Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Waiting to Ingest

As temperate October gives way to mercurial fall the sounds of impending holiday cheer beckons legions of folks to wonder just how much more food will be ingested between now and the New Year, leading to the inevitable affirmations to diet and exercise as soon as the ball has dropped. No one asks themselves "Should eat that?" before January, only "how much can I eat without looking unseemly?" Right before the excesses of Halloween threaten to turn adults into kid-like candy monsters, processed food manufacturers are already tempting our collectively vulnerable will power to "add a Kit Kat to your daily coffee break". Or "have a pumpkin muffin with your latte." The sugary snacking possibilities are endless. Then comes the great American friendship celebration of Thanksgiving, replete with artery-hardening buttery laded whipped mashed potatoes, tooth aching servings of pumpkin pie topped with sweet cream and endless portions of honey ham topped w succulent brown sugar sauce. By the time December and the obligatory holiday parties rolls around most of us are ready to abandon all resolve to go get fitted with a lap band and artery cleaning surgery.

All of these tried and true machinations begs the question- is it ever a real celebration without food? Why is it that conspicuous gastromonic consumption equals a good time? Can we learn to enjoy ourselves and have fun without the need to feed? Or is it inherent to human nature that excess is the only way? I shall be reflecting over this age old question as I help myself to a healthy dose of guilt and sweet potato pie.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No one sees for the Seeing Eye Dog

Think about the premise- a friendly dog who acts as the eyes for the visually impaired, plowing the road, alerting for danger and serving as lovingly loyal companion. The dog, by action, demonstrates his true worth and value.

But what about the owner? How is he worthy of his canine gift and trusty assistant? One imagines the owner plying the dog with treats and affection and space to bask in his glory of dogdom, to sniff and run and bark and enjoy what comes naturally to him.

Not always the likely outcome for the seeing eye dog. Take, for instance, the dog who takes his owner on the crowded city bus. He is relegated to the floor under the seat, joining the array of dustbunnies, discarded gum wrappers and bent Metrocards. His glossy fur becomes matted w debris and ever so often his soft paw trampled by the clodding feet of impatient riders directed to move to the back. He does not speak nor wimper but his eyes betray the sadness that is his life- to silently service, without compensation nor acknowledgement, a life filled with the thoughts of open fields and endless sunshine, of canine friends and welcoming tails, of fur rubs and belly strokes, someday, somewhere, but not today, nor tomorrow, but someday, as he gently licks his trampled paw one more time to ease the pain he endures.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Grey Lady and Mr Gray

The line between covering the news and being news has always been a fine one. Reporters throughout the ages have gone to great lengths to flex their independence muscle and for their reward ended up on the other side of coverage. Think of Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than give up a source in the Valerie Plame fiasco. Or Jayson Blair, who wrote so eloquently and movingly, but perished under the harsh scrutiny of fact checking and was "outted" as a talented fiction writer masquarading as a daily print journalist. Ditto Stephen Glass. (Ironic that the Grey Lady has nurtured the careers of many a writer whom they ended up covering as news of their actions became daily fodder)

But this time, the Grey Lady must take a backseat to another Gray- Geoff Gray, of NY Magazine. Gray is the irreverant but brilliant contributor to many a politician's decline. He wrote an impressive cover story on Eliot Spitzer and what happens? The Steamroller wimpers out of office. He writes a fantastic piece about Joe Bruno and the result? Mr Gray has been requested to testify in Bruno's upcoming corruption trial. Somewhere, John Liu is burning up in sweat. (No pun intended)

It's always fascinating to see how a reporter reacts from the other side of the inquiry notepad. Will they wilt, fight, whine or treat the experience as a nonchalant exercise in necessity in an inquisitive career? Too soon to tell for Mr Gray but I will be sure to tune in.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Power Dynamics

So I was thinking about the ways in which people accumulate and distribute power. Parents accumulate power from their perceived position as authority figures with the discretion to give or take away privileges. Employers accumulate power with the ability to reward or punish depending upon the context. Friends and social contacts exert power through external means by giving or withholding approval. Of course the manner in which any of the aforementioned groups take power are interchangeable. So the question I have is this- is is possible to have a lasting effect when thwarting power? The child who defies parental authority eventually grows tired of scant privileges and finds way to sullenly acquiesce. The disgruntled employee either leaves, transfers out or is termination from that employer's employment. Friends and social acquaintences come and go with the ebb and flow of the time if there is little reason remaining to continue the association. How, then, dow we ever thwart those who have the power? Or are we limited to successful battles while losing sight of the war?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ethnic Tent and Political Bodies

I was reading a study by an academic named Vamik Volkan. Wolkan wrote about how the ethnic tent comprises a political leader whose primary task is to hold the group together by keeping the tent secure. However when there is shared anxiety, possible from an attack upon the leader, the members become preoccupied with repairing and mending the tears of the larger tent canvas in order to protect the group's identity.

The trauma which springs from the attack essentially becomes the shared trauma of the collective whole. Individual members need not have personally suffered, but the emotional pain can transcend generations.

This brings to mind the Liu "sweat shop" debate. Essentially this was the mobilizing and defining moment of his campaign and career. He harnessed the collective anxiety of his ethnic tent behind him by spinning the attack on his history as a de facto attack on all the members of the tent. Akin to Native Americans who still speak with great emotion about the Trail of Tears, Liu turned the tables on his critics and made himself the "sweat shop" survivor. And by attacking him the press made him a martyr.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Race or Ethnicity

So I've been thinking about the issue of race versus ethnicity and how the discussion is always clouded by presumptions or judgments. For instance when Gov Paterson accused Dominic Carter essentially of behaving like an "Uncle Tom"- there was s brouhaha in the media for weeks. The implication behind the drama was that Paterson tried to drag race into a discussion to mask his dwindling support in the polls.

Next Obama gets involved and tries to "persuade" Paterson not to run. The chatter then surrounded the wisdom of the first African American President telling NY's first black governor what to do. Add on Obama's reluctance to support Thompson's mayoral run against Bloomber and you have a recipe for lots of analysis and chatter.

It seems that "minority" candidates generally expect the groups to which they are a member to "naturally" support their election ambitions but at the same time don't automatically do the same for their political brethren. Take John Liu, for instance. He endorsed Alan Gerson over Margaret Chin and John Choe over Yen Chou. Liu supported people of other ethnicities in both cases and in one chose a person of a different race than himself. And of course in both cases he chose not to support candidates not the same gender as himself. Yet both women and Liu were victorious because the ethnic, racial and gender groups they belong to came out in droves for them, along with other groups of supporters.

The question I pose is this: if elected officials feel no compulsion to support members of their own racial groups who run for higher office why should we the voting public blindly follow candidates who belong to our own respective racial groups? In situations where a member of a particular racial group is represented by a candidate, should that candidate expect a sweep of votes from his racial cohorts? What does it mean when people cross racial lines (or ethnic) lines to endorse similarly qaulified opponents? Are we persuaded or blinded by race? Or does race only matter when its the "tie-breaking" quality under consideration?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

First day of October and the air is crisp and the sun brilliant.

I was reading someone's analysis about the"outsider" status that Jews once had and if the recent primary results for Yassky and Green meant something.

The Supreme Court in a decision from many many years ago, in a case discussing the Japanese internment, spoke about the "discrete and insular" minority. To be described as such, there was a consensus back then that the group would be located geographically in a "discrete" area and the choice of the group to interact almost exclusively with other members of the group made the group "insular." It may be true that there are still communities and neighborhoods in the city where Jews are more densely populated and the members of these communities chose to associate more so with other members of their group than others, it seems to me that the idea that Jews are "outsiders"- whether in politics or academia or any particular industry, has long been passe.

If you think of Jews as those with a common ethnic heritage versus Jews as those with a common religion, different pathways of thoughts emerge. One can convert to Judiasm and need not be from any particular ethnic group. If you are born to a particular ethnic group, however, that identification stays with you, even if you chose to live away from members of the same ethnic group and share values and beliefs that are not common to members of this group.

So my question is, "If Jews are no longer outsiders, does this mean Jews with a common ethnic heritage or Jews with a common religion?" And how does either identification affect how a person exercises their political voice, power and vote?

If Yassky and Green couldn't harness the common heritage of "Jews" -by any perception of the term, to get more than 45 % of the vote in a primary runoff, what does this mean for a "Jewish" candidate in the general election?

More to follow......