best and the brightest, ideally an exemplar of the finest behavior, which includes humility and fidelity.

I want a president to model the opposite of envy. Sometimes I wonder why the last of the Ten Commandments tells adherents to repress an emotion. I can understand the other commandments--God would want to establish His authority to give orders, and then express rules for civil behavior. But coveting? Why should a thought, or even an urge, be a problem? No harm, no foul if, as former President Carter confessed, you "lust in your heart," right?

True, once you permit internal lust, then it's easier to to justify enacting your fantasies.

But beyond that, coveting--envy--is the segue to every negative emotion, and ultimately, continuing unhappiness.  "Who is rich?" asks Ben Zoma in the Jewish "Ethics of the Fathers."
The answer: "He who is content with his lot, as it is said, 'When you eat of the toil of your hands, happy shall you be, and it shall be well with you." Similarly, later in the "Ethics," Rabbi Elazar ha-Kappar says, "Envy, lust and vainglory take a person out of this world (shorten a person's life)."

That's the issue--"the politics of envy" causes emotional distress and makes a less-than-perfect situation infinitely worse. If Mitt Romney has lots of cash, great; there's still enough for the rest of us, especially if we engage "the toil of our hands" and create our own wealth.

I don't share political views with Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh, but he named his autobiography "Delivering Happiness" because expanding his workers' pleasure increased benefits to his customers, which in turn paid off in greater profits. In other words, the opposite of envy--giving with an open hand and celebrating others' success--increases our own well-being.

I hope the Romneys--and the Obamas--enjoy all they've earned, and that this jealous wealth-bashing stops. Please. Let's talk about the condition of the nation, and proposals for the future. Focus like a laser beam on the economy and foreign affairs. Everyone wants to be rich; and our nation will fare better if citizens feel they just might get there.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Competition for a Heart Attack

Heart Attack Grill, Las Vegas
As I write a book on why all the warnings about the "obesity epidemic" are such a crock, a news item reminds me that, refreshingly, some people just don't care. In fact, establishments in Manhattan and Las Vegas are fiercely competing over whose cholesterol-saturated fare is entitled to be labeled "heart attack."

This week, US District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer adjudicated Las Vegas restaurant Heart Attack Grill's suit to bar Manhattan's Second Avenue Deli--which is kosher--from calling its blatantly fatty offerings names the Grill feels belong solely within its own trademarked cardiac domain.

It's a battle that touches the corpulent hearts of America, where two thirds of the population are overweight or obese. And many of those people resent the constant barrage of well-meaning admonishment that they must become lean or risk a raft of debilitations and death.

Second Avenue Deli can now advertise its "Instant Heart Attack" (two potato pancakes filled with corned beef, pastrami, turkey or salami for $24.95) but only in Manhattan, because Heart Attack Grill's trademarked monikers, such as the "Quadruple Bypass Burger" (four half-pound beef patties, eight slices of American cheese, a whole tomato and half onion, for $12.94, unless you add the 20 extra bacon slices for an additional $3.69) prevail.

If you ask me, the whole thing is a (successful) publicity gimmick for Heart Attack Grill, who clearly is peddling a message with its reasonably-priced valve-cloggers. Now sandwich aficionados in New York and nationally are aware of its thumb-your-nose-at-authority menu, which brags about its lethality, and feeds the politically incorrect on many fronts.

Women's fronts, for one. Their waitresses wear low-cut nurse's 'uniforms' with red cross on their jaunty nurse-like caps. The website features a drawing of one reclining in a martini glass, with the line, "alcohol is good for you!" Clicking on the "nurse's schedule" takes you to a page festooned with drawings that will give any feminist cardiac arrest long before consuming the Flatliner Fries ("deep fried in pure lard!") for $1.84. Also on the menu are "no-filter cigs" (Lucky Strike and Candy Cigs "just like Dad's!"), three varieties of Fat Bastard wine, and the Butter Fat Shake ("literally pure cream!") for $4.62, with the option of adding 4 oz. of whipped cream-flavored vodka (another $4.62).

The beer menu revels in offense, showing a 'nurse' with a first aid kit saying "I like it in the can!" Other selections' captions: "Feeling ghetto?" and, for hard lemonade, "Get her to try new positions!" All purchases are "Cash only, plus 8.1% for our wasteful government to squander."

Blair River touts Heart Attack Grill
It almost seems the establishment is proud that in the past few months, two patrons suffered heart attacks while eating at the Grill counter. Both survived, though diners thought a February incident was a stunt and started taking photos before determining the slumping customer needed 911. In 2010, the Grill uploaded a YouTube of their "diet" whose side effects include "mild death." Indeed, the star of that video, 6-foot-8, 572-pound restaurant spokesman Blair River died suddenly last year, at age 29.

Despite the grisly associations, Second Avenue Deli, strictly kosher, doesn't skimp on caloric or fatty offerings. Its chicken soups are listed as "Jewish penicillin" though not as an antidote to its soon-on-the-menu "Triple Bypass Sandwich" ($34.95) which Deli owner Jeremy Lebewohl says contains "everything but the kitchen sink." Which is also its menu description for the Royal Second Avenue triple-decker sandwich for $27.95.

I'm surprised New York's mayor Bloomberg, whose obesity-fighting ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces may soon become law, didn't step in to restrict delis enticing customers with items as funny as..well, a heart attack. But obesity has a myriad of causes, and nanny-state legislators will likely tick-off their constituents when they meddle in both their wallets and their gullets.  It may be true that eating lots of fat (or lots of certain fats) is bad for you, or, as some experts insist, the opposite is true--that fat is our friend, and carbs are the real culprit.

Or, it could be that obesity is caused by something completely different, like a virus or a gene or environmental chemicals--in which case, the scolding about diet won't help, and will only alienate the sedentary and portly. And it's those folk the heart attack menu items serve.

I will confess--watch out, future Shabbat guests!--that when I cook, I go full-fat. And my lattes get the half-and-half treatment, no skinny stuff for me. Why? It tastes better. Heck, it tastes great. And when I put food in my mouth, I want it to be worthwhile. If it's not delicious, I won't eat it, sorry.
2nd Ave. Deli's "Heart Attack" is on latkes with pastrami

So I understand the desire to eat whatever you want, even if gorging on a lot of it might taunt an untimely end. And I also understand resisting the knows-better authorities who keep nagging us about what we should imbibe, and the attitudes we should  maintain. We eaters need most of all to be true to our bodies and our tastes, and relax a bit about the sustenance going into our mouths--while caring more diligently about what comes out.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bizarre Accident Explodes Towns' Fireworks in Advance--But Show Went On

I thought it must be a hoax, but no--a freak accident exploded the boxcar-sized container full of the fireworks shows for two towns here in the Northwest, on the eve of Independence Day.

One of the shows is a favorite of ours, the July 3rd display in the Norwegian fjord community of Poulsbo. We go there every year by ferry, and stake out a viewing spot with the thousands who enjoy live bands, carnival food and booths on the shores of Liberty Bay. But this time, the much-anticipated festivities were weirdly placed in jeopardy.

Here's what happened: Poulsbo and neighboring Bainbridge Island contracted with fireworks aficionado (a mortgage specialist by trade) Robert Nitz to put on their shows. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nitz does the sideline because "I love fireworks," and last year even lost $1,366 on the displays. This year, he'd invested either $30,000 or $80,000 (news accounts differ) of the two towns' money in his cache, which was stored on a spare corner of a car-wrecking business in the town of Belfair. Depending on which accounts you read, either two male employees or the yard's owner and daughter, all of whom remain, curiously, unnamed, then did something bizarre.

The father and daughter (or two employees) decided at 1 am June 25 to go into the yard and try out a new rifle. Wee-hours target practice, you might say.

The story is that a bullet aimed toward a wreck ricocheted off into the room-sized metal fireworks storage container, setting off the entirety of both shows.

The fireworks container, after it had flipped over twice from exploding
It felt like an earthquake lasting a full minute to neighbors several miles surrounding. It "shook out of bed" the wife of Jeromy Hicks, the Mason County Fire District investigator immediately called to the scene. The explosion also burnt out cars and ignited a large pile of tires nearby. In fact, mortars were still going off when firefighters arrived, and they had to employ a huge claw to pull the still-erupting, flaming mess apart. Squelching the conflagration took them five hours.

Reporters can't say this, but I can: What kind of idiot shoots rifles next to a packed cache of fireworks? At 1 am, to boot? Could there have been some, uh, celebratory imbibing involved?

Show producer Nitz scrambled to put together replacement pyrotechnics, albeit without his showcase addition this year, called "water shells." He succeeded, and last night my family again enjoyed the brilliant display over Liberty Bay.

Poulsbo readies for its July 3 celebration, 2012
And the unidentified car-wrecking yard owner? Well, as far as known, while his insurance covers wrecking cars--and in this debacle some were indeed wrecked--it doesn't cover stray bullet-destruction of fireworks.  According to Poulsbo festival organizer Ron Krell, "He readily admits it. He knew the container was there, he knew the container contained fireworks, he accepts responsibility." But producer Nitz covered the extra cost, though viewers in the many boats gathered to watch the show were asked to contribute cash into fishing nets offered their way.

Happy Independence Day...