Sunday, November 23, 2008


Listening to NPR tonight, I learned that Claude Lévi- Strauss is celebrating his 100th birthday. Honestly, I believed he must have died quite a few years ago, and that, for some reason or another, I'd missed his editorial in the Times.

I'm really glad he's still with us. As far as I'm concerned, his was the most brilliant mind of the 20th century -- and I'm willing to bet he remains a lot smarter than the vast majority of those currently running this imperfect world. We only can hope that many of the Obamites have read Tristes-Tropiques and La Pensée Sauvage.

Happy birthday, Monsieur le Docteur, and I wish you many more. Also, I wish to see some structuralists around our new president. Maybe you could drop him a line, just to say hello. They say he's willing to listen. Okay. Let's see.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Well, that great idea didn't have much shelf life. Putter around a little, take the dog to the park, and on your way home hear that the Janet Napolitano has been tapped for Homeland Security.

Oh, well. I like Napolitano, but Obama missed an excellent opportunity. That's what he gets for not having me on his transition team.

Team of rivals?

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has been mentioned as a possibility for the Homeland Security post in the new Obama administration. I'd like to see the post go to another Arizonan -- John McCain.

Doris Kearns Goodwin has been all over the media lately, discussing the Team of Rivals that made up the Lincoln administration, and how the concept might be put into play by Barack Obama. (In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit to a major crush on Doris Kearns Goodwin.) Indeed, Obama has suggested that he will include a Republican or two in his administration. If he could persuade McCain to accept Homeland Security, the results would be entirely positive.

More than 46% of voters chose McCain, many because they believed he was better qualified to protect the country from terrorist attacks. It seems likely that a lot of Obama voters also thought McCain's anti-terrorist credentials were better than Obama's, but decided that the economy or some other factor was more important to them. Anybody unsure about Obama in this area would be reassured by McCain (and anybody unsure of McCain would be reassured by the fact that Sarah Palin would not be his second in command.)

Republican Party officials, of course, would be totally irate because Napolitano would appoint a Democrat to fill McCain's seat in the Senate. Fox News would be filled with aging white men huffing and puffing and shaking their jowls, which would provide needed comic relief amidst the ongoing news of economic collapse. (It certainly would tickle my funnybone.)

Would McCain accept? Maybe. Nobody in his party is looking to him for leadership, and plenty of Republicans are attacking him -- blaming him for the party's extensive losses. There's not much he can accomplish in a Democratic controlled Senate, and it's not in his nature to hunker down and dedicate himself to obstructionism. After a lifetime of service to his country, he probably would like to continue a while longer -- and his pal Joe Lieberman will be running the Senate committee.

Could Obama count on him? Certainly. McCain is honest, and loyal to a fault. His service on the Armed Services Committee and on Commerce subcommittees for aviation and surface and marine transportation gives him useful background knowledge.

McCain might not be especially popular with Rahm Emmanuel or David Axelrod, and his presidential campaign was more than a little unsavory from time to time, but he still is admired by most Americans -- even those who opposed him. If he became a member of the new administration, it would demonstrate conclusively that Obama is serious about postpartisan governance. Better than any other appointmet, it could bring the country together.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Understanding Joe Lieberman

Last post, I risked being thought racist. This time, I'll risk being thought anti-Semitic. It's probably a good thing that nobody actually reads this blog.

I'm not at all surprised that the Democratic caucus voted to keep Lieberman today, and let him keep the chair of the Homeland Security Committee. With Lieberman on board, there's a slim chance the Democrats can grab a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Without him, there's no chance at all.

Anyway, Joe Lieberman really is a Democrat. Look at his voting record, and there's absolutely no doubt. If Lieberman really was McCain's first choice for running mate, McCain's judgment -- politically, at least -- is even worse than indicated by the Sarah Palin choice. Lieberman diverges from the Democratic line in just one area -- foreign policy. You see, there's one group that claims greater loyalty from Lieberman than the Democratic Party -- and it's not the voters of Connecticut. That group is AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Iraq never presented a threat to the United States. Even if somebody actually believed the hype about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and associated delivery systems, there was no threat to the United States. There might have been a threat, however, to Israel. Threat or no threat, the idea of a U.S. puppet government in Iraq must have looked pretty good to a lot of Israelis. The real threat, of course, is Iran -- and permanent U.S. bases next door in Iraq could not help but improve Israeli security.

Fiasco notwithstanding, the U.S. staying in Iraq for however long it takes to achieve "victory" is a policy that works for AIPAC, and, hence, for Lieberman. Given decades of indoctrination by AIPAC and his Orthodox rabbis -- not to mention Connecticut defense contractors -- Lieberman had to side with Bush, McCain, and Exxon-Mobil rather than Obama and the Democrats in the recent election.

The hell of it is that AIPAC isn't a particularly good representative of Israel. AIPAC is a much better representative of Likud, and its leader Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, than of Israel's current Kadima government. Rightist Likud naturally tends to allign itself with the rightist religious parties, and Lieberman is an Orthodox jew. Go figure.

It might be helpful if somebody could arrange a meeting between Joe Lieberman and Tzipi Livni, Israel's new Prime Minister. Maybe she could convey to Lieberman that support for AIPAC is not necessarily support for Israel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The right stimulus

It's time for another stimulus package, and this time, it looks like the Democrats, at least, have it right -- extended unemployment insurance, increased food stamps, and direct aid to the states. The states are in bad shape, particularly those required by their state constitutions to have balanced budgets. In New York, Governor Patterson called for $2 billion in cuts just for the current fiscal year, which ends April 1. Most of the money would come from hospital and school budgets, primarily in the form of lay-offs.

While it's true you can't solve American education's endemic problems by "throwing money" at them, budget cuts will make schools a lot worse. Cut staff and schools become genuinely intolerable. The puddle of vomit stays on the floor all day, the decibel level in the cafeteria goes into the danger zone, and the bullies rule the hallways. In overcrowded classrooms, teachers spend more time on discipline and less on instruction. In some classrooms, that means there's no instruction at all.

The only students who seem to be able to learn under these conditions are the children of recent Asian immigrants. Before you call me a racist, let me call your attention to two recent articles in the New York Times.

In the first of those articles, we learn that Asian students are the group most likely to qualify for New York City's elite high schools, "including the storied triumvirate of Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech." At Stuyvesant, 72% of those admitted, by competitive exam, are Asian. The second article is about the efforts of Long Island's well regarded Jericho school district to get the parents of Asian students to show up at school activities. They don't join PTA and don't attend concerts (even though the orchestra is 70% Asian.) Somehow their kids keep getting into top colleges even though they don't attend college nights.

Apparently, whatever Asian parents are doing to help their kids succeed is happening at home. If we really want to improve the results we get from American schools, we may have to replace some doctors of education with anthropologists.

Some say Asian parents put excessive emphasis on test scores (and violin?), but I don't see that as the reason their children tend to be so much more successful. I think the secret is that they care about accomplishment rather than "effort" -- that their kids never hear, "Don't worry, you tried your best." They trust teachers to do their jobs, but recognize that the student, not the teacher, is responsible for learning. It follows that Asian-American students actually find it necessary to work hard to gain parental approval. How innovative!

In his most recent column, Times contributor Nicholas D. Kristof calls on Barack Obama to make sure education isn't on the "back burner," and to make improvement of urban schools a primary concern. That, he says, is the "most effective anti-poverty program." Most would agree, but the difficult question is, how do we go about it? Nothing tried so far seems to have worked especially well.

Well, here's my idea. Let's replace all the administrators, guidance counsellors, and school psychologists with Asian immigrants. They know how to apply the right stimulus -- the one that gets results.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

America wins

Barack Obama is our next president. We really don't know what the result of that will be, but, what the hell, it feels good.

Tears were rolling down my face as I watched tears rolling down Jesse Jackson's face on CNN. That guy who delivered the concession speech was the old John McCain, not the nasty old bastard we've seen on the campaign trail over the past few weeks.

The president we really need right now is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he's long dead. Will Barack Obama rise to the challenge? It remains to be seen.

"We are and always will be the United States of America," says our next president. I don't know exactly what that means, but, what the hell -- I'm feeling hopeful tonight.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Last gasps

Yes, all my friends are biting their nails, wondering how the Republicans will manage to steal the election this time. As for me, I've managed to kick the worrying habit. If nefarious plots are in progress, there's nothing I can do to stop them, so I'll just wait and see.

Here in New York, nobody has any doubt which candidate will get our electoral votes. If everybody I know voted for McCain tomorrow, it wouldn't make a damned bit of difference. On the other hand, it turns out that I live in a pivotal State Senate district -- and that is turning out to be increasingly amusing.

For as long as I can remember, the State Senate has been Republican and the Assembly has been Democratic -- and I remember back to the Averell Harriman administration. (I was at Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp the year Rockefeller was elected. He came to visit, and we greeted him by singing "H... A... double R I... MAN spells Harriman..." We were city boys.)

So, now, the Republican control of the State Senate is endangered, and one of the danger spots is where I live, in eastern Suffolk County here on Long Island. Our Republican State Senator, Caesar Trunzo, has been credibly challenged by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian X. Foley.

Forget Obama and McCain. Out here in the Far East, we know which contest really counts. Nary a cent has been spent on the presidential election, but I've had glossy, full color mail every day from Trunzo and Foley. Sometimes I glance at it, sometimes I just put it straight into the recycling bin.

Foley's mail says how he cleaned up "Crookhaven." (The Dems didn't make that up -- my home town was widely known as "Crookhaven," and was a Republican patronage mill, from well before I moved here in the early 70s.) Foley's election didn't exactly create a revolution, but it helped.

Trunzo's mail screams, "Foley raised your taxes!" Hell, everybody raised our taxes out here, regardless of political party. (Even I raised our taxes, back when I was a local political operative for the teacher's union.)

I'm pretty sure the vast majority of the expensive, full color mailers wound up either in the recycling bins or the regular trash without anybody bothering to look at them. I'm pretty sure most people hung up on the recent robo-calls too, but I listened to a few.

I got two today. One was from Bill Clinton, asking me to vote for Brian Foley. When a former president gets involved in local politics, you know the party thinks it's important. The other wound up on my answering machine, so the whole first part probably was missing. The part I got asked me to vote for Barack Obama and Caesar Trunzo -- a split ticket. Maybe it was from the Trunzo people, trying to associate themselves with the sure winner. More likely, though, it was from the teacher's union. My old union started out making no endorsement in the race for State Senate. Then the gutless wonders got cold feet when it started to look like Trunzo would win. (They've always been pussies.)

My favorite robo-call came yesterday. It purported to be from a Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered group endorsing Foley because of his support for same-sex marriage. It was so clearly a Republican dirty trick, I had to laugh out loud.

I've met both Trunzo and Foley quite a few times over the years, and I'll vote for Foley over Trunzo, despite Trunzo's proven ability to bring home the pork since he was first elected during the Nixon administration. If the state Democrats are depending on my district to take over the State Senate, though, they'll probably be disappointed.