Archive for November, 2008

My mom used to tell me there were glass half full kinds of people and glass half empty kinds of people but sometimes it seems out of our control. You get the good news from your doctor, followed by the no-so-good news from your employer. You connect up with one friend and inadvertently start a fight with another. The sun comes out, you walk outside and the skies open up, drenching you in a downpour. You have good days and bad days. It seems as if the cosmos gets to decide just how full the glass is, not us.


This month has been particularly stressful despite the adrenaline rush of the election. The days are getting shorter, there’s a lot going on in the world and really, how much can one guy be expected to do? But if you try, you can locate uplifting stories out in the world or in your own backyard. Or sure, some of us have a tendency to feel grumpy this time of year. But we can fight it, yes we can. So, in the interest of promoting the positive, I’ve collected various stories from here and there that surely must count towards a fuller glass:


  • According to a recent NBC report, the number of new cancer cases worldwide is down.
  • “Stocks Mostly Rise As Financials Gain on Fed Plan”  – we’ll take it!
  • The Giants and the Jets are both playing very well.
  • Post-Thanksgiving sales on so-called “Black Friday” may not be so bad.
  • There is good going on in the world, promoted not only by individuals but also by governments. For only a sample, look at what at Search for Common Ground‘s recent award winners are doing to promote understanding and good-will.


Btw, if you want your news delivered sunny-side up, you can actually go to a website that delivers only positive news stories. Sure, you may be missing something but it’s worth it for the feeling, however temporary, that the world will not only survive but also thrive. And for that we can all be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sometimes I think I’m prescient (actually, I think I come up with ideas at the same time or slightly ahead of other people who are far more established, possessed of name recognition, book deals, sharp agents and better meta-tags that draw more people to their web sites. Oh well). My latest ah-ha moment took place while looking through my current copy of O, the magazine of all things Oprah. Its chirpy emphasis on self-discovery can get annoying, but where else will you find inspirational stories, customized advice columns, wide-ranging book recommendations and information on where to buy great handbags for under $100?


Anyway, it occurred to me that a President who drops book references as casually as Martha Stewart might lean over during lunch and craft your napkin into a centerpiece could be as influential as Oprah when it comes to promoting his favorite reads. Guess it’s obvious, since an article appeared in the paper about the value of a plug from the president-elect; this after the hoopla over three current books on FDR, one of which he may have referenced in a 60 Minutes interview. He didn’t even name the book, yet those three writers have benefited from the attention. Now most non-fiction authors, including yours truly, are trying to figure out how to get on the reading list of our next President. 


What better way to try and understand what he’s thinking, or what he’ll be doing, than to find out what he reads? Is Doris Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln the inspiration behind his outreach to Hillary for Secretary of State (and what might inspire Hillary to decline it: It’s A Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments?) Does his off-handed mention of a book about FDR’s first hundred days (whichever book it is) suggest how he will govern during economic hard times? Isn’t his own The Audacity of Hope really a blueprint for his political philosophy?



Of course we can always read books about Obama although they seem to veer between adulatory and vitriolic. I’d rather try and read what he’s reading, along with my usual escapist fare. I have a feeling that, as busy as he is about to be, he could help me keep my bedside bookshelf stocked for the next several years. Meanwhile, I can always pick and choose from among Oprah’s recommendations if I want to know what America’s most influential woman is reading – at least until I get a look at Michelle’s book list.

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Ever notice how great you feel when something stops hurting? It’s a fantastic experience, that is, until you start to notice other aches and pains that had been pushed away while you were dealing with this particular hurt. Now maybe those of you for whom middle age is a long ways away can’t relate but for many of us, that odd sensation of being relieved and uncomfortable at the same time is familiar.

Something similar is happening to my view of the cultural landscape. Tension over race, thankfully never very high in my corner of the world, seems to have virtually dissipated since the election of Barack Obama. Maybe I’m imagining it but people of color – or rather I should say, people of various colors and skin tones – seem to be more relaxed around each other. I swear I’m seeing more television commercials featuring African-Americans. I can’t say for certain whether we’ve come to a point where we are, if not colorblind, then not much worried about the whole subject (there are, after all, bigger things to worry about), but lessening that particular pain feels terrific.

Behind the euphoria even Obama opponents have been feeling lies another reality that hurts –  the unfortunate victories of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in Florida and Arizona. On election night, voters in those states passed referendums that explicitly, that is Constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage (Arkansas voters meanwhile approved an initiative that bans people who are “cohabiting outside a valid marriage” from serving as foster parents or adopting children). There are now thirty states that have banned marriage between two consenting adults of the same gender. Likely the issue will bounce back to the courts but the impetus driving it will continue.

Proponents of the measures insist there is no bias; these are not “anti-gay” measures but simply efforts to preserve traditionally defined notions of marriage. What does that mean? Well, Wikipedia defines marriage as “a social, religious, spiritual, or legal union of individuals.” That covers a lot of territory and carries a lot of cross-cultural weight. It seems to be an important institution to most of us. True, there are people who live together as a family unit, with kids but without marriage, i.e., Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell; Susan Sarandon & Tim Robbins. But for most people living in the United States, marriage is the ultimate social, religious, spiritual and legal commitment, a desire to commit to a stable and loving partnership in the eyes of the law, one’s family and friends, the neighbors, and whichever God one may be worshipping.

The argument that allowing same-sex marriage will undermine the social value of marriage is undercut on many levels. The original purpose of a marriage contract was to protect the partner with far less standing in society, i.e. the female. Marriage also offers protection to the offspring of the couple, at least legally. yet times have changed. Nowadays, a majority of the women in the United States are single and equal to men before the law and couples and single people are having children out of wedlock. While opponents of same-sex marriage like to talk about the sanctityof the institution (a decidedly socio-religious concept that has found its way into law), they are hard-pressed to explain divorce and adultery rates. Seems to me if the institution of marriage is under siege, it’s silly to blame couples who, despite the lack of respect heterosexual couples have shown for it, still want to honor their commitment to each other through legal, social and yes, religious validation.

The motivating force behind these ballot initiatives isn’t religion or concern for social stability – it’s fear, the basis of most biases. Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea of homosexual anything for reasons too numerous to detail here. Personally, I can’t see the downside of allowing two people who love each other to marry, regardless of gender. To those who say they can’t “imagine” what takes place behind closed doors, I’d suggest they might try using their imaginations more constructively.

Life may be easier on the east coast for now. Connecticut joins Massachusetts in allowing marriages between consenting adults of any sex and New Jersey and perhaps even New York aren’t far behind. I’d think any gay couples seeking marriage and family, in spite of the formidable odds they face these days, are the couples you want in your neighborhoods, your schools, your PTA, or your bridge games. Theirs is an optimistic, almost quaint aspiration for recognition as viable members of a society that too often undermines the stability it claims to revere.

If the pundits are to be believed, the election proves we are on the cusp of a new era of wide-reaching acceptance of and comfort with diversity. Excellent. Now let’s use our newly open hearts and minds to expand the notion a bit more. Otherwise, all we’ve done is declare that gay is the new black.

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The day after the evening of the DAY, I woke up feeling a little surreal. I knew something momentous had happened that had captured everyone’s attention, something neither horrific, like 9/11, terrible, like the financial meltdown (admittedly an ongoing discussion) nor strange and superficial, like Susan Lucci’s weird goodbye speech on “Dancing with the Stars”. Apparently, we’d elected a young, thin, African-American person with a young, attractive family to be President of the United States. Equally apparent, this occasioned even more professional/amateur, thoughtful/inane, heartfelt/petty commentary than usual. With so many people writing and talking so much through so many outlets and all of us gobbling it up, I thought it might be interesting to single out for special notice some of the more interesting incidents, as well as various sample comments, reactions and analysis I spotted during my slog through the blanket coverage.


Most moving election-night visual: the shots of the crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park

Most over-exposed visual: the shots of the crowd in Grant Park

Shot of the crying face that got to me: Jesse Jackson

Shot of the crying face that didn’t do it for me: Oprah

Weirdest TV moment: CNN’s use of holograms, which was like watching a sputtering Starship Transporter (“Beam me up, Scotty.” “I’m trying!”). Bring back split screen.

Most over-the-top commentator:Chris Matthews on MSNBC

Most restrained commentator: Andersen Cooper on CNN. Didn’t he want to poke his hand through those holograms?

Most gracious speech: McCain’s concession speech; where was that guy during the campaign?

Near-miss moment: Sarah Palin apparently showed up ready to deliver one of two versions of her speech before McCain’s. Aides nixed the idea.

Oddest international snapshot: the Japanese crowds yelling for Obama

Most moving international snapshot: the young Palestinian shown drawing a picture of Obama along with a dove holding an olive branch. Lots of expectations reflected in that sketch.

Most hysterical blog post: Andy Borowitz, with the post title, “Failure to Blow Election Stuns Democrats”

Most interesting offer: Sarah Palin offering to help Obama craft his energy policies. Um, thanks a lot.

Most tepid congratulatory comment imaginable: Jim Manzi in the National Review, who said: “I continue to believe that Barack Obama is likely to be a poor President who will attempt to implement policies that will be detrimental to the national interest…. But I’m spending today proud abut what my country has overcome.” Um, thanks a lot.

Coolest comment: In an article about what kind of social life Washington can expect, Christopher Buckley, lately of National Review until he endorsed Obama (welcome to the dark side, Chris) wrote in the NY Times, “He’s a cool cat and I think he’s going to bring cool catness back…” 

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My father, who was a fan of recitation, frequently used the phrase from an ancient Persian proverb, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” to remind us about gratitude and, I think to keep us aware of perspective. Perspective – the ability to step back, take the long view, see the big picture – is, to my way of thinking, one of life’s great coping tools. I’m amazed at how difficult a concept it is for most of us to grasp.


Perspective: I have pain in my hip and lower back caused by disappearing disc material at the bottom of my spine, not to mention my neck. The condition, I guess you’d call it, is irreversible, but it is manageable as long as I keep exercising and stay abreast of various low-level pain medications. I could feel sorry for myself and I do, on occasion. Then I think about Patrick Swayze, who’s working 12-hour days on the set of his new show despite a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, almost always fatal.


Perspective: My friend is absolutely terrified about her post-graduate kids’ job prospects in this economy. She can’t imagine it being worse, although it seemed pretty bad back in the seventies and eighties when I was hopelessly job-hunting and living in cities whose drug-infested neighborhoods were a lot less safe to live in. Not only that; the clothes were worse. If you don’t remember or weren’t around, check out the new ABC show Life On Mars.


Perspective: This is the most frightening world we’ve ever lived in, says my cousin, forgetting perhaps, the time she spent as a schoolgirl cowering in a fall-out shelter in the early sixties under near-constant threat of nuclear annihilation.


Perspective: I’m slaving over this blog in near total anonymity while Samuel Werzelbacher, AKA Joe the Plumber contemplates a record deal. Okay, I admit I have NO perspective in this instance; it just seems wrong.


Perspective: A blogger on Huffington Post recently suggested that fully half the voters will, if their candidate loses, sink into a state of despair so severe they may never recover. I guess that’s the downside of having an election everyone is so passionate about but I seem to remember friends threatening to leave the country in 2000…and 1980…and 1972. Somehow, we stayed in place and even survived.


It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times but it always seems what’s happening in the moment is the most consequential thing happening ever. It’s understandable, given how imperfect our memories are. Not only that, this really has been the longest, most expensive, most expansive, most analyzed, covered, dissected and ubiquitous campaign ever. It will certainly make history and it certainly deserves our attention and our participation. Oh yeah, I really, really want my candidates to win. But win or lose, I’m going to get up Wednesday, stretch my back and get to work.



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