Shaking hands – or not

Shaking hands is an almost universal and very ancient custom likely begun to show that neither person was holding a weapon.  Is it time to give up the custom?  And if we do, what would we replace it with?  I started thinking about this important question after reading Scott Lehigh’s column in today’s Boston Globe.

Let’s call our group of health-conscious citizens POSH: People Opposed to Shaking Hands.

Which brings me to the silver lining: This is the only time of year when it’s socially acceptable to refuse a handshake. Confronted with a presumptuously proffered paw, one need only invoke this magical phase: “The health experts say you really shouldn’t shake hands in flu season.”

If only those experts would make that a year-round recommendation. I mean, what, really, is the point? I’d understand it if humans were like those old cast-iron water pumps, and you had to lift and lower their arms a few times to bring forth a flow of conversation. But most folks I encounter are so impulsively chatty they feel no compunction whatsoever about sallying right into subjects that are none of their business. Like, say, why you don’t want to shake hands.

I know, I know, some people see it as a mark of friendship. But here at POSH, we see an outstretched hand for what it is: An amphibious landing craft crammed with an infantry of infectious microbes.

“OK, boys, we’re about to make contact. Move fast, travel light, and dig in as soon as you can.  Cold, Cough, and Fever, take the lead.”

I’ve been known to say that I have a cold so the other person doesn’t want to shake hands with me so I guess I’m a member of POSH.

I suggest we substitute another form of greeting.

There is the Japanese custom of bowing.  In Japan there can be complicated rules about the deepness of the bow to indicated relative social importance, but we don’t have to adopt that, we can just place our hands on our thighs or at our sides and incline slightly from the waist.

Or we could adopt the Sanskrit, namaste, which has more spiritual significance.

Finally, there is the good American fist bump.

Obama Fist Bump

Dap, first bump, whatever you call it: Barack and Michelle Obama showed their togetherness.

Even Mitt does it!

From christopherstreet

And Dubya tried.

So I’m with Scott Lehigh – lets stop shaking hands.

Belichick, the Pats, and the 2012 Campaign

I am not a big football fan, but you can’t live in New England without knowing about Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, and his monosyllabic style.  Here is it captured perfectly by Dan Wasserman.

02.05BELICHICKIAN.gif

The Pats lost yesterday as we know here in Boston, but one of these guys will be the next President.

Democratic Results from New Hampshire

According to this new report in Politico.com, President Obama got 49,480 votes in the Democratic primary and 282 votes in the Republican primary.  Tim Mak notes, however, that

The nearly 300 votes are not enough to award Obama any delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla.

Republicans also got votes in the Democratic primary.

The Republican Congressman [Ron Paul] from Texas led all write-ins in the Democratic primary with 2,273, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 1,808 and and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 1,228
I think this just goes to show how strange the voting can get in New Hampshire.  The votes for Huntsman and Paul, I can understand but Dems voting for Mitt not so much.
 
Glenn Thrush later updated this and explained the Romney vote
Ron Paul got 2,273 Democratic write-ins but, as one GOP operative pointed out, those might have been anti-war or anti-Wall Street protest votes. The Romney Democrats likely switched for other reasons: The economy, the deficit, frustration with big government, etc.

A Dem official pushed back – and said the crossover tally is low to average. In 1996, for instance, Pat Buchanan received 3,347 votes in the Democratic primary, and Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes, and Bob Dole were all over 1,250.

“If anything,” the Democrat says, “Romney should be concerned he didn’t receive more write-ins on the Democratic ballot.”

There are caveats, of course. Republicans were actively recruiting Democrats for weeks up to the primary and pushing hard to whip up a Democrats-for-Mitt storyline.

Mitt “Mittens” Willard Romney

No one is claiming the campaign will be easy for the President.

Did Obama win Iowa?

Mitt Romney won the Republican Caucus by 8 votes over Rick Santorum.  They both got just under 25% of the vote followed closely by Ron Paul.  You can read this as 75% of the vote went to other Republicans with the two closest rivals representing extreme positions.  Two interesting comments I heard on the MSNBC coverage last night.  First, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts noted that he thinks Mitt’s 25% is about what his support is.  Not clear if he was talking about Iowa or generally amoung Republicans.  Second, Rev. Al Sharpton who hoped that Santorum and/or Paul stayed in the race for a while so that Mitt had to keep moving right to get the nomination.

(Daniel Acker for The New York Times)

Robert Creamer writes in the Huffington Post today that the Iowa was bad news for the Republican establishment which just wants to nominate Mitt and be done with it.

To maximize their odds of reclaiming their hold on the White House, the Republican establishment believes they need two things:

• To nominate Mitt Romney;
• To effectively end the Republican nominating process as soon as possible.

Last night’s results from Iowa lower the odds they will get either.

In fact, what we saw in Iowa last night was the Republican base gagging on the presidential candidate the Republican establishment is trying desperately to cram down their throats.

The problem is that Mitt is not good at displaying human qualities.  Brian McGrory wrote in his column in today’s Boston Globe

For not foreseeing his rise from the State House to, potentially, the White House, I shouldn’t, in truth, be so hard on myself. Romney has made a habit of getting in his own way.

First, there was the small matter of that gubernatorial campaign. His very best day was the one right before he declared. On the stump, he was, in a word, terrible – hollow and plastic in speeches and mannerisms. “How are you?’’ he would repeatedly ask, never waiting for a response.

There was one October campaign swing through Boston’s North End with Rudy Giuliani when a burly laborer in a crowded Mike’s Pastry called out “Let me buy you guys a cannoli.’’ Brilliant, I thought. The cameras would capture Romney with ricotta cheese on his strong chin, a man of the people. Then Romney called back, “No thanks, got to run,’’ as he headed for the door. He said it with that nervous smile, which was still frozen on his face when Giuliani said to the guy “Let me buy you the cannoli!’’ The place erupted in cheers.

Mitt and the establishment have other problems.  Like the fact that Rick Santorum was able to peak at the right time and become the anti-Mitt.  Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will also continue in the race.

All of which leads me to ask whether Obama actually won Iowa.  He had some 25000 people show up to watch a live message, signed up over 7000 new volunteers and has 8 field offices open in Iowa.  He had almost as many people at meaningless caucuses as Romney, Santorum and Paul each got as vote totals.  Sure maybe people aren’t as excited as in 2008 and everyone – even supporters  can name at least one thing he did they don’t like, but I’m with Rev. Al:  Let this go on for a while and let Mitt move to the right.  Then we shall see what the general election will bring.  Even better the Republicans could nominate Santorum.  Howard Fineman said in the Huffington Post late last night: 

The final Iowa results aren’t in but we already know one big winner: President Barack Obama.

The dismal, nasty campaign here was not good for the Republican Party or the country. There was precious little debate on anything other than who literally was Holier than Thou; the dollars spent on attack ads were, vote for vote, enormous. One GOP top finisher is unpopular with the base; another is too far out of the mainstream to be nominated, let alone elected; the third lost his last Senate race, in Pennsylvania, by 17 points, and is far to the right of the country on social issues.

All of which is good news for a president with a 40 percent job approval rating and a desperate need for a weak opponent next November.

The winner in Iowa.

I’ll leave Richard Viguerie with the last word.  In an interview today with the New York Times, Viguerie said

The conservative direct mail pioneer and activist Richard Viguerie predicted that the pack would continue to seek out a more ideologically pure standard-bearer this year than it did in accepting Senator John McCain as the Republican nominee in 2008.

“Romney has just seemed to have gone out of his way to try to get this nomination without giving conservatives anything, and that’s troubling to a lot of conservatives,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to go away quietly into that long dark nominating fight — I‘d be surprised if the conservatives didn’t mount a serious effort to derail Romney.”

On to New Hampshire!

The afternoon before Iowa

Yesterday we were out in South Hadley having our traditional family Japanese New Year brunch when talk turned to the 2012 election season and to Nate Silver’s piece in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.  Some very interesting stuff there.

For example:  Iowa is 91% white (the entire country is 74% white).  You knew that, right?  Did you know there are so few Jewish people, they don’t register as a percentage?  But, except for race and the fact the Jews did not migrate to Iowa, the state is a fairly good mirror.  Oh, except for turnout.  Iowa wins 67 to 57.   Iowa and New Hampshire have each picked 10 of the eventual nominees.  Iowa does better with Democrats picking 6 while NH has picked 5 from each party.  They have each picked the President correctly 3 times with Iowa having the most recent pick, President Obama.  The track record is not particularly spectacular, but all the candidates  are flocking there and political junkies are watching polls eagerly.

John Nichols writes in the Nation that the Republican candidates and their PACs will have spent upwards of $200 per vote when you count only television advertising.  Kinda of nuts.

Seriously? All this for an glorified straw poll?

That’s the problem with the caucus system, which operates on an only slightly better model on the Democratic side.

Huge amounts of money are spent to influence a very small percentage of the electorate—less than 20 percent of Iowans who are likely to vote Republican in November will participate in Tuesday’s caucuses, and most of them will leave after the balloting finishes. An even smaller number of Iowans will begin the process of choosing representatives to county conventions, who in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions at which Iowa’s national delegates are actually selected.

As of lunch time today, Real Clear Politics shows  Romney edging out Paul 22.8% to 21.5%.  Romney is not even projected to get as many votes as he did in 2008- 25.2%.  Nate Silver has the race a little closer with Romney edging out Paul 21.8 to 21.  It is all in how you weight the various polls.  Throw in an estimated 41% undecided and Iowa is anyone’s game.  I think it is a measure of the field that Republican’s can’t decide who to support.  Poor Jon Huntsman.  We all agreed yesterday that is the only sensible one in the bunch so he has no chance.  Probably lucky for Obama.

Rosie Moser, an undecided voter thinking of endorsing Michelle Bachmann, listened to former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in Independence, Iowa, on Monday.

(Daniel Acker for The New York Times)

Speaking of the President. he has been organizing in Iowa for more than a year and has more field offices that any of the Republicans.  It is will be interesting to see what the Democratic turn out is tomorrow night for a caucus that is already decided.  The link is to an interesting video on the Obama efforts from the New York Times

I think the polls are all done and we only need to wait for the caucus goers to speak.

The Myth of Majority

Nate Silver has posted an interesting chart on fivethirtyeight.com.  He points out that both FDR and LBJ had larger Congressional majorities when they were trying to legislate the New Deal and the Great Society.  And given that they also struggled with Congress, maybe Obama isn’t doing too badly. 

Silver points out

When F.D.R. took over the Presidency in 1933, the Democrats controlled 64 percent of the Senate seats and 73 percent (!) of the House seats, counting independents who were sympathetic to the party. And those numbers only increased over the next couple of midterms — during their peak during 1937-38, the Demorats [sic] actually controlled about 80 percent (!) of the seats in both chambers. Obama, by contrast, came into his term with 59 percent majorities in both chambers. That’s not much to complain about by the standards of recent Presidencies, but is nevertheless a long way from where F.D.R. stood during his first two terms, or for that matter where L.B.J.’s numbers were during the 1965-66 period, when the bulk of the Great Society programs were implemented.

F.D.R. and L.B.J. might have been great cleanup hitters — and you’ll get no argument from me that Obama’s aptitude at shepherding his agenda through Congress has been mixed, at best. But they basically spent the first several years of their Presidencies playing in the Congressional equivalent of Coors Field. Considering how dramatic the impact of the loss of just one Senate seat has been on both the perception and the reality of Obama’s agenda, that needs to be kept in mind when drawing the comparison.

Why hasn’t anyone pointed this out before?  We just all talk about Obama’s majority.

For non baseball fans, Coors Field is the archetype of a  hitter’s ballpark.

Harry Reid, Race, and the GOP

The new book “Game Change” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2008 Presidential is already upsetting a lot of people.  I’m certain that Sarah Palin will not be happy with Steve Schmidt’s comments about her for one.  But right now that is being overshadowed by a remark that Harry Reid made to them during an interview.

Harry Reid stands in the Capitol.

Reid told them that Barack Obama could be elected president because he is “light skinned” and lacks “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”   According to Politico

Embarrassed by the remarks and already facing a tough climb to reelection in the fall, Reid has reached out to the African American community, apologizing for his comments and highlighting his legislative record of backing civil rights issues important to the black community. He immediately won a showing of support from prominent Democratic black leaders, including the president, who accepted his apology and said he’s seen the “passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I’m concerned, the book is closed.”

Harry Reid might be ignorant and inarticulate but the Republicans are hypocrites. 

I think Ruth Marcus writing in the Washington Post today has it about right.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acted like an idiot.

Also, he was right.

It’s a measure of the suffocating culture of political correctness that it feels risky to say that. It’s a measure of the insulting how-dumb-do-they-think-we-are culture of incessant partisanship that Republicans leapt on Reid’s remarks as racist.

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.)

The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

But there’s a big difference between Reid 2008 and Jackson 1984 — or, more to the point, Lott 2002. When the then-soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Trent Lott said that the United States could have avoided “all these problems” if Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist campaign for president had succeeded, there was an unmistakable — if unintended — whiff of racism. As much as Republican critics would like to use the incident for partisan purposes, Reid’s blundering comments were made in the context of supporting an African American candidate, not praising a segregationist one.

Walter Russell Mead posted this on Politico’s Arena

Majority Leader Reid’s cretinous private remarks are creepy and disturbing. The GOP outrage is as phony as a three dollar bill and the ‘double standard’ charges don’t hold up. The difference is that Lott was praising the political wisdom and importance of Thurmond’s Dixiecrat campaign and that Lott gave a strong appearance of wishing that the segregationists had somehow won. Reid’s remarks reveal a man who is embarassingly and pathetically awkward and out of touch, but there’s nothing there that would give aid and comfort to organized racism in American life. The remarks give credence to the view that the time has come when Senator Reid should think about spending more time with his family; the voters of Nevada look like they are planning to help him achieve this next fall. Until then, the rest of us might do well by thinking about Senator Reid as little as humanly possible.

And Michael Steele of the Republican National Committee who called on Reid to resign said this is if he didn’t it showed a double standard from what happened to Trent Lott.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called Sunday for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to resign because of racial remarks, but Steele took the opposite view when a Republican Senate leader was facing similar calls.

 The Washington Post reported on Dec. 14, 2002: “Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele said last night that he was personally upset by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s praise for Sen. Strom Thurmond and his segregationist past, but said Lott should not be forced to relinquish his leadership position in the Senate. ‘Trent Lott apologized, but he needs to keep apologizing because this is a very sensitive issue to the black community,’ Steele (R) said at an event celebrating his election as Maryland’s first black lieutenant governor. ‘I know Trent Lott personally, and I know that this is not his intent. But it’s still unfortunate. And I think he needs to apologize a little bit more.’”

Steele was joined in his call for Reid to resign and in saying there was a “double standard” because Lott lost his leadership post by Senators Kyl and McConnell.  But isn’t an apology enough, Mr. Steele?

On the Democratic side, Doug Wilder (former Governor of Virginia) thinks Reid ought to apologize to the country while Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jim Clyburn and Al Sharpton are defending Reid.  I have no idea if Nevada has another Democrat who could run for Reid’s Senate seat this fall and win, but I think maybe they should look for someone quickly.

Palindromes and Palin-dromes

Yesterday was a palindrome date: 01/02/2010. 

According to the Boston Globe

Jan. 2, 2010, is the second such date out of 36 that occurs this millennium. The first was 10/02/2001.

Aziz Inan, a University of Portland electrical engineering professor, has been studying this phenomenon and speaks with great enthusiasm as he describes the history of palindrome dates.

Before 2001, he excitedly pointed out in an interview yesterday, the most recent was in 1380, since days of the month never exceed 31. The next date comes next year: 11/02/2011.

This reminded me of the contest that Alex Beam (Globe columnist) ran during the 2008 Presidential election.  Beam asked readers to send it Palin-dromes.  And, this being Boston, many did.  Here are some excerpts from various columns.

Serial palindromist George Lovely chips in, “Woe! Dawns Sarah harassn’ Wade. Ow!” where Wade refers to Roe v. Wade, of course. Alison Merrill sent in a serious candidate for world’s longest Palin-drome: ” ‘Ah! I made veep.’ – S.P. Moody? Baby? Doom? P.S. Peeved am I, ha!” In contrast, brevity is the soul of Ira Richler’s wit: “Peeve: Babe veep.”Bob Treitman sent me ” ‘Hey, did I harass?’ Sarah: ‘I did, yeh.’ ” From Hastings, in the United Kingdom, Paul Barlow put down the podger long enough to send in eight, repeat eight, vice-presidential palindromes! On McCain’s vice-presidential announcement, he writes, “Avid dog delivers reviled god-diva.” On Palin’s election as Alaska’a governor, “Hara! She won snow eh? Sarah?”

The Sarah Palin-dromes are still pouring in, so I haven’t chosen a contest winner yet. (A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backward or forward, the classic example being “Madam, I’m Adam.”) Barry Duncan of Somerville, who has the word “palindromist” in his e-dress, sent in 11 Palin-dromes - “a reversible number,” as he points out. I certainly like, “Ha! Rash Sarah!” and “Media harass Sarah? Aid ‘em!” Duncan invokes the palindromist’s motto – length isn’t everything – and then submits the astonishing: “Put up SP? Won’t I. Reviled to no. two? Veto VP, I. True! So Palin (a tundra-hard nut, a nil, a poseur) tip vote? Vow to not deliver it now. P.S. Put up!”Professor Stephen Morillo of Wabash College in Indiana co-authored a seemingly endless Palin-drome with Bob Binstock of Cambridge that rivals Duncan’s for length, but I can’t understand it. I get the beginning and the ending (“OK, now I rep U.S. . . . I’m super! I won! K.O.!”), but the middle seems opaque to me. Their shorter submission, which I do understand, has a major wire service passing judgment on McCain’s nominee: “Palin nil! – A.P.” Cindy Kumin sent me “P.S. Do go, ‘NO!’ on (O, God) S.P.” and John Cabot kicked in, “All I saw? Wasilla . . .” and “Party animal, am I? Nay, trap!”

As promised, I have chosen the winner of the Sarah Palin-drome contest. (A palindrome is a phrase that makes sense read forward and backward – e.g., “Madam, I’m Adam.”) Thanks to the music of the blogospheres, I received well over a hundred submissions from around the globe. Yet, much like those phony “nationwide” job searches, I found the winners close to home.

First runner-up: “Party boobytrap,” which is both brief and clever. Second runner-up: “Women veep’s peev’n ‘em, ow,” from Northeastern University student Eric Greenberg. The winner of a used copy of “Huckleberry Finn” – a book that many have tried to ban from our nation’s libraries – George Lovely of Milton, for “Yo, sure hot, top spot to her? U.S. Oy!” Congratulations!

We end with an Obama palindrome – the only one that Beam published and probably the only one he got.

In a touching gesture of bipartisanship, Carl Saras, whose last name is a palindrome, offered up a piece of Latin erudition: “Obama amabo,” or “I will love Obama.”

I have a feeling that we will still be having fun with Sarah in 2010.

The President as Nobel Laureate

I’ve been following all the stories about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  From imagining what he said when told ( bad word is likely) to Maureen Dowd’s conversation between Bill Clinton and George W. to the calls to give it back to the hysteria on the right to the disbelief on the left and a lot in between.

President Obama reacted to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in the White House Rose Garden on Friday morning.

This picture from the New York Times shows the President making his statement about winning:  He will go to Norway to accept and he will give the money to charity.  And, yes, he was just like the rest of us, surprised.

While conservatives rather predictably expressed disbelief and disparaged the prize and the president, there also are many Democrats and those on the left who were scratching their heads early this morning. Nearly all agree it’s a rather stunning award for someone who hasn’t been in the presidency even a year, coupled with two wars, an economic downside, the Iranian threat as well as the intractable Mideast problems.

Two of the most interesting comments the collected on the Caucus blog are from Robert Krebs and John McCain.

Several people pointed to an article by Robert Krebs in Foreign Policy magazine last July, in which he argued that the Nobel peace committee’s intentions are always partisan:

And for good reason: The Nobel Peace Prize’s aims are expressly political. The Nobel committee seeks to change the world through the prize’s very conferral, and, unlike its fellow prizes, the peace prize goes well beyond recognizing past accomplishments. As Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the 1990s, once proudly admitted, “The prize … is not only for past achievement. … The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

“Oh, I’m sure that the president is very honored to receive this award,” Mr. McCain said. “And Nobel Committee, I can’t divine all their intentions, but I think part of their decision-making was expectations. And I’m sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.

 ”But the best comment is from Calvin Trillin in his “Three Possible Explanations from the Nobel Committee”

Don’t be surprised. Don’t gasp. Don’t faint.
We’ve simply said, “George Bush he ain’t.”

The prize diplomacy can reap’ll
Prevent this guy from bombing people.

Since Henry Kissinger has won,
You know that this is all in fun.

Thank you, Calvin.