Wednesday, January 28, 2009


One of the things that has been most shocking to me about the banking crisis and the subsequent recession has been the extent to which "business leaders" have turned out to be lemmings. For all of their "leadership" when the economy was good, it is now apparent that many of them were just riding the bubble and looking like geniuses.

The latest proof? This article about the Davos conference. In September, when the U.S. economy had been in recession for nine months, a majority of the "leaders" who go to Davos were pretty sure their business would not be impacted by the slowing economy. Now, three months later, almost 70% of them are pretty sure that the world is ending. Now they do not, as a group, expect economic growth for three years! Furthermore, they are saying things like:
Forty percent of the world's wealth was destroyed in last five quarters. It is an almost incomprehensible number," said Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the leading private equity company Blackstone Group.
It is almost incomprehensible. In large part this is true because it is "paper" wealth. That is not to say it is not wealth, but if the Dow went up 40% today, that "wealth" would be restored. In other words, if all of the lemmings decided to BUY! BUY! BUY!, they would restore their own wealth, which is sort of ironic, isn't it?

Anyway, I don't know how long this recession will last, but we will not, apparently, be pulled out of it by the "economic elites."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday was a day that we will never forget. Millions of words have been written about it, and I won't add many. I have great hopes for the Obama Administration, and look forward to a pragmatic domestic policy and a good liberal internationalist streak in foreign policy. Still, the navel gazing about race is stupid.

What I want to talk about is the silliness that the Obama Administration seems to have created. The first example has got to be the fact that Obama took the presidential oath again today because Chief Justice Roberts fed the oath to him incorrectly yesterday. The "thinking" was that Obama was arguably not the President until he got the oath right. This was notwithstanding the Twentieth Amendment. Silly.

Another example is this month's Atlantic. The Atlantic ran a number of articles about race and Obama. These include The End of White America? by Hua Hsu, American Girl by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Race Over? by Marc Ambinder. The articles are pretty silly, and have a strange take both on America's history with race, and where we seem to be headed. Let's start with the Hsu article.
The Election of Barack Obama is just the most startling manifestation of a larger trend: the gradual erosion of “whiteness” as the touchstone of what it means to be American. If the end of white America is a cultural and demographic inevitability, what will the new mainstream look like—and how will white Americans fit into it? What will it mean to be white when whiteness is no longer the norm? And will a post-white America be less racially divided—or more so?

Some beginning, I'd say! Anyway, the article tip toes around the changing definition of "white," which seems intellectually dishonest to me. Eastern Europeans (and the Irish, and the Italians, etc. etc.) were formerly "non-whites" who were turned into whites when necessary for people for whom "whiteness" is important. Next in line? Northeast Asians? Some South Asians? Arabs? We'll see, but Hsu is naive if she thinks THAT definition will not be "updated."

In addition, Hsu somehow uses Sean "Puffy" "Puff Daddy" Combs as an example of post-racial America. Combs is described as "both a product and a hero of the new cultural mainstream" because he throws extremely elaborate parties in the Hamptons. It is hard to know what is more silly, the idea that Puffy is a major cultural player at this point, or that the fact that people went to his parties indicated that he represented a new cultural paradigm. Sheesh.

Third, Hsu argues that because hip-hop never got "whited" by an Elvis equivalent, and is now tremendously popular, hip hop changed the culture irrevocably toward multi-racial, non-whiteism. Of course, lots and lots of music from the 1930s to the immediate pre-hip hop era was composed and played by blacks. And there are white hip hop artists. At the moment that is true, but it just seems silly to decide that nobody will ever want to be white again because of hip hop.

The final point I am going to address is the idea that it is
becom[ing] harder for the blond-haired, blue-eyed commercial actor,” remarks Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, of the Hispanic marketing firm Enlace. “You read casting notices, and they like to cast people with brown hair because they could be Hispanic. The language of casting notices is pretty shocking because it’s so specific: ‘Brown hair, brown eyes, could look Hispanic.’ Or, as one notice put it: ‘Ethnically ambiguous.’”
That's how I know that Hispanics will be made "white" in the future. Americans want to sell to recent immigrants? The humanity! I wonder if the mainstream press ever catered to formerly non-white Germans, Italians, or Catholics in the past.

Hsu's article would have been more interesting if instead of assuming that today is as the world always was and will be, she had done a little work to clarify how America has changed in the past and integrated new minorities.

The Coates article is better because it is really about Michelle Obama and the black South Side. He hits on a point that seems to have fallen out of favor in the last six months or so. Coates says
Indeed, if you’re looking for a bridge, if you’re looking for someone to connect the heart of black America with the heart of all of America, to allow us all to look at the American dream in the same way, if you’re looking for common ground, then it’s true, we should be talking about Obama. But we should make sure we’re talking about the right one.
Michelle (and the kids) have had a much more "typically black" experience than has Barack. Arguably she is the first American black (as opposed to African American, literally) to move into the White House and not work there. She will, of course, have work to do, but she will not be a steward, etc. The real question for Coates is so what? Did you see Obama's vote totals? The significance of the election is not that America has a black President, but that America has a President who is black. To be the latter it is not necessary to have Michelle's background. It is (apparently) necessary to be Barack.

The Ambinder article talks about how the Obama campaign decided to address Obama's race in the election.
In the end, Obama replicated the image-control paradigm of successful black Americans who have transcended racial boundaries: Oprah, Tiger Woods, Colin Powell, Michael Jordan. The writer Michael Grunwald calls these men and women “no-demands” blacks; their acceptance by whites was not predicated on whites’ having to give up anything fundamental or betray their convictions or untangle a major stereotype.
I am not even sure what that means. Tiger Woods has transcended racial boundries? Really? How is he "black" then. He's as Asian as he is black. It seems to me that he got jammed into a racial boundry then allowed out of it. Oprah and Michael Jordan may be reasonable examples of the point, but Colin Powell is military, extremely articulate, light skinned, and grew up in New York speaking Yiddish because of a job he had. Obama is, in some ways, a combination Tiger and Powell. It seems more likely that he was pushed into America's one drop rule, then let out on other grounds.

The thing that this entire discussion misses is that Obama is a half-white man educated at Harvard who worked at a big Chicago law firm. In a bunch of ways he looks very similar to the rest of the men who have been President. In fact, he probably looks very similar to the men who will be the future Presidents.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Yesterday's plane crash and rescue on the Hudson River was pretty amazing. To have a commercial airliner crash into a river in winter makes you think of the Air Florida crash in Washington in 1982. Remembering that 75 of the 80 people on that plane died makes it all the more amazing that not one person on the New York flight died. Tremendous credit has been given to the aircrew of the New York flight for that.

Learning about the aircrew raises the troubling question of nicknames though. The captain was Chesley B. Sullenberger III, known as "Sully." Sully? No, no, no you say. Sully is a nickname for Sullivan today (with a wink towards Sandra Boynton). I understand that Sully for Sullenberger makes sense, but I think Sullivan has monopolized "Sully" at this point. If a guy tells me to call him Sully, I am assuming his name is Sullivan. And so are you. I don't really know what to think about this, but I think Sully here should have several optional nicknames for people like me to use. I propose The Eye (his initials are C.B.S., like the network, get it?) or Trey (obvious, I know), S-berg, or just plain Bad Ass.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I just finished Mark Kurlansky's "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World." It was fine, and probably worth reading. As I was reading it, I was thinking that the book had an awful lot to do with the Basques. They were huge cod fisherman in the early (1400s) days, and continued to be so until the cod went away. I read Kurlansky's "The Basque History of the World" and thought it was interesting that there was so much overlap.

As I kept reading salt became a very, very important part of the story of cod. Then I realized that Kurlansky had written "Salt: A World History." I started looking around at Kurlansky's work and realized that he has written SIX books about cod, salt, or Basque themes. In addition, he wrote one about Glouster, a major New England cod port. Did he get six titles out of one set of research? Did he start with salt, cod, or Basques and get drawn into the other two? That's smart work if you can plan it well enough.

Today I read a report regarding Obama's stimulus plan that included this quote, "but it needs restrictions, Republicans say, to ensure prudent spending."

The quote is just so absurd. The Republicans inherited a $128 billion surplus from Clinton and turned it into $482 billion deficit in eight years. They pissed billions away in an ill-conceived, unnecessary war in Iraq, and allowed the necessary war in Afghanistan to languish for lack of resources. It is shameless and absurd to say that now Republicans need to "ensure prudent spending."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I like history. I tend to read lots of World War II history, and European World War II history to boot. Like so many people interested in this area, I am fascinated by the Nazis.

Finding the Nazis interesting can be annoying for people who do not share the interest. I mean, what else is there to be said? They were crazy, they murdered eleven million people (not counting war dead), and had a flare for uniforms and showmanship. Thankfully they lost the war, and that's all there is to say.

You would think that would be true only if you did not watch the History Channel. Last week I watched a show about the Nazis and the occult. It was pretty good and interesting, until it got amazing. Are you ready for this?

Apparently Himmler believed that if an Aryan baby was conceived in a Nordic cemetery the Nordic heroes' souls would be reborn in the Aryan babies. Therefore, Himmler had an approved list of cemeteries for Aryan conception. Wha?!? Can that possibly be true? Did people really follow orders, or even mere suggestions from people like Himmler?

"Hey baby, I'm in the SS, and you are awfully blond. Wanna duck into the cemetery and make a hero?"

Friday, January 02, 2009


So, the outside decorations are down and in the basement, and the last of the straggler presents has been opened. The holidays are really winding down. I guess I'll go back to work on Monday. Sigh.

In more exciting news, L got me the ice cream maker attachment for the Kitchen Aid Mixer she got when we got married. That, along with David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop" should make for a delicious summer. But, like a kid getting a baseball mitt for Christmas, we had to play a little out of season. So far we have had banana sorbet, and (decaf, after all, there's a toddler to think of!) Mocha sorbet. Each has been fantastic. I really like the banana sorbet because all it has in it is bananas, water, sugar, and a little lime juice. It is sooooo banana-y. Good stuff.

Of course, life is not all about good recipes that work. You know those easy, comforting cookies made by wrapping chocolate chip cookie dough around a Hershey's Kiss, rolling the resulting ball in coconut and baking? Well, let me tell you, you CANNOT replace the Kiss with a Special Edition Cherry Cordial Kiss. I know it seems like it would be great because the cookie would have a chocolate/cherry flavor in the middle. In the event, what happens is that the chocolate melts, the cordial runs out, hardens, and you get a cookie with a cherry concrete center. Just a word to the wise . . .