Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve eve and I’m finding myself wishing for a sleigh and nine flying reindeer. This post is coming to you from the quiet car on Acela 2172 en route from Washington, DC to New York – or perhaps en route is too optimistic a phrase. More accurately, we are en place; stuck in Wilmington, Delaware as one (of many) disgruntled passenger reminds a neighbor that his cell phone conversation is unwelcome in this part of the train.

With the courtesy that Americans have become known for the world over, the conversant rolls his eyes, blithely ignoring his fellow traveler, shouting into the phone that he was distracted by someone telling him he is in the quiet car(“what?” “QUIET car” “What?” “Q-U-I-E-T .”) After communicating that he is stuck (“What?” “STUCK.” “WHAT?” “S-T-U-C-K.”) they chatted a bit longer before ending their conversation.

Meanwhile, the disturbed passenger went in search of quiet elsewhere.

There’s a metaphor about America in this story – several actually – but since it’s Christmas I’ll be charitable and resist the temptation to point them out.

Though I must admit my four trips on Amtrak these last two weeks are providing much insight into the communities of people who regularly travel the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. Politicians, Financiers, Students. So far I’ve seen a Senate aide taking a rare evening off from turning Health Care Reform into legislative sausage for a quick trip home to Philly; some Asian twink who purchased four beers at once and drank them all in less than an hour; and a woman whose possessions included two Blackberries, a Barbie, a juice box, and a copy of “The Secret.”

Each ride has also included a police which we’ve been instructed not to pet, which causes me to ponder how dumb the American people have become. It is bad enough airplane announcements now require 458 words, repeated three or four times, spoken loudly and in the cadence of one speaking to a retarded child. To inform you of the flight’s destination. Either it is perfectly normal for people of reasonable and average intelligence to board flights they’re not ticketed for to places they don’t want to go, or to reach out and touch a drug-sniffing German Shepherd attached to an armed cop, or Americans have gotten stupider.

I’m voting for the latter.

Speaking of voting – and of the health insurance reform cited above – this week the U.S. Senate moved decisively closer to passing a major reform of the health care industry. Of course, the process has been a bit like Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” – by the time we reel it in there may be no meat left on the bone.

On the one hand, it’s historic that – for the first time ever – both houses of Congress will pass bills based on the principle that all Americans deserve to have affordable health care; that no one should die from being too poor to get insurance, or should become poor simply because they became sick.

Conversely, so many worthy goals fell by the wayside while so much greed and self-interest was displayed by people whose job it is to act in the best interests of the citizenry rather than the corporatocracy.

I could understand the minority party using the rules of parliamentary procedure to resist passage of a bill they find objectionable – or even one that would simply hand a huge political win to their opponents. Politics ain’t beanbag. And the Democrats didn’t hesitate to use the filibuster to stop Bush’s appointee’s to the federal judiciary.

But Democrats are another story. You may not vote for the final bill, but you don’t block the leadership on a process issue. You vote to allow the bill to come to the floor, then vote against it. If Democrats can’t agree – as a bloc of 60 – not to vote against the party on procedural issues, then they will send the American people a message that they can’t govern.

They’ll also send the message that they’re petty, greedy sycophants. Joe Lieberman should have been threatened with the loss of his chairmanships and seniority, not indulged when he held the bill hostage. Ben Nelson should have let substantive issues come to an up or down vote.

I don’t often agree with Lindsey Graham. However, even though I’d like to see the bill pass and he wouldn’t, we both agree the bill includes slush money for states like Louisiana and Nebraska so the leadership could buy the votes of their Senators.


Whatever happened to change? Whatever happened to articulating and explaining a new role for government? Instead we get a win that’s so much smaller than it ought to be, and so much dirtier than it should have been. Miraculously, the Democrats, who have become superb at taking a lead and blowing it, managed to accomplish something historic and look petty, venal, uncoordinated and incompetent in the process. No wonder Americans don’t think government can do anything right.

(FYI, I’m not letting the Republicans off the hook, here. I think they’re clearly on the wrong side of history and I think they may ultimately pay a price for their obstructionist approach to governing right now. I’m also embarrassed for them that, on issues of tantamount importance to the American people, they’ve basically refused to even show up to the debate and are marching in lockstep rather than voting their conscience (Olympia Snowe and Anh Cao, excepted.) Still – that’s their right. They’re the minority and the tools of parliamentary procedure are theirs for the using and abusing….)

Anyway – in other news, Brittany Murphy (see classy photo, right) is dead. The cute, awkward moppet from 1995’s Clueless, who grew (or, I should say, shrank) into the haunted victim in “Don’t Say A Word” before receding into tabloid stories about her tiny frame, erratic behavior, and possible drug use and/or eating disorder. She was 32.


OK, not really, and that’s rude and glib. But it’s also the reality of how we chew through celebrity in this country – turning every young actress into a starlet, then a sideshow. Why can’t they just be entertainers and performers? Do they have to become fodder? The LA Coroner has attributed the manner of death to “natural causes” but really, she was killed by popular culture.

If you do eat (as I suspect most of my readers do), I can inform you that my annual Christmas Cookie bake-a-thon has been a rousing success. I made Hermits, Linzer tarts, Gingerbread Men, Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Glazed Toffee Bars, Scottish Shortbread, and Peanut Butter Chubbies. It would take way too much space to give you the recipe for all of these, so my gift to you will be the recipe for the Peanut Butter Chubbies. This may not sound like much, but wait til you try these cookies – they are the best cookies ever. Plus, who doesn’t want a Chubbie for Christmas?

Peanut Butter Chubbies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a large cookie sheet. (It’s best to use your largest cookie sheet and cook these all in one batch; the cookies cannot be transferred from the sheet until they’ve been baked and completely cooled.

Whisk together 1 cup flour with ¼ teaspoon salt. Add 5 ½ tablespoons (two-thirds of a stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (butter must be cold,) 3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Beat on low speed (or by hand) until the mixture just begins to hold together. Add, and beat until well-blended, 12-14 peanut butter cups, chopped, and ½ cup finely chopped unsalted peanuts.

Shape into one-inch balls and space them about 1½ inches apart on the cookie sheet. Bake until faintly tinted brown, about 16-20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before transferring, otherwise cookies will be too crumbly.

Well, this tin can is finally moving, and I might get home in less than 8 hours.


No comments:

Post a Comment