Letter From Manhattan, November 1, 2006
© 2006 by Joel

Special Alert: Blogs, Letters from Joel and the entire quintessentially democratic project known as the Internet are in danger of being compromised by powerful media interests. The federal government is on the verge of caving in to pressure for a two-tiered system which will accord preferential internet access on the basis of corporate clout. This cannot augur well for a democratic society that depends on the widest dissemination of uncensored information for its health. More and more often, print and broadcast media in given localities serve the interests of a sole owner. The Internet is next.

Of course quantity doesn't ensure quality; there's a lot of junk out there. I cringe at the number of voters who rely on t.v. political ads for their decisions at the polls. That said, the revolutionary miracle of the Internet, which is just now approaching its teens, is under siege. Please join me in urging our representatives in Congress to act in favor of net neutrality.

Please Don’t Squeeze the Chairman

Only in Manhattan can one walk by the Broadcast Museum and run into the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev sprinting from a reception to his sober black car. The former Chairman of the former Soviet Union looks the part. Gorbie appears compact, fit, highly intelligent, tough, shrewd, purposeful and clearly in command, if only of his security detail. Unlike U.S. political leaders I have seen up close, Gorbachev neither smiles, waves, shakes hands or slaps backs. After all, the man has never had to run for office.

Former U.S. presidents are a different breed. Outside the Waldorf Astoria in 1960, I spied an elderly Herbert Hoover raise his hat to an applauding crowd. Within minutes he was overshadowed by the arrival of the ruddy faced, beaming President Ike waving his arms from an open limousine.

In October of that year, I ran ahead of my fellow students at NYU to get a good look at John F. Kennedy, who was perched on the back seat of a snazzy convertible car. The candidate struck me as being simultaneously exhilarated, exhausted, yet remarkably at ease, and better dressed and skinner than I had imagined. He made cool gray-blue eye contact with me until I averted my gaze, and continued to stare at me when I looked back. Was he wondering which planet I was from or was he too tired to care?

Surprisingly, his opponent Richard Nixon appeared relaxed, warm and clean shaven for his appearance at NYU. Later in that decade I passed Nixon on Fifth Ave. near his apartment one night as he walked with his mother and expressed to her his consternation over an effort to tear down the Plaza Hotel.

Lyndon Johnson I first saw in a ticker tape parade up lower Broadway in honor of John Glenn and his orbiting troupe. I was surprised again, this time by Johnson's height and by good looks that cameras never picked up, though I have never seen a man who looked as bored. Bill Clinton is another tall and beefy one I've seen as a candidate in San Francisco's Mission District and as president on the White House lawn.

Thinking back to Gorbachev, I wonder how he is regarded in Russia and environs these days. Surely he is a man who helped change the world. Ironic, isn't it, how we have grown nostalgic about the enemies we used to know. When the USSR closed shop, 9/11 was still a decade away, the world's nuclear arsenals were under more reasonable control and a responsible President Bush was in charge.

Election Day, 2006: I'm Worried

By the time you read this Election Day may have come and gone. Of course I'm not going to make my predictions this close to being proven wrong. I'm only half joking when I say that both parties face an uphill fight. Who turns out to vote and who stays home will determine all.

I learned a lot from a recent Sunday New York Times analysis. Fascinating, but not surprising, that "voters typically develop a party preference based on the political atmosphere at the time they came of age & grow more attached to the party over the course of their lives." Veterans of the Depression tend to be Democrats, but get this one. Voters in their mid to upper 30's are "the only age group in which Republicans outnumber Democrats." Uh, oh. That's a lot of folks.

Which reminds me of the time, early 1980's, at the airport in San Francisco, I observed a small group of college aged kids with a middle aged man waiting, like myself, for a plane to arrive. They appeared well heeled, Silicon Valley types who were in a most giddy mood. As they gathered around their mentor or dad one cheered, "We're Republicans, right?," which was followed by yelps and high fives. Reagan was in and apparently so were they.

Another conclusion leaves me dismayed. "If Republicans suffer losses, it's a negative verdict on competence rather than ideology." Re-read that sentence, please. Allow it to sink in. Few will disagree with Philip Roth's assessment of Cornpone's being a man "unfit to run a hardware store, much less a country like ours," or with Jacob Heilbrunn's distinction between "making mistakes and wholesale ineptitude."

Wakeup Call, You All

I got my wakeup call just thirty years ago, at the time of the Carter-Ford race, over the car radio on a late night drive back to the Berkshires from Boston. A libertarian commentator reminded me that the United States was and is politically moderate and centrist and not the liberal hotbed that I had imagined. It occurred to me that the New Deal was less a product of tender hearts than of endangered rear ends, and lo and behold socially moderate Jimmy Carter was in, followed by Reagan, Bush and the Triangulating Clintons. On Charlie Rose the other night, none of Bill Clinton's suggestions as to what Americans can do to ameliorate world poverty included petitioning the federal government to pitch in.

Do not, then, mistake Republican losses at the polls this Nov. necessarily as an affirmation of the Democratic Party of our youth, or that voters regard the minimum wage or student loans, important as they are, as the vital issues of our day. An article that appeared in The Times on Labor Day cautions that, "Even after six years of Republican rule, there is no sense whatever that the country should in any way move to the left."

Perhaps the greatest truth about our country was expressed in, of all places, lyrics in the stage musical 1776. At the Continental Congress, John Dickenson asks John Hancock why he is supporting Adams. "Mr. Hancock, you're a man property, one of us," to which Hancock replies, "Fortunately there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy." Then the great line, said by Dickenson with irony and menace. "Most Men With Nothing Would Rather Protect The Possibility Of Becoming Rich Than Face The Reality Of Being Poor, And That Is Why They Will Follow Us." Years ago I read that working class Americans vote Republican against their own interests because they are certain—certain!—that they or their progeny will someday strike it rich, and want a country that will favor them then.

Part Of A Page

You want my take on the Mark Foley nonsense, don't you? Two points, and briefly. Adults have a responsibility toward the young which, if violated, rightly lands them in therapy or, depending on age and circumstances, in jail. (And none of Foley's alleged indiscretions were with the underaged) The other point is for us to acknowledge how attractive young people, especially teenagers hovering around the age of consent, can be. O.K?

Now don't go worrying about my waltzing down the aisle with a seventeen year old any time soon. The other day I was waited on by a very bright college student in a store in the building, 150 East 69th Street, where we once lived and had as a neighbor Joan Crawford. I thought the kid might find this interesting. My reward was a blank stare and a "Who?"

Conservative Evangelicals, Welcome To The Club

In his book Tempting Faith, former Administration Faith Based Initiative official David Kuo shares his interesting discovery that Christians in politics have been used. (No!) He is so incensed by backstage White House denigration of people of faith that he advocates religious conservatives take a year or two "fast" from politics.

Let us hope that Evangelical's polar opposites, Log Cabin Republicans, join them in an "Aha!" moment this writer feels is long overdue. Surely you have asked yourselves whether gay Republicans are an oxymoron. To my mind it ain't necessarily so.

One's personal identity does not necessarily shape or coincide with one's political views. A former Log Cabin chapter president in San Francisco told an audience of gays he was a Republican first and gay second. Belief in a pro-business, streamlined, more tilted toward individual responsibility government, as well as other shared Republican values, can burn very strongly even in individuals who are designed for mating with members of their own sex. Gays may share other less attractive values with their heterosexual Republican counterparts, such as having recently gone from being the porter to being the head porter because their salaries, stocks and real estate have gone up. I had to get that barb in. In their defense, however, people often have values that transcend their personal situations.

L.C. Republicans believe they can steer their party in a more pro-gay direction by their presence, activism and positive example, and among fair minded Republicans this is surely so. Unfortunately, a change of heart does not seem to inhibit Republican office holders from playing the gay card whenever they can. So this kind of Log Cabin rationalization is easy to mistake for delusional and in some cases complicitous.

My advice to Gay Republicans is to consider joining today's Democratic Party, which is the most centrist it has been in my memory, yet hospitable to gay interests and rights.

Heck, become a conservative Democrat for all I care, but join Christian activists in giving today's Republican party a wakeup call and the swift kick in the you know where they deserve.

TV, The Beautiful

Rarely has as intelligent, absorbing and sensitive a production as Frontline’s “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” been presented on t.v. Aired on 9/11/06, perhaps it will be repeated or you can obtain a copy at your library or from PBS. The clergymen and women of many faiths who struggle, in light of 9/11, with, well, their faith and doubt, earn the longest and tightest of collective hugs.

TV, The Bad

A deep bow to the new management at NBC, who after decades of lowest common denominator programming is now scheduling your awful shows later each evening to make room for shows that are cheaper to produce and are certain to be even worse, this to increase profits to NBC's parent company, that brightest of lights, G.E.

The Cruise (Not Tom)

Warning: If you're an experienced traveler who feels sensitive about being poked fun at, continue reading at your peril. This, of course, ensures you'll read on.

The Cruise refers to our recent twelve nights on the Mediterranean from Venice to Barcelona. The holiday newsletter will give the My Summer Vacation version. Today, I fry some other fish.

Ours was the Counter Culture Vulture Experience Abroad, though far from the mindless experience we feared. The only Sophisticated Travelers Approved Destination we have visited is Dubrovnik. Approved locales include Budapest, Prague, Vienna, anywhere in Italy except Venice, our favorite city on this globe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and China, China in (most likely false) hopes that their longed for coming supremacy will usher in a new Age of Aquarius or something of that kind.

Far Less Desirable Locales seem to include the UK (everyone is expected to have been there, done that and be done with that), France (the French are cold), Germany (whose side were you on?) and Japan (for no discernable reason).

One simply must stay at one star hotels, though only when less commodious accommodations are unavailable, because, as everyone knows, "How much time do you spend in your room?" Well, I've done a little math. Let's see, seven hours of jet lagged sleep, at least two hours for two people to bathe, blow dry the one outfit they, being sophisticated travelers, have brought along, write postcards, figure out where to hide their valuables, unwind and plan. That alone comes to over 1/3 of the day.

Spending less than $250 a day per person on lunch and dinner, and eating at the same restaurant more than once, is uncivilized. Of course the primary aim of traveling is to "get to know The People." That requires no less than eleven years minimum in each port.

Getting to know all those people takes a certain amount of ingenuity, but I think I've figured it out. In N.Y.C. and environs one would eschew Manhattan for Jersey City and Queens, in San Francisco not miss Visitacion Valley and Colma, the cemetery district (well, they were The People), and in Los Angeles perhaps Torrance. In all cases you are practically assured getting to know no one at all.

If I had a Euro for each friend, none of whom even know my blog exists, who mocked, "You're going a cruise? You're going where? You haven't been where? You're staying at which hotel? (which is usually augmented with, "It's your money,") and finally "You're seeing which sights?" If I had all those Euros I'd...I'd live near Princess Grace.

Monaco's display of international gilt, which is almost beyond imagination, humbles he who writes and those who read these pages as well as most of the people we have ever known combined. I read once that we reserve our envy for those whose wealth is just out of our reach, the next step up if you will. By that definition envy in Monaco is out.

So what the heck, for once in our lives we reveled in the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, the Casino at Monte Carlo, the jewels as Cartiers, the Hotel de Paris and the one place on earth where all that glitters is truly gold, though best not to dwell too long on what people did to make this kind of money. From now on when people tell me to come down to earth, I'11 choose to do so in the tiny principality by the Mediterranean Sea.

Coming Attractions

Look for my holiday newsletter around Christmas, and another Letter From Manhattan around January 1. I'll give a review of whatever opens upon the world stage, words on the subject of compromise, my nominations for the new Seven Wonders of the World, a word or two on the subject of winning (hear that, Democrats?) and who knows what else.

Archive 2006