30 September 2006
"The Day of Atonement absolves from sins against God, but not from sins against a fellow human unless the pardon of the offended person be secured" (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:9). Hence the custom of terminating all feuds and disputes on the eve of the fastday (or in the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Even the souls of the dead are included in the community of those pardoned on the Day of Atonement. It is customary for children to have public mention made in the synagogue of their departed parents, and to make charitable gifts on behalf of their souls.
I suspect she simplified it for the ease of my understanding, but for the purpose of my point here, I'll keep it in its simplified form.
I've always thought the concept of a Day or a Period of Atonement a good one. Not because I believe in institutionalized religion, because I don't. It's more that being encouraged to reflect on one's year, one's relationship with a greater being or greater purpose, and possibly even one's relationship with other people introduces accountability to how one lives life. It firmly establishes that life in the here and now is relevant. The idea that that God cares about life in the present is important, especially if one believes in God.
Consider Christianity. Modern day Christianity has evolved so that emphasis is placed on an individual's personal relationship with God. The result is that it becomes very easy to rationalize away morals or the sense of civic duty/stewardship. As long as you "believe," it doesn't matter if you steal your neighbor's cable, cheat on your taxes or embezzle from the local non-profit where you a volunteer -- you're "saved" by the grace of God.
Couple a personal relationship with God with the idea of heaven, and it's easy for that rationalization to make modern day Western Christianity both an escape and an excuse. Since this world is temporary and heaven is around the corner (for believers), there's no need for environmental stewardship or conservation. There's no accountability to the present, only to the next life. We all know at least one person that takes all the little bottles of shampoo from a hotel room before he checks out, and similarly, it becomes easy to believe that God means for Christians to use up all the resources available on this planet prior to moving on to the next life.
The idea of heaven also makes it easy to escape from ignorance and poverty. Studies have shown (and if I could find my notes from the Religion and Economics course I took in college, I would actually cite those studies) that poor blue-collar Americans (eg. Americans without college degrees that earn below the poverty line) tend towards cultish behavior where religion dictates much of their lives. And, why not? There's not much to look forward to in this lifetime. It's much easier to think that today's suffering will count towards something better in the next life. It's also easier to be told how or what to think than have to think heavy thoughts about the meaning of life while trying to eke out a living on minimum wage. And, there's the added benefit of inheriting the Earth, which is what Christianity promises the meek and downtrodden (bear with me, I'm paraphrasing here). Yippee.
My concern is that there's no guarantee that heaven or the meek inheriting the Earth will actually happen in this lifetime. And, perhaps not even the next (if there is a next lifetime). An awful lot of money and energy are spent focused on something that might never come to fruition instead of on things that might improve life in the present, make efficient use of non-renewable resources and develop better people. In essence, religion becomes a reality cop out.
(As an aside, those same studies I'm struggling to remember from years ago indicate that as individuals approach the middle income bracket, church attendance drops. I can't help but wonder if people stop going to church as they approach the mid-income bracket because they've realized there's a wealth of opportunity out there and they're busy trying to establish themselves. It's the American Dream, right?
Interestingly enough, church attendance rises in the upper middle income and above bracket. However, the flavor of religion changes. Instead of the religious extremism predominant in the low income bracket, religion becomes moderate and mainstream at high income levels (think Unitarian). Denominations move towards the center in attempt to make themselves more appealing so they can attract larger congregations (especially congregations with more disposable income). Also, a typical mid to high income churchgoer will be more educated and less willing to accept "truths" on faith alone. And, part of me thinks that people start going to church again because they make enough where they can afford to have more leisure time.)
While I'm not convinced that religion is good, I'm also not convinced it's bad. It may actually be necessary, as some people cannot operate without an externally imposed moral compass or a sense of a greater being. But, it's important to point out that there may be something missing in modern day Christianity, and that's the believer's accountability to the present and his responsibility to others. It's not just about believing in God and talking the talk. There's also the spirit of Christianity -- it's about walking the walk too.
29 September 2006
"It helps primarily in terms of psychological changes ... homeless people have no self-respect, little self-esteem," Mel Young, president and co-founder of the group that organizes the competition, said in an interview.
The idea behind the tournament was to give participants an aim in life, and for those addicted to drugs or alcohol, an incentive to sober up.
A Wisconsin man who wrote "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" on a plastic bag containing toiletries said he was detained at an airport security checkpoint for about 25 minutes before authorities concluded the statement was not a threat.
The [TSA] supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" -- pointing outside the screening area -- but did not have the right "in here," Bird said.
28 September 2006
It's Dior couture, Fall 2001. Of course it's the shirt I'd immediately fall in love with. How typical of me.
It was beautiful -- the handiwork, the detail, the materials, the flowery silk lining in bold hues of red, green and blue. I haven't seen something so well made in a long time, probably around the same time clothes started being made by machines.
I couldn't resist -- I tried it on over my bikini, cargo shorts and haltertop, standing in the middle of Ring's living room.
The shirt's more well-traveled than most of us. From the high end boutiques frequented by Ring's mom in Hong Kong to Ring's home on a hill on Honolulu, then to the Windy Apple crammed in my luggage along with my windsurfing equipment.
But, I felt I couldn't do the shirt justice. I work in an industry where being conservative is key, and the shirt is so beautiful...it just didn't feel right for me to keep it to myself. Instead, I sent it to someone whom I thought could. Someone who would wear it often, and with character and aplomb.
I sent it to Philadelphia to live with CKY. She lives and works a life where she can wear the shirt more frequently than I. And, a shirt that beautiful...it deserves to be worn often.
From the ports of Hong Kong to the shores of Honolulu to the Big Apple and onward to the City of Brotherly love, this is a shirt that's seen the world and been well-loved in its travels. Passed down from woman to woman by people who care about each other, this shirt has brought happiness wherever it's gone.
This is the story of Ring's shirt. Who knows where it'll end up next?
27 September 2006
Some stream of consciousness / things going through my mind: Does economic growth, globalization, and technology contributes to global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels? What does that say about our current capitalist infrastructure? Is capitalism bad for the environment?
For the most part, markets are efficient, more so with less regulation. Businesses are better at adapting to changing conditions and solving problems than government. However, when it comes to negative externalities such as global warming, why do markets fail
Is the marketplace only good at developing mid-to-short run ideas but not so good at dealing with long run issues like the environment because there's no immediate upside? That means regulation needs to solve the issue, but...governments are pro consumption, pro economic growth. There's no incentive to regulate in a way that might stifle industry...
Everything moves in the confines of a consumer culture - myself included. I have to think about this more.
Also, I've been reading Peak Oil: Life after the Oil Crash. The website claims that oil production peaked in 2005 and from that point onward, we've been on the downward sloping side of the oil production bell curve. It argues that global economic growth is based on consumption, which in turn is fueled by production, which are all grounded on the availability of oil. Once oil becomes too expensive or scarce (as it's started to), we will undergo a worldwide economic recession since no one has found an energy source that returns as much energy per unit as oil does. Some posts on this website go so far as to predict a return to an feudal / agrarian society once that happens.
Oh, and some of you might find this article interesting...
Overall, I'm satisfied with your job, but may feel a little overwhelmed or stressed. I wish that I had more time to balance my work and personal life. While it may be near impossible to cut back on my workload, see what I can do to balance it with my personal life before I burn myself out.
Um, that about describes everyone on my team to a T. (Where does the phrase "to a T" come from? I have searched for the origins of this idiom but can't find an answer.)
What best describes you?
26 September 2006
Mochas is one of the clutziest, smartest, lovable dogs around. As you can see, she seems to think my lap is big enough to accommodate all 70lbs of her.
This is me shiny happy face looking hella tired. I was about to head out for my daily 10pm run but decided I'd cuddle on the couch with an oversized lap poodle instead. I've been so tired lately. I guess 3-4 hours of sleep a night just isn't enough. I'm not that young anymore.
I like to think that I'll get up early tomorrow to run, but frankly, that almost never happens no matter how early I get to bed. I'm too tired to sleep right now. Mochs, on the other hand, looks like she ready for bed.
I mean, there's no comparison between him and W. Our current administration really needs to go. Sometimes, I wonder if Alexander Hamilton was right. The popular vote can make some stupid choices.
25 September 2006
I have a Herman Miller Aeron chair at work.
I absolutely hate it.
When you're 5' tall, the bloody thing is just too big. My legs aren't long enough for me to sit so my back is against the seat back. I spend my 14+ hour days sitting on the black plastic chair frame at the front edge of the seat, leaning forward on my elbows to keep balanced. I've developed a pleasant case of tennis elbow in both elbows, all without playing tennis.
I finally had to cave and call in the ergonomic specialist for a workstation analysis. Yes, I work for a company that employs an ergonomic specialist. Go ahead. Laugh.
The specialist said my elbow issues were because I had chair issues. Duh.
After some adjustments to my chair height, adding a lumbar support cushion and a foot rest, my elbows were getting some much needed relief and my legs weren't going numb from sitting at the edge of a black plastic frame. The only issue was that the arms to my chair don't adjust, so at the properly adjusted chair height, I couldn't slide my chair under my desk because the arms were in the way.
Well, you know what having short legs means?
Yeah, you guessed it. Short arms.
If I lowered the chair so I could slide the seat under the desk, the desk would be too high for me, and I'd have to lean on my elbows to type again, but at present, I'm pretty far away from my desk.
I called the maintenance group and asked to either have the arms on my chair lowered, or if that was impossible as they seem immobile, to have them removed altogether. In typical bureaucratic fashion, they told me I had to submit a work order to the vendor where such requests are now outsourced.
I'd been on and off the desk all day in meetings, on calls, going over the results of my annual review with my manager, etc. I missed it when the vendor stopped by my desk to "fix" my chair.
He asked my coworkers what I needed done. They said, "She needs to have the arms lowered. She wants to be able to slide the chair under her desk.
Perhaps they should have been more specific, as his solution was to lower my chair and slide it under my desk.
I've been using the suit for the past few weekends. It keeps me warm, makes me more buoyant so I don't have to swim as much, and I now have a bit more padding from the scratches and bruises I routinely get from numerous crash landings. Also, an abundance of rain the past few weeks has spawned a wave of killer mosquitos that are distant cousins to the killer rabbit. The hungry creatures have a frightening ability to sting through most things -- cotton cargo pants, tshirts, rash guards, and hoodies -- but have yet to penetrate my 2-3 mm wiener armor.
The rubber suit, however, is a complete nightmare to put on and take off. It's meant to be that way, the idea being that it traps a thin layer of water between you and the suit, thereby insulating you so less body heat is lost to the ocean. It truly works, but putting the suit on or taking it off is a workout.
So, what does one do when one has to pee?
EH says he just goes, as he normally would if he were in the ocean in his swim trunks. And, since it's trapped against his body and it's warm, it's quite nice.
WW and her friend M, who have both competed in triathalons, say, "Just go. It's the last thing you're thinking about when you're swimming out in the water."
I've yet to bring myself to do it. I have to think about it. I mean, forgive me for stating the obvious, but...isn't going in one's suit suspiciously close to urinating on one's self?
24 September 2006
Here's what happened: I was going 75 and the speed limit was 55, so by the letter of the law I was speeding. But, if I was actually going 55, it would have been disruptive to the traffic flow, as the Land Rovers and H3s around me were all going that fast. There were two cars in the lane to the right of me at my speed, a car in front of me going the same speed as me, and cars going faster than that to the left of me...so...was I speeding? Yeah, but so was everyone else. (If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would I do it? Everyone's jumping off a cliff? Cool! Where's the cliff?)
Officer, how come I got the ticket? I was moving just as fast as everyone else; I was just going with the flow of traffic.
The officer agreed that everyone on the LIE was speeding, but said that I was the car that he happened to point his laser at, so I'm the car that gets the ticket. He drove off after issuing the ticket, and 3 miles later, I saw that he had pulled another car over. Must be that quota filling time of the month. Or, the coffers are running a bit low.
AM said he got the same ticket and paid a total of 500.00, not to mention the points off his license and the additional cost to his insurance. I'm wondering how I should deal with this...
22 September 2006
"Nivea Cloud was accused of writing 27 tickets in three hours in seven locations on May 12, inventing infractions just one to four minutes apart in the same place, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said."
This would explain how I managed to get a ticket for being parked at an expired meter on a Sunday when it's not metered parking on Sundays.
21 September 2006
Last year, B had to talk me out the adorable Nanette Lepore coat pictured on the left because I was about to drop way too much cash for something so impractical. She approved the coat I ended up buying-- a charcoal wool-cashmere mandarin collar three quarters length affair. Tres boring.
My problem is that I don't often find things that I like that also fit me well. Nor do I particularly enjoy shopping. I shop out of neccessity or when I know exactly what I want, so when I do see something I actually like, I just want to buy it and get the hell out of the store.
Then again, it could be because I'm a moron. Come to think of it...it's likely that the latter's the case.
I trained with D on a gorgeous Sunday morning, and since it was so nice out, I walked across town afterwards. In addition to fashion week, that particular day was also Sept 11, so I walked by memorial services and some very thin good looking people.
I dropped by Niketown thinking it was time for me to get a new pair of cross trainers, but the Staff was prety lousy and condescending. (Uh, did someone say pretentious athletic-wear snob?) I didn't stick around for long.
Then, I stopped by Saks, where I naturally gravitated towards the skin care section. No major damage was done at the Keihl counter -- toner and sunblock. Then, disaster struck in the form of the La Mer counter.
Someone, please explain to me how anyone could think it's ok to pay $130.00 for 0.5 ounces of eye cream? I'm still trying to figure that one out.
In fact, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly happened at Saks. I obviously suffered from memory loss or brain damage while standing at the La Mer counter. Or, perhaps I was sucked into an alternative universe where it was perfectly normal to spend $130 on a thimble-full of eye cream. In fact, it was downright un-American not to. For the sake of the American way, apple pie and Norman Rockwell, I had to buy that eye cream. I mean, my life would have been absolutely meaningless unless I had that eye cream.
(Thankfully, I still had enough control over my mental facilities to refuse the siren call of the jar of face cream they offered me. God forbid -- I might have had to sell my car to afford that.)
Whatever happened during my lapse into insanity, I'm now using an eye cream that must have magical properties. Maybe I'll get smarter (like Franu's special comb), win the lottery or discover the solution to world peace. At the price people are willing to pay for this, it'd better do something besides...moisturize.
On a slightly more practical note, while I was at Saks, I also picked up something supersoft and comfy. It looks a little silly, but I like how easy it's to wear; like a bathrobe. My internal thermostat runs on the warm side, so the silk-cashmere blend is light yet warm enough for me to wear this fall.
20 September 2006
Wow, when did I start looking like an overweight middle age asian woman. Scary.
Nosebleed seats.Serena was a powerhouse. Her serves clocked over 90mph.Amelie was much lighter on her feet.Amelie gives the winner's interview.
19 September 2006
It's a new high end Gap concept store targeting more mature professional women that's slowly being rolled out in major cities in the US.
It's reasonably priced and carries a lot of things that I can mix and match for work. Their jackets are generally cropped a little short, so it's perfect for someone my size. And, I've even bought a pair of 3" slightly platform stacked heel shoes from them that were moderately priced, flattering and surprisingly comfortable.
While this political change is probably somewhat overdue, a coup will have devastating consequences for the Thai economy. The baht tanked today, and it'll probably take some time for investors to have confidence in the market again. Hopefully, this will not have any negative side effects for the markets of neighboring SE Asian countries.
11 September 2006
J had a corporate retreat at Beaches Boscobel in Jamaica, and he was allowed to bring a +1. His brother couldn't go, and for some reason, he thought of me even though we've spoken maybe twice in the past year.
(Let me digress: J's a flake. After he had cancelled and stood me up several times, I had to reevaluate whether it was worth staying in touch. We weren't really friends, so would it make a difference if we kept in touch or not? After he stood me up for the second time in just as many weeks and then called the following day to apologize, I expressed those thoughts to him, and we sort of stopped talking... I forgot about the whole incident and never expected to hear from him again except that six months later, he called me out of the blue. He had broken up with his gf, taken care of some personal matters, and wanted to apologize for being a flake. These days, we occasionally email, but that's about the extent of our interaction. Which brings me back to why it was so weird to get invited to Jamaica. The funny thing is...J and I have gone back to the occasional email or text message but haven't spoken or hung out since we've returned. I guess he just wanted a friend to tag along...)
We were in Montego Bay, near Ochos Rio. It seemed to be a resort strip -- Ritz Carlton, Sandals, Beaches, Renaissance, you name them, they were there. Everything was super luxe, all inclusive. The resort grounds were beautiful.
Beaches Boscobel and our friendly bartender Geoffrey. Geoffrey made a point to tell us that his name was spelled with a "G." He was one of my favorite members of the staff at the resort.
The beach at Beaches Boscobel is small. It's fake, as the coastline is rocky so the resort shipped in sand to make a beach. Even stranger, however, was that the beach was walled off on both sides where the hotel property ended. I think it was to keep people out. I noticed that the locals clustered along those walls, panhandling, calling out with offers to braid hair, trying to draw attention to the trinkets they had for sale, etc.
Since J was there for a work function, I had time to get to know some of the staffers at the resort; they were all very friendly. They seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs. However, my sense from speaking to them was that the resorts all took care of the property within resort grounds, but beyond that, did very little in terms of employee benefits, environmental stewardship or public service.
J and I hired a car to take us into town, and once we left the resort, we noticed the disparity between the haves and have-nots. On one end of the spectrum were the multi-million dollar homes along the water (our driver hinted at drug money), the all-inclusive 4/5 star resorts with the well kept grounds, and the exclusive golf courses. On the other end of the spectrum was Jamaica for Jamaicans.
Beyond the resort walls, Jamaica felt...angry. Women hawked trinkets and crafts, cursing tourists under their breath once they walked away. The men were sullen. There was a lot of standing or sitting around -- drinking and smoking. We passed quite a few shanty bars. Shanty homes.
The area reeked of economic depression, pollution, corruption, and all the unfortunate side effects of developing countries. The lack of economic opportunities coupled with the easy access of alcohol and drugs created an environment that felt oppressive, making the anger even more palatable.
Me, in Ocho Rios
Local award winning artist. The name escapes me. J bought the painting. All the paintings this artist did were abstracts of people without faces. I noted to him that it was fortunate all his subjects wore some form of headdress otherwise he'd be in trouble. He agreed.
That's not to say that there weren't Jamaicans making good lives for themselves. In the town market, I met some local artists that took pride in their work and showed love for their island. J and I bought paintings and crafts from some of those artists.
We were there during the World Cup, and some enterprising soul had rigged a TV in the town square. Local men had gathered around to watch football, smoke, drink Red Stripe, and socialize. As this was the first time I'd witnessed a group of Jamaican men being happy and social, I started to take pictures. One of them became increasingly incensed and yelled at me, "No pictures!"
I wonder if Jamaica would be different if it was easier for Jamaicans to help themselves -- if multinationals operating resorts in the area felt a greater sense of responsibility and ownership towards the country and its people. Multinational firms would be able to do a lot for Jamaica at relatively little cost -- fund local schools, begin environmental initiatives, provide job training programs, and set examples as leaders in the community. In the Ochos Rio / Montego Bay area, they didn't seem to be doing much in terms of giving back to the community.
As a Jamaican, I'd be angry if I felt that the best parts of my island were being exploited for the use of wealthy foreigners while I was left with the castoffs. And, the island truly is beautiful.
One of the highlights of our trip was Dunns River Falls, which was absolutely gorgeous. It felt great to climb up a gently sloping waterfall of cold clear water while looking out at the white sand and blue water of the Caribbean.
Another fun part of our trip was when we swam and snorkeled with Sting Rays at Sting Ray City. The Sting Rays were so tame that as I walked into the water, they would swim against my leg because they were curious and wanted to check me out. I especially liked the female rays -- they were twice as big as the males, more tame, and very social. It was obvious that the trainers at the facility really loved marine life and cared about the Sting Rays -- they knew them by name and seemed to have their favorites.
Some of the locals in the Ocho Rios town market. I took a lot of pictures of people, since I'm always curious about local culture. After a while, every picture of a white sand, blue water beach starts to look the same. (Also, I don't have the proper camera lens for landscapes. ) :-)
Finally, let's not forget about the food. I love spicy food, and I used the five days we were there as an excuse to sample all things jerk. Jerk chicken, jerk burgers, jerk pork -- it was great! I sampled the Jamaican national dish of Ackee and Saltfish for breakfast, which was an acquired taste. Our driver took us to a local fast food place where I sampled beef and veggie patties. Everything was delicious, but the jerk was still my favorite. :-)
08 September 2006
07 September 2006
Two Saturdays ago, the wind forecast looked good for the weekend. I had planned on taking the Puny Pony up to Island Sports in Newport, RI on Saturday get a roof rack installed, a quiver bag for my sails and masts, and a wetsuit.
This is a stock picture of the quiver bag I ordered. They were out of the Wave, so I ended up with the Freestyle. It's a little too big for my car and my equipment, so it is kind of floppy.
If it's not too much effort, I might try to sell it next year and get this the new All-In-One bag that just came out.
(Yeah, this is how lame I am.)
The night before, I stayed in knowing I had to get up early and make a long drive. But as anyone who doesn't have a lot of personal time knows, when you get personal time, you try to make the most of it and end up putting off bed. B and her bf had gone out for the night, so relishing the space and the silence, I watched movies, turned up the stereo and danced around in my underwear, balanced my checkbook, caught up on email, updated my blog and browsed real estate websites.
I procrastinated until 3am when even I had to admit to my obstinate self that I was tired. Then, a scratch on my door. It's B. She and her bf had been fighting since they had come back from their night out, and he ended up storming out of the apartment. Having been in those shoes before, I know how much it sucks. We stayed up until 4-4:30am talking until she felt ready to go to bed.
I dragged myself out of bed at 8:30 Saturday morning despite my late bed hour. I was determined to get this roofrack and quiver bag. While I was lollygagging around the apartment still half asleep, Island Sports called. The parts weren't in yet, and they wanted to catch me before I made the drive. Split between feeling relieved that I didn't have to make the drive and annoyed that I'd have to spend the next weekend driving to RI in Labor Day weekend traffic, I crawled back in bed and slept until 3pm. In hindsight, since I was already awake, I should have gotten in the car, driven to Southampton and met up with fellow windsurfers, EH and AM, whom I met while in Aruba last February. But, I was too tired to think. Also, I had told them that I would meet them on Sunday, so I thought I had another day of the weekend to windsurf until I woke to the sound of rain on Sunday.
Unsure if it was even worthwhile to attempt the 2 hour drive to Southampton, I called EH. Lucky for him, his wife's family owns a summer house where we windsurf. EH and AM had sailed all day Saturday and spent the night with the intention of sailing some more on Sunday. Apparently, Saturday was an amazing wind day, and even though they had agreed that they weren't going to tell me that "I should have been there" they couldn't resist and ended up telling me anyway. Naturally. :-)
An hour into my drive, it was downpouring. I called EH. He said, it's starting to rain a little, but I don't think it'll last. Come on out. I arrive at EH's 1.5 hours later to the sight of two grown men sitting in patio chairs, staring morosely out patio doors at the steady rain. They were looking at the clothesline where they had strung their towels from the previous day.
After sitting around for a while and debating whether the wind conditions were good or not, we loaded our cars and headed to the beach in a caravan. It was a bit like the three bears: EH led in his Toyota pickup, which held his gear and the old board that I borrow from him when I sail. AM followed in his Porsche SUV, hauling a trailer that carries his board and gear. I'm the caboose in my Honda Civic 2 door Coupe, feeling a little horsepower envy.
We get to the beach, and it's freezing. The three of us stand at the water's edge, buffeted by gusts of wind and rain. EH and AM debate wind, water, etc - normal male bickering. Neither wants to be the first admit to the other that he doesn't want to sail today. Finally, being female and therefore the only voice of reason, I called it.
"Guys, I know how much you want to sail today, but I'm going to make the executive decision and say we just make it a day. "
They agree with me, seemingly reluctant, but I think they were secretly relieved. We all turned around and headed home. EH to Nyack, AM to Queens, and me to Manhattan.
No windsurfing for me. Dud weekend.
06 September 2006
we shared. sometimes it followed, and sometimes it lead -- slipping over east side bridges while i passed under.
there goes the gothic beginnings of the brooklyn bridge, its lights in single line order across the river. did you see it? then almost immediately ahead, look before you miss it, manhattan. twinkling, looking suspiciously serene. suspended.
the occasional whomp whomp of a car passing.
buildings across the river. domino sugar. highrises with lit windows flashing by. photo negative film strung up. yellow and white against the night time sky. snatches of red neon.
williamsburg beckons. see my red, yellow and white halogen. i do, as if i actually have a choice. falling in the moonlight shadow of its big metal girdle, i wonder, is this what the eiffel tower looks like from underneath? something smells like fish.
ah finally, the stoic steel trusses of queensboro, standing guard over midtown. my journey ends. my yellow taxi cab draws to a stop. i bid goodnight to my full-bellied companion.
adieu until tomorrow. save me some cheese.
05 September 2006
Kinky Friedman—singer, writer, governor?
From The Economist print edition
YOUR typical American politician will wriggle and duck to avoid saying anything that might conceivably offend anyone. Kinky Friedman is not your typical politician. With his country band, the Texas Jewboys, he used to belt out ballads such as “They ain't makin' Jews like Jesus any more” and “Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed”. His lyrics upset every Christian, feminist and racial-sensitivity-watchdog foolish enough to take him seriously. To the many fans of his music and comic mystery novels, however, Mr Friedman is one of the funniest men in America. He is certainly the most amusing candidate for governor of Texas.
Admittedly, the competition is not fierce. His opponents' slogans are dull to the point of self-parody: “I'm proud of Texas” (Rick Perry, the Republican incumbent) and “Think big” (Chris Bell, the Democratic challenger). Mr Friedman's are: “Why the hell not?” and “How hard could it be?”
His platform is a medley of populist tunes and one-liners. He calls himself a “compassionate redneck”. His heroes are “teachers, firefighters, cops and cowboys”. His education policy is “No teacher left behind”—higher pay, fewer standardised tests and a big infusion of cash for schools, which he will raise by legalising casino gambling (“Slots for tots”). He will also slap an extra tax on oil firms (boo, hiss) to raise salaries for firefighters, cops and teachers. Perhaps because his parents were teachers, he is especially sensitive to their plight.
Mr Friedman is also a big fan of alternative energy. He wants Texas to get 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. He favours tax breaks for biodiesel, which would “stop the Saudis from playing the jukebox and the rest of us dancing to the tune”. He has even suggested appointing as energy czar his friend Willie Nelson, a green country singer who fuels his tour bus with biodiesel and sells the stuff at petrol stations in Texas. Mr Friedman will soon unveil a health policy loosely based on the system in Minnesota, where another maverick, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a professional wrestler, actually won the governorship in 1998. “The Kinkster” draws inspiration from The Body's victory, and is taking advice from Dean Barkley, Mr Ventura's top strategist.
Mr Friedman's opponents dismiss his campaign as a joke and whisper that he is running only to provide material for another bestselling book. But Mr Friedman appears to take himself seriously, and so do a surprising number of Texans. A poll of likely voters by SurveyUSA put him in second place, with 21%, behind Mr Perry's 35% and a horse-hair ahead of Mr Bell (20%) and another independent, Carole Keeton Strayhorn (19%).
Most Texans are disillusioned with politics. Only 29% of the voting-age population bothered to vote at the last gubernatorial election. Lexington's chats with random Texans about the candidates revealed near-universal support for “I don't much care for any of 'em.” Mr Friedman's strategy is to fish for the apathetic 71% and try to reel them into the voting booths. If the turnout in November remains below a third, Rick Perry will be re-elected, says Laura Stromberg, Mr Friedman's spokeswoman. But if it is over 40%, “we guarantee [Mr Friedman] will win.”
On the trail in his trademark black cowboy gear, sucking on a Cuban cigar and volleying his best jokes at audiences who have not heard them before, Mr Friedman is proving an effective campaigner. For every sceptical query, he has a quotable answer. Isn't his candidacy a bit of a long shot? “I don't know how many supporters I have, but they all carry guns.” Doesn't his utter lack of relevant experience disqualify him for the job? “Politics is the only field in which the more experience you have, the worse you get.” Unlike all those career politicians, Mr Friedman is as clean as a pair of shiny new spurs and has no cronies clinging to the tails of his “preachin' coat”. True, but—unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example—he has no heavyweight policy advisers either. His assurance that “I'm a Jew; I'll hire good people” is not entirely persuasive.
When his seriousness is questioned, Mr Friedman points out that all the “serious” politicians talk in one-liners and sound-bites too—only theirs are not funny. He adds that several of the serious politicians' policies are a joke. The Texas House last year passed a “booty bill” against sexy cheerleading. And in 1971 it unanimously passed a motion honouring the Boston Strangler, which a playful member had sponsored to demonstrate that his colleagues passed bills without reading them.
Fair enough, but the reason sober observers think Mr Friedman would make an awful governor has nothing to do with his playfulness, his past drug use, his bachelorhood (“I'm not against marriage. I'm against my marriage”) or any of the other minor quirks his opponents will doubtless use against him. The trouble with Mr Friedman is that he appears never to have applied himself to anything complex and dull. That is fine if you are an entertainer, but not if you want to sort out a creaking school system, clogged highways or a precarious budget. Those who know him say Mr Friedman has the attention span of a hyperactive schoolboy. Ms Stromberg admits that, were he to become governor, his briefings would have to be very brief.
It is unlikely to come to that. Mr Friedman has no party behind him, unlike Mr Ventura, who used the old organisation of Ross Perot, another maverick Texan. So his chances of winning are slim. But he will probably divide the disgruntled vote enough to let Mr Perry mosey effortlessly to re-election. For Texans who like the governor's menu of tax cuts, tort reform and muscular Christianity, that is good news. But for those who agree with Mr Friedman that politics-as-usual should stop, it will be disappointing, to say the least.