Archive for November, 2012

Letter From New York November 28, 2012

November 28, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…

It’s over.  The Election that is, slipping behind us in the wake of history, already becoming lost as we move forward into the future.  Republicans are wondering what hit them, exactly, as this was supposed to be theirs for the taking – certainly I thought I would wake in the morning of January 7th to a President Elect Romney, a thought that frightened me I will confess.

But that didn’t happen.  Romney lost and appears lost.  Republicans have returned with control of the House but not the Senate with the White House still home to the reviled Obamas.  Never quite got the vitriol they inspired from the right.  Starting in 2008 the Republican’s entire agenda was to make him a one term President.  Having failed to do that where do they go?

Not more than a few days ago my brother was in a conversation with some folks about the Election.  He opened to the fact he voted Obama’s way and was met with disbelief by one who said:  you know he’s a Muslim.

How do you respond to that?  How do you deal with that level of ignorance, denial and just plain stupidity?  And, at the end, should it matter in a pluralistic America?  Because that’s what we’ve become – a pluralistic society that is growing only more pluralistic with every election.  That is what hit the Republicans this time in the solar plexus because this could have been their election if they had met more in the center.  Obama won but he also just didn’t lose.  He was on the razor’s edge the entire election, right up to the end and pulled through a narrow popular win while winning big in the Electoral College.

Now understand I gave more to Obama to win than I have ever given any President at any time.  I didn’t want Romney to win.  I’ve made it clear in these letters I didn’t want Romney to win because I didn’t feel the man could be trusted.  And I wanted to like Romney.

Oh, how I yearn for those good cloth coat Republicans of my childhood, when my parents were Republicans and it felt like it was a party that made sense.  Now it doesn’t make sense to me and, frankly, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to a lot of Republicans either.

They own the South and much of the center, the broad plains states but owning the South and the not well-populated plains states won’t carry you to the White House.  There has to be some sense of the center and that’s not something the Republican Party can quite seem to master right now.  And I mourn their inability to do so.

To my great surprise, Republicans have become the party of the crazies, the out of touch folks, the ignorant, the naysayers of our times.  I don’t remember Republicans like this in my childhood.  Where’s Everett Dirksen when you need him?  Six feet under where much of the Republican Party lies buried right now.

And I am praying for a resurrection, not of the Republicans of 2012 but of the Republicans of old, the ones who genuinely cared for the Republic and played for the middle.

Letter From New York November 11, 2012

November 12, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…

It’s a Sunday night and I am in Seattle, where I came to attend a surprise birthday party for a friend of mine, Jerry May.  I’ve known Jerry for a long time and we’d actually fallen out of touch but found each other again through the wonders of the LinkedIn.  We caught up when I was in Seattle six months ago. His fiancé then sent me an email that she was throwing a surprise birthday party for him and I came.  He’s a stand up guy.  Stood up for me once.  So I thought I’d show up for him.

Turned out they were punking the guests; it wasn’t a surprise birthday party but a surprise wedding.  Jerry and Gail got married in front of a hundred staggered guests.  They’d been planning this for months.  Standing there, I was really glad I had made the effort to come.

I spent part of today walking around Seattle, a city I have visited frequently in my life, passing places and restaurants that I’ve been before, feeling a sense of history, the history of my own life.

This has been a historical time.  Barack Obama was re-elected, much to my personal relief.  I watched the returns with friends at a restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where there was early tension in the air as the early returns went to Romney.  Then the tide began to turn and tension turned to relief as the electoral tide went to Obama.  When CNN declared him the victor the restaurant erupted in applause.

It was an election held amidst the residue of Hurricane Sandy, an event that might have helped Obama.  Republicans were incensed that Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey, embraced Obama and was embraced by him.  Christie came across well in all of this – a Governor who put partisan politics away when it came down to what was necessary for his state and has faced criticism for it.

But it is quite probable nothing could change the outcome.  Serious pollsters, math geeks in fact, had been predicting for weeks that Obama would win based on their reading of the runes of the polls.  They crawled over the numbers and came up with one answer:  Obama wins.

The number crunching math nerd Nate Silver, a blogger connected to the New York Times, predicted Obama’s win or loss correctly in 50 of 50 states nearly a week before the election.  He is not the only such math nerd political analyst who has so surprised pundits by their accuracy that some are saying we are moving into a new phase of political prediction.  They poured over poll numbers, ran them through computer simulations and out came a statistical avalanche of information that proved so correct on the Presidential level that it has left some traditional pollsters shell shocked.

Reading and hearing about them caused me to think of Hari Seldon, the great psycho-historian of the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, one of the great science fiction classics to which I return time and again for the wicked pleasure it gives me in reading them.  Psychohistory, a creation of the mind of Asimov, posits that the behavior of humans could be predicated statistically, with pretty great accuracy.  Hello Nate Silver, perhaps our first real psycho-historian…

Personally, I find it both fascinating and, like some of the traditional pollsters, a little unsettling.  If these guys keep it up for the next few election cycles a lot of the pleasure of the political process will be taken out of elections.  We’ll know the outcome of our behavior before we have committed the action.  Sounds like science fiction, right?  Well, it should because it is.  But it’s the reality in which we’re all living right now. 



Letter From New York: Surveying Sandy

November 3, 2012

November 3rd, 2012

First of all, I’m safe. Thank you to all the people who have reached out to me. On the Friday before Sandy I retreated to the cottage. The eastern edge of the storm kept moving west; there was rain and wind but I was shielded from the brunt of the storm.

Wednesday, trains still not running, I carpooled down into the city with some friends. It’s here reality struck. The news upstate tended to the local side highlighting the relief the region had done as well as it had – no repeat of Hurricane Irene. But in the city wide swaths were affected. The lower third of Manhattan was without power and subways, elderly and disabled isolated in their apartments while teams went through and checked each apartment, finding them to offer assistance and evacuation.

Staten Island, the “forgotten” borough, suffered extraordinary damage and clamored for help when all the attention seemed to be going to New Jersey and Queens, where the Breezy Point section suffered over a hundred homes burned to the ground while others were washed away. One of the security guards in our building has taken in his neighbors; a boat went through their living room.

Vast sections of New Jersey are without power; friends and colleagues have had to leave home to find warmth and comfort with friends and relatives. Gas rationing was implemented in New Jersey today. There isn’t enough fuel to go around. Cars are being pushed into stations and gas tanks siphoned down to power generators.

The images of Staten Island and the Jersey Shore evoke memories of Katrina. They are devastating. Seeing the ruins of Breezy Point it would be good to note that at the height of the storm, men and women of NYFD rushed in to save what they could. Today I heard a paean on the radio for the brave men and women of the NYPD and the NYFD and their counterparts in New Jersey. Amen. They regularly risk their lives and did so during this storm.

The remarkable spirit of New Yorkers is also much in evidence. For the most part even those who had lost the most maintained their composure and spirit. Neighbor helped neighbor. Our IT leader had her apartment under water and blessed her neighbors for all they were doing. Scenes like that were repeated in New York and New Jersey. In crime-ridden Newark, there were no crimes of “opportunity.”

A woman on Staten Island had her two children, two and four, washed away from her; later found dead in a field. Streets in Staten Island and in Breezy Point evoked pictures of London during the Blitz. Thankfully the death count is below a hundred and not in the hundreds.

My friend Robert Murray, a structural engineer, marveled at how well the older buildings held up. Built to withstand wind bursts of 85 miles per hour they held up to wind bursts in the 90’s. One friend lives on the top floor of a Harlem building and felt it rock and sway as if in an earthquake.

There are two New Yorks, the New York that was affected and the New York that isn’t. On the Upper West Side of Manhattan it is hard to believe that not far away is devastation. Everywhere there are signs asking for help. Riverside Church is a gathering place for supplies to be distributed to Staten Island. Diapers are in demand.

This has been a great crisis. It brings back memories of 9/11. It is being handled with that great generosity of spirit one finds in New Yorkers when push comes to shove. It gives credence to why some call this the greatest city in the world. It makes one realize the vulnerability we have to nature. Climatologists say this is only the beginning, that we need to expect and plan for more storms like this. We’ve had two “hundred year events” in the last two years.

Good to the people of New York for their courage and spirit. Good that we have seen everyday heroes rush in where angels fear to tread. Good that we have survived one more bash to the head. And good if we learn lessons from this.