Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's the Fur

So...I was at the Rite-Aid shopping for Easter Candy with my friend Ka...(oops, no names, we'll call her, "Bunny." And, actually, Bunny was shopping for mascara, it was I who ventured over into the Easter Candy aisle.)  After pointing out a chocolate bunny filled with coconut, Bunny told me she's not a fan of coconut and told me about an Easter cake her grandmother used to make.

Apparently, the cake was bunny-shaped (thus the too-cute nickname) and covered in white frosting and coconut.  Bunny and her sister didn't really groove on the coconut, and would protest to grandma, "We don't like coconut."

So, Grandma, calling upon years of child-rearing, offered, "There's no coconut!"

Now, you've seen these cakes in magazines and such over the years - shockingly white, reeking of sugar even through the glossy pages of Southern Living or Good Housekeeping, and obviously totally covered in coconut.  "No, Grandma, that's coconut."  But Grandma couldn't be deterred.

"That's not coconut.  It's the fur."

This is where we pause to consider the relative wisdom of papering over a child's finicky palate by trying to convince her that the offending food item is actually animal fur.  How is this more comforting?

You've got to admire her spunk, though.  And I love the metaphor.  "It's the fur."  I think I'm making that my new phrase; a way to identify when someone is trying to make something unpalatable more desirable and instead, makes it worse.

Which brings me to several events of the past week.  Let's do it old school Q&A-style this week, folks?  What do you say?  (Like you can argue.  I'm totally driving here.)

1.  Will it ever stop snowing?

Clearly, not.  When I woke up Thursday morning at 6:00 to large romantic flakes falling outside our living room picture window, I was thrilled.  This storm was largely unaccompanied by the usual 11 days of hype about some approaching "Storm of the Century" (why does TV news have to accompany every event with rhetoric that sounds like it was scripted by the people who write the coming attractions for nighttime soap operas?)  Instead, you got to feel like you were discovering the event for yourself - and it was gorgeous as the snow continued to fall throughout the day.

It was a lot less amusing when it was still snowing a day and a half later.

Friday morning, as I headed out to the gym, my travails through a landscape covered with more than 24 hours of snowfall felt like a scene from Fargo.  The storm began with those big wet flakes that mixed to slush for the first few hours of the storm.  As result, when the snow became "snowier" it built on top of two or three thick inches of wet icy slush.  Cars and pedestrians slid everywhere; snow-shovelers heaved small scoopfuls weighted down by that heavy mush.  And - with February 2010 becoming the snowiest single month ever on record in New York, the mood rapidly veered from the ordinary frustration of a heavy snowfall to something darker and more suited to the fact that its been snowing almost non-stop for three months and there's no end in sight.

It's the fur.

2.  Will there ever be a comprehensive health insurance reform bill?

OK.  First, can we please start calling this health insurance reform and not health care reform?  When the media calls it health care reform, I feel like we're going to eschew antibiotics and clinical medicine for leeches and chanting.

What we're really trying to do is prevent individuals with insurance from going bankrupt if they get sick, because the current business model is designed to incent companies for figuring out ways to avoid paying your claim.  And prevent people from not having coverage because then getting sick means potentially dying for lack of care - especially preventive care.  And prevent companies from spending so much of their revenue on insurance that they can't give you a raise or hire more workers so you don't have to work 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, with no extra pay.

Anyway, there was another summit at the White House this week (remember when these summits were quaint homey affairs focused on beer and race relations?  Aah, the good old days.)

There's a split opinion on this; most will agree it was a stalemate, but some will tell you the Republicans won because they didn't look completely like rabid obstructionists bent on destroying the President (though John Boehner and John McCain couldn't resist coming across as more concerned with blocking comprehensive legislation while Lamar Alexander somehow managed to be the most reasonable person in the room.  This is sort of surprising since Alexander's last brush with notoriety included multiple Presidential campaigns where his main strategy was wearing a red plaid flannel shirt and driving a tractor.)

Others will tell you that the President won because a stalemate gives him moral authority to say, "I won the election; people voted for change; and in the absence of compromise I'm doing it through reconciliation - forcing an up or down majority vote rather than being forced into an unconstitutional super-majority to get any business done."

But the tactical "who-won?" analysis ignores the larger issue which has been the undercurrent of the President's problem for nearly a year.

Setting aside the lack of articulating a coherent narrative for his presidency (how about: "In this time of huge challenges facing our nation, we must all come together with an understanding that shared sacrifice and systemic reforms are necessary to bring this nation into the 21st Century with a strong middle class, a growing economy, and the innovations in science and technology necessary to achieve both.")  The bigger issue is that the President broke his gut values connection with the American people.

In the fantastic book, "Applebee's America" by Matthew Dowd, Doug Sosnik and Ron Fournier, the authors - political operatives and pollsters from both parties - talk about the importance of making, and not breaking, a gut values connection with the citizenry as a key factor in winning elections, growing businesses, or attracting audiences.  For Obama, his entire gut values connection was built around his message about a "new kind of politics."  The entire rhetoric of "Hope" and "Change" wasn't just inspired by the substance of his policies, but how he was going to achieve them.

Now, every four years, one - if not both - of the presidential candidates make "changing the tone in Washington" a theme of their campaign.  But Obama, especially in his primary battle against Hillary Clinton, made process more of an issue.  He wasn't just running against Bush or the Republican candidate or the tone in Washington.  He was running against his own party, in a way. Against the triangulation and compromise and bad feelings of the Clinton years.  He gathered up the frustration and the energy and the disappointment of all those people who saw their expectations of the last Democratic administration wind up on a blue Gap dress in an evidence bag.

Personally, I never believed there was any such thing as a "new kind of politics."  The Clinton years proved that the nature of politics with adversarial parties is opposition, and breaking through obstruction takes a leader who realizes that politics is more about warfare than it is about compromise.  Or rather, it's about getting to a compromise by forcing your opponent to blink.  (Bush understood this, which is how he got re-elected: he pushed forward with his agenda in the absence of a mandate - or even a popular vote majority - and dared democrats to vote against it.  He, however, broke his gut values connection - which was based on "Trust" in the shadow of the Clinton years - by lying to the public about WMD in Iraq.)  This is why I supported Hillary in the primaries; I felt we needed a warrior, not a conciliator.

Anyway, for Obama, when you tell people you're going to change the process, you have to change the process.  Instead, what the public saw was bailouts for bankers, escalating unemployment, foreclosures, expensive federal programs that don't seem to be changing the game for the middle class, and business as usual in Congress with lobbyists controlling the policy and members feasting at the trough of federal pork.

It's the fur.

3.  What happened to that kid from Growing Pains?

I really wanted to make some sort of dirty joke about the fact that he played a character named "Boner" and some line about the irony of a Boner disappearing in middle age.  But I'm not in the Catskills, it's not 1973, and now that guy's dead.  That's not funny.

That's the fur.

4.  Did anything funny happen this week?

Yes.  First, I was on the phone with Bunny yesterday (she is SO going to kill me when she reads this) who was cracking up that I resorted to voice mail, email and IM to track her down.  "Do you have cabin fever because of the snow?  You're like my kids."  To which I inquired whether I was going to be sent outside to burn off the expend the excess energy?

"Yes.  Go find a stranger to play with."

That could have been the title of a book about my 20s.

Also, another friend/co-worker - who will totally be the first person to read this, and I'm out of nicknames, but I'll call her Sunshine - inspired me to remember my favorite awful dessert.  I've been making it for 10 years - it requires no baking - and it's AWESOME.  And awful.  You'll love it.

White Trash Chocolate Pie:

1 pre-made pie shell, preferably the Oreo kind.
1 layer of Jell-O chocolate instant pudding
1 layer of chocolate chips
1 layer of Jell-O white chocolate or vanilla instant pudding
1 layer of mashed up cookies (animal crackers work well)
1 layer of Jell-O chocolate instant pudding
1 layer of cool whip or other chemically enhanced whipped topping
Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, mashed up Oreos, sprinkles, M&Ms or anything you happen to have lying around.

Do not serve this to children.  Ever.

5.  Are you almost done, Eric?

Yeah, yeah.  Besides, it's Saturday and Neil is making those romantic noises I hear on Saturdays.  Like, "Do the laundry." and "Clean the bathroom."

That's love, folks.  It's like a snowfall.  Sometimes it's romantic, and sometimes...

it's the fur.

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