Friday, August 07, 2009

Creeping Sociability

The big question nationally, besides whatever Fox News has made up about Obama today, is how to provide health care for the 58 million uninsured Americans. Everybody hates taxation, but how about a system of direct donations from the health-care rich to the health-care poor?

I pay $875 a month for my insurance plan and I've had a physical once in the last four years. I'm a chronic underuser of American medicine, and fortunately not afflicted by any conditions American medicine can fix. If medicine could fix knees and neuroses, I'd probably use my plan more. Anyway, there are lots of people out there who would love to take advantage of the wastage in my plan.

Think of it like carbon credits, or Car Share or the fruit exchanges with which to get rid of all the pears and oranges we don't need. I hate going to the doctor because of the lectures I get about exercise and losing a few pounds, so at the end of the year I would donate the unused portion of my health plan to the poor.

A poor family would get at least three check-ups, three lab work-ups and three disturbingly placed rubber gloves every four years. What would I get in return?

I'm already getting a tax write-off for health expenses over $5,000, and I don't really need more tax write-offs because my income as a retiree and victim of Wall Street is so low. But I would have the satisfaction of helping some poor family care for their children, and knowing that the parents are the ones getting the lectures about exercise and weight loss.

Or we could have a direct barter, and the poor family could come over and get their exercise doing yard work. They could have all the healthful pears and oranges they want.

The Republicans might like this version of the health care plan better than the one with impersonal pooled care share. It's right up their alley. It has a nice ring of peonage instead of socialism.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The King of Dropping Bombs

The man who wrote the soundtrack to my life just passed away, and I don't mean Michael Jackson. I mean Robert Strange McNamara, who lived up to his middle name in waging a pointless, interminable war by means of statistics like body counts, bomb tonnage and troop levels. By late 1966 he realized the Vietnam War was futile but didn't share this knowledge with anyone until three decades later.

This was a justly troubled man.

Gulf of Tonkin. Operation Rolling Thunder. Draft cards. Search and destroy. Body bags. Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? The lyrics live on in the heads of my generation. And the beat goes on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My father worked for Robert McNamara. That was a bit of problem, for him and for me. My dad was assistant secretary of the Navy for research and development, and sonar and submarines were his areas of expertise, not counterinsurgency. And he left the Pentagon in 1966, when he recognized that the war was a futile waste. Still, this was a matter of some discomfort for a son in college in those days.

Maybe that was why I dropped out of college, much to his chagrin, and signed up for the Marines in late '65. No. I was crazy, genuinely. But only a little more so than the times.

Later my dad told me stories about McNamara, a man who was genial and polite socially, but rigid and number-bound at work.

He told me that tonnages of bombs dropped on Vietnam were so important to McNamara that the Air Force and the Navy competed to drop the most, and would loose their bombs anywhere just to make the quotas. He told me that his proudest accomplishment, the building of a small, nuclear-powered deep submersible research submarine never would have been accomplished if he hadn't slipped it into the budget when McNamara was away. "He would have spent the money on bombs instead," he told me.

He told me that Bernard Fall, the great journalist and historian of the French Indochina War, visited McNamara to tell him the Vietnam War could not be won by the United States. McNamara dismissed him, saying "Where are your numbers?"

These are numbers from the soundtrack to my life: Anywhere from 4.5 to 6 million Southeast Asians and 58,159 Americans.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More On Our New Favorite Governor

Never mind the sex talk. Here's how Republican governors really get down. In an e-mail published by South Carolina's The State newspaper, Gov. Mark Sanford tells his Argentinian lover about being one with nature:
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2008 01:42:46 -0400
Beloved back to you...
Got back an hour ago to civilization and am now in Columbia after what was for me a glorious break from reality down at the farm. No phones ringing and tangible evidence of a day’s labors. Though I have started every day by 6 this morning woke at 4:30, I guess since my body knew it was the last day, and I went out and ran the excavator with lights until the sun came up. To me, and I suspect no one else on earth, there is something wonderful about listening to country music playing in the cab, air conditioner running, the hum of a huge diesel engine in the background, the tranquility that comes with being in a virtual wilderness of trees and marsh, the day breaking and vibrant pink coming alive in the morning clouds — and getting to build something with each scoop of dirt.

Ah, yes, the tranquillity of air conditioning, country music and a big diesel hum. An environmentalist as well as a family values guy.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

So You Think You Can Judge

So I think I used to be a fan of "So You Think You Can Dance," a TV talent show that features some very good dancers and some very weird judges. Two weeks ago I lost my appetite for this show when head judge Nigel Lythgoe made some homophobic remarks for which he has since apologized. He also showed a remarkable narrow-mindedness about dance, for which there is no excuse.

Not that I know much about dance, but I can spot calcified prejudice when I see it.

The occasion was a samba performed between two male dancers, one straight and one gay. Okay, they weren't all that good. They fell on their keisters at one point, and their costumes seemed borrowed from a Ukrainian ice-dancing surplus store, but they gave a good effort. But all Lythgoe and the other judges talked about was what parts they were dancing when they had the same parts inside their tights. How could they tell who danced the female role and who danced the male role?

Lythgoe sputtered about how the audience may be alienated, guys should not dance with guys and dancers should not be effeminate. He said it seemed like something from "Blades of Glory." Ha. Ha.

Now to the point. Back in the long-ago '90s, I covered the Gay Games in New York and witnessed a real-life glory of blades. At a ratty rink on Coney Island two male figure skaters from Canada amazed everyone, even the reporter from the staid New York Times, with a complete reinvention of pairs skating. Here were two guys tossing each other up in the air, and catching each other, without regard to the usual muscular male role and projectile female role.

Here was figure skating that said something about the narrowness of gender roles, as well as how stunted all other figure skating is. I imagine dance could use a little such shaking up. It probably happens somewhere other than on TV.

The funny thing is, I always thought Lythgoe was gay. We all need our stereotypes shattered.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Vote For Really Traditional Marriage

The California Supreme Court ruled today that Prop. 8., outlawing marriage between same-sex partners, is constitutional. Never mind equal protection. Never mind the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who were married before the passage of Prop. 8, and now are huddled together on a sort of court-sanctioned ice floe. Never mind the other states that have outstripped California in progressivism. Iowa?

It's time to do something. My proposal is Prop. Mate, the logical follow-up to Prop. 8, which really puts the eternal capital M in marriage.

Backers of Prop. 8 said they believed in "traditional marriage" between a man and a woman. That would be one man and one woman, and no less of an authority than the Mormon Church, which heavily funded Prop. 8, claimed that recognition of gay marriage could lead to recognition of polygamy. You want traditional marriage, one man and one woman? We'll give it to you.

Prop. Mate, the Perfection of Marriage Initiative, specifies:

"Marriage shall be defined as the joining of a man and a woman until death do them part."

You have to admit, it has a nice traditional ring. And heterosexuals will have to keep their rings on their fingers forever.

The Bible tells us so.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Happy Cuatro de Bloggo

This is to celebrate the fourth anniversary of my wife's blog, called I'm Mad and I Eat. I may be mad in the other sense, but I think it's a great name. Her nom de fume, Cookiecrumb, is more ironic than apt, though. In meatspace, she's more of a tough cookie or a whip cracker, a saucy little treat who doesn't even like sweets. Pardon the Mix-Mastered food metaphor.

Four years. She's been blogging longer than Twitterers have been tweeting or Facebookers have been facing and getting faced. When she started her food and occasional Bush-whacking blog, Bush was popular, expensive restaurants were still opening, housing prices and the stock market were rising and newspapers were only folding in the paperboy sense of the word.

That was a long time ago, especially in digital years. I'm surprised that blogs themselves still exist. I know mine barely does.

But I love blogs anyway, at least hers, and all it's done for us.

We have a whole new set of friends. She visits with them every day, even the ones in exotic lands like Italy, Australia and Michigan. I hear about them from her, look over her shoulder at their photographs of fine edibles, and know them by their goats, children, personal travails and plating techniques. It is a food blog part of the blogosphere, but there's far more to it than that. To get serious for a second, she has had friends who have died, had babies, suffered illnesses, undergone divorce and gotten married, and she has mourned, worried and celebrated, without ever having met most of them, except Facebook to Facebook.

We also have a whole new social circle and party circuit. We meet regularly with many of the local food bloggers here in meatspace. And I do mean meatspace. A couple of my favorite new friends are master grillers, and no party with them is complete without coming home smelling like charcoal, bacon and the rare juices of USDA Choice vegan repellent.

We have recently been invited East by one of Cookiecrumb's online friends who is a master chef and artist. He's having an opening at a gallery, and he even promised not to serve bad wine. I'm tempted to load us all into the Suburbaru and hit the Interstate, even though I know this guy only second hand from the master hand at our family keyboard.

Hell, I might even blog more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

At Least This President Reads

"You ought to teach a course."

That's what my wife said when I brought home my latest book on Afghanistan, to add to a pile of books on how colorful British imperialists carved up South Asia, Africa and the Middle East to suit their views on how the world ought to look.

They drew lines in the sand around a bunch of tribes and invented Iraq after the First World War, extracting oil, fighting insurgents and leaving a fake government in place. In Afghanistan they fought several wars against implacable mountain peoples, without even any oil to gain, and lost bloodily, leaving the lessons of war in that country to be relearned by the Soviets and now the U.S.

No book reviews here. All I have to offer is one line from my latest book, "The Unforgiving Minute," by Greg Mullaney, a young Army officer (now advising Obama) who served in Afghanistan. Before being deployed he saw a list of instructions on how to prepare posted by a veteran. One piece of advice:

"Go to the worst crime-infested place you can find wearing a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet. Set up a tent in a vacant lot. Announce to the residents that you're there to help them."

No, I'm not the one to teach the course. But seven or eight years ago the reading list was already there, the lessons of history ready to be absorbed. Too bad the deciders thought they knew it all.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It Was Only A Movie

Me, I miss George W. Bush. Sort of.

Conservatives are trying as hard as they can to forget Bush and his era. Now it's Obama's war, Obama's recession, Obama's stock market. Forgetting that O inherited this stuff from W is a great bit of brain work, well worthy of a party whose leaders include a radio-enabled drug addict and two children, Bobby Jindal and that eighth-grade prodigy from Georgia.

How much do I miss W? I rented Oliver Stone's movie "W."

There they all were, Cheney, Condi, Wolfie and the drunken Yalie who later got sober and tore up a few countries, including this one, worse than he ever did any bar or frat house. Josh Brolin was magnetic in a way the subject of his portrayal never was. I didn't even mind listening to him.

In the bad old days, you could watch small doses of Bush on TV or read the paper and enjoy the simple pleasures of hate and fear. You could make fun of Bush and call him names (although I can't remember any worse than "Bush"), much the way Fox News loves calling Obama a socialist while he tries to bail out Wall Street banks.

Now I can't read the paper anymore. I hate to see my guy taking a beating on every front, from Afghanistan to A.I.G. By the way, what do those two have in common? They can't be saved. How are they different? We own 80 percent of A.I.G., and the Taliban has 80 percent of Afghanistan.

I hate to see Fox News having so much fun, knocking a president and willfully forgetting their old favorite who preceded him, and drove my IRA into a ditch. Of course, the only Fox News I watch is on the Stewart and Colbert shows, because it's even funnier that way.

So I rented the movie, even though it runs two hours and twenty-nine minutes, which I think was the total time Bush served in the White House, minus vacations.

An hour and a half into the movie, the computer crashed like Merrill Lynch. The DVD was scratched, dirty or choked on a pretzel. I took it back to the video store and didn't ask for a replacement.

I know how it came out. And I can barely afford the DVD rentals.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Deep-Fried Thoughts

Which is more depressing? Having two bars in your neighborhood, Chili's and Applebee's? Or having just one bar in your neighborhood, Applebee's?

Here in Terra Linda (developed before builders were required to know Spanish) we're now stuck with just Applebee's. The other apostrophe restaurant, Chili's, closed. Such is the recession.

Even when I'm going through an alcohol-free phase, I do enjoy bars, just as I enjoy coffeehouses. Both offer observational and conversational opportunities, and bars offer more of the latter. And here's my theory: If you've never been to an Applebee's, you cannot claim to understand America.

Who was the conservative pundit who said Obama didn't seem "like the type of guy who would fit in at Applebee's salad bar"? It was David Brooks who wasn't aware that Applebee's doesn't have a salad bar. Just a bar. If he'd hang out there, he might get a little closer to his nation's pulse, even though the pulse is slightly occluded by cholesterol.

Not long ago, during happy hour (23-ounce beers for $3), a burly guy looked around Applebee's horseshoe-shaped bar and said, "I'll bet none of you have been to work today."

One guy ventured that he had. Another guy said he had been engaged in child care. Five other people, and the burly questioner, an electrician, admitted they were out of work. A couple of the people had worked in stores in the half-shuttered mall and couldn't stop returning to Applebee's for happy hour, even though they were unhappy.

The electrician said that naturally he knew I hadn't been to work. Five years of retirement can do that to you.

Since then all the happy-hour conversations seem to come back to lack of work, shrinking prospects for retirement, closing businesses and failing newspapers. As a former newspaperman I am pleased to report that working-class Americans, the Applebee's clientele, are connoisseurs of daily newspapers and will miss them.

No, they may not be connoisseurs of food. But the chips and salsa aren't bad and go well with three-buck Bud.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Red All Over

Two bad-news newspaper stories were in the New York Times this morning:

"Hearst Threatens to End San Francisco Paper."

"Post to Drop Liz Smith Column."

That would be the New York Post, and guess which story was promoted on the front page of the Times? That's right, the loss of a Post gossip columnist was more important to the gentlemen who run the Times than the possible loss of San Francisco's daily paper and its excellent coverage of Oakland.

Of course, that's predictable, because the only bigger jokes than the Post in the Times' newsroom are San Francisco and, unintentionally funnier, the San Francisco Chronicle. To be fair, there may be little news here. Dog bites man, poops on man's paper. It's been predictable for years that the Chronicle will fold, be sold or lay off half its staff.

Unfortunately, it's been getting rid of half its staff for years, to no avail.

Does anyone mourn the possible loss of a major city's daily newspaper? Will anyone hear the tree fall in the forest? Well, at least trees won't be converted into ink-spotted white space.

At least now we know why the Chronicle is celebrating its 144th anniversary with such pomp. It did seem a curious number.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mirror, Mirror ... Never Mind

Gradually going blind has its advantages. You get to go to Lenscrafters, pick out new glasses and change your image. Maybe you'll even see it in the mirror.

I've never minded wearing glasses. A visit to the optometrist has always been an opportunity for painless plastic or wire rim surgery. Look at that rack of glasses, and all those choices of looking like John Lennon, Elvis Costello, a Blues Brother or a professor in a department of something postmodern.

Sadly, Lenscrafters has more in the way of accountant rimless and absolutely nothing in Mickey Rourke tinted.

So there I was last week, trying on dark, clear and reading glasses, imagining my new ominous, responsible and scholarly selves, and what do I see? A guy who qualifies for the AARP discount and just got back from the dermatologist. Underneath the new specs were specks where potential growths had just been removed. They dramatically spelled out, in scab cursive, my wife's previous warning: "Just get age-appropriate glasses."

I'll bet nobody ever said that to Mickey Rourke. Damn you, unfair vanity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Off the pig? Roast the pig!

Welcome to the new era of Obama (and maybe me coming out of an 8-year depression). Just to set the record straight: Obama is a lot more conservative than the wingnuts claim he is. For an alleged commie radical he's spending a lot of effort trying to keep Wall Street from falling into the dustbin of history. And arugula is not what we liberal elitists crave for dinner.

Give us pig meat. Roast it good. Slash it in chunks. All of it. Serve it with beans and macaroni and cheese. I'm sorry, Hannity and Limbaugh, we elitists are so far ahead of you we've come up behind you to become better cavemen. Arugula? In a pig's eye!

On Sunday I went to a birthday party for a friend who roasted a whole pig in his backyard in honor of the new age. Forty for him. Five days for Obama.

The party wasn't really for Obama, but he was the first topic of conversation and held first place until the splayed and singed porker came out of the firepit. To be precise, the caja china, a fearsome charcoal-fired device that enveloped the pig and created enough heat to crack the paving stones on which it was set.

It was fabulous, just the thing the new president would like. As Obama said, “I’m not looking for some fancy presentations or extraordinarily subtle flavors."

How about giant pans of juicy pork chunks?

My wife got an ear.