Sunday, October 28, 2007


It dawned on me that when you begin to enter Hell, the sensations are rather pleasant. It was pleasant in New Orleans (the Big Easy), just before Katrina hit. I say that because the weather in New Orleans is almost always just great. It was surely pleasant in San Diego, home of “America’s greatest weather” – or at least what we thought of as America’s greatest weather before a good portion of the place just burned down because of the combination of drought, winds, and heat.

Here in Maryland, our weather has been just peachy. By that I mean that it has felt a lot like it used to feel in places like Georgia – places hundreds of miles to the south. Here we are, one week from the beginning of November, and with one or two exceptions, I don’t think the high for a day has yet to be below 65. In fact, it’s been a rare day when the high hasn’t gotten into the mid 70s or even the low 80s, and this is late October, not too far from the Mason-Dixon Line. What on earth is going on with this planet?

I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I much prefer 75 or 80 degree weather than temperatures in the 50s and 60s. But not in late October! And not when I have to keep reading about hundreds of thousands of acres burning down in one of my favorite areas, the California coast. This is nuts.

Now that Al Gore has made it fairly clear that he will stay out of politics, we’re likely not going to have a President obsessed with climate change. And given that climate change is making most of our lives more pleasant temporarily, I’m getting the impression that the American public isn’t likely to declare war on greenhouse gases. While I don’t know as much about the Chinese Government’s position on this topic, I think it’s safe to say that they seem even less enlightened than we do, if that’s possible.

So does that mean we’re screwed? Perhaps. The title of this blog post would certainly indicate as much. But I have to keep reminding myself about a point that I made in The Creed Room through the character of Art Sherman. Part of being a liberal – and I’m proud to call myself one – is that we’re always assuming that if things are getting bad, we have to undergo some kind of selfless, Herculean effort to clean them up … or else we’re just doomed. Two hundred years ago, when the world’s population was roughly 1 billion, the economist, Thomas Malthus, prophesized that overpopulation would outstrip the food supply, and people would starve. Now, however, we understand that Herculean efforts aren’t needed to feed six billion people … or even nine billion people. As demand increases, available technology improves.

I was reminded of that welcome fact this week when I was reading the New York Times. On Wednesday, Ken Caldiera, a scientist with the Carnegie Institution, published an op-ed piece entitled “How to Cool the Globe.” His answer involved pouring gallons of sulfate particles into the stratosphere. Just one five-gallon bucket of those particles, he said, could keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Ten gallons could give us a full century.

Does that sound too good to be true? Does it sound like something that will produce unintended consequences, and thereby do more damage than it could possibly alleviate? My friends, I couldn’t answer those questions. I’m not a scientist. But what I can say is that just when things are beginning to look bleak, it is worthwhile to remember that we don’t necessarily need the Messiah to come save us; we have mechanisms in place to save ourselves. It’s called an economy and a culture that rewards innovation, and the increasing awareness among at least part of the population that this global-warming thing is for real. I suspect that with increasingly frequency, scientists will conceive of ideas to cool the planet. Most will be misguided. Some will be laughable. But one or two – and I haven’t any idea which ones – just might work.

For today, if not tomorrow, I’ll keep the faith. I will also, however, preach the need to work hard to conserve, as well as innovate. There might indeed be an invisible hand that leads us to find more and better technologies, but that “hand” doesn’t come from the Heavens. It comes from the laws of nature. And one of those laws is that, for better and worse, you reap what you sow.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


If there’s one thing we Americans have learned in the past year it’s that not all genocides are created equal. There are awful genocides – monstrous, savage, intolerable genocides. And then there are genocides that are merely unfortunate, but not the sort of thing that should come between friends.

The big, bad genocide goes by a special name. It’s not just a genocide; it’s a Holocaust. Personally, I was steeped in it when I was five. That’s right, five. My grandmother owned a book called Hitler Terror that was published in 1933, the same year that the Nazis came to power – and, notably for the purpose of this blog post, eight years before the United States declared war against them. Only one year out of nursery school, I sat in my Grandma’s South Bronx apartment, mesmerized by photographs that have haunted me ever since. One photo shows a rabbi with blood streaming down his face after being assaulted by Hitler’s goons. Another shows a Jewish man with a Swastika cut into his hair. A third shows a boycotted store, with the inscription out front “Let the hands of the Jewish pig rot away!” Still others show a man and a woman shot to death by storm troopers. We in America – or at least in the Bronx, if that’s considered America – knew about these events in 1933, and yet we chose years later to send Jewish boats back to Germany where the passengers could enjoy the poison gas of their choice. And why? Because it was still possible back then to deny that the Nazis were really all that bad. Had their allies, “the Japs,” not attacked Pearl Harbor, who knows? We might still be denying the Holocaust.

Hitler Terror is but one of several Holocaust books that I have at home. I realize that we must never forget that awful time in history. Both of my daughters have been to Dachau; they, too, will never forget the German genocide against the Jews. And whenever they encounter anyone who does deny the Holocaust, they, like other decent Americans, will recognize them as being exemplars of evil. Take, for example, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When, in December 2006, he held his famous conference designed to scientifically study the existence of the Holocaust, well-meaning people throughout the world were aghast. What kind of creature, we asked, would question such a thing? Isn’t it patently clear that six million Jews and countless millions of others were brutally slaughtered by a small cadre of genocidal maniacs and a whole army of banal henchmen (who were “just following orders”)? Isn’t questioning such a fact merely another way of adding insult to the tragic injury that has already befallen the Jewish people? I, for one, had eight great uncles or aunts only three of whom survived Hitler’s genocide, and my family was more the norm than the exception. Ahmadinejad spits in my face every time he dares to question whether we’ve all just blown the Holocaust way out of proportion.

I congratulate the Jews who came before me for ensuring that the Nazi genocide got its own special name. The Armenians, by contrast, were not nearly as adroit. Being a “child of genocide” (or more specifically, a “great nephew” of genocide), I have been aware for a long time that nine decades ago, the Turks slaughtered well over a million Armenians in what can only be described as a genocide. But that’s the problem – it has only been viewed as genocide – or, more specifically, “the Armenian Genocide.” It has never received a special name of its own that has entered the consciousness of Grant Wood’s America. Many Americans probably couldn’t even tell you what continent Armenia is in, let alone that during World War I, the Turks set out to systematically slaughter the Armenian people.

Recently, many Democrats in Congress, seeking to do something, anything with respect to the Middle East other than restrict the prosecution of the Iraq war, began hammering through a non-binding resolution regarding the Armenian Genocide. Specifically, the resolution would condemn Turkey’s treatment of the Armenians during WWI as genocide. The resolution sailed through at the committee level, and the Speaker was looking forward to getting it passed by the entire House. That would seem sensible enough, right? We Americans aren’t like Ahmadinejad. Scholars accept that the Turks perpetrated genocide – maybe not the genocide of genocides, but clearly it counts. No American scholar has come to the fore lately to debate that fact. So how could we justify not proclaiming it as such? Isn’t our failure to do so, after nine decades, not much different from denying the Holocaust? How can we criticize Ahmadinejad one moment, and ignore the Armenian Genocide the next? The next thing you know, we’ll be engaging in, I don’t know, the torture of prisoners ... Not here, not in America.

When I first heard about the resolution to condemn the Armenian Genocide, my immediate reaction was “it’s about time.” Apparently, though, I wasn’t sufficiently schooled in Machiavelli. One editorialist and opinion writer after another has come out against the resolution, pointing out the absurdity of angering our good friends in Turkey just at a time when we need them to help us in Iraq. Then, this past Friday, I read an article in the New York Times entitled “Armenian Issue Presents a Dilemma for U.S. Jews.” It appears that Jews, see, don’t like genocide. (It’s true!) But we love Israel, and Turkey is one of Israel’s closest friends in the world. The Turks really, really don’t want anyone to call what they did to the Armenians “genocide.” I guess they look at the systematic extermination of more than a million people because of their race as something else – a butt-kicking perhaps. Well, that term is just speculation on my part. You’d have to ask our friends, the Turks, to find out how they officially characterize what happened during the Great War. But suffice it to say that the Turks would like us all to get over that little time in history and think about the present – friendship with Israel, support for American warplanes. And they are threatening that if we pass the resolution, we – like the Armenians before us – will be very, very sorry.

If I may stop dripping with cynicism for a moment, I actually do understand the point of those who condemn the resolution. Now wouldn’t appear to be the ideal time to wake up to the Armenian Genocide. Things are a tad combustible in the Turkish sphere of influence. But … and it’s a BIG but … why have we waited ninety years to take action? Other countries haven’t had a problem labeling the Turkish conduct as genocide? Where have we been? Do we really think that killing one million is OK – just don’t multiply that figure to six or more?

I’m sure Mr. Ahmadinejad has his own real-politic reasons for questioning the existence of the Holocaust, I mean the “Jewish Genocide.” I’m sure he, too, has friends who would like to deny it, and he values his friendships as much as we do. Is the lesson from all this that we should welcome him as a fellow traveler in an increasingly Machiavellian world? Or are we somehow more morally advanced than he is?

I’d like to think we are. But with the passage of time, the lines seem to blur more and more, don’t they?

Saturday, October 13, 2007


There really is nothing else anyone can say this morning. Gore Obama. Not Obama Gore, but Gore Obama.

Al Gore should first of all be congratulated for winning the award for his work on global warming. I’m not a scientist, so I cannot personally vouch for the accuracy of his claims, but I believe his fundamental point: that he is backed by the vast majority of credible scientists. And whatever the vast majority of credible scientists believe about matters of science – not theology, not politics, but science – is what I believe. Who am I to argue with them?

Al has fought the good fight in order to save our planet, and his recent work on climate change has been the culmination of decades of passion as an environmentalist. That’s what is really impressive here. This isn’t just a politician who latches onto an idea that happens to be the right idea for his time. He’s a national politician who has focused on a particular set of problems for most of his adult life, and has actually succeeded in transforming the world’s consciousness in this area. How rare is that? Combine that fact with the undeniable truth that this man won the majority vote in his “democracy’s” Presidential election and yet didn’t win the Presidency, and you have a guy who truly deserves all the rewards he’s now receiving … and then some.

So yes, let’s congratulate Al. But once the congratulations are over, once the applause dies down, then what? Was yesterday’s award just another opportunity for Fat and Happy Al to take another walk on the red carpet? Or will he be able truly to leverage that award into real power – power to fight global warming on a massive scale, and to tackle some of the other enormous problems facing our country (like our health care crisis)?

Nobody knows the answers to those questions. But those are precisely the questions that everyone who isn’t a complete right-wing ideologue has got to be asking.

Oh yeah. There is one more question. Assuming we agree that Al needs to leverage his award to gain power, how best does he do it? Does he remain an unofficial “ambassador” for the environmental movement? In that capacity, he can roam around the world, giving speeches and earning bazillions. Maybe he can make another movie. I bet Spielberg would be willing to direct it, and they could get any actor in Hollywood to lend his or her face to the cause (whatever that cause might be). Al could become ubiquitous, in fact – just as Sharpton and Jackson have become the faces of the black civil rights movement, and Oprah has become the kingmaker of the literary world, Al can become the face of environmentalism, heath care reform, anti-poverty measures, the peace movement … He can become as omni-present as Spinoza’s God.

But is that real power? When you look at Sharpton and Jackson, for example, you see two people who find themselves constantly in the news and who have undeniably made a difference on certain issues – such as the firing of Don Imus. But have they really made the kind of impact on the African-American condition that is fundamentally transformative? I don’t think so. If you want transformative, there’s only one tried and true way: take over the White House.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the current occupants. Say what you want about Bush Cheney, but there’s no debate that they’ve made their presence felt. Saddam is gone, Uday and Qusay are gone, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are gone, several thousand Americans are gone, and hundreds of billions of American dollars are gone. I call that an impact.

And it’s not just Bush and Cheney who have “leveraged” the power of the Presidency. Look at Ronald Reagan. He helped tear down the Iron Curtain (yeah!), though he also helped foster massive economic inequality. Once again, though, the issue isn’t whether he did a great job or a horrid one, but did he wield real power, not just red-carpet-like status. And the answer, unquestionably, is yes.

If Al wants power, then, he ought to try to seize it from within. He doesn’t have to be President – Cheney isn’t – but he needs to dominate the agenda of the White House. From that perch, a person can do so much in so many different ways, especially if he is focused. Reagan was focused. Cheney has been focused. And Al appears to be focused – or at least he was focused before he became fat and happy.

According to the conventional wisdom, Al won’t run. One after another, party insiders are quoted in the media saying things like Al recognizes that “Democrats are happy with the candidates they’ve got” and don’t need another in the race.

Are we now? Are we really that happy? Even Barack Obama has acknowledged that Hillary Clinton has become the “default candidate.” So it’s safe to say that the only Democrats who are happy with the status quo are those who want to see Hillary elected President. And is that really part of the formula for Al Gore to leverage his new found fame?

Just think about what we’d have if Clinton was President, and Gore was the unofficial ambassador for all things holy. It sounds a lot like 1992, doesn’t it? Clinton Gore. We’ve seen it before. And tell me, how much power did Al have back then? He was a committed environmentalist before he became Veep – but did that translate into seismic shifts in American environmental policy? The fact of the matter is that if there’s a Clinton in the White House, the two most powerful Americans will be Clintons. By the time his eight years as VP were over, Al was so fed up that he essentially told the Clintons to get lost and, yes, it cost him the 2000 election. In Hillary, we’re not exactly talking about a natural ally. We’re talking about a rival.

Al has one opportunity to make the kind of impact that Dick and Ronald have made, and that is to go for the White House … and this time, not as Clinton’s lap dog. It’s obvious that a huge percentage of the electorate would toss aside Hillary in a second and support the Nobel Prize Laureate. It’s also obvious that in Barack Obama, he could select the ideal Vice Presidential candidate. Barack, like Al – but unlike Hillary – has been an opponent of the Iraq War from the start. Barack, like Al – but unlike Hillary – comes across as a lover, not a fighter. Barack, like Al – but unlike Hillary – is perceived by the party’s base as a progressive and not a triangulator. And most importantly, Barack would probably accept Al Gore as belonging at the top of the ticket should the two men join forces. Hell, even Barack probably realizes that his ideal moment as a statesman is in the future, and not in the present.

Today, the moment belongs to one of two people. Not Barack. Not Guiliani. But Gore or Clinton. The nation deserves that choice. Al, if you love democracy as much as you hate climate change, please give it to us.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Something strange has happened to me in the past month. I found a new passion.

I’ve always been one of those people who loved to write but hated to edit. Writing represented creativity, free expression, individuality … What’s not to like? Editing, by contrast, represented anality. You can’t just let your mind roam freely when you edit. You concentrate painstakingly on every word and every comma. You observe all the “rules” of proper writing. You leave the mountain air of the artiste, and enter the dungeon of the drone.

For the writer, I thought, each page opens another door. For the editor, each page becomes a chore. It’s the difference between Cinderella after she meets the prince, and before.

That was my old attitude. Now I’ve seen the light. The change was prompted by the fact that earlier in the year, I turned my attention away from the novel I had been working on and toward other activities. Perhaps six months elapsed since I had read my manuscript, and during that time I had received some nice feedback on it from friends but nothing that caused me to re-read the document in its entirety. Then, when it was accepted for publication, I realized that I had better give it another read. And I’ve been an editing fiend ever since. In fact, just taking the time for this blogpost seems like an intrusion on my new obsession.

One month ago, my manuscript was 96,000 words (as a point of comparison, The Creed Room was 101,000). Today, the manuscript is 93,000 words, and I still have more slashing and burning to go. My attitude might best be illustrated by the way I felt after I removed one especially well-written paragraph upon recognizing that it was part of a scene that didn’t make the grade. When I later realized that I could probably find a place for the well-written paragraph, my feeling wasn’t joy but frustration. It meant that I’d have to add back a couple of hundred words, and I didn’t want to add. I wanted to slice, dice and extract. The Hindu God of Shiva, the destroyer, has obviously taken hold of my soul.

Well, perhaps it isn’t Shiva that has possessed me. Perhaps it’s that word that has become Hillary’s mantra and Obama’s doom: experience. What I’m describing, you see, is something that experienced writers mention over and over again when they discuss their craft. It’s not enough to be able to spill a stream of consciousness onto a page. We must also be our own toughest critics. Good writing is tight writing. And good writers are self critical to a fault. That’s what enables them to draft a manuscript, put it down for a little while, and then rip their own work to shreds, thereby separating the wheat from the chaff.

I’ll never see myself as a truly experienced writer. I’m a practicing attorney who writes on the side and who didn’t start writing full-length books until my 40s. Something tells me Tolstoy has nothing to worry about on my account. Still, this little adventure with editing my own work has made me reflect a bit on this concept of experience. And it has taught me a bit about how to apply this concept to the domain of politics.

My new-found passion for editing was born from multiple causes. First, I distanced myself a bit from my manuscript – it wasn’t so integrally tied to my sense of self as, say, my first novel. Second, I had enjoyed enough success as a writer (success is a relative term, Mr. Tolstoy) to feel secure enough about slashing and burning without fearing that I was somehow removing the Crown Jewel. Less experienced writers become so enamored with their initial efforts that they don’t dare give them up, lest the world lose out on some of their brilliance. Third, I appreciated the writing process a bit more from the standpoint of the reader. Most readers don’t have time for drawn-out narratives. They appreciate brevity, as it allows them to read more books or do other things. Why shouldn’t I accommodate them?

Experience is indeed a great teacher. And that seems to be the view of more Democrats every day. Hillary “Are You Experienced?” Clinton is starting to resemble Secretariat at the Belmont. Her lead widens with every poll. When voters are asked why they prefer her to Obama and Edwards, her greater “experience” is usually the answer they give. She’s been everywhere – the Governor’s mansion, the White House, the Senate … maybe even the Heavenly Court. The fact that she spent most of that time as “spouse” and not statesman is irrelevant to most voters; we all know that she was less a wife than a business partner. Who wouldn’t concede that point?

Obama isn’t tone deaf. He hears the drumbeat about experience. But he has a rejoinder: “You want experience? I’ll show you experience. How ‘bout Dick Cheney? How ‘bout Donald Rumsfield? Nobody has more experience than they had, and all that experience did is screw up the country! It shouldn’t be about experience; it should be about judgment. Hillary’s judgment told her to support the War; mine told me to oppose it. Vote for me, the Man of Judgment, not for her, the latest casualty of the Washington experience.”

Barack’s my candidate, but I don’t go for his logic here. As far as I’m concerned, experience is unquestionably a good thing. The more, the better. But you could say the same thing about intelligence, and that doesn’t mean it can’t become dangerous if it is misused. What makes experience truly valuable is when it is combined with humility and is not combined with insecurities. In this way, we can become self-critical, learn from history, admit our mistakes, and, if appropriate, change courses in midstream. In short, we can do just the opposite of what Rummy and Cheney and all the other “experienced” neo-cons did in carrying out their war in Iraq.

Hillary’s fans suggest that her great health care fiasco will make her a better President because it presents an “experience” that she can learn from. Certainly, they have a point. But perhaps a stronger point can be made that Hillary’s conduct in the 90s bodes ill for a (third) Clinton Presidency. By all accounts, her health care proposal went down in flames because she behaved arrogantly and inflexibly, thinking that her hubby (the Principal) had permitted her to act the role of schoolyard bully. Well folks, if those kinds of traits were part of her character in the 90s, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be part of her character in this decade too.

When it comes to her political intelligence, fire, policy knowledge, energy level and, yes, experience, I hold Hillary in the highest regard. Yet those characteristics can turn very ugly when they are possessed by politicians whose egos are not under control. That is really what Obama would like to tell us but is too timid to do so.

When push comes to shove, what I am most proud of as an editor-enthusiast is not that I have learned something about the writing process, but that I have become sufficiently secure as a person to admit to myself that my writing needs tons of corrections. I’m at peace with the fact that I ain’t no Shakespeare or Mozart, and am not even a Salieri (or his prosaic analogue). I’m just a lawyer who likes to write, and Hillary is just a poll-driven politician who would like to govern.

We should all believe in forgiveness, and in redemption. I, for one, would be more than willing to forgive Hillary for her health care bullying if she demonstrated that she has truly changed in the past decade. But here we are, in 2007, four years after she voted to authorize the Iraq War and then demagogued in support of the War during its initial phases, and she still won’t apologize for her actions. She still continues to blame everything that went wrong on the Administration. It’s that failure to admit mistakes, that apparent self-righteous inability to be self-critical, which prevents me from saying that I intend to vote for my Party’s nominee next November. She might run like Secretariat, but my experience tells me she isn’t the woman for the job.