Wednesday, November 30, 2011

3.1428- The Joy of Pie-Making

The mathematical value of pi - it knows no limit, it has no end.  Just like a Grandmother’s love, and nothing says love more than a homemade lemon meringue pie.  Here’s the story, as told to me, about a grandmother, a grandson, an oven and a special weekend. 

By Working Grandma (featuring St. Joe, the Son-in Law)

Working Grandma has a tradition.  Each grandchild spends one 24 hour period of uninterrupted time with her as part of the child’s birthday celebration.  The 24 hours is typically filled with guiltless shopping, gluttonous dining, and a warm shower of limitless attention on the grandchild’s every smile, frown, burp and wisecrack.  Translation – Grandma spoils them.  The tradition begins once the grandchild has reached the age of reason and has therefore earned the right of supervised independence (i.e. they can use a public restroom without being followed by a parent or guardian, and Mommy doesn’t freak out while they are gone).  Thomas, now 13, has been enjoying this tradition for approximately 6 years, and this is the story of his most recent visit.

As Thomas gets older, the adventures with Grandma have changed, but the structure of the weekend has not.  On the appointed Saturday morning, Thomas is packed up and transported to Camp Springs, MD, when he is handed off like a baton in a relay race to his Grandma in the parking lot of the local Checkers.  It is a good halfway meeting place between our house and Grandma’s holiday resort and spa.  Grandma, with the baton secured by a seat belt, then psychoanalyzes the child right there in the parking lot under the pretext of uncovering his interests for the weekend.  To the untrained ear, she is just gauging his likes and dislikes, but we know better.  After the brief therapy session, they could launch north, south, east or west, all dependent on little grandchild’s whims and obsessions for the day.  Shopping for toys?  Groceries?  Sightseeing?  The sky, and Grandma’s patience, is the limit on this special day.

Grandma insists that her grandchildren experience a lot of hands-on stuff during the visit.  She gently describes these activities as being of the "don't try this at home" variety.  This is a sneaky way of saying that responsible parents would never allow their child to be exposed to such fun and danger on their watch – you know, using sharp knives or washing hands under scalding water for less than the required 20 seconds after touching raw pork. 

Last year’s excursion wasn’t too risky.  Thomas fed and pet some emus (“Did you wash your hands?”), gave chewing gum to a llama (“When was your last tetanus shot?”), and dodged butting goats.  A regular Southern Maryland safari, without the firearms.  After the safari, they wound up at Dr. Samuel Mudd's house, but thankfully not for treatment.  Dr. Mudd was a co-conspirator with John Wilkes Booth back in 1865, and paid the ultimate price for harboring Mr. Booth after Mr. Booth ruined a perfectly good play. 

When they arrived at the Mudd house, the front gate was locked.  Time to teach the grandson lesson in risk taking.  Grandma would not to be deterred by a simple roadblock like a locked gate.  Gates are meant for the young, and those rules do not apply to card carrying AARP members.  Besides, the museum was advertised to be open for another 15 minutes, and it was important that Thomas learn the lesson that you can never close earlier than advertised.  That would be lying, and that is wrong.  So when Thomas spotted a vehicle leaving the grounds about a half mile away, Grandma felt justified in putting pedal to metal and risking life and limb at high speed to get young Thomas his just due – a walk through history.

With the dogged determination (stubbornness?) that we only tolerate from those in their late 60s, Grandma careened through the back entrance and knocked on the locked museum door.  A man older than Grandma, but not from the actual period, answered in full costume, insisting the last tour was ending.  It was too late.  Without a touch of irony, Grandma coaxed Thomas to shed a pretend tear, and punctuated with a whimper and Grandma's glib tongue, they were quickly allowed to join the tour in progress.  Booth was quite an actor in his day, but he’s got nothing on Grandma and Thomas.  Acting, by the way, is not lying.

Paramount in planning for the weekend is the final menu.  Thomas is quite clear each year on his preferences.  After all, this is the kid who has said since infancy that his goal is life is to become a “cooker” (aka a chef).  Given his Third World physique (he is translucent in the sunlight), his love of cooking and food seems like a dream unfulfilled, but on these annual Grandma visits, the kid eats pretty darn good.  With minor variations year to year, the proposed fare usually includes shrimp and some interpretation of Tex-Mex.  This year will be different. 

For 2011, Thomas has become obsessed with one particular food - a homemade lemon meringue pie.  We are sure he knows why.  For the rest of us, it is a mystery.  He was cautioned by his mother this was one of Grandma's specialties and that it takes a whole lot of prep time.  If there is one thing young Thomas has in abundance it is patience.  He is unwavering.  Bring him the lemons!

The problem with Thomas’ understanding of cooking, however, is that his sense of time is completely distorted by his favorite show, Chopped.  On Chopped, any and every meal is meticulously prepared and served within the competition’s time limit of 30 minutes.  On Chopped, you can combine oysters, grape juice, kale and banana skins into a gourmet dish all before the first commercial break.  Time and reality are suspended on this show for 30 minutes, so it’s interesting that the genre is called “reality TV”.  Chopped skips some steps in the food prep process, but it has taught him that cooking is fun.

Thomas has a yen for chopping up things for cooking.  Unfortunately, his favorite show did not demo such life skills as how one gets zest from lemons, how to separate egg yolks from egg white, how many lemons it takes for 1/3rd cup of juice, how one gets meringue to peak…to name a few. 

One day with Grandma, and Thomas now knows why lemon pie is so yellow, how many skinned knuckles it takes to get two teaspoons of lemon zest, how to keep seeds out of the pie, how to get hot pie filling into cold yolks without curdling them, how to roll out a pie crust, pan it and crimp the edges.  Next visit, Thomas can work on speed.  Poking the uncooked crust with a fork takes about 30 seconds, but when Thomas is on the job, it takes 30 minutes.  He’s nothing if not meticulous.  He accepted all coaching with patience and an open mind, outmatched only by Grandma.  He is now ready to go on Chopped and show those folks what real crimping looks like. 

Possibly his most fun part of the visit was making the meringue peaks.  He has completed his pie goal with no hands-on help from Grandma except for brief demonstrations of technique.  The good news is that she never once slapped his hands (at least, they were no visible bruises).

Two hours later, while meringue peaks were browning, Thomas entered the recipe into his email using Grandma's ultra-modern gaming console, the iPad.  When the rest of the family arrived on Sunday to reclaim the baton and dine on his select menu, the poor boy looks like he’s aged a whole day.  His mother is awe-struck by the finished pie and all of the steps that went into making it.  Not to be left out, his mother questions everything he did.  “You could have used an egg separator, you could have used a food processor...why did you do everything the hard way?  Grandma does everything the old way and does not own such culinary tools that help you cheat”.  A daughter questioning her mother?  Shocking.  Grandma may not own an egg separator, but the woman’s got an iPad.  Lighten up, Mommy.

In between baking prep, Thomas and Grandma found time to make lunch for 20.  Unfortunately, there would only be 6 for lunch.  His lunch entree was fried rice.  The great thing about fried rice for a future cooker is that it calls for hours of chopping with a sharp knife and then stir frying for hours with hot oil.  Danger everywhere.  Grandma spotted a little clumsiness with the big chopping knife and wondered what skills Thomas was learning from Chopped.  Clearly, cutting was under-demonstrated.  Seven helpless vegetables got his undivided attention for most of the morning.  They never stood a chance.

He was very pleased with the outcome and only asked twice for Grandma to take over the stir fry part.  He proudly served his family his creation, made from scratch.  

Thomas served up the food.  Grandma served up the pride in her grandson, The Cooker.

Carol M. Porto, MA, LCADC, MAC

Visit her on the web at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“You’ve been Tebow’ed”

 Come visit me at my new home, 

For the uninformed, being Tebow’ed means that you have lost a competition to an opponent who seemingly had less ability but more desire than you.  To be a perfect Tebow’ing, the defeat typically occurs in the final stages of the competition.  A loss when you are Tebow’ed is doubly painful, since it was so unexpected.  Being Tebow’ed is embarrassing.  Nobody wants to be Tebow’ed.  You want to be the Tebow’er, not the Tebow’ee.  In the end, however, you’ve got to tip your cap to someone who Tebow’s you.

The origin of this phrase comes from the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Florida, now Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow.  Some have argued that he was the greatest college player of this generation, but sadly, he may be better known for his pro-life, pro-Jesus Super Bowl commercial in 2010.  High profile athletes have been invoking Jesus as their co-pilot for decades, but Tim took his public expressions of faith outside the standard press conference and into the echo chamber of the commercial world.  In college, he was very good in both body and soul, and he wasn’t afraid for everyone to know it. 
During his brief tenure in the NFL, he has been written off as lacking any professional level talent by just about every knowledgeable football source, and he has responded to that criticism with a 5-1 record as a starter, including playing chief engineer and butt kicker for a few improbable 4th quarter comebacks.  Not bad for a guy “lacking any professional level talent”.  The sports media has been Tebow’ed. 

Tebow is controversial beyond the debate over his physical talents.  His sports success has increased the size of his Sunday congregation, and he has no problems delivering a sermon (now if he could only deliver a 10 yard out with the same zip).  The War on Tebow is replacing the War on Christmas as the crusade of choice in right wing circles.  Any attack on the former Florida QB, including a questioning of his arm strength and in-pocket decision-making, is an attack on religious freedom and the very foundations of Christianity.
There is a legitimate case against his unprovoked proselytizing during interviews.  I do recall a New Testament passage about the Pharisee who goes to temple, walks to the front, beats his breast, and generally makes a show of his piety, while an old woman comes into the same temple, sits in the back, and prays with great humility.  The lesson is taught that it is the old woman who should be the role model for us.  Do not wear your faith on your sleeve.  It is also true that the Bible says we should proclaim the Good News from the mountaintop.  Tebow seems to have heard and embraced the latter message, and not the former.
Among sports fans I don’t sense an anti-Christian bias as much as a healthy skepticism towards athletes who wear God on their sleeves.  Up until Tebow-mania, the professional athlete most likely to invoke the Lord during their post-game comments usually had something to hide, like multiple kids with different women or other such “lapses of judgment” (aka - arrests).  It never seemed sincere.  It seemed like marketing strategy.  Tebow’s genuineness catches us off guard, and we don’t know how to react.

Personally, I’m happy for the guy, and could care less about his PDFs (Public Displays of Faith).  Everyone thought he would be an NFL bust, and at least so far, he has proven the pundits to be wrong.  America loves an underdog, and Tebow entered the league with little hope of playing the QB position, at least not as a starter and certainly not with any success.  He is winning, he has been rewarded with the pulpit, so I say enjoy it as long as the microphone is in your face.  We all know that in 15 minutes, it could be taken away for good, and Tebow could become another cautionary tale instead of the Feel-Good Story of 2011.

For now, to Tebow is to win in spite of the odds.  To be Tebow’ed is to lose against all reason.  To pivot this to politics, as I often do, Romney is getting Tebow’ed this week, while Gingrich is supplying the Tebow’ing.

Newt is the GOP’s Tebow of the Month, replacing Cain who replaced Perry who replaced Bachmann (Perry, Cain and Bachmann, as an interesting side note, all declared publicly that God told them to run for President.  How very Tebow of them.).  The experts said Gingrich couldn’t play at this level, and ultimately, they may be right.  The GOP franchise will continue to search for a long term solution inside their huddle, but in the meantime, Gingrich is winning some games.  As long as he holds onto the ball, keeps the defense guessing and doesn’t fumble, they’ll withhold their reservations.

Could the GOP contenders transform their own personas into verbs like Tebow?  What would that sound like?

“You’ve been Gingrich’ed.” – means your significant other broke up with you on your birthday, Valentine’s Day, during an extended hospital stay, or other such vulnerable time in your life.

“You’ve been Bachmann’ed.” – means you failed your AP American History exam.

“You’ve been Paul’ed.” – means you’ve disappeared.

“You’ve been Santorum’ed.” – means…don’t Google this one.  Probably not family-friendly…

“You’ve been Perry’ed.” – means you were shot at while jogging.

“You’ve been Cain’ed.” – means you didn’t get the job you had interviewed for, but you aren’t exactly sure why.

“You’ve been Romney’ed.” – means you believed whatever you were told, when all evidence pointed to the contrary.

Of course, I could play this game all day:

“You’ve been Biden’ed.” – means you were forced to attend a multi-day conference or other comparable corporate meeting at the Scranton Pennsylvania Best Western, where the pool was closed by the Health Department and the complimentary continental breakfast consisted of instant eggs and week-old glazed doughnuts.

“You’ve been Kardashian’ed.” – means you woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and thought, “Does this make my ass look big?”

“You’ve been NBA’ed.” – means you’re pregnant, but not sure who the father is.

“You’ve been MSRP’ed.” – means you were entertained by thoughtful prose, challenged by riveting and relevant commentary, and drenched in snarky sarcasm.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tripping on Tryptophan

Charles Krauthammer can be forgiven for producing one of his laziest, most intellectually dishonest pieces of the season on Friday, November 25th.  After all, it was the day after Thanksgiving, and he was probably still under the influence of the legal drug, tryptophan.  He must have slept through the editing process, but in fairness, aren’t we all a little tired the day after the Big Feast?

Charlie spend 739 words explaining to his glassy-eyed Black Friday readership that Grover Norquist, inventor or the No New Tax pledge that has defined GOP orthodoxy for well over a decade now, isn’t really that important.  Pay no attention, citizens, and go back to sleep.  The only Grover of note is starring in the new Muppets movie, not holding lawmakers hostage with his strict pledge.  Unfortunately for Charlie, I pay attention, and his arguments throughout the op-ed are filled with as much fantasy and whimsy as a full length feature film of life-sized puppets.

Krauthammer begins by downplaying Norquist’s actual, documented significance to GOP policy with his dismissive line that Norquist in Democratic circles “replaces the Koch brothers as the great malevolent manipulator that controls the republic by pulling unseen strings on behalf of the plutocracy.”  Cute...except the strings Norquist pulls are not “unseen”.  277 active Republican members of Congress have signed his No New Taxes pledge (along with a handful of Democrats).  That’s pretty visible.  His influence is not a matter of liberal conspiracy theory.  It is a matter of public record.

·         He goes on to lists the facts that support his theory that Norquist is not a factor in GOP thinking.  He mentions that Rep. Tom Coburn supported some tax increases (by supporting Simpson-Bowles).  That’s one Republican, and once he announced that support, he was immediately chastised in the pages of the conservative National Review and across the right-wing blogosphere.  One member of the GOP out of 277 does not represent a trend.  By the way, he has announced that he will not seek reelection.  Some bravery. 
·         Next, Charlie trots out Speaker Boehner’s support of revenue increase during his grand bargain discussions with President Obama.  If you recall during the debt ceiling debate, it was leaked that Boehner was offering $800 billion in additional revenue in exchange for trillions in spending cuts (about a 4:1 ratio of cuts to revenue increases).  What Charlie forgot to mention in his post-turkey banquet haze was that this deal was shouted down by Boehner’s caucus.  Boehner was forced to walk away from that offer because he had no support in the House for any tax increases.  Why?  Perhaps because there was that pesky pledge. 
·         Finally, he tells the sleepy readers that Supercommittee member Pat Toomey graciously offered to raise $300 billion in revenue in exchange for massive cuts to entitlements that primarily benefit the poor.  See how Toomey isn’t beholden to Norquist?  He offered to raise taxes!  I am not sure why Krauthammer left off the minor detail that Toomey offered to increase taxes by $300 billion, but only if the Bush tax cuts were made permanent across the board – a tax break of $3.7 trillion over 10 years.  I know that an extra helping of gravy and stuffing clouds mental acuity, but even through the fog, I recognize that a positive revenue of $300 billion in exchange for a negative revenue of $3.7 trillion is not a tax increase.  It’s a huge cut that carries the disadvantage of increasing the deficit, something the Right pretends to care about.

Krauthammer neglects to mention it, but does he think we forgot that a tax loophole for oil companies, that both Democrats and Republicans saw as no longer necessary, was allowed to remain in place because Grover Norquist publicly stated that closing this unnecessary loophole equated to a tax increase, and would not be ‘sanctioned’ under his pledge?  That’s not “unseen” influence, Charlie.  That’s “seen” and heard, loud and clear.

Krauthammer rambles on with grandiose statements of conservative ideology, citing no study, no research, no factual basis for any of his claims, except I suppose his own “unseen” expertise in matters of economics.  Methinks the Job Creators might be “the great malevolent manipulator that controls the republic by pulling unseen strings on behalf of the plutocracy”, but that’s just me.

He further diminishes himself by parroting a ridiculous right wing talking point that Obama was AWOL from the Supercommittee deliberations.  Once again, Charlie reaches a conclusion without any context and with a deliberate omission of facts.  Obama was specifically and publicly asked not to inject himself into the Supercommittee debate process so as to not unduly politicize its functioning.  He was asked to remain outside of these discussions by both the Republican and Democratic members.  Apparently, in Krauthammer’s world view, Obama should have politicized the process, been involved while the GOP refused to negotiate in good faith, and then said thank you while the GOP pinned the failure to reach consensus around his neck.  Sorry, Barry didn’t fall for this trick, at least this time.

He ends his piece with a dare to the Democrats to actually do something about debt.  OK, how about passing tax cuts that are paid for (which the GOP didn’t do)?  How about paying for a war of choice as you go instead of putting it on the national credit card for our kids to handle?  How about deciding how to pay for a new Medicare entitlement before signing it into law?  How about supporting the Affordable Care Act that reduces the national debt (according to the CBO scoring demanded by the GOP before final passage)?  How about explaining why the Bush tax cut for the top 1% “pays for itself”?

Next time you get the urge to write after a big meal, Charlie, just grab your Snuggie, curl up and watch some football.  Come back to political writing once the narcotic effects of your Thanksgiving meal have subsided.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Door Busters

When Black Friday comes, I’m going to dig myself a hole…

Lucy is crying.  She wants to go to the mall today because, unbeknownst to me, she never gets to go to the mall.  She was there about 2 weeks ago, but that might as well have been 2 years ago in her mind.  At the tender age of 6 (almost 7), she has fully embraced holiday consumerism.  There is no turning back.  She’s a Toys R Us Kid (or more accurately, an Apple aficionado).

Her older sister is at the mall.  At the not-quite-as-tender age of 15 (almost 16), she is firmly entrenched in the target demographic group for unbridled consumerism.  16 year old girls are the new 25-55 male demographic.  One day, they will have all the money, and their buying habits must be cultivated early and often.

I should not be surprised, and frankly, I am not.  I am more resigned to the transformation happening before my eyes.  How could I have prevented it?  It’s in the newspaper, on the TV, the radio, discussed on the school bus, and over the family turkey feast.  You must buy, and you must buy today, this day of all days – Black Friday.

If I sound cynical, I am.  It is Black Friday, and all 3 of my children fully understand that this day has one unifying purpose: spend my money.  Actually, it is more than just spend money.  This day for them is about becoming a part of something larger than themselves.  They feel the need to participate in the communal experience of going to a mall, or a strip center, or a big box retailer.  Grocery shopping does not count.  Shopping is necessary, buying is optional.  Black Friday for them means being out there.  Black Friday means being included. 

I’ve been there in the trenches.  I’ve been the day after Thanksgiving shopper, but more often in my life I’ve been the post-Thanksgiving shop-ee.  I worked more Black Fridays in retail than I can remember, and yes, there was a sense of belonging that you gained from working that darkest of all days.  The sense of belonging, however, was defined by a communal sense of misery.  We were at work servicing the crazy shoppers and balancing all their delusions of bargains to be had.  Yes, we had bargains.  You could buy a shirt for $29.99 or buy 2 for $60.  Quick, decide before the aggressive woman behind you in line does the math and scoops up this giveaway!  Act now!

Now I preach more patience in shopping.  I also preach more limited spending.  Today, however, I am railing against the wind.  I am old, out of touch and a holiday miser.  Christmas isn’t coming this year, because I am not taking my 6 year old to the mall.  Humbug.  She has closed herself in her room, crying because Christmas has now been cancelled - by my refusal to take her to the mall.

So, to stop the tears of the children, to save our economy, to save the planet, please by all means get out there while there is still time.  Santas are standing by to take your order.

If for some odd reason you plan to stay home today, all is not lost.  You still have Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday in front of you, and we expect to see you at the mandatory meetings.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Something to Chew On

According to The Week:

A South African man was savagely chewed to death by a 2,400-pound hippopotamus he kept as a pet.  “Humphrey’s like a son to me, he’s just like a human,” Marius Els, 40, had insisted.

If our childhood obesity epidemic continues unabated, there may well be more sad stories like this one.  American children, kept as pets, savagely chewing their parents could be the latest media driven fear, overtaking unclean toilet seats, friendly youth coaches and killer bees.

Don’t think it could happen?  The Republicans in the House are exercising their Constitutional right to be short-sighted, and are blocking reasonable moves that could protect all Americans from being gummed in the future.  Last week, the GOP prevented a change in the national school lunch program that would have added fruits and vegetables to the menu while cutting French fries and pizza.  House Republicans described the proposed change from fattening foods to healthy foods as “overly burdensome and costly regulations”, while potato grower and tomato sauce producer lobbyists described the proposed change as “socialism and anti-potato and tomato sauce worker”.

It is true that taxpayers would have seen a $6.8 billion higher price tag for school lunches over a five year period.  What is not noted by opponents of the new menu is that obesity in this country costs the United States $148 billion annually.  That’s according to that biased bastion of blatant liberalism, the Center for Disease Control, with their fancy scientists and controlled “experiments”.  If future cases of diabetes are reduced by a percentage point thanks to better school lunch options, $6.8 billion will look like a heck of a bargain.
Saving pounds now can save lives, and money, later.  Obesity is not solely an individual problem without a broader societal impact.  Obesity is not solely an individual problem that does not cross state lines.  I am not arguing for the mandatory feeding of apples and brussels sprouts by government officials to young children.  I am not advocating that Twinkles be banned from the checkout counter at 7-11.  I am questioning why replacing foods of lesser health value at public schools with foods of a greater health value is controversial.  Healthier kids could reduce the long term deficit, as well as a few waistlines along the way, and I think we should support that idea in a bipartisan way.
Could eating fruits and vegetables instead of French fries and pizza help reduce the number of overweight Americans and the associated health risks in this country?  Yes, I think it could.  If I am correct, the increased cost of bananas and pears could actually save money for this country over time.  Of course, that would require taking a longer view, something that near-sighted Congresspeople cannot grasp, or effectively sell to their constituents.

I should not blame all Congressional representatives for being near-sighted on this issue.  It is not their fault that they are near-sighted.  The corporate interests that support potato growers and tomato sauce producers hid their corrective lenses under piles of money.  You see, the move away from French fries and pizza was fought by the American Frozen Food Institute.  This group had a singular interest – their member's profitability.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Let freedom ring.  The problem is more that our elected officials didn’t weigh the evidence, look at the pros and cons of replacing fries with fruits, and then do what is best for the country in the long run.  Helping address a long term national problem might work against their reelection in the short run, and then they couldn’t remain in power to protect us from socialism.  Chew on that.

(The change in menu was supported by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, along with Mission Readiness, a group of retired generals trying to fight obesity that has hurt military recruiting, and of course, the USDA)

Some opponents of the measure make the argument that the government shouldn’t tell us what to eat.  “If parents want their kids to eat pizza and fries every day at lunch, so be it.”  Let freedom ring.  The argument is counterintuitive because serving the aforementioned pizza and fries isn’t that telling the captive schoolhouse kids what to eat.   If parents want kids to eat fruits and vegetables, then pack their lunch with these healthy choices, right?  How about instead – if parents want their kids to eat unhealthy choices, why don’t they pack their lunch?  Under this menu change, no one would be forcing the kids to eat broccoli at gunpoint (although I should note that some GOP legislators support the right of educators to carry a concealed weapon in school).  Eat what you want, people, but is it so bad to offer more fruits and vegetables during the school day?

Voters and Parents, it is better to watch your children grow up than to watch them grow out.  Let’s face that the financial and societal impact of childhood obesity left unchecked will eventually swallow us all.  A few healthier choices at lunch will not bring capitalism to its knees, or cause irreparable economic harm.  So the next time little cherubic Johnny tries to bite your finger, think about poor Marius Els, who thought little Humphrey was just like a human up until that moment when his delusion bit him in the butt.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

During the 2008 campaign for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama was caught on tape remarking that during tough economic times, working class Americans cling to “guns and religion” as an outward manifestation of their bitterness and frustrations.  This quote was used (mostly by Hillary, but Republicans thereafter) to highlight what they perceived as Obama’s condescending personality and his aloof nature with “the folks”.  Recent events, however, have made me rethink whether or not Obama was overreaching about Americans when he made this statement, or merely hitting the nail on the head.

Guns and religion, and not jobs, are apparently the most pressing issues on the minds of GOP politicians.  During last week’s Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa, Flavor of the Month candidate, Newt Gingrich, made what I consider to be a remarkable statement about the nature of faith and government in this country:

“Because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.”

It is Gingrich’s belief that we have been systematically “driving God out of public life”, and that the creation of a secular society is the harmful result.  As a self-described non-lobbying ‘historian’, Newt shouldn’t need to be reminded that the U.S. has been a secular nation since inception, but during pander season, that may be too much to ask. 
With his commentary, Gingrich may have been thinking about the Supreme Court decision in Abington Sch. Dist. v. Schempp, when, in an 8-1 decision, the justices ruled that public officials could not promote Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer over public school intercoms.  What Gingrich sees in this decision in the government’s attempt to rid God from the public square.  What reasonable people could see is the Court preferring that religious instruction be handled in the home, by the family, and not by the local school board.  I have to be honest – that sounds like a conservative position to me, but riling up the base with fantasies of the current culture being anti-God is more incendiary and therefore better for the business of firebrand politics.

The alternative to a secular society, of course, would be remaking the United States as a theocracy, in which it would then have more in common with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule, than with Europe, and North and South America.  It would seem as if Gingrich is in favor of theocratic rules and doctrines for us.  After all, Newt knows best.  If he thinks that a secular society is “a nightmare”, then it would reason that he believes a theocracy in America would be a dream come true.  He might want to be careful here.  A theocratic government might not look kindly on a twice divorced, admitted adulterer with a predilection for stretching the truth.  Justice in those faith based countries is harsh and swift, and usually involves the forcible removal of valuable body parts.

At that same forum, five other non-Mormon candidates were in attendance, taking turns showing spiritual emotion (yes, there were a few candidate tears), beating their breasts and speaking in tongues.  
  • Pro-life Perry supported a law banning adoption by same sex parents, preferring a market-based foster child program solution no doubt.  Kim Kardashian would retain her rights to parent in Perryland.   
  • Herman Cain (no relation to Abel, in any sense of the word) supported a restructure of the tax code so churches could preach the commandments of political policy while still maintaining tax-advantaged status.  If that isn’t state endorsed religion, I am not sure what is.   
  • Gingrich had to be bolder to match his latest incarnation, so he proposed a federal law defining “personhood” as beginning at conception, the same law that fell to an overwhelming defeat in the heart of Red State country, Mississippi.  In this scenario, contraception would become a preemptive abortion, punishable by law.  If the “personhood” amendment can’t sway voters in Mississippi, I fail to see how that position will play in New York.
For a group so committed to the sovereignty of the states, this crowd (except Ron Paul) sure loves federal solutions to culture war problems.

 On the gun front, the GOP is pushing hard for the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act.  The Act would require that states with tight concealed weapon restrictions allow people with permits from states with lax laws to carry concealed and loaded guns in their jurisdiction.  Apparently, when it comes to guns, states’ rights are an inconvenient truth.  States have the right to have their own laws without federal interference, if the issue is health care for the disadvantaged or education for the poor.  States forfeit that right if Rick Perry wants to shoot a coyote while jogging within the borders.
Thirty-eight states prohibit people convicted of certain violent crimes like misdemeanor assault or sex crimes from carrying concealed weapons.  Under this proposed Reciprocity law, co-sponsored by over 200 Republicans, those states would have to respect the concealed carry rights of those from others states.  A majority of states require some gun training before the issue of concealed weapon permits.  Under this law, untrained gun owners would be welcomed with open arms (no pun intended).  The hypocrisy of this position is so transparent as to be funny.  But it is not a joke, and no one should be laughing.  What happened to “enforce the laws on the books”?  You’ll have to pry gun issue pandering from the GOP’s cold, dead hand. 
Don’t look now, but in the run up to the 2012 elections, it seems as if it is the Republican political class that is clinging to guns and religion as a vehicle to power.  In fact, the only group more committed to both religion and guns in their rhetoric might be the Taliban.  Not sure that’s the model they should be following for inspiration.

“When you’ve got them by the guns and the religion, their hearts and minds will follow.” – Anon (or maybe Karl Rove)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No Hugs No Learning

I love analyzing and debating the current state of our political discourse with my friends (aka my social network, in modern parlance).  For me the best reflection of our politics is offered during the Republican President debates, a comedic reality show now beginning its 12th episode of the season.  I enjoy every recurring character and every madcap economic scheme each week.  It’s a laugh riot, as long as you can suspend disbelief for 90 minutes.  I have recently learned, however, that viewership ratings for the debate series among my network have been woefully weak.  Some friends have even gone so far as to insult the proceedings as “a show about nothing”.

I see that as a key part of the entertainment value of the debates.  Maybe that’s why I am hooked on both Seinfeld and the GOP debates.  Both define mindless entertainment.  The episodic hijinx of the near-weekly debates parallel the penultimate show about nothing, Seinfeld, in more than just the non-stop hilarity.  The character parallels are uncanny.

Each week, Mitt Romney turns in a convincing performance as Jerry, the star of the show.  Mitt sure knows when to leave the stage on a high note (episode 172), and privately frets that his warm up acts are ruining the audience for his future appearance at the top of the ticket (episode 157).  So far during this campaign, Mitt has lived the life of Even Steven (“Everything seems to even out for me.  I have one friend who’s up, and another one who’s down.”)  Nothing sticks to Even Steven, or Even Mitt.  (Elaine: "One of these days, something bad is going to happen to you.  I just know it."  Jerry: No, I’m going to be just fine.”)

The political intelligentsia wonders aloud about Mitt like Jerry’s mother lamenting, “Who wouldn’t like you?”, while the base of the party would prefer that Mitt give up his political dream and enter the Bloomingdale’s Executive Management program instead.

There is no question that second banana Rick Perry is playing a convincing Kramer.  Remember, it was Kramer who thought it was a good business plan to rent rickshaw rides in NYC (episode 173).  It is easy to hear Perry sincerely drawl the same point as TV’s original hipster doofus: “We could hire the homeless.  Why don’t we strap something to them?  They’re always walking around town.” 

Watching Perry speak, you have to wonder if like Kramer, he was once hit in the head by Crazy Joe Davola (season 4, episode 4) and would fall into spasm at the sound of Mary Hart’s voice.  One similarity between the two characters is hard to ignore:  “He’s a loathsome, offensive brute…yet I can’t look away.” (episode 38).  To quote Jerry when considering a Perry candidacy, “The last thing that guy is qualified to give a tour of is reality.” (episode 155)

It has been well documented that it is hard to find a black guy on Seinfeld or within the GOP, so finding a match up for Herman Cain is challenging; however, I recognize a lot of George Costanza in Mr. Cain.  George once summed up his philosophy in one sentence:  “It’s not a lie, if you believe it to be true.”  (episode 105).  Sounds like Cain to me.  George was a lovable character despite his issues with sex and anger management, but he is clearly competitive like Cain.  After all, he once won a contest to become Master of his Domain (episode 51).  Cain has also been caught referring to himself in the 3rd person ("George is getting upset!")

The lazy comparison for Ron Paul would be any of a number of old man characters that kept Seinfeld interesting for 9 seasons.  The anonymous and kooky Steinbrenner.  The aging Uncle Leo (“Voters – Hello!”)  The proud Izzy Mandelbaum (season 8, episode 17) who tried to outdo his younger competitors (“It’s go time!).  Mr. Mendelbaum had a younger son in the same business, just like Ron has Rand.

All that said, Paul is the best match for Frank Costanza.  Paul might be the only candidate on that debate stage who would openly embrace the holiday of Festivus as a demonstration of his libertarian bearings (episode 166).  I can easily hear Paul saying, like Costanza, “I find tinsel distracting.”  For me, there is no other Must See TV event that would match the power of Ron and Rand Paul competing in the Feats of Strength.  “No one eats until Rand pins his old man.”

Newt Gingrich is easy.  No other candidate fits the evil genius profile of postman Newman quite like Newt.  Thought in some episodes to be the intellectual of the group, Newman is sought after to be the judge to adjudicate the ladies’ bicycle custody dispute between Kramer and Elaine.  Newman: “You must cut the bicycle in two!”  (season 7, episode 13) Gingrich took to the campaign trail in May, then took a 10 day vacation.  Newman didn’t like delivering the mail if it rained (season 7, episode 20).  Neither enjoys the hard work of their chosen professions.  Newman’s ethics were always questioned by Jerry.  Newt was run out of Congress for ethics violations.

One more thing – they both are a little chubby around the middle.

Michelle Bachmann has no corresponding character on Seinfeld.  She is closest to Funkhouser’s crazy sister (season 7, episode 1), if you like Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.  If forced to choose, however, Bachmann would be the Virgin, Jerry’s girlfriend who designed closets (episode 51).  It was the Virgin who recommended the “mad idea” that Jerry replace all his hangars and bars in his closet with hooks.  What Jerry said of the Virgin at that time could apply to Ms. Bachmann on any given Sunday: “You’re quite mad you know.”

Bringing up the rear on our sit-com cast is Father Santorum.  Lloyd Braun’s experiences parallel Rick Santorum nicely.  Both were run out of government, Braun for his recommendation that the Dinkins administration force NY residents to wear name tags; Santorum for, well, opening his mouth.  He lost his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania by 18 percentage points.  Braun was locked up for being crazy; Santorum is still on the loose.  “Serenity now; insanity later.” (season 9, episode 3)

Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld promised one another when Seinfeld began that their show would have a guiding philosophy - No Hugs, No Learning.  It's too bad that the Republican National Committee has adopted the same philosophy for its nomination reality program.

Will this GOP nominating season ever come to an end?

“Oh, not long.  5 – 10 minutes.”(season 2, episode 11)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Laugh Gaffes

This is a campaign for the GOP nomination like no other.  Tonight will feature the 11th debate of the season between the contenders, and we are still 6 weeks from the opening caucus and 7 weeks from the first in the nation primary.  I live for this political drama, but even I cannot keep up with all of these televised candidate throw downs.  I have 3 past debates recorded and ready to watch, but every time I turn around, a new debate records over my interest level in the previous one.  For an interminably long election season, this one is going by fast for me. 
The landscape has certainly been dynamic.  For months, the media has regaled us with the horse race narratives of Romney v. Pawlenty, then Romney v. Bachmann, then Romney v. Perry, then Romney v. Cain, and now Romney v. Gingrich.  The real story should be Romney v. Romney, since this presumptive nominee has been a staunch supporter of every side of every issue for years.  Rest assured, when the horses are trotted out on stage into their red, white and blue starting gates tonight, there will be no stallions.  More than likely, we will be treated to a collection of show ponies prancing and braying as the Far Right base applies the riding crop.  We are a long way from the clubhouse turn.

While all the post-debate attention has gone to a variety of entertaining and overblown ‘gaffes’, such as Rick Perry’s brain freezes, Herman Cain’s harassment allegations, and Jon Huntsman’s cloak of invisibility, the real debate news is the substance of what these candidates actually are saying.  If I don’t have time to watch every misstep, then you certainly can’t, so here is some of what you are missing on the substance.  Apparently this substance smells like it is coming more often from the hind quarters of the horses than from their mouths:

Mitt Romney argued the other night that instead of the Affordable Care Act, we need more market-driven solutions to drive down costs.  Specifically, he noted that other countries spend close to 12% of GDP on healthcare while we as a nation spend 18% of GDP.  Interesting take, except he forgot to enlighten the debate audience about a simple truth.  Those nations spending close to 12% of GDP on health care, the ones he wants to emulate HAVE NATIONALIZED HEALTH CARE!  Honestly, does this guy think no one listens to his nonsense?  He basically is using an argument in favor of a single payer system to defend a for-profit health care model.

Lost in the comedic furor over Rick Perry “misforgetting” the 3rd thing he hated about Washington for a few agonizing moments on stage was his underlying point.  He wants to immediately abolish the departments of Commerce, Energy and Education – not restructure, abolish.  E.J. Dionne did a thoughtful take-down of the intellectual vapidity of this position:

Would Perry end all federal aid to education? Would he do away with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the part of the Commerce Department that, among other things, tracks hurricanes? Energy was the department he forgot. Would he scrap the department’s 17 national labs, including such world-class facilities as Los Alamos, N.M., Oak Ridge, Tenn., or — there’s that primary coming up — Aiken, S.C.?

I’m not accusing Perry of wanting to do any of these things because I don’t believe he has given them a moment of thought. And that’s the problem for conservatives. Their movement has been overtaken by a quite literally mindless opposition to government. Perry, correctly, thought he had a winning sound bite, had he managed to blurt it out, because if you just say you want to scrap government departments (and three is a nice, round number), many conservatives will cheer without asking questions.

Michelle Bachmann says in one breath that we as a nation are being overtaken by socialists, but fear not, patriots.  Ms. Bachmann will save us by following the fine example of…the Chinese?

“The Great Society has not worked, and it’s put us into the modern welfare state. If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps. If you look at China, they’re in a very different situ — they save for their own retirement security. They don’t have pay FDIC. They don’t have the modern welfare state. And China’s growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with The Great Society, and they’d be gone.”

Ms. Bachmann’s public position is to replace Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security with the Chinese model.  She was once considered a viable candidate for the Presidency by GOP primary voters.

One of the candidates (I think it was Newt Gingrich, but I could be wrong) stated during the last debate that the CIA had been taken over by socialists under the Obama administration.  That should come as some news to General David Petraeus, the Director of the CIA, and hero of the Right.

Herman Cain, who is being self-victimized every time he opens his mouth, stated clearly and unequivocally that waterboarding is not torture.  All of the other candidates agreed with this legal analysis except Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.  The world, legal scholars, John McCain, military leadership, and public opinion dissent, but no matter.  Forget that the theory that waterboarding has kept us safer, or that it led us to bin Laden, has been thoroughly debunked.  The blood thirsty mob in attendance clapped their approval.  For those keeping score, GOP debate audiences have cheered for state executions, the death of the uninsured, the electrocution of undocumented workers, and booing of gay American soldiers.  I guess that Tree of Liberty needs to be watered every now and then.

All of the candidates (again, except Ron Paul) thought the announced troop withdrawal from Iraq was a huge error.  Perhaps one of them mentioned that it was George Bush who negotiated the withdrawal date.  Perhaps one of them mentioned that we had an obligation to leave once we were asked by the sovereign government of Iraq (isn’t it their country, or was the GOP only speaking in theory when they told us that?).  Sounds like Occupy Wall Street is bad, but Occupy Baghdad is good.  It is fair to ask the contenders how many Muslim countries we should occupying simultaneously, and I would be curious to know their answers, especially since preemptively attacking Iran is high on the next GOP President’s to-do list.

I close with this nugget, also from E.J. Dionne:  “At their best, conservatives forced us to think harder. Now, many in the ranks seem to have decided that hard and nuanced thinking is a telltale sign of liberalism.”

If thinking makes me a liberal, I am guilty as charged.  When will the media start focusing on these substantive gaffes?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The 12%-ers

If a league falls in the forest, will it make a noise? Will anybody hear? Will anyone care?

According to a recent survey, only 12% of respondents would hear the noise of the NBA effectively closing down the 2011-2012 season before it has even begun, the 12% of fans who would care at all. Listen closely, 12%-ers – that sound you just heard coming out of the player’s meeting in New York was the final chop of the ax.

The NBA players union rejected David Stern’s (no relation to Howard Stern) ultimatum today, and have taken the first steps towards decertification. So, there will be no NBA this season. Can you hear it now? Timber!


I cannot count myself among that group of loyal 12%-ers that will miss the games. Professional basketball has always been a bore to me, save for a few epic late round playoff matchups in years gone by. Think Magic v. Bird, MJ or Reggie v. Spike Lee, Shaq v. Kobe, LeBron v. Cleveland. The college game offers more excitement in a day than the NBA can offer in a month. At least in a college game, the unexpected occasionally happens.

It has been said many times but it bears repeating now that the players have killed the golden hoop goose - the only part of any regular season NBA game worth watching is the final 2 minutes. That means in an 82 game season, if half of a team’s games are close (and I’m being generous here), then the average sports fan need only watch fewer than 90 minutes over 6 months to enjoy the totality of the action. The rest is a cacophony of fouls you can’t detect, traveling violations that never get called, and blaring horns that seem to go off for no apparent reason. Perhaps if the seats outside of L.A. were ever filled with fans I’d cared more.


As a devoted hockey fan, I survived the lost NHL season of 2004-2005. It wasn’t as easy as Lt. Daniel Kaffee made it sound to Dawson and Downey (“6 months! It’s nothing. It’s a hockey season!”). It seemed much longer. A team from Florida actually held the Cup for 2 years because of that work stoppage. That’s just wrong, you know? However, we did come out the other side with a stronger product that is finally starting to re-establish itself in some pockets of North America. 6 years later, we get decent ratings on January 1st for a gimmick game. That’s progress after a league turns its back on the paying fans and cancels the season.

Take heart, 12%-ers. Your game will come back, and you can look forward to average TV ratings for your Christmas Day showcase of games sometime before the end of the decade. You might have to add some new wrinkles to gin up interest, like the NHL added the overtime shoot out and the Winter Classic. The NBA could have a game on an aircraft carrier…oops, been done. The NBA could have an outdoor game on the blacktop in the middle of a city in mid-July. Who wouldn’t tune in for Shirts vs. Skins inside a chain link octagon?

Wait, I’ve got it – Basketball Dodgeball. Dodgeball gets good ratings on ESPN 8 (The Ocho), so you could piggy back on the success of the historic Average Joe’s vs. Globo Gym finals. (If Carmelo can dodge a wrench, he can dodge a ball).

Enjoy the hiatus from the NBA, sports fans. Fear not. Bracketology is only 4 months away. Now, THAT we would really miss.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smokin' Joe

I have never been much of a gambler.  I wager on the NCAA brackets every March, and I buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot crests above the $200 million high water mark.  Otherwise, I have a healthy fear of the odds ever being in my favor.  I would go so far as to say that if I bet on one side, for one team, the odds of the opposite outcome are increased proportionally to the dollar value I invest.  Such is my lot.  That seems like a lot of pessimism for a guy who won the first sports bet he can remember some 40 years ago. 
I picked Joe Frazier over Muhammad Ali in 1971’s Fight of the Century.

I was in the 3rd grade that year, and passions were high for the bout.  Being 3rd graders, we all had strong positions on the fight, but in retrospect, I am certain that these entrenched positions were inherited from our fathers, uncles or older brothers.  We naturally wanted whomever they wanted to win.  In the 3rd grade, our knowledge of the heavyweight boxing division was limited, to say the least.  To us, “the sweet science” meant nothing more than the study of Halloween candy.  All we knew was that everyone was talking about the fight, and I needed to take a stand. 
Ali or Frazier.  Choose.  There was no middle ground for boys hoping to one day become men.

I had no idea about all of the racial overtones surrounding the match up.  I didn’t know that Ali had once been Cassius Clay and avoided the draft as a conscientious objector.  I knew that it was a big event, though, and I wanted to be a part of the action.  I was too young to go to the Park Theater and watch the closed circuit showing on the big screen.  I had to settle for a little gambling to provide some juice.  I can’t remember if I bet money, a punch in the arm, or just bragging rights the next day.  For some reason that I can no longer recall, I wanted Frazier.  Could it be because we had the same first name?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I was all in for Smokin’ Joe. 
I listened to the fight on the radio that night, late into the night.  I am not sure if I lasted until the end of the 15th round to hear the decision as it happened, but the next morning, I went to school ready to collect.  Frazier had won, so by extension, I had won, too.

Frazier beat Ali, and my man was heavyweight champion of the world.

There were to be 2 more battles between these two heavyweights, including the Thrilla in Manila, but that first fight in Madison Square Garden was the greatest, at least for me.  Thanks to all those devastating body punches, I had won my first bet.
Ali went on to be the bigger star.  He was must-watch TV with Howard Cosell on Wide World of Sports.  His bout against George Foreman in Zaire was epic.  Who doesn’t talk to this day about Ali’s Rope-A-Dope strategy that worked to perfection in the Rumble in the Jungle?  That man could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, and if you asked him, he would tell you that he was beautiful, too.

Frazier did not carry the same profile as Ali, and his career did not follow the same arc, but in the days before ESPN, he was a legend nonetheless.  His horrible showing during the swim competition of ABC TV’s The Superstars did not dull his star for me.  He was still  the man who gave Ali his first defeat in the ring.

Ali became a global icon, and Joe Frazier became that other boxer.  Ali was the lightning, but Frazier was the thunder.  While Ali was high class, Frazier was working class.  Ali was a champion, but Frazier was a hero, a man who made the most of the gifts God gave him.  Ali was a loud promoter and Frazier was quiet and humble undercard.  Frazier did his talking inside the ropes with his tenacity and relentless attacks to the body.  That guy could hit.  He epitomized the American spirit of working hard and getting ahead.  He was a good guy, who sometimes finished first.

Frazier is gone now, and Ali is still with us, albeit with a lower profile and more humility and humanity.  Maybe he’s becoming more like Joe.  I think it is safe to say, that without Joe Frazier, there would be no Muhammad Ali.  Frazier made Ali, and that may be his greatest legacy.  For that, we sports fans should always be grateful.

RIP the Pride of Philadelphia, Smokin’ Joe Frazier. He won a bet for me.