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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Letter to a Republican Friend on Nov 5, 2008

Hi John,

I read your take on this election with interest, as I do all your commentary--unless it's of the one or two-word variety! My take is of course going to be different, but before we get to that, I'd like to say that history offers us few moments or chances to grasp at change or greatness. This seems to be one of them. The consistent underestimation of Obama shown by the GOP and McCain should not blind you to this moment, if you really do want solutions to our imploding economy, health care system, national security, and prison and educational systems, which seem similarly and eerily related.

In other words: I hope you will suck it up and help, because, in the words of the Grateful Dead, "this train's got to run today."

Now to your take, with its attempts at spinning this election. To recap:

Despite your characterizations, the results are not a narrow electoral victory eked out by Boss Tweed types working urban precincts. The gap in popular voting is 7 million in favor of Obama. Gore, as you recall, won the popular vote in 2000. Bush won it in 2004 by 100,000 votes. This is a mandate.

The new voter reg and turnout wasn't just black and hispanic, but massive amounts of students, who finally voted instead of sitting in their dorms playing Nintendo and beer pong. The amount of student participation and their fervor is amazing, unheard of. They are the reason Indiana and North Carolina and former red states swung blue. Nor were they credulous airheads. They ran their own campaigns, they mastered the new technologies, they debated issues amongst themselves. They didn't need us. Indeed, they outstripped us at every turn. This is a new day, and one I am having trouble getting used to, but it is real.

Again regarding the urban precinct slur, I know dozens of middleaged white people who spent hours making calls on their own phones during the last weeks, and half a dozen who left their jobs and lives and went somewhere to canvass for votes on their own dime. They were dead serious individuals with houses, mortgages, kids in school, ruined 401Ks--far from woolly headed gay socialists sipping lattes.

Tactics and strategy of course played a major role. Obama and his team had the clarity of mind to devise and hold to a strategy that proved out despite every twist and turn. The only thing you can compare it to is Reagan's own 20 year honing of his less govt less tax message, which was, ironically, what they ended up running against, as it happened to implode in Sept.

The GOP had no strategy. The President was Republican. Congress had been Republican controlled for 6 years. McCain was a 26 year insider. So the GOP ran a tactics race, because they couldn't figure out how to sell McCain as an alternative to a failed government. The Wall Street Journal has reported on this several times; see today's article:

The tactics chosen were familiar. They'd worked against Gore and Kerry. For Obama, the game was to assume that most Americans are ignorant (Obama is a secret Muslim-marxist/socialist-
terrorist-antiChrist-with no birth certificate), racist (he's black, a coke dealer, porno star (yes that was out there)) and easy to fool: see all of the preceding plus this: a $5K health insurance credit to solve all your problems--amazingly out of touch; trickle down tax policy that will raise us all up--even though after 20 years of tax cuts the income gap has worsened faster and is now wider than at any point in our history; and the answer to everything is to privatize, esp Social Security--oops, what just happened to my 401K?.

The Obama campaign fought back with information, which thanks to the Internet moves a lot faster now. They used a weapon which is hard to blunt: the truth. They were the ones who put data and position papers online, and let people read them for themselves.

The GOP put out nothing but vague planks of their platform. The real message of the GOP would be in code, and it would be wink-wink, we know what we're talking about here...

Today we've seen how badly they miscalculated. And were outfought, outplanned, and outmanned. Most of all, Obama and the Dems won by the superiority of their convictions and ideas. Obama's vote effort ran on an army of volunteers, and a volunteer army beats the mercenaries, if given enough time to train and deploy--just like the American army in WWII up against the war-hardened Wermacht.

The GOP hierarchy lost the truth war by not ever competing. They also lost out on manners and human decency. Their words drip scorn and hatred; their hired assassins in the media made fun of hope, of idealism, of diversity--and intelligence. They offered sneers and insults. They blustered and threatened violence.

In the end, like any schoolyard bully, they crumpled and stand revealed as pathetic whiners, a party of the selfish and of lobbyists in tasseled loafers who pretend to be "real" authentic Americans while, in McCain's case, living in 7 houses, driving 13 cars, flying in a private jet and marrying into a fortune and a readymade political career.

John, your perspective is grudgingly gracious, as suits the day after a hard battle. But before you fire the first shot in the next GOP war on over 50% of the electorate, you might want to retreat to a quiet corner and ask yourself how the party you love became such a Grinch. Ask why they run on high octane hate and ridicule. Ask what they offer the young except undercutting and cynicism.

Finally, I'm going to lower my blood pressure by vowing to hug a Republican this Xmas. I suggest you try the same with a Democrat, if you can find one. If you can't bring yourself to it, think about that deep vein of anger the GOP accidentally and fatally tapped when through Fox, Palin, Limbaugh and other demagogues they accused Obama supporters of not being true Americans.

It turns out there are many more of us than they ever imagined. It turns out there are more of us than you.

Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas in Hawaiian)!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Barak the Bodysurfer - The October Surprise

Who is Barak Obama? What else is there to know about him? Is there anything left to discover or italicize after 20 months of increasing scrutiny?

With just 10 days left in the election, the answer is a surprising “yes.” And it’s appropriate for discussion (unlike the increasingly sleazy rumors being floated by the ultra-conservative hate machine), given that candidate Obama has curtailed campaigning to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.

Here’s my big reveal: Barry Obama is a bodysurfer. Not only that, as a highschooler in Hawaii he practiced his sport at Sandy Beach, the most dangerous beach in the world.

For confirmation of that stat, check out this 2002 Honolulu Advertiser clip:

As to Obama’s choice of sport, it’s here in my August 2008 blog, after his visit to Hawaii:

“Barak went local in a Friday statement, as reported by many sources, including Michael Falcone of the New York Times, in a time-honored way for a politician–by evoking food, the ur-indigenous reference point. “I might go to Zippy’s. I might go to Rainbow Drive-In. I might go get some shave ice,” the candidate said, adding, “I’m going to go body-surfing at an undisclosed location.”

Aside from the undisclosed beach, which every local bodysurfer could identify with a 90 percent degree of certainty–but will never tell Fox News--“5-0-Bama” was delivering a specific message. He was locating himself in a specific neighborhood, Kapahulu-Diamond Head, where my wife and her family grew up, and where the candidate’s half-sister lives. That he did it by his choice of drive-ins is most appropriate to Hawaii.”

I have it on good authority (my wife went to Obama’s high school, Punahou, and her brother John was a classmate of the Democratic candidate) that Barak was a Sandy Beach guy. In Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, that’s not surprising, but it is a sign of beach cred. (That’s what they call street cred in Hawaii.)

Bodysurfing Sandy Beach is a big indicator of your capacity for mastering fear and terror, for hanging out and getting down local-style, for being one of the guys and wahines--and servicemen who make Sandy Beach their number one stop for guts and glory-flavored R&R. (All of which is pretty darned Main Street, Madame Palin!)

Now, I know Hawaii and I know Sandy Beach. In fact, the only time I’ve been to the emergency room for a beach- or ocean-related accident was after nearly snapping my neck there. There is a horrible sound your neck makes after you’ve planted your face in sand where you thought there was water–that’s the sound of Sandy Beach.

So why do people go there? Because it is a wave machine. When the swells are pumping, they jack up so steeply, so suddenly, that they create ramps of water that resemble skateboard half-pipes. And, for bodysurfers who can handle the possibility of pain and paralysis, those watery ramps that exist only for a few seconds are the gateway to an amazing ride, a compression of skill, risk and speed into a single samurai action.

What rock climbers are doing on El Capitan, what backcountry skiers are doing jumping off ledges, what Laird Hamilton is doing on Jaws with his tow-in surfski, is what the boys and girls of Sandy Beach are getting a piece of every day they pile into the car after school and head out to the sun-baked Oahu strand.

Think you now know everything about Obama and bodysurfing? Hang on a moment longer, because I’m still not convinced you get this thing called bodysurfing. It’s not surfing. Meaning it’s not Gidget, not Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, not even Sean Penn as Spicoli the Surfer in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Not the Beach Boys, not the bushy-bushy blond dudes running down to the water carrying sharp-tipped plastic boards (that actually kind of resemble Masai shields, when you let your mind drift in a certain, Obama-esque direction)

Bodysurfing is also not the current icon of cool in car ads that board surfing has become–all those Abercrombie models posing with their plastic planks and six-pack abs. That’s because it’s a purist sport, first of all. Nobody sells clothes, sunglasses, cars, etc, using bodysurfers.

It’s also a sport virtually without equipment–your board is your body. That’s really interesting, if you ask me (and I am a bodysurfer, obviously). Imagine skiing without skiis, snowboarding without a snowboard, and you begin to see what it’s all about.

Now, living in New York City as I do, I know the East Coast has a type of bodysurfing all its own. No offense, folks, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Like 99% of the ocean swimming population, you think bodysurfing is when a swimmer goes straight ahead and either glides forward on the foam of a breaking wave, or flips ass-over-teakettle.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun either way. I’ve done it at Jones Beach along with the millions of gawking bathers on a 100-degree July 4th weekend.

But Hawaiian-style bodysurfing is something else. (I call it Hawaiian out of deference to the people who gave us surfing as a cultural activity, but like surfing itself, it is a global phenomenon, albeit one practiced largely in Hawaii and Southern California.) In this version, the swimmer kicks hard into the wave, but instead of going straight launches sideways. That’s right, the swimmer moves in a lateral direction.

Let’s put you into the bodysurfing frame of mind. A wave lurches into view on the horizon; you scan it quickly, looking for the critical point where it will break first, and swim right up to that looming avalanche of water. Then, letting it lift you up as it passes, you flutter-kick and stroke hard for an instant, launching yourself sideways off the cliff.

On a large wave, such as those Obama must have faced and taken at Sandy Beach, we’re talking about a 10 to 25-foot drop. Face-first. With a powerful fist of water hanging over your head and back and spinal column, about to pound you into the shallow sand below.

So what do you do? You have fun with the free-fall. And you turn your body into a planing surface, like a ship that uses hydrofoils. Your body becomes the board.

In a split-second, while falling forward and down at a high rate of speed, the swimmer gains control by planing on the wave-face’s wall, doing this by riding on the flat of an outstretched hand and arm. That arm and hand are like the tobaggon that the bodysurfer is riding.

Next, shooting along just ahead of the breaking wave (in the manner you’ve seen in countless video clips of board surfers and boogieboarders), the swimmer maneuvers, spins, loops, ducks under the wave’s falling lip...

Imagine for a moment that you can fly, speeding like Superman, or at least Clark Kent in a Speedo. That’s bodysurfing.

And that’s a pretty good description of Barak Obama handling all the ups and downs and amazing twists and gut-clenching insults of this Presidential campaign.

Some shots from the Sandy Beach 2007 Classic competition:

Saturday, October 04, 2008

For the Dodgers, A Baseball Poem

Note: I grew up in Long Beach, just a mile from the McDonnell Douglas aircraft plant where the world's greatest all-purpose aircraft, the DC3, was built by men who were also baseball fans. In fact, across Carson Blvd from the factory gates was a hotdog stand run by a former Dodger star...

coming in
just after the noon whistle
the men shuffling out of the aircraft plant, lunch pails in hand
sandwiches already eaten at the 10 am break
this one is for hotdogs at Ron Fairley's Dugout
and suds, suds, suds
until it's time
to put the rivets onto another

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To a Neighbor, Obama’s Hawaiian Drive-In Choices Explain a Lot

During his week of vacation in Hawaii, Barak “5-0" Obama has kept a low profile and added to his reputation for being in the right place at the right time–in this case, given the John Edwards affair, out of the headlines. Always a great place to vacation, Hawaii has an extra advantage for a politician, because of the six-hour time difference between Honolulu and New York City. Unless it’s a pack of Zeros coming in over the Wai’anae Mountains at 7:00 a.m. on December 7th, it’s hard to make media waves, something the candidate and his handlers probably counted on.

But that doesn’t mean Obama didn’t leave analysts something to chew on. You just had to know where to look–and be able to think “local.” This humble word, so popular now in organic food circles, is the key signifier in Hawaii, a land of many visitors, many migrants and immigrants, and many ethic groups--and thus in need of one way of denoting who is from “here” and who is from “there.” In Hawaii this week Barak gave clear proof that he is indeed a local, despite the Chicago community activism, despite the sharp silhouette he cuts in a suit, despite looking, yes, different from all those other presidents.

Barak went local in a Friday statement, as reported by many sources, including Michael Falcone of the New York Times, in a time-honored way for a politician–by evoking food, the ur-indigenous reference point. “I might go to Zippy’s. I might go to Rainbow Drive-In. I might go get some shave ice,” the candidate said, adding, “I’m going to go body-surfing at an undisclosed location.”

Aside from the undisclosed beach, which every local bodysurfer could identify with a 90 percent degree of certainty–but will never tell Fox News--“5-0-Bama” was delivering a specific message. He was locating himself in a specific neighborhood, Kapahulu-Diamond Head, where my wife and her family grew up, and where the candidate’s half-sister lives. That he did it by his choice of drive-ins is most appropriate to Hawaii.

Hawaii has a glorious tradition of drive-ins, sadly diminished over time by development and mainland franchises, but Zippy’s and Rainbow, both located a few blocks apart on Kapahulu Avenue, are two of the great remnants. Up until the early Reagan years Honolulu seemed like a place where clocks had stopped in 1956, and you could get a teriyaki burger and a frosted mug of root beer delivered to your Chevy’s window by a carhop.

A local franchise, Zippy’s is the more upscale by far of the two Obama mentioned, offering indoor seating and a diabetic coma-inducing dessert menu to go with its saimin noodles, Portuguese sausage and egg-over-rice breakfasts, and the Island standby, chili rice. Rainbow is the funky spot, with a tricky parking lot and a lunch crowd of construction and state workers who order massive cholesterol-laden plate lunches that typically include double scoops of macaroni salad and rice to go with the entree: teriyaki or katsu chicken or beef, hamburger patties in gravy--and, of course, more chili rice.

Thus the brief quote by “5-O-B” is, when you parse it further, a masterpiece of nuance and concision. By coupling Zippy’s and Rainbow, he went high-low, and earned the candidate points from all income, ethnic and cultural levels. Mentioning shave ice, the favored local dessert of flavored syrups poured over a mound of snowy shavings, connected to the kid in everyone.

Furthermore, by specifiying that he “might go for a Zip Min,” Zippy’s saimin noodle bowl loaded to the max, he dismissed an issue that has plagued his campaign: that he is someone who lacks a serious appetite. The steaming noodles in the Zip Min come topped with crispy shrimp, fish cake, egg and wun tun (or as they call them on the Mainland, won ton dumplings). The Zip Min is a Hawaiian Whopper, the kind of meal that mandates an appetite such as might be raised by a morning bodysurfing run to Sandy Beach. Since this is exactly what Barak Obama says he’s going to do on his vacation, his street credibility here goes off the scale:

I just know the dude has been there, like me, standing in line at Rainbow’s, no shirt, wearing flip-flops, with sand in his ears, jellyfish stings in his baggys, and sea-snot running out his nose from going over the falls and getting thrashed in Sandy Beach shorebreak. After that, only chili rice and a root beer float will do.

While it’s just one quote, it’s a masterpiece of local cool, the equivalent of Abe Lincoln’s pose as the “rail-splitter from Illinois.” It’s an affirmation that, far from being an elitist carpetbagger who cares only for his waistline, Obama is a real guy. Thanks to the above, I now feel, beyond a doubt, that I know who Barak Obama is–a bodysurfer in more ways than one, capable of riding this wave all the way to the biggest bowl of saimin of them all.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Murder Someone and Get Away With It

Thought that would get your attention! First, FBI and local authorities, rest assured there is no evil intent here--more in the nature of a warning for first responders at sea. In particular, the Coast Guard and local marine police.

Second, consider the way the Western world has ritualized and merchandised murder: not just Murder Inc (the mob) and Murder Ink (the bookstore), but all the Law & Orders, CSIs, Homicides, alphabetical-titled serial killer novels and their ilk. It's really the one industry America can't out-source.

We're murder-mad. The writing is a form of scripture. The meager plot is always the same: serial killer, maverick cop, pissy superiors... What we like is the drapery hung over the bones of the deceased.

Ian Rankin is a writer I'm very fond of, but I admit I'm a sucker for his serial killer plots because a), they take place in a grunge universe called Scotland, which suits my mood; and b) he drapes the bones of his plots in great songs and lyrics drawn from the dour 60-ish English-Scots-Irish-American-depressed-drinkers songbook. Oh, and c) nobody on the police side in his books carries a gun until it's too late.

Would've saved Sean Bell, that last.

Not a total digression, and no, I haven't forgotten the promise of the title: How to Murder Someone and Get Away With It. In my last post, I wrote of the stupidity of landlubber criminals who think that stealing a boat (and murdering the owners) is a ticket to paradise. See: John Fitzgerald Kennedy (the murderer in Long Beach, CA not the dead President). See: Palmyra Atoll Murders (a story I worked to get in print, unsuccessfully, years before Vincent Bugliosi's very good book).

Well, I was partly wrong in thinking only meth addicts and the spawn of those raised on reality television would call this boat-stealing business a plan. It turns out that it is very hard to successfully prosecute those who commit murder at sea so long as a) they dispose of the body so that it cannot be found; b) do the deed outside the 12-mile limit; and c) call in a Mayday so that the Coast Guard or other responder muddies up the crime scene before they know it is a crime scene.

I found this out in the process of following and editing a story about the Joe Cool, a yacht that was hijacked off Miami (by quite a pair: a former Guantanamo prison guard and his now-gay former prisoner! jeez!). My writer on the piece, Vince Daniello, himself a boat captain, was appalled at what he discovered about the loopholes for crime at sea. He says he's going to be extra-careful checking out bona fides for any who want to charter the yachts he works on...

Check out Vince's story: Who Killed Joe Cool? (It was one of my last before Yachting cast me adrift in a skiff with a jug of water, a bowl o' haggis and a parrot who likes talking dirty...)

Anyway, this dirty little secret about crime at sea is apparently folklore in stir: reaching a lot of criminals and petty cons and grifters looking for a dream score. So they aren't so stupid after all. Depressing thought, but inescapable as this has been going on a good long while, and nobody on the right side of the law has made much of a fuss about it.

Indeed, that's why you had Miami Vice--the real version--filling the news in the 80s with so many crimes and smuggling exploits in the Caribbean. Nobody stayed in jail for long.

The new motto: What happens outside the 12-mile limit, stays outside the 12-mile limit.

P.S. Here's our 18th Century (or earlier) word of the day: Ilk.

As in "serial killer novels and their ilk." Well, turns out this is a Scottish clan name--like the Campbells and the MacDonalds--and, yes, there is a chap who calls himself Lord of the Ilk. It must be hard for his scribe not to sign off on all his proclamations with the linguistic equivalent of the 120 places of pi: "Lord of the Ilk and all their ilk and all their ilk and all THEIR ilk and all their ilk...."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Something in the sea that sings of murder

What is it about petty criminals that when they get desperate they always seem to dream up a plan that involves something about which they know absolutely nothing--so the plan inevitably goes wrong, and ends up in murder...?

Why does it always seem to involve a yacht and a girl--and an escape plan that depends wholly on an Automobile Club map of Mexico...?

That was the one in Los Angeles a couple of years ago--3 bored punks (one bizzarely named John Fitzgerald Kennedy) pretended to want to buy a boat from a nice couple. So they all went for a test drive and killed the retired pair without a thought. And for what? They didn't know enough about boats to even point it the right way...had to call the Coast Guard to be rescued!

Same kind of story just happened in Miami this year aboard the Joe Cool. It's always the amateurs who think all they have to do is go to sea and the world will reward them with coconuts and the policia will forget them. These guys killed a young couple and the captain, then, yup, had to call the Coast Guard when they ran out of gas near Cuba.

Something in our psyche makes us stupid around great waters... Or maybe makes the stupid lethal...