During the week leading up to Christmas, Red and I had an extended e-mail debate about a difficult topic, made worse because one of us is passionate for it and better informed (a deadly combination) - events in Louisiana, and the complications of efforts to rebuild and redevelop the area.
And if you couldn't guess - I was the less informed, dispassionate one.
Specifically, we were discussing plans, announced around Thanksgiving, to build a massive new hospital complex in New Orleans, combining a new VA Medical Center and LSU's need for a new Medical Center into one huge project. That, in turn, would allow LSU to abandon and probably tear down Charity Hospital, one of the symbols of the devastation caused by Katrina, when floodwaters and an emergency evacuation of all patients afterward led to the hospital's closure. It has never reopened.
LSU has claimed that reopening Charity is a hopeless task - if the basement, which sustained the flood damage, could be fixed (they say it can't), they would still, they say, also need to refurbish or rehab the rest of the structure. That's an expensive, time consuming project, they say. And the City and State largely agree. Others dispute all of it - both that Charity's damages are so severe, or that refurbishing it would be so complex as to be impossible.
So... this plan to build a new hospital. And the opposition to stop it.
Oh, and by the way... the new hospital would not have Charity's explicit mission to provide care first and foremost to the city's neediest.
Wow, that was a seriously long lunch... :)
As I get back down to some serious writing, I think one interesting thing to note is all the Senatorial developments. The biggest, of course is that Rod Blagojevich, ignoring calls for his own obsolescence, decided he certainly was perfectly capable of nominating a replacement, and settled on Roland Burriss, a former state Attorney General whose name had been floated before, but not especially seriously. Clearly, a considerable amount of the appeal of choosing Burriss is that he's black; in one swoop, Blago nodded to his own need for support in the black community, provided a historic continuation of Obama's seat as the only African American Senate seat in the current body, and set up a perfect storm of problems for the rest of the Democratic Party. Opposing Burriss as a part of "tainted" Blago will put Senate Dems, as well as the incoming Obama Administration, into the position of rejecting a qualified black man in favor of... well, no one has a solution on that score, which may also be Blago's trump card. It could take months to impeach him, and now Pat Fitzgerald has asked to wait until April to flesh out his indictment. No Senator... or the nice black man? Your call, Harry Reid.
Meanwhile, by all indications, Al Franken has pulled it off: after a messy election and recount drama, Franken will have just enough votes (well, 50, out of several million cast) to claim victory. Norm Coleman will probably not go quietly, though, and the whole process - which, even if one approves of the outcome, was problematic - is a perfect setup for the GOP to question Franken's legitimacy for months to come. Do I think Franken won it? Yes, barely, as the results demonstrate. He'll have to be pretty impressive as a Senator to overcome the bad feelings left, though. More to the point, the Franken/Coleman mess is a reminder that we seriously need election reform (something process geeks like Red and I live for), and we haven't done much of anything on that score, even with claims that we "learned a lesson" out of 2000. The lesson, it appears, was, "maybe we can focus on turnout rather than process..." well, that won't work. Now what?
Finally, as Caroline Kennedy's campaign to replace Hilllary Clinton moves into a phase best described as "quixotic," it appears she's seriously messed up her chances: Paterson's let it be known he's pissed with her claims of inevitability, other Dems are howling that she's a Caroline-come-lately in every sense, and her connections to Bloomberg make most New York pol types uncomfortable (you know you're in trouble when Shelly Silver, the savviest and most powerful of operators, feels comfortable calling your candidacy DOA). Add in all the troubles over "dynasty" and she's like, you know, toast. I even find myself agreeing with today's Wall Street Journal that the whole "dynasty" aspect is getting to be a bit much: The Salazar move in Colorado, the Biden seat-warming in Delaware... we can, and should, do better than this, I think (even if, ultimately, Beau Biden makes a great Senator, for instance). At least the likelihood that we will have someone other than Kennedy in New York is heartening... except the alternative, you know, is probably Andrew Cuomo. Oh well.
For some very conscious reasons - especially the fact that I have people I care about deeply on all sides of the issues involved - I do not blog a great deal on Israeli or Palestinian issues. I tend to believe that the Obama Administration faces a lot of pain and difficult work in this area... but beyond that, it's not something I care to elaborate on, much... at least for now.
All of that said, if you're looking for some fresh perspectives that don't just repeat the familiar refrains of both sides... check out Laura Rozen's blog. Rozen, who concentrates on foreign policy, sticks mainly with the facts on the ground, and doesn't take the obvious, easy sides. There's complexity in what Hamas is doing and why, and there's complexity in what it means for Israel, both internally and externally. Her posts are really the most thought provoking I've seen, and get at the fact that there's no easy answer to any of this. Please take a look.
More from me after I eat.
I'm not sure whether it's a blessing or a mistake that George W. Bush seems determined to leave without the usual Festival of Presidential Pardons... I mean, what fun is there to be had if he acts, in the end, like the kind of serious President he should have been for 7 years?
But seriously, while Bush has been a minimalist on pardons, he's still managed to be nothing but himself: ill-informed, able to act impetuously and mistakenly, usually in a single bound. Last week's "here's a pardon... oh wait, I have to take it back" drama just underscored, even in the final moments, what a disaster this guy has been.
Among the list of 19 pardons (18, actually, and one commutation), Isaac Toussie wasn't, at first, the most notable (that would be the guy who smuggled weapons into Israel so they could establish the country back in 1948). As with his other lists pardons during his term, Bush's new list was long on drug offenders, mostly apparently in sympathy with excessive sentences for relatively minor offenses. But Toussie, convicted in a federal housing scam, wasn't one of those stories.
Indeed, a quick check turned up that Toussie's fraud was massive, and involved scamming poor people into badly built homes financed with impossible mortgages. And it may be that the Bushies decided that for perception reasons alone (pardoning a housing cheat... during the housing crisis) that it had to be rescinded. Or it may be that the donation Toussie's father made to the GOP this year was a quid pro quo. Or maybe even something else. But let's just say, there's a lot of worms under the rock.
It is, naturally, not even clear that one can rescind a pardon; the law is less than clear, it has never exactly come up, and this could help Toussie regardless. But I think aside from yet more schadenfreude in watching the Bushies squirm, we ought not to get soured on pardons overall, which is a very real possibility. In a system of justice where mistakes are very possible, I think we want the availability of an ultimate out... even if sometimes the wrong guy is holding the pen. Still, congratulations, Mr President! We knew you had it in you!
The Most Adorable Nephew in the Universe turned seven yesterday, and tonight was his family party. A lovely pasta dinner and a rich chocolate cake, followed by presents. Watching a child grow up is the clearest proof that time flies. I feel like a minute ago, he was 3. Or 4.
At Mom's urging, I got him one of the gifts I am proudest to give - a hardcover, fancy version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with the original Tenniel illustrations. Alice was one of the defining elements of my childhood - and my sister's, I believe - and I heartily recommend it to everyone. My nephew was thrilled.
Or, well, as thrilled as you can be when you also get a portable foosball table (my Mom) or a new Wii system (his parents). And though my little book seemed, well, little next to the other prizes, I know it can give joy long after the others fade.
Still, I came home tonight thinking of how much this kid has been given, how much care and kindness he has directed at him; not every kid does, and how do you tell a kid - especially one your devoted to - that perhaps he has it easy? I suppose you don't.. but one day, I think, somebody's gonna maybe have to school this kid in some hard lessons.
It also occurred to me tonight that I've crossed some sort of technological Rubicon... some point of here, and no further. The Wii was amusing - once we got it to work - but not for me. Playing simulated bowling, with actual arm thrusts, after a certain point just seems foolish. My Mom has a Facebook page. I do not, and have no interest in getting one. And I think maybe - as I ponder the joys of going back to reading Alice - that I am going somehow neo-Luddite. At some point, aren't we technological enough?
Ponder all of this as you will - I'm just glad to have had some family time, in the end. On a night when so little seemed to go right, having a one year old smile when I read to him, and a seven year old who wants nothing more than to show off for me, made everything pretty much worthwhile. We should all have it so easy... or at least have such a warm conclusion to our birthdays.
Is it even appropriate to say you fell in love with your first sex kitten at age, oh, 9?
I think the first time I saw Eartha Kitt was at some point in my childhood during the reruns of Batman; I actually saw Batman during its original run on TV... but it scared me because I was, like, 4. But as a pre-teen, I think it was my first exposure to the whole notion of camp, something that, while it's not all of my gay life... was certainly a big part of making it so gay.
Eartha, Eartha, Eartha... slinking around in Catwoman getup (she filled out that green sequined catsuit like Julie Newmar never could), purring in that oddly accented (vaguely foreign-ish, sorta French) accent of hers, impeccable diction, all come on with no relief. It was years later that I discovered the richness of Kitt's accomplishments - When I finally heard "Champagne Tastes" ("With my champagne tastes and your beer bottle pocket"... you have to hear her clip "bottle" and "pocket" to hear the true sound of contempt), I realized this gal was serious. No one delivered a song like she did, in the best sense - you knew it was her, instantly... and you knew that the point of the song, probably, was that she was the best you could never get.
Santa Baby I first knew through Madonna... and despite the brickbats she's received, I still think Madge's version stands quite nicely beside Kitt's. Just who makes it clearer that "come and trim my Christmas tree, with some decorations brought at Tiffany's" has nothing to do with a Douglas fir... well, you decide. I revel in them both. For me it was one of those moments when I realized this Madonna thing was big. Very big.
Eartha Kitt died yesterday of colon cancer. She was an amazing woman. Amazingly talented. astonishingly fierce, sexy as all hell whenever she was performing (and even, most likely, when not: she had a string of impressive men as boyfriends, including Orson Welles and Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon). She was outspoken and political - she was essentially exiled from the US for telling Ladybird Johnson that it was her husband's fault that boys were being sent to Vietnam, pointlessly, to be killed. If only we had someone comporable to say as much to Laura Bush (though Mrs. Bush, similarly, wound up canceling the White House poetry reading during the Iraq War over similar protests from the poets).
By the way, she was also an incredibly talented, well trained dancer, too.
As well, Eartha Kitt, for me, was a reminder that there are a lot of ways to be black in America - a mixed race woman, she dated white men and married one, and this was during the fifties and sixties. She was proud and accomplished and not afraid to be herself. And somehow I thought she'd just, you know, be around for a while longer. What do I know.
I love Christmas.
I just do.
The house is lovely and warm, and the tree is sparkling; it's smaller than in the recent past, so it seems especially laden with treasures. And being in charge of lights, I layered on an extra numerous jumble, so it practically glows. I also finally got to do the tasteful window treatments I've always wanted to try, and so our porch window gently glows. as well as the wreath on the door.
Mom and I are getting ready for our evening smorgasbord, a Swedish tradition we've kept since I was a boy (and since she was a little girl). It's basically a cold supper by candlelight, though with all the various alterations made over the years, a good bit of the food is fresh off the stove. But we have salmon gravlax, two kinds of herrings, flatbreads, crackers and cheese. Plus a ham, and potato salad, lingonberry (a tart, cranberry-like sauce), and special baked beans that I started making when I was in junior high.
For me, Christmas is all about familiar tradition. Whatever the year has brought, wherever we are, I know that we can return, in the dead of winter, to these warm, familiar moments. Familiar in every sense - things that we know, with family that we love.
Thanks to my Mom's rampant agnosticism, and and the Judaism I've experienced, as well as my own quiet Christianity, I believe the winter solstice is a universal moment - all of us come together in the darkness of winter to share warmth and joy and light. Especially light.
These are dark, uncertain times. There' is much to be concerned about, even to fear. As well as the exciting, if uncertain, prospect of changes that the new year will bring.
This moment, where we can gather together and huddle up, and make some light in the darkness seems especially crucial to me. My hope for us, for you, for the world, is that you can be with those you love and cherish, that you can come together and care for and support one another... whatever kind of family that may be, the one you were born with, or the one you made. We will, I think, need the strength that comes from coming together and supporting one another to get through this. And we can.
Happy Holidays. May the season bring you light and joy.