Atlantis Alumni

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Of Daisies And Couples

A sure sign of autumn: "Montauk" daisies in bloom, This group is located on the South side of the house, the side that gets the most sun, wind and salt spray, so they have to be hardy to survive.

Yesterday I attended a wonderful party thrown by two friends, Matt and John, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary as partners. The guys rented an entire establishment, the Tides bar, and provided guests with an open bar, drag show, and a full buffet dinner. Their families were present and Matt & John introduced them to the approximately 150 Grove friends who attended. It was a heartwarming and affirming celebration and a great way to cap off the season here in Cherry Grove. Congratulations Matt and John!


Saturday, September 29, 2007

I wish more politicians were like this....

Ok, I won't babble about this Youtube video too much. Just take a minute to watch it. Don't you wish more politicians could looks their constituency in the face like this Mayor did and have the guts to do the right thing?


Friday, September 28, 2007

Why can't we leave Iraq???

This is a little shot I took in the Catskills a couple of weeks ago. I went into Upstate NY and to Howe Caverns. The Catskills are amazing and so are the caverns. It's like driving back into a much simpler time.
Being here makes me introspective. Just standing out and looking at a vista like this helps me think.

I got to thinking about why we should pull out of Iraq. Actually I was listening to Rush Limbaugh the other day and he actually kicked off the thought process in my head. Here's the exact quote from Limbaugh:

"There's a lot more than that that they don't understand. They can't even -- if -- the next guy that calls here, I'm gonna ask him: Why should we pull -- what is the imperative for pulling out? What's in it for the United States to pull out? They can't -- I don't think they have an answer for that other than, "Well, we just gotta bring the troops home."

I am not a fan of Rush Limbaugh nor do I agree with anything that he says. Oh, scratch that, I do agree with him when he uses pronouns to address people like he or she or their. Other than that, I don't agree with him.

So let me give everyone some reasons to pull out of Iraq:

1) Since I've started writing this blog post we've (the American people) have spent $20,000 in Iraq. The total cost of the American spending in Iraq in the time it takes me to write this blog post should be just under $100k.
2) The total we've spent thus far is $455,468,606,530. It'll be more by the time I finish this post. Are you fiscal Republicans getting this? Maybe this isn't such a good idea? Maybe we should be spending this on our infrastructure or on schools or on healthcare for poor kids that GW wants to cut.
3) My community, my city is on the hook for roughly $245 million so far for the war. I guess those new firetrucks, police cars and school safety belts will have to wait!
4) American deaths and wounded in the war is 27936. I know it's rough but I don't like "rounding down" human beings.
5) We've paid mercenaries like Blackwater millions to fight this war without observing basics like the Geneva Convention. $320 million to Blackwater thus far. I forgot that the State Department does not have to live with and abide by the Constitution. Oh yes, I guess they do!
6) We've essentially walked all over the Geneva Convention Protocols (there are four of them). This means our military could lose these important treaties if they need to actually protect us from a real threat.
7) We've killed and hurt thousands of Iraqis. Does anyone really think they'll be happy about this in the long run? Or are we just creating more people that want to kill Americans?
8) We still haven't caught Osama Bin Laden.
9) We also need to get out of Afghanistan.
10) We do actually need to speak to some neighboring countries like Syria. They probably aren't going anywhere soon.

Those are my top ten or more likely just a few good reasons. The best reason is that we shouldn't be killing people, period. We also don't have a clear military mission (recipe for a disaster) and we don't have an exit strategy. I worry that Republicans are so blind, they actually don't want to deal with the moral reasons or the fiscal one's. I'm also confused by Republicans on this little concept: what kind of metric do they have for success?

It's was time to leave Iraq after the first day of the war.


Democrats: The Iraq Occupation Will Continue

I share Marc's grave disappointment in the Democratic Party's leading presidential candidates (Clinton, Obama, and Edwards,) who will not pledge to end our occupation of Iraq. This is a national disgrace and a failure of leadership. It also raises the possibility of a third party anti-war candidate garnering substantial support, as Eugene McCarthy did in 1967 when a similar domestic political situation existed in regard to the Vietnam War. In that year, the leading Democratic Party candidate, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, would not distance himself from Lyndon Johnson''s war policies. Richard Nixon was elected president pledging to end the war. It finally ended in defeat for the United States, but not until Nixon's second term. Is history set to repeat itself?

PHOTO: The "Co-ops" in the Fire Island Pines, an example of the poor planning in that community. Beachfront development has taken place seemingly with no regard to preserving the dunes, the only protection that barrier islands have from storms.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's not that simple....

I keep hearing this offensive dribble about pulling out of Iraq. The favorite line of the current administration as well as our future executives (Hilary, Barack, etc.) is "It's not that simple. We can't just pull out. We have to honor our committments." "We'll have to be there until at least 2013."

Such as? I missed that press conference when we made a solemn oath to the Iraqi people.

Fact is, we didn't. We don't belong there. We should be out tomorrow morning. Not 2 years from now, not 10 years from now. Now. For humanitarian reasons, for fiscal reasons and for common sense. I don't give a shit about a general's opinion; they are in the business of winning wars. They are not policy makers.

We need to shut this off, asap. I don't care about advertisements by political PACs, I care alot about why my tax dollars continue to fund mercenary armies against the will of the very people they are trying to subdue.

What really bothers me is that we have become a "gray America". There's no more right and wrong, black and white, just shades of gray. Gray isn't a bad thing when it means old age and maturity, unfortunately in the case of the United States it means a color between black and white.

Killing people is wrong, it is one of the few things clearly black and white and has been heavily documented by all faiths and societies as such. But in the new Gray America, it's ok to wage war based on a highly tenuous premise to actually protect the cash flow of another country (Saudi Arabia perhaps). We are in Iraq for oil. Sorry, hurting and killing other human beings is still wrong. Always has been and always will be.

Is it wrong to bring order to an area in chaos? Isn't that clearly a good thing? Well, no. First of all because the United States seems to be cherry picking the order and who it delivers from chaos based on strategic importance. If you saw 60 Minutes on 9/23/07 you saw a wonderful new base set up right near Iran. How is that going to deliver order from chaos?

So the Democrats have jumped on the gray bandwagon. Hilary and Barack and John are calling for the gray stuff to be poured all over their first term in office. They may need it to clean up the mess left by 8 years of Republican rule. However I think the gray thinking, the middle of the road thinking, the no right or wrong thinking creates a mess of it's own.

And the neat thing about gray is that it is a mix of black and white which is never "that simple". But voting is and the person that gets us out of Iraq and starts focusing on problems in our country with no alternate corporate agenda will most likely get my vote. Don't vote gray.


Fall On The Island

It's a beautiful time to be out here at he beach. The weather has been great with mild temperatures and little rain. Most days I take a couple of long walks and I can still swim in the ocean. The water remains warm, around 70 degrees. There's a cold front due in soon so maybe that will make it feel a little more like Fall than the end of summer.

Halloween comes a bit early out here in Cherry Grove. Since most of us close our houses for the season sometime in October, the pumpkins and other Fall decorations usually appear right after Labor day. This is a photo of our front window.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

At The East End Of The Fire Island Pines

These three houses are situated on the ocean front at the far East end of the Fire Island Pines. It takes about 45 minutes to walk from our location in Cherry Grove to get to this point. The walkway is Sail Walk.

When we were renters in the Pines in the 1990s, we watched as the houses that existed on the two lots at the right were completely washed away by high surf. The owners struggled to save them, enlisting their friends and neighbors to place sandbags around the houses to no avail. Of course, the houses were completely rebuilt subsequently. The house on the left in the picture above was damaged but survived.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Catching Dinner

This is our neighbor, Mark Atten, out early in the morning yesterday attempting to catch something for dinner. This is a good time of year for fishing. Mark is a year round resident of Cherry Grove who earns his living as a builder.


Monday, September 24, 2007

"We Don't Have Gays In Iran" - Ahmadinejad

From the New York Times:
In response to a question about homosexuality, Mr. Ahmadinejad was
initially evasive, instead talking about the death penalty, which, he pointed
out, exists in the United States: “People who violate the laws by using guns,
creating insecurity selling guns, distributing guns at a high level are
sentenced to execution in Iran. Very few of these punishments are carried out in
the public eye.”
Pressed by Dean Coatsworth on the original question about
homosexuality, Mr. Ahmadinejad said: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in
your country. We don’t have that in our country.”
The audience booed and
hissed loudly.
“In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon,” Mr. Ahmadinejad
continued, undeterred. “I do not know who has told you that we have it.

Nice guest. When they find Iranian gays they execute them, so of course, they don't have this phenomenon in Iran.


More On Columbia And Ahmadinejad

Thanks to all who sent me private email comments.

It occurs to me that the University as an institution has core values, one of them being to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas. However, I question whether this value trumps other fundamental institutional values of the University, such as dedication to humanity, a value harmed, it seems to me, by the presence of such an individual on campus.

Also, the free exchange of ideas can still take place without the institution having to provide a forum to a particular individual. Someone else can make the same arguments thus saving the institution from having to provide a forum for a murderous or genocidal dictator, whether he be Hitler or Ahmadinejad.

John Stuart Mill not withstanding, as Stanley Fish pointed out, there can be no absolutes when it comes to speech.


Columbia, Free Speech And The Iranian Dictator

Should Columbia University allow Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak? The University takes the classic free speech position that institutions of higher learning must be platforms for the free exchange of ideas. It's tough to swallow sometimes. It's an absolutist argument. When you veer away from the absolutist free speech position and make an exception, say by excluding Ahmadinejad, you then open yourself up to the possibility that the next person denied the opportunity to speak somehwere might be someone you like. However, where I think this absolutist free speech "slippery slope" argument fails, at least in a free society, is that democratic mechanisms combined with ethical considerations can be brought to bear on the selection of those candidates entitled to a forum. They would even allow Hitler to speak, Columbia says. I would not, nor would most reasonable people. Let's see how the dialogue goes between students and faculty and the Iranian dictator. I know that if I were at Columbia I would be protesting.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Honors For A Special Cherry Grove Resident

PHOTO: The canine football team of Bradley and Cleo on the beach here in Cherry Grove. The dogs really do enjoy the beach.

Last evening in Cherry Grove I went to the "This Is Your Life" tribute to Amelia Migliaccio, a woman who has been active in the community for several decades. MC Dell Harbin read blurbs about Amelia's life in the Grove and various speakers added their stories. The people who spoke while I was there included: The Freedner Twins; Charity (in full drag); RaeDeStefano; Matt Baney; Panzi (not in drag); Lynn Tunderman; and Sal Piro. At one point about half a dozen Suffolk County policemen came on stage including one dressed in a kilt and playing a bagpipe - which they used to do every year at the annual volleyball game. Amelia really has been at the center of a lot of Cherry Grove traditions. She originated the annual community vs. police Volleyball game: she organized the first Cherry Grove gay pride parade; and of course, she was one of the participants in the very first Invasion Of The Pines back in 1976. As one of the speakers noted, Amelia should have been honored a long time ago. The event was free with only a suggested $20 donation to your favorite Grove charity. Afterward there was a buffet and desserts. Congratulations, Amelia!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Late September At The Beach

Fire Island has its own schools. This school bus is a regular sight on the beach after schools open.

It's that time of the year again for opera. We have performances to attend starting this month. We enjoy both live performances in the houses and the new high definition performances in movie theaters. We're looking forward to a great new season.


Friday, September 21, 2007

What Do I Think Of The "" Ad Controversey?

September 21, 2007

Dear James Kelly,

Thank you so much for your contribution of $25.00 to Political Action. Your contribution will help us make a big difference in this Political Action is entirely funded by hundreds of thousands of our members - we don't take big checks from corporations. The average contribution is around $50 and we don't take any contributions larger than $5000. That is why your contribution is even more special. Thank you so much.--Eli Pariser Executive Director Political ActionContributions are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes.PAID FOR BY Political Action

"True Love Is a A Trophy"

I don't know why I waited so long to post this video. Rufus Wainwright, who is writing an opera for the Metropolitan Opera, singing one of my favorites from his "Poses" album of 2001. "Life is a game, and true love is a trophy," sings Rufus. I hope he wins a lovely trophy too.


New York Times: "Fire Island Heats Up"

One tough job...digging up and dividing our Iris. Here's the before and after. Hopefully we'll have more blooms in the Spring.

The article in Today's Times on Fire Island real estate values is an interesting read. Here in Cherry Grove we've seen some of the recent changes mentioned in the article. We've noted the increase in values as well as the influx of straight people into overwhelmingly gay and lesbian Cherry Grove. Apparently, this is just the beginning. The word is out. We'll have to see if these trends continue.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Soul, Spirit, Things "Mystical," Etc.

PHOTO: Venus shines bright in the pre-dawn sky over Fire Island.

I was reading the liner notes to a most enjoyable compact disc last evening. The disc is titled: "Music For The Soul." It contains an eclectic collection of soothing music from ancient to modern. The music was selected by spiritual writer and psychologist Thomas Moore.

I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God. I'm also a secular humanist. In its simplest form, that means that, while I do not believe in God and I reject all things supernatural, I do believe that purpose and meaning in life can be found through living a decent life. So when I see a book or CD title like "Music For The Soul," I'm immediately a little suspicious of the motives behind the writer or producer. Having grown up with the tenets of Roman Catholicism shoved down my throat until I was old enough and smart enough to reject that package, I am leery of anything selling the religious bill of goods. Immortal souls, spirits that live on after we're dead, mystical experiences...these are the stuff of stories, fables and myths, and not to be taken seriously.

I read Moore's liner notes and discovered, to my surprise, that he seems to define the soul in a manner that even I can accept. While he is a former monk, and claims to be a Catholic, although not the kind of Catholic the Catholic Church would recognize, he appears to be a religious, Christian, or theological humanist. According to Moore, the soul is that part of us where the emotions and the passions reside. Love, anger, lust, sex; these are what the soul is made of. The "spirit" is the intellect, and the body makes up the third component of each of us. Moore's "Music For The Soul" is music meant to calm the passions and sooth the emotions. Moore recommends living a decent life, finding enjoyable work, and developing an appreciation of the arts. I can heartily recommend this compact disc. I think I'll try to find out more about this interesting individual and his beliefs.


Scrape And Paint

End of season is a time to do maintenance on "Liberty Bell," our Fire Island beach house. The sun and salt take a toll on the woodwork. A few days spent scraping and repainting are necessary to prepare the house for winter.

Of course. some residents supervise, or simply rest, while the work goes on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

History? What History?

December 25th, 1979 - The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Hmmm, I can't seem to remember how long that lasted. Oh yes, about 9 years. How did that go by the way?

Well, it largely contributed to the collapse (not entirely) of the Soviet Union.

See, here's the thing; If we all had a good education the voting populus would have gone back to our local library or even Google and cracked open some reading. We have plenty of history behind attempts at nation building and attempts at controlling the Middle East.

Fact is, Democracy has never been successfully delivered at the end of a weapon. And don't give me any crap about Nazi Germany being flipped to a democracy from a dictatorship. Our troops are still there and they had democracy before Adolph ever got there.

The Middle East always has been and will continue to be a powder keg. It is the corner stone of many cultures, relegions and actions that have influenced most of humanity. Throw in the effect of a finite and costly resource like oil and well, you have a powder keg and oil. Or to put it another way the Middle East will continue to be a volatile place for an extended period of time.

But let us forget for one minute about the region's many wars and extremely long tumultuous history and just consider very recent history. Well, if the Soviet's hadn't fiddled with Afghanistan for 9 years who is to say what it would have looked like? Maybe it wouldn't have been the fertile breeding ground for Al Qaeda that it seems to have become courtesy of the Taliban. The problem with arming your friends (IE The Mujahadeen) is that they may not be your friends forever (IE the Taliban and Al Qaeda). See some similarities with Iraq?

Let me throw out one idea. This war and the desired effects are intentional. Most people that look at the history of the region can see that any attempt at democratic nation building is out of the question. The region just doesn' have a track record that mirrors democratic politics.

But Iraq does have over 112 billion barrels just below the surface and most likely more than 100 billion that haven't been discovered yet. How do we keep the price high of a finite resource? Well, I don't need to be a history or economics major to know that if you quash competition for a finite resource, it is likely that a sole provider (think OPEC) will have the cash until THEY see fit to pull the crude out of the ground.

Think, ask questions and go look at the history of Iraq and Afghanistan. Don't make any snap judgements about what's happening in the Middle East. There are no fast answers and as we can see from our current quagmire, no easy one's.


PS The tank above is a Russian tank in Afghanistan. It is rusting away. Prophetic, although I wish our soldiers weren't there at all. Brave men and women are too few and far between.

PSS We still need to catch Bin Laden. I'm not sure why everyone isn't focused on that just a bit more??

Inequality In The US: A Modern Gilded Age

Now that The Times is totally free again read economist Paul Krugman's blog. It's a "must read." He starts out with a bang:

I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I
grew up in for granted – in fact, like many in my generation I railed against
the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of
Cambodia, went door to door for liberal candidates. It’s only in retrospect that
the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise
lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history.”

Krugman goes on to argue that the gap between the very rich and the rest of us has exploded to proportions not seen since the excesses of the Gilded Age. This he attributes to the rise of conservatism going back to the 1970s. We're ripe for a huge political change, Krugman argues. Perhaps, but who will be the agent of this change? We'll have to stay tuned!


Energy: We're Kidding Ourselves...

...if we think that the baby steps we're taking to conserve energy and control greenhouse gas emissions will make any real difference, writes Tom Friedman, in the New York Times. Why? Because oil use by developing nations is exploding and will continue to skyrocket:

Attention Kmart shoppers: the world consumed about 66.6 million barrels a
day of oil in 1990. We’re now consuming 83 million barrels a day. “Demand for
oil has grown 22 percent in the U.S. since 1990. China’s oil demand has grown
nearly 200 percent in this same period,” Margo Oge, director of the Environmental Protection
Agency’s office of transportation and air quality, told the Tianjin China Green
Car conference that I attended. “By 2030, the global thirst for oil is forecast
to increase by another 40 percent if we maintain business as usual.” Such an
appetite would devour every incremental green initiative we make.

We're in deep trouble. Oil will continue to get more expensive and harder to get, and global warming will worsen exponentially.

Is there any hope? Only if we develop some radical new technologies, writes Friedman. I've seen some reports of "Mr. Wizard" types who claim to be able to run their cars on water. Maybe we all ought to pay more attention in case one of these "inventors" actually has something.


Dowd On Greenspan: The War Over Oil

What a pleasure to be able to read Maureen Dowd once again, Here she is taking apart the old Republican windbag Alan Greenspan in the Times:

Even though he rubber-stamped W.’s tax cuts, Alan Greenspan is now
upbraiding the president and vice president for profligate spending and putting
politics ahead of sound economics.
He also says in his new memoir that “the
Iraq war is largely about oil,” telling Bob Woodward that he had privately told
W. and Cheney that ousting Saddam was “essential” to keeping world oil supplies
safe. Irrational exuberance, indeed.

Yes, and we've destroyed a country and lost over 5,000 young Americans thanks, in part, to Greenspan's "advice" to war criminals Bush and Cheney.


A Walk On The Beach

One of the joys of living out here on Fire Island are the daily walks with friends and our canine companions. In this photo, friends Roland and Glen walk down by the waves while their Golden Retriever Cleo comes over to say hello to Bradley.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kerry Questioner Tasered?

There seems to be some question as to whether or not the unruly student in Florida who was questioning John Kerry was actually tasered. My understanding is that a taser leaves you incapacitated for several minutes. The video I watched shows the student pretty much active and talking even when the five cops had him on the floor. Maybe they were just threatening him with the taser. We'll have to wait for more information. In the meantime, I think that this weapon, the taser comes close to being outright inhumane. I understand that the cops policy is that the use of the taser is to be reserved only for situations where the personal safety of the officer is threatened, about the same as for the use of lethal force (shooting someone with your sidearm.) I don't think any cops were in danger from this kid. Over at Huffington, one person who left a comment sees it this way:

This is clearly excessive force no matter how nutty or manipulative the
speaker was. He was no physical threat to them. What has happened to cop good
sense that 5-6 of them can't escort a non-violent loud mouth out of a room?
Instead he is pushed to the ground, controlled, and then electrocuted. We live
in terrible times.

If he was in fac t, tasered, I agree.


Gay Marriage Takes Two Hits

The Maryland Supreme Court upheld that state's ban on same sex marriages, and in California, Schwarzenegger once again terminates gay marriage, even though the legislature passed it a second time. So, I'll have to continue living in sin with Dan for the time being. No Baltimore nuptials, and no San Francisco wedding on Nob Hill.


Republican Top Guns Snub Black Debate!

What are these Republicans thinking? Romney, Giuliani, McCain and now Thompson are not planning to participate in the GOP presidential debate focusing on issues important to people of color. They are truly delusional, and they are wrong, and they will lose not only the black and Hispanic vote, but they will lose the election big time. As brother Cornel West puts it over at the Huffington Post:

At this moment in American history, it is clear that either the Republican Party
wisely embraces people of color, or it chooses to be a losing political party in
the future.

Well, the Bush-era Republicans have been real losers character-wise for a long time!


Is Condi A Lesbian? Is It Relevant?

Michael Rogers over at BlogActive asks:

Is the person who is fourth in line to the presidency, right behind the
Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in a relationship with a
woman? Well, certainly a financial one. And as she sits silently by, the very
men and women who carry out our foreign policy are hounded by their country and
stand to lose their livelihoods for exactly the same thing.

Yep. I agree with Michael, it is relevant.


New York Times Ends "Times Select"

Hooray! We get to read Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd again without having to pay a fee. The Times says their online paid subscription plan worked for them but now they are ending it. So it must not have been all that wonderful for them. From Today's Times:

"The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web
site, effective at midnight Tuesday night. The move comes two years to the
day after The Times began the subscription program, Times Select...What changed, The
Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search
engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to These indirect
readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to
pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen
as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would
be generated by Google, by Yahoo and
some others,” Ms. Schiller said."

This move is good for Times readers. I hope it's good for the Times.


PHOTO: Ocean view from our Cherry Grove roof deck. Next year we may be looking into someones bedroom instead, unfortunately.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nader On The Iraq War

From Raw Story:

"It's making the oil companies richer. It's making the corporations more profiteering. It's making our domination of the Middle East more likely to boomerang against our national security, isn't it?"

Yes, and even that dried up old Republican hack Greenspan admits that Bush invaded Iraq over oil. Yet the war continues.


Personal Reflections On A Winding Path

Elgar's wonderful "Pomp And Circumstance" marches are often used at graduation ceremonies. Listening to these majestic processionals last evening reminded me of my own graduation from college, much delayed, in my mid-40s. I could really never figure out what I wanted to do in life.

You know, if I could go back and start all over again as a 20 year old, I still would not know what path to take. Political Science, Law, Music, History, Education, Philosophy, Ethics - these are all academic areas that I've been interested in at one point or another in my life. But then there is the tinkerer in me that has always been interested in things like home and auto repair, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, computers, and now toy train repair and restoration, my hobby these days that gives me pleasure.

So, I never had a real career. At one time or another, I worked in business, which I never liked, or as a hard hat refinery production worker, a mindless type of work that paid well, and left my mind free to dream and learn (I actually could read quite a bit on that job.) I ceased working in my early 40s and became a student/homemaker. Gradually I eased into early retirement and I have adjusted to this over time. While I am happy largely due to the wonderful, supportive relationship I have with my life partner of 24 years and my great animal companions, I do still wonder why it was my fate to have never been able to figure out how to utilize what talents I have. Did I waste my life, I sometimes wonder?

There is a line from one of Billy Joel's songs that I have often reflected upon: "I've learned that just surviving is a noble fight." I've managed to do that at least, and along the way I've done a few things I'm proud of. My gay rights and political activism come to mind. And, as I mentioned above, I've been extremely fortunate in terms of my relationship with my life partner.

There are always trade-offs in life. If I had been a careerist, then perhaps my personal life would not have been as good as it is today, maybe I would not have engaged in the political activism, and ultimately, perhaps I would not be as healthy and contented as I am today. In the final analysis, I don't want to go back and try again and I don't want to trade who and what I am for something else. We all have our disappointments, that's simply a part of life that we must accept. We have to be happy with ourselves in the end if we can.


Photo: A great September sunset over the Great South Bay

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Update On The Top Of The Bay

At the joint community association/property owner's meeting this morning, two significant announcements relative to the Top Of The Bay structure were made. First, the property owners association has more than enough signatures to proceed with the feasibility study, and second the property has been sold to local property owners who plan to rehabilitate it and reopen a restaurant upstairs and shops downstairs. So, no matter which way it turns out, the current question relative to the disposition of the building has been settled. Either it will be rehabilitated and will reopen, or the property owners group will proceed with their feasibility study. End of discussion, except that hopefully the next time the established powers here want to propose something I hope that they notify EVERYONE up front, and give EVERYONE a chance to discuss and comment upon what they are proposing BEFORE they start collecting signatures.


A Cool Sunday Morning

It's 54 degrees out here on the island this beautiful, crisp Sunday morning. Fall is in the air. Yesterday started out rainy but by afternoon the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day. At about 4 Pm I took a long hour and a half walk in the beach with Bradley (my canine companion.) After our walk we both went for a swim. The water is still warm. Actually, it's warmer than the air temperature!

Here is a photo of the "Top Of The Bay," a Grove landmark that has fallen on hard times after the last owners defaulted. Anyone who has visited the Chery Grove regularly will probably have fond memories of the place, of dining upstairs on the deck overlooking the bay, or having one of Sherwood's powerful cocktails at the bar. According to my sources, more than one entrepreneur is prepared to buy it and rehabilitate it immediately. Businesses (shops) could reopen in the structure in 2008. Let's hope that such good things happen soon for Top Of The Bay!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Late Summer Musings

Spiny Boxfish: photo from the Virtual Museum Of Natural History
The cool weather flannel sheets are on the bed here in Cherry Grove, and none too soon! A cold front has hit the island bringing with it clouds and rain. The ocean is still lovely and warm, sporting the lime green color that signifies warm currents from far away seas to the South. Today I spotted a Spiny Boxfish washed up on the beach. This is a warm water denizen that is well North of its usual habitat. Warm Gulf Stream or Sargasso Sea currents often bring unusual visitors to our barrier island shores. It won't last, though, and these balmy late summer days will soon give way to cool autumnal winds that will bring with them sea currents from colder places. It's time to get in that one last swim. I'm counting the days now until it becomes to chilly to float effortlessly in the briny waters just outside our beach home. Soon it will be time to leave our "Brigadoon By The Sea" until next year.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Iraq: Where We're Headed

The New York Times sums up the situation well:

After all, it seems the burden of ending the war will fall to the next
president. Mr. Bush was clear last night — as he was when he addressed the
nation in January, September of last year, the December before that and in April
2004 — that his only real plan is to confuse enough Americans and cow enough
members of Congress to let him muddle along and saddle his successor with this
war that should never have been started.

The occupation will continue open ended, Americans will continue to die in Iraq, and America's reputation will sink lower still. This is what "The Decider" is planning to do until he leaves office. It does not appear as though he can be stopped. Could the German people stop Hitler?


An Expert's Easy Fix For Social Security

This is the "Island Mermaid" restaurant in Ocean Beach, another nice bay front venue. At the "Mermaid" You can watch the boats on the bay and see a sunset while enjoying your meal.

It wasn't that long ago that "The Decider," Mr. Bush, tried to destroy social security. He called it "privatization," but it would have ended the program as it currently exists.

Actually, the fix for social security is simple, according to one expert, Robert M. Ball, who was the Commissioner of the program under three presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Writing in the American Association Of Retired Persons (AARP) journal in August, Mr. Ball wrote:

The current Social Security deficit of about 2 percent of payroll over the
next 75 years...can be met by three changes that are desirable in themselves and
that would bring the program into close actuarial balance: (1) gradually raise
the maximum earnings base that determines the amount of earnings taxed and
credited for benefits; (2) diversify trust fund
investments by putting part of the funds into indexed stocks; and (3)
prevent the complete elimination of the estate tax and instead freeze the estate
tax as it will be in 2009 (exempts all estates below $3.5 million, $7 million
per couple) and change it into a social security tax.

Sounds easy and relatively painless, doesn't it? That is unless you're a brain dead Republican or conservative that can't stand the idea of insuring that seniors are covered by Social Security even if it means paying for the plan through modest, progressive taxation. Hopefully, a Democratic administration will install this fix if they win the next election.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why I Oppose The CGPOA "Top Of The Bay" Petition

The Cherry Grove Property Owners Association (CGPOA), an appointed group chosen by the board of the Cherry Grove Community Organization (CGCAI), is asking Cherry Grove homeowners to sign a petition requesting Brookhaven Town to undertake a preliminary evaluation with the final goal of having Cherry Grove residents, through their association, purchase the currently vacant "Top Of The Bay" property, demolish it, and use the property for "dock expansion." The acquisition would be financed through a bond issue and would result in higher property taxes on Cherry Grove homeowners. I oppose this idea and will not sign the petition for the reasons outlined below.

1. The Property Owners Association has not provided even the most minimal outline or preliminary conceptual sketch of how the "Top Of The Bay" property could be converted to an expanded dock after demolition. I am hard pressed to visualize how the 15 or so feet of bay front occupied by this property could be utilized as additional dock space. In addition, if the lot currently occupied by the structure were to be used for freight staging or unloading, this could represent more of an eyesore than an improvement. This area is part of the first vista that both residents and visitors see upon entering Cherry Grove. Do we really want to welcome people to Cherry Grove within the confines of an expanded freight docking facility?

2. While it has been allowed to fall into disrepair, the "Top Of The Bay" structure has been a Cherry Grove landmark for many years. I have been told by a reputable Cherry Grove Real Estate Broker that a private commercial concern is interested in purchasing the property. This concern is prepared to rehabilitate the structure and utilize it for shops and businesses. However, the bank that owns the property is now holding out for more money because they are expecting an offer from the CGPOA. This structure has historically been a part of the downtown business community. Let business interests purchase it and rehabilitate it. Why should residents pick up the tab for a structure that has been profitable for a number of businesses over the years?

3. Any invitation to Brookhaven Town to increase Cherry Grove property taxes should be thought of as a last resort to be used only in case of emergency or dire need. We all have been warned of the potential of a major storm hitting Fire Island. It's a question of when, not if, we have been told. If a storm hits and our hamlet's municipal structures are severely damaged (the dock, boardwalks, etc.) we may be forced to pay higher taxes to finance reconstruction. Given the fact that some homeowners are retirees and on fixed incomes, we should not request or encourage Brookhaven Town to raise our taxes unnecessarily. We need to conserve our resources in case of emergency. The condition of the "Top Of The Bay" is not such an emergency.

4. The community is already struggling to maintain the Community House and the Doctor's House. In addition, the existing dock structure is in need of repair and maintenance. Why are we looking to undertake yet more debt and an additional capital project at a time when we should be concentrating on maintaining what we already have?

5. This proposal affects ALL residents of Cherry Grove, not just those who are members of the CGCAI/CGPOA. All residents should have been notified by mail of this proposal and given the opportunity, at a special town meeting dedicated to this topic ONLY, to discuss and comment upon the proposal. Not everyone attends CGCAI meetings or pays close attention to notices posted on bulletin boards.

I have no doubt that our friends and neighbors who are responsible for this proposal have the best intentions. However, I am not convinced that this proposal is in the best interests of Cherry Grove homeowners.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chris Matthews: Iraq "Dog And Pony Show"

MSNBC at 7 Pm tonight: General Patraeus can't answer the fundamental question of whether the war in Iraq is making America safer. Matthews is convinced (and says so on national network TV) that what we're seeing this week is a ruse designed to sell a continuation of the war to the American people without having "Dubwya" doing the selling. Unfortunately, the gambit is working. How sad.


Andrew Sullivan: We're Building A US Middle Eastern Empire

Barring a sudden revolt by the Congressional Republicans, we are now at war
with still too few troops and constructing an explicit, Middle Eastern empire
for as far as the eye can see.

Hum. When a prominent conservative comes to this conclusion I think we're in deep trouble. He's right, of course, and the Democratic front runner HC has already stated that we'll be in Iraq for a long, long time. Iran is next. Can Syria be far behind?


"A Thousand Days Hath September"

I'm a Sinatra fan and have been for decades. I enjoy Sinatra songs when I hear them on the radio from time to time, but at this time of the year, in September, I particularly enjoy listening to this 1965 Sinatra /Gordon Jenkins album. As the album notes state about the recording:

"Tonight will not swing. Tonight is for serious."

The songs are mostly ballads full of nostalgia, and Sinatra delivers them with the suave, worldly style of someone who has been around.

"He has lived enough for two lives, and can sing now of September. Of the
bruising days. Of the rouged lips and bourbon times. Of chill winds, of forgotten
ladies who ride in limousines. September can be an attitude or an age or a
wistful reality. For this man, it is a time of love. A time to sing. A thousand
days hath September." - from the album notes written by Stan Cornyn


Why A Majority Of Americans Cannot Stop The Iraq War

What kind of political system do we have in this country anyway? Let's see. It's not a simple or "direct" democracy. If it were, a majority of voters could simply vote to end the Iraq occupation and bring the troops home. That's what a majority of Americans prefer, according to polls. But we can't do that because what we have in the U. S. is "representative" democracy. That means that we do get to vote but we vote for representatives who do the actual governing. In principle, this is a good plan because it can put a brake on some of the excesses of simple majorities. Remember the conundrum of majority rule vs. minority rights. Representative democracy is supposed to provide a fix for that problem. That is, provided the representative system is untainted by money, power grabs, and corruption, and that's where we in this country have a serious breakdown of the system. We remain mired in Iraq because it is in the best interests of the powerful, corrupt, monied political players that we "stay the course." The corporate interests and the special interest lobbyists, who are so pivotal in electing our representatives, combined with the entrenched military-industrial complex, all feed off the war and a host of other public policies (e.g., no national health care, etc.) that are against the best interests of the American people. We're seemingly powerless to change this situation because the American public is so easily manipulated. Just look at how Bush continues to move the goal post for success in Iraq. In the Spring it was September, and now, post Patreaus' September report, it's next Spring, maybe. The American public is powerless to stop this war because we have a broken political system. We're powerless to affect public policies across the board. There are fixes that have been proposed that hold out the promise of reform, but once again, the established powerful interests block or mitigate them. We find ourselves in real difficulty with a government that is unresponsive to the needs and wants of its citizens.


Matthew "Annoying?" Why?

About "gay god" Matthew Lush, a reader writes:

Jim, You have found easily one of the most annoying people on the internet (regardless of
sexual preference). I think he's a little overboard on the piercings as well.

Gosh, I get private emails but so few comments here on the blog. Here's a comment posted to
the blog from someone who didn't identify themselves. I'd like to know why this person finds
Matthew annoying. Is it because he's young? Popular? Gay? Please tell me. Oh, by the way, Matthew doesn't have a sexual "preference," he has a sexual orientation: he's gay. As for piercings, if you don't like them, then don't get any. Personally, I have a couple which I did for myself.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What is a Vegan.

What is a Vegan.

Here's Mathew Lush, the "gay god" of My Space and YouTube, explaining what a"Vegan " is. Who is Matthew Lush, the "gay god?" Apparently, he's a real popular fellow on the internet. Google "gay god" or "Matthew Lush" and you'll get more information than you can imagine about him.

Now, I tried being a vegetarian for a while. I ate a lot of cheese, overdosed on calcium, and got a kidney stone, so Matthew is right - you have to be careful when you try this kind of diet. I do share his concern for animals. I do believe that it is unethical to kill them for food or sport. I don't eat any red meats, and I try not to eat much poultry. I do eat seafood. I try not to buy products made from animals, like leather coats, etc. I do what I can. It's tough to not consume animals when you live in a society that is so oriented toward killing and cooking. So, I admire Matthew for becoming a Vegan for ethical reasons.


Iraq: The "Strategic Interests" Argument

General Petraeus ("Betray-Us" to some) has testified before Congress. He's squarely on board with the Bush plan to prolong the Iraq war indefinitely and hand it off to the next administration. It is already apparent that he and Bush will get their way, since the Democrats in Congress have neither the will or the votes to stop them. U.S. soldiers will continue to be caught in the middle of sectarian violence in Iraq, a civil war-like situation, only worse, with terrorists thrown in for good measure. The Baker-Hamilton commission's recommendations will continue to be ignored. Bush wins, America loses.

Part of the defense of this "stay the course" policy coming from so-called "thinking" individuals is that America has "strategic interests" in the region. But, what are our strategic interests in Iraq and the Middle East, other that oil, that is? We're told that "stability in the region," counterbalancing Iran, etc. are the reasons why we have to maintain a presence. We've heard this argument before albeit couched in slightly different terms. During the Vietnam War we were told that America had strategic interests in that region, the Far East. If we left, or were defeated, we were told, the "dominoes" would start to fall and Communism would spread throughout the entire region. Look at history and see how that lie turned out.

The point is, Bush-Cheney types, and those "thinkers" who make this "strategic interests" argument have not learned one simple fact about other peoples and other nations: they want to control their own destinies. And, they will resist us with every drop of blood in their veins if we continue to try to interfere in their affairs and try to control the outcome of their internal struggles. This is the lesson of Vietnam that Bush is ignoring to the continuing peril of our troops and the reputation of our country. We are occupiers in Iraq and as long as our occupation continues the inevitable self-determination that will take place in Iraq and in the region is simply delayed, with the cost being American "blood and treasure." This is why we must withdraw from Iraq and let Iraqis settle their own destiny, as we were forced to withdraw from Vietnam. Why must we have to re-learn this lesson yet again?

PHOTO: An obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires


Monday, September 10, 2007

The Democrats and Iraq

I would absolutely love to see an honest memoir from Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or even Joe Biden after they leave office and are too old to care and just be painfully honest.

After looking at the continuing votes for this craven debacle that George Bush and team has pulled us into, I can only guess at why the Democrats seem to NOT want to reflect the votes of the United States.

So here is why I think the Democrats aren't articulating and Iraq plan:

1) It's admitting a mistake from both parties. And lest we forget, nobody in politics wants to admit a mistake.
2) It's a "win-win" for both sides of the aisle -
GW Makes his monied constituents (Haliburton, Blackwater and the like) happy.
We get to spend more money on military shit to "protect" America (eventhough it is against a
threat our government completely doesn't understand). The expediture is silly.
3) It (the war) distracts us from the real issues at home that aren't getting addressed by either party.
4) It will keep us talking for years and not focused on the failings of the most horrible government in our history.
5) It conveniently keeps 1.2 trillion barrels of oil in the ground and keeps OPEC's prices high and the oil companies (ala Dick Cheney) blindingly profitable. We also fail to even think of seeking alternatives to oil and the like.
6) It diverts the finite terrorist resources of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and the like away from the Israelis (probably not) and focuses them on blowing up our soldiers and innocent Iraqis in markets and homes.

How do I know the war is bullshit? Well, because if Iraq was so goddamned dangerous, how come the Israelis didn't attack it? If Iran is such a threat and we all know they have a great deal to do with Hammas, how come the Israelis haven't attacked them? My guess is because the Israelis have a lower tolerance and fewer resources for quagmires than we do. When a Jew is killed in Israel, when a Christian is killed in Israel, when an Arab is killed in Israel, almost every family has someone that knows the person that killed. Further, every person stays in touch with real current events. They have to, their lives could depend on it.

If we look at the United States, much of the public is still fixated on Brittany Spear's erratic driving behavior or lapping up propaganda ala Fox News. Is it any shock that a few folks think we are idiots? We could chalk up these guilty pleasures to a lack of focus on education, that's another discussion.

And if we wanted to secure our borders and make America so secure, why are we fooling around looking at bottles of perfume in airports? Why can't we hire some of the Mossaad (you know, the Israeli guys that seem to have protected El Al airlines from EVER being highjacked or having a single security problem!) and have them make some recommendations in our country? We've given up far, far too much in the name of security and worse, it is for security that is NOT making us more secure.

See, we already have a Western country in the Middle East that's our friend, they're called Israel. And whether you like them or hate them is irrelevant; the fact of the matter is that the Israelis have crossed every single obstacle and hassle any and all terrorist could have set up and they are still there and they are thriving.

Further, if we continue to look at both the Democrats and Republicans foolish attempt at Democracy relative to what the Israelis have tried, we see something interesting. Or more importantly, a question: With the whole Palestinian rule and Arab governing body; how's that working out? Oh ya, the PLO and Hammas are killing each other. That's in the petry dish that Western Countries (like the US) have set up.

What I am trying to do is tie the lack of Palestinian rule, something the Palestinians have been pining for for many, many years to the potential of Iraqi rule. Now with Shia's killing Shia and Sunni's killing Sunni, I'm sure setting up further Maliki based Petry dish's is really very smart. Think some guys with machine guns yelling pull and twenty petry dishes getting fired out into the air.

If we look at the countries surrounding Iraq, we don't exactly see a font of Democracy. Even our Arab "friends" aren't hubs of Democratic thinking. Thus I have to believe that Iraq will not be the cradle or font of Democracy the US Government/Joe Lieberman/Bill Kristol/Sean Hannity thinks it will be. History dictates (from the past 3000 years) that this area makes Western democracy very difficult in this area. This is especially true for people like our current government that doesn't get the fundamentals of Jeffersonian Democracy.

This leads me to believe something most Americans don't want to deal with. Our government is sucking up to some big companies and is creating a win-win situation for some special interests by essentially flailing in the wind and tossing our armed forces and civilians into a meat grinder. That's the emperor walking around with no clothes. The emperor (ala George Bush and crew) further says to the opposition "well what's your answer for the war on terror"? Further revealing that not only that the emperor has no clothes, he has no opposition to his nudity!

We are back to "why aren't we stopping the flailing mess that is our foreign policy and focus on things that matter to Americans?" Or why aren't the Democrats growing a pair of nuts before another corporate psychopath gets elected?

Again, those damn memoirs sure will be interesting. My guess is that the Dems are trying to give our naked emperor just enough rope to hang himself. It seemed to work with Congress in the last set of elections so why wouldn't it work again? Well, it hasn't really worked because there's a whole bunch of dead people in Iraq and the like. And it's setting the stage for some new politicians to enter the theatre. One's that will continue to have all the answers and not even ask the questions.

But for now, all I can say is that my Democratic congressman will continue to get letters from me. Letters that will focus on getting rid of No Child Left Behind, healthcare reform (IE prescription drugs from Canada) and pulling some of the money away from Iraq spending and putting it into places like Social Security. Just a thought.


Steve Forbes On The Presidential Race

Publisher and one time presidential candidate Steve "flat tax" Forbes is predicting a three way race for president in 2008. From Yahoo News:
"I think you will have Mr Giuliani, Mrs Clinton and then there is a third
candidate and the current mayor of New York... a man named Michael Bloomberg," Forbes
Well, Forbes may well be right about Rudy and Hillary. Bloomberg is a big question mark. He has the money to run (his own,) and he has positioned himself to run, but he is denying that he's interested. We'll see. I sure would enjoy a tough three way race between those three.
PHOTO: A Colorful structure in the harbor at Rio De Janiero

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Thompson's Unique Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment

A treat for early risers - The cresent moon and Venus at about 6 Am this morning.

Following up on Marc's remarks about Fred Thompson, I read that he favors a constitutional amendment that would stipulate that states would not have to recognize legitimate same sex marriages that are performed in other states or jurisdictions. How very creative! How very bigoted!

The Log Cabin Republicans are sure going to have a time of it this go around trying to figure out who is the least anti-gay presidential candidate in the Republican field.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Post Labor Day On The Island

This is the entrance to a house in Ocean Bay Park. The entire house is decorated with similar South Seas carvings. It's quite a sight.

We walked down to Ocean Beach with friends earlier this week. The plan was to have dinner at "Flynns" in Ocean Bay Park, however, it was closed. Our second choice, "Matthews" in Ocean Beach was also closed. We were surprised that these popular restaurants have already gone on a weekend only schedule, so soon after Labor Day. We ended up dining at "The Island Mermaid" in Ocean Beach, another nice bay front restaurant.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Fred (that's the title of my post)

In case you are wondering what the picture is, I'll tell you (so you don't have to guess). It's a subway mosaic. I love them. They are art for art's sake. They look great in the subway and just about anywhere anyone sees them.

Let me tell you what doesn't look so good.

I pulled up with my son tonight and got out of my car. My neighbor is now proudly displaying his "Fred 08" bumper sticker on the back of his car. Not coincidentally in the same place is "W in 04" bumper sticker was in, well, 04.

This is a bit of a bellwether. Wikipedia has a nice description of a bellwether "A bellwether is any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings". I like that description. It's almost poetic.

Fred Thompson is a future happening? Well, he hasn't participated in one debate. He really hasn't done much to articulate a plan (a plan for anything I mean; Iraq, Iran, Bin Laden, Education, Social Security, the enviroment, the infrastructure, pick one). He also hasn't asked any hard questions.

He's an actor that does a good job of imitating important people. He must be the right guy for a future Republican candidate, no?

I actually like Fred Thompson's acting. He's good at playing confused important people. When he played the head of Dulles Airport in Die Hard I wanted to go out and have a beer with him. When he played the captain of the aircraft carrier in Red October he looked very upset and confounded. He ranted a little with the story progressing anyway.

I respect that in a faux-leader.

However it looks as though my neighbor's Tivo has been set to Law and Order once too often. As George W has shown us, we don't need anymore medicore or weak leaders in the oval office. It could potentially be another 8 years of us guarding OPEC's honey pot in the Middle East (and getting our troops and Iraqis killed in the process) and it could also lead to mass extinctions as well as the collapse of some silly institutions like public schools and social security. Poor leadership tends to cause death and havoc in too many places both here and abroad.

Actually of all the truly mediocre candidates the Republicans have to pick from, my Republican neighbor has picked the top mediocre candidate. Let us not forget he really is an attorney from Tennesee and was involved in the Watergate hearings, was in the Senate and he does think Scooter Libby is a heck of a guy.

I don't actually engage my neighbor in any discussion about politics. He's pleasant enough fellow although I do know he is quite active in the Republican party. It's a free country and he actually did me a huge service by letting me know who the next Republican actor will be to grab for the big role. Unfortunately the debate I would have with him would likely yield anxiety on both sides and fail to change either political thought direction or ideology. Somehow I do feel tied to my neighbor, probably because he let's his kids run down the same street we live on and our goals aren't too different. Just the choices we make on how we get to them. But our decisions really do define us, don't they?

I have to agree with one opinion from Bill Maher (not my neighbor) on our next leader/set of leaders: we need someone exceptional. Not ok, not pretty good but exceptional. Someone that has a higher level of intelligence, experience and skills than the rest of us. Someone that doesn't hang on a single event such as 9/11 as a driving factor in their political career. Maybe we don't need a career politician at all, maybe we need someone that's a private citizen that has good common sense and not much of an axe to grind.

You know, kind of like our founding fathers wanted; people from all walks of life that can give our governing body diversity and vision. Not all of our legislators need to be attorneys or members of the Skull and Bones society. Can we really keep using the naming convention of "leader" as applied to career politicians?

Now let's hope the Democrats can grow a pair of cajones before the elections and come up with some intelligent debate and discussion prior to Rove feeding Fred his lines. If we end up with another Republican in the Whitehouse the subway may be the only place we see art at all.


The Nanny Diaries - Trailer #1

The Nanny Diaries

We saw this film yesterday, and it's better than the trailer might indicate, actually. While it has been compared to "The Devil Wears Prada," this movie is different - softer and more warm hearted. The actors are very good. Scarlett Johansson (The Girl With The Pearl Earring) does a good job of capturing the confusion of a young college grad who decides to go to work as a nanny while still trying to make up her mind about a career path. Donna Murphy plays the nanny's devoted mother, worried about her daughter's future. Alicia Keys is believable as the nasty upper East Side matriarch. John Henry Cox is the male eye candy playing the nanny's boy friend. It's worth seeing this one.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Do We Have A Biased Middle East Policy?

Today's New York Times has a review of a controversial book entitled The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy suggesting that the US government is too much under the sway of the powerful Israel lobby. The authors argue that American ought to return to a more neutral stance in the Middle East, as had existed prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, but that the Israel Lobby prevents any rational discussion of the issue in this country. Charges of anti-semitism have already been directed at the authors, which seems to prove their point. Former President Jimmy Carter got in hot water not too long ago for suggesting much the same thing - that US foreign policy is wrongly heavily biased in favor of Israel.

From the Times Book review:

Coolly, not to say coldly, Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt mount a
prosecutorial brief against Israel’s foreign and domestic policies, and against
the state of Israel itself. They describe a virtual rogue state, empowered by
American wealth and might, that blocks peace at every turn, threatens its
cowering neighbors with impunity, crushes the national aspirations of the
Palestinians and, whenever the opportunity arises, bites the hand that feeds it.

The author's main argument is that we would be much better off with a more neutral policy in the Middle East, and that such a policy would have many benefits for America. Why is it so controversial to even bring up the possibility that we need to change our approach in the Middle East?


More on the Great Pavarotti

It was a great privilege to appear, as a supernumerary, with Luciano Pavarotti
in two operas: La Boheme (which Jim mentioned in his post) and Tosca. The La Boheme
was performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The unique Italo-American composer and director Gian Carlo Menotti put the cast through their paces before Pavarotti arrived for rehearsals. He told us all that he would not stay once the tenor arrived and he grimaced with exaggerated horror at the thought of sharing directions with the big man. On stage in the second act, as part of the crowd near the Cafe Momus, I was drawing, an artist lost at the back of the crowd. Since I'm a painter, I was actually sketching members of the chorus, and one woman asked Pavarotti to autograph my sketch of her, which he kindly did.

During Tosca at the Mann Music Center, a touring production of the Metropolitan Opera, I was a super during the amazing choral "Te Deum" that ends the first act. It was an unbelievable thrill to hear that great choral music surround one totally, as much as hearing Pavarotti's voice from the wings. After the performance the tenor kindly signed photographs for members of the cast and others who visited him backstage.

I was also lucky enough to see Pavarotti in several operas in both Philadelphia and New York. He was unique in La Fille du Regiment, his nine high Cs pinging out with a surprising accuracy. He was the most Italianate of tenors in L'Elisir d'Amore, Luisa Miller, La Favorita, Un Ballo in Maschera and the Puccini works previously mentioned.

Though many of the points Anthony Tomassini wrote in his evaluation of the great tenor today in the New York Times were on target, I disagree with two. Tomassini claimed that Pavarotti never reached his full potential. I believe that he used his glorious lyric tenor to the best of his ability and his superb musicianship was evident in most of his performances. Yes, Pavarotti had a fairly small repetoire, but better that than trying to sing roles that were inappropriate for his honeyed voice or his limited acting abilities. I also disagree with Tomassini that it was a fine experience to see Pavarotti in Andrea Chenier. By the time he assumed that role, his career was on the decline, and it was a sad spectacle to hear him struggle with the high notes he could no longer summon in the last act.

It's best to remember Luciano Pavarotti at his peak, when he was the equal to such great singers as Gigli, Caruso, Schipa, Bjorling and the young Di Stefano. Addio, dear Luciano, and mille grazie for having put so much of your heart into your stage appearances, concerts and recordings.


Pavarotti - Nessun Dorma

The Greatest Tenor EVER Has Died

Dan and I had the great fortune to have actually appeared on the operatic stage in several performances with Pavarotti back in the 1980s. The Opera Company Of Philadelphia mounted a production of Puccini's "La Boheme" directed by the great Gian Carlo Menotti, who also died earlier this year. Pavarotti starred and we were supernumeraries. It was a wonderful, unforgettable experience.

We also got to see and hear Pavarotti many times at the Metropolitan Opera in great operas such as Tosca and La Boheme. Listening to his recordings and to the other great operatic tenors of the 20th century, I feel fortunate to have enjoyed Pavarotti's great voice. I feel that he was as great a tenor as Caruso, Gigli, Tucker, or any of the others I've listened to live or in recordings. Listen above to perhaps the greatest tenor ever.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hurricanes: We're Not Out Of The Woods Yet!

Here on Fire Island, everyone has a tale to tell, or I should say re-tell, about the great Hurricane of 1938, the "Long Island Express," that devastated Fire Island (among a lot of other places.) The storm cut through the barrier island creating "breeches" between the ocean and the bay, which left the coast of Long Island in harm's way. In Cherry Grove, the storm washed away most of the houses. So we watch the weather carefully at this time of the year, especially since the experts tell us that we're overdue for the storm of a century. While the last couple of storms this year went the other way into Mexico, that's no guarantee that another storm won't come up the east Coast and directly threaten Fire Island. We've got to be careful because the only way off the island is by ferry boat. If something threatens, we (Dan and I and the pets) have to move early so that we don't get caught in any last minute crush to get off the island. We also have to worry about clogged roads on Long Island, since home is a three hour drive back to Philadelphia.

Here's the latest on the amount of hurricane activity expected for the rest of this year's storm season:

DENVER - Hurricane expert William Gray downgraded his 2007 Atlantic storms
forecast slightly Tuesday, but he still predicted above-average activity for the
rest of the season, with five more hurricanes, two of them major.

Read the rest of the story here.


Jerry Lewis - Errand Boy

Jerry Lewis - Class Act

In his memoir "Dean And Me (A Love Story)" about his career with one time show business partner Dean Martin, comic and humanitarian Jerry Lewis writes about meeting Martin's "Rat Pack" crony Frank Sinatra one day. Sinatra, who Lewis considered a buddy, asked Lewis "Hey Jew, how's it going?" - or something to that effect. Lewis writes sentimentally: "Jew. He always called me that." "Jew" was sort of a term of endearment that Sinatra used with Lewis, a term that Lewis didn't seem to mind. When I read this I wondered how I would feel if somebody I liked or respected called me by the name "Fag." "Hey Fag, how's it going?" I think I would have to have a serious talk with anyone who chose to address me in that manner, even playfully. I wonder if Sinatra had a pet name for Sammy Davis? The "Rat Pack" 1960s rough and tumble bad boy fraternity mentality was responsible for the "Jew" moniker that Sinatra used with Lewis, and that's probably why Jerry didn't take it as an insult.

Fast forward to last weekend and the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon. The 81 year old Lewis, clowning around in hour 18 of the marathon TV fund raiser, made a joke using the word "fag," or "faggot," (the video is a little garbled.) He caught himself immediately, and said "No, No," but the damage was done and he probably knew it immediately. As you can imagine, the clip made it to the internet within hours, and gay rights groups including GLAAD demanded an apology. With a lot of entertainers or politicians, you might have expected either that they would ignore criticism of such a gaff, or to try to explain it away somehow. However, Lewis issued the following statement the day after:

"I obviously made a bad choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands
that I hold no prejudices in this regard. The success of the (telethon) and all
the good that will come from it shouldn't be lost because of one unfortunate
word. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses. I am

Isn't it refreshing to see someone simply acknowledge that they made a mistake and issue an unconditional apology? I think it is.

The clip is one of my favorite vignettes from one of Lewis's movies, "The Errand Boy." I'm glad I can still enjoy it knowing that Mr. Lewis is a man of integrity, big enough to admit a mistake and apologize.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On Larry Craig And His Ilk

LAURA M. Mac DONALD writing in the New York Times:

"...let’s stop being so surprised when we discover that our public figures
have their own complex sex lives, and start being more suspicious when they
self-righteously denounce the sex lives of others."

But that would mean that we'd have to be suspicious of the entire Republican Party!


September As A Beginning

This photo shows the outdoor dining deck of one of the most famous and popular Fire Island eateries, "Matthews" in Ocean Beach. It's fun to have dinner overlooking the Great South Bay. Late in the season, when the days are shorter, you can watch the sun set over the bay from your table. The food is good with an interesting menu that features seafood.

We heard someone opine yesterday on TV that September is really the true beginning of the new year. Schools reopen, and everyone begins to get out of vacation mode and back into working and planning for the busy Fall-Winter season ahead. September for me has always been a nostalgic time, a warm, comfortable time to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going in life. I have a few albums that I like to listen to at this time of year, such as Sinatra's "September Of My Years." I always enjoy listening to several versions of Kurt Weil's great "September Song" during the month of September. A lot of great songs have September in their title. September is a special month, a month to enjoy the warm "Summer Wind" while it lasts, and to anticipate the enjoyment of the months ahead. September is truly a time of beginning.


Monday, September 3, 2007

UK Press: Will Bush Bomb Iran?

Here is a photo of downtown Ocean Beach, one of Fire Island's largest communities. OB is an incorporated town with it's own mayor and police force, and it has lots of town rules covering just about everything you can think of. For example, men must wear shirts when walking downtown. We usually walk down to OB which takes us about an hour and twenty minutes. There are a number of nice restaurants in the town. If we have dinner, we usually take the water taxi (a speedboat) back to Cherry Grove afterward.

There are frightening articles currently appearing in a couple of UK newspapers that lay out scenarios for a US attack on Iran. The Sunday Telegraph goes into great detail here.


On Tuesday, President Bush dramatically stepped up his war of words with
the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom the US government accuses of
overseeing a covert programme to develop nuclear weapons. In a speech to war
veterans, Mr Bush said: "Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to
nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and
violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust."
He went on to condemn
Iranian meddling in Iraq, where America increasingly blames the deaths of its
soldiers on Iranian bombs and missiles. Mr Bush made clear that he had
authorised military commanders to confront "Iran's murderous
This was widely taken to mean that he is set on a confrontation
with Iran that will culminate in a bombing campaign to destroy Iranian nuclear
facilities, just as Israel bombed Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981.

The worldwide economic fallout from a Bush attack on Iran could be devastating. Bush could order the use of tactical nuclear weapons to knock out hardened nuclear facilities in Iran. This would further inflame Muslim hatred against America. The Iraq war could widen and engulf the entire Middle East. It's almost like a doomsday scenario. Diplomacy is still the best hope for controlling Iran's nuclear program. It worked with North Korea. Let's hope "Dubbya" doesn't pull the trigger this time and hit Iran.