Monday, October 29, 2012


October 29, 2012:

          The wind howls outside, Hurricane Sandy, and who can work? Or even read? The wind creates an internal tension. You know you'll lose power soon and not get it back for quite a while, and the President has just been on the news, having come back to Washington to take over and do his job, and has told us, in effect, not to travel, not to do anything but hunker down, and it's all very tense. And then when the wind won't stop it gets to you. You're always listening for the tree falling on your car, or your roof, or picking up a piece of lawn furniture you missed, or forcing the door on your shed, even though it's well fastened. It's nerve wracking.

          On top of that we're just days away from an election as important as any since 2000, when a thoroughly politicized Supreme Court put George Bush in office, and a similar kind of chaos prevails now, twelve years later, and the effects threaten to be as dire. From my point of view a Romney victory would constitute a major threat to our well-being and our liberties. He is, what's the joke? a man born on third base who thinks he hit a triple; he has no knowledge or emotional insight into the way most of us live, he's like most people of his level of income, they live in bubbles, in gated communities, they think government is wasteful and overly bureaucratic, they have little or no respect for or understanding of public service and if they do go into government, they go to strip it. They live under the illusion, furthermore, that their good fortune is of their own making, thus failing to acknowledge the interconnections among business and government, the government created infrastructure that makes all business success in this country possible, the governmental programs that fostered industrial growth in so many fields in the first place

          Wow! This wind has really picked up. Blowing now at about 50 knots, with higher gusts. I won't be doing this for long. But while I have time--somebody who's a FB friend of my son's asked the other day why anybody would vote for Barack Obama, and I wanted to answer. Here's why: first, because he understands that the huge and growing income gap between the rich and everybody else in this country is very bad for the country, and that it has to change or we'll slide rapidly downhill into a total oligarchy, instead of the partial oligarchy we have now, and people like the Kochs and Grover Norquist will be writing our laws. Second, because he's done an excellent job, although little advertised, in the face of a Republican party that announced that its only goal in Congress was to make sure he did not get a second term; despite that, he saved the auto industry, has begun to reform the educational system, got regulatory reform on Wall Street, which sorely needed it, killed Osama bin Laden and decimated Al Qaeda's leadership, ended the war in Iraq which the embarrassing George Bush got us into to on the basis of a whole lot of lying, and brought intelligence back to the White House. Third, because he's actually lived in Third World countries and knows their problems and is familiar with their style, and it is from there, in some such country, that the future will emerge. Fourth, because he's interracial and demonstrates pretty clearly that interracial marriage is a viable option for people; my own feeling is that only interracial marriage will ever fully change the racists attitudes so many Americans--the majority, according to the latest polls--live by. Fifth, because he believes that no government has the right to interfere with women's natural right to control their own bodies. Which is another way of saying that he has no intention of forcing his own religious beliefs onto the nation; he believes, in other words, in the First Amendment, and Mitt Romney and most of the Republican Party, determined to end abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, obviously do not.

          I could go on, but these are some principle points; and of course the final point is quite simple. He's not Mitt Romney. He's not the empty, soulless, clueless human being who is his opponent, who will say anything to any audience to get elected, who thinks nothing of buying companies, selling off their assets and then bankrupting them for his own and his partners' profit, thereby depriving thousands of people of their jobs; Romney, who has never had to scramble for a job, who supported the war in Vietnam but made sure, like so many Republican big-shots before him, that he never had to serve; Romney, who makes promises he knows he can't keep, that no one could keep--12 million new jobs! 5 trillion off the debt! or is that 5 trillion in tax cuts!--and then refuses to explain how he's going to do this (because he hasn't a clue); Romney, who claims to know how to create jobs when his entire business experience has been spent outsourcing jobs to other countries, who has, in fact, never started a business or been a businessman in that traditional sense; and Romney, who won't release his tax returns because he knows they will reveal how thoroughly he has exploited the tax code to reduce his own taxes--offshore accounts; a huge deduction, more than most people make in income in a year, for his wife's show horse--while ordinary people pay at double or triple the rate. I once worked for a very wealthy businessman who had a whole team to figure out his taxes. Some years he paid less taxes than I did, or no taxes at all, and this was when I was on his payroll making about $10,000 a year. Everything the rich say about taxes is pretty much lies. It's well known that the money doesn't trickle down. The rich are not job creators; the economists know that, too. When they make more money, they don't necessarily start businesses. My late cousin's daughter is the kind of person who starts a business; she's got a therapeutic massage business in Florida, she opened a shop, she has employees, she works hard. I can see it growing, expanding, and I hope, for her sake, that it does. She's very proud of it, as she should be. Romney? He has $250 million picked off the backs of people like her. Let us not be fooled. He and his party do not have the interests of the common man at heart--not even close.

          I have too few readers to change any votes, and Hurricane Sandy, the experts say, will wipe the election off the map all this week, which is probably a good thing; we're all sick of it. But if you do spread this around to other readers, maybe one person will take heed. That would be a good thing, too. In the meantime, stay safe and out of the wind. The trees are dancing wildly outside, and wind is roaring. Global warming, folks. Storms get bigger and badder with global warming, now we're here, enjoying the benefits. Well, as long as it doesn't tear down my black tupelo, I'll be content.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


OCTOBER 24, 2012

          We normally have breakfast at Starbuck's in Bridgehampton, not every morning, but often. This morning around 9:30 two women came in with a little girl, who proceeded to pop around the room making noise. Can't describe the noises, but they were the kind that children make when they're very young, say around two, and they were relentless. The two women did nothing to quiet her; they behaved as if it were just fine that their child or grandchild or whoever she was was destroying the peace that had hitherto prevailed in the room.

          Why do people think it's OK to bring very young children into a place like a restaurant or even a coffee shop and run around like the little maniacs they are and bother everybody else?

          We have acquaintances we are reluctant to dine out with because of the way they behave toward the waiters and waitresses. Arrogant, demanding, impatient are words that fit.

          On the road, especially in the summer here in the Hamptons, drivers cut you off, tailgate, ignore stop signs, and talk on their cell phones while they're driving. I used to ride a bike for exercise. No longer. I've driven behind too many people who, holding a cell phone to their ear, weave and wander out of their lanes, drive onto the shoulders, unaware of where they are or what they're doing. They are no better in the stores. I once saw an architect who had just put up a hideous modern house clad entirely in sheet metal walk into the Sagaponack General Store and push his way to the head of the line. People stared in disbelief. Wherever they are, people talk on their cell phones. I once listened to a man on a bus to the city talk loudly about his sex life on his cell phone to some woman he had been dating. There were about five people on the bus. We could all hear what he said. It took him some twenty minutes to realize that he was making a fool of himself in public.

          Why do people think it's OK to hold private conversations in public, conversations nobody else wants to listen to? It's as if everyone had been given a megaphone to carry on their private lives.

          Once I was on a train from New York to Washington and some idiot sat down next to me and proceeded to call somebody and talk to him for fifteen or twenty minutes, and that somebody else was on the same train. Then he did the same with yet another person, also on the train. Think about it. For that person, nobody else exists; nobody else counts but himself and his immediate business. Now I take the quiet car, where the conductor strictly enforces a code of silence; and it's blissful by comparison. But you still find people even on the quiet car who just have to make that call. It's as if their concept of their own personal space extended way beyond everybody else's.

          Age has its privileges, and at my age I often don't get up and give a woman on the subway a seat. It depends on the woman and the circumstances. But I always think I should and sometimes do. I hold doors for women and men alike, especially when they're carrying packages, stop for pedestrians crossing the road, don't think of driving as a blood sport. It's training. It was watching my father and other men and how they behaved, both publicly and privately.  I don't believe either of my parents would ever have held a public conversation on a cell phone if there had been cell phones then. To them it would have been unthinkable. Social life evolves, I understand that, but people my age look with dismay at the way it has evolved since the 1960s. I blame the 1960s, in fact, for much of this, and the so-called "me decade" that followed. Manners are the visible manifestation of inner attitudes. Good manners indicate respect for other people and their rights, which are the same as yours, and respect for the standards of behavior that prevail in any given society. As respect for public institutions began to decline during the Vietnam War, which was a particularly stupid, evil war, so did respect for other people and their rights; so, indeed, did the kind of empathy that keeps social life endurable. Empathy is now in much shorter supply, and it is the lack of it, in my opinion, that has driven the extremism of the Republican right, with their indifference to the difficulties of the poor and their inability to walk that imaginative mile in other peoples' shoes. Hard-line attitudes, so-called "realism," a turning away from the social responsibility that we all share for the fate of those less fortunate than ourselves--this is bad manners on a massive scale, and the two are connected, the large and the small, the social and the individual, each a mirror of the other.

          There's a scene in Henry James's novel PORTRAIT OF A LADY where the heroine, Isabel Archer, walks into a room to find her husband, Gilbert Osmond, sitting in a chair while her friend, whose name I forget but who is a woman, stands next to him; and she understands instantly that they know each other in a way that is far more intimate than she had ever been told. In a well-mannered world, no man would sit while a woman stood unless their relationship was unusually intimate, almost like husband and wife. It's a brief moment in a big book, but it's decisive: manners display who we are. We need not be quite so formal now, but without some formality, some set of rules that encode respect for others, what does social life become if not a tangle of each against all, a Hobbesian world, savage at its core, unjust, and without compassion? Such a world is inherently, as it were by definition, fascist.