Global Thoughts — 19 June 2017

IMG_6179We just attended our daughter’s graduation from elementary school and they sang the same song as was our first dance at our wedding (Thank you for the Music by Abba). It was so heartwarming to come full circle with our daughter.

I was sitting in synagogue talking with someone right behind me about whether Joe Lieberman ought to take the job as FBI Director. He was being considered by Trump for the position. About 5 feet behind us in the very next row behind the guy I am talking to is – Joe Lieberman. You might well wonder why we didn’t just ask him ourselves. Maybe the guy next to me spoke to him about it at the Kiddush club – a bunch of men walk out and have some drinks at the midpoint of the service (orthodox synagogues are not like church; it’s sorta walk-in and walk-out any time you want). My wife said “Joe Lieberman goes to a Kiddush club? “ I said, how else do you think he became a senator? Anyway, I knew Lieberman wasn’t going to be interested in the job.

This year for my 51st birthday my wife baked me a rhubarb upside down cake, my kids wrote me very nice cards, Jeremy made me breakfast featuring scrambled eggs, crackers with cream cheese and smoked salmon and sliced avocado. He also recited the Friday night Kiddush prayer with me which was a very nice way to commemorate a birthday.

Jeremy, the boy from the City, went to visit his great uncle in suburban Washington DC and asked about the park he saw behind the big house in which he was staying. He was told to his surprise that this was their backyard.

Elizabeth's "Moving On" Ceremony graduating elementary school. A rather expensive piece of cake.
Elizabeth’s “Moving On” Ceremony graduating elementary school. A rather expensive piece of cake.

Something I continue to find bemusing after years of experiencing it is people in hotels, restaurants and airplanes asking if you are still “working” on whatever you are eating. It seems that nobody is allowed to admit to “enjoying” anything, and that is too bad. Even though the favorite dessert on all American airlines is the ice cream sundae. You can order it, but you better not admit to enjoying it.

You would think that over the past 40 years of development, if they have come up with cures for cancer they could figure out how to make Passover cookies and cakes that come in a box that are not so awful. But the raspberry roll or seven layer cake from Schick’s Bakery is still as inedible as it ever was. Fortunately, other sellers of Passover bakery have come up with better tasting stuff. Yum Tov made a bunch of cakes that were selling for about $25 which I was afraid to buy. The day after Passover I bought one for $3 figuring it couldn’t be that much worse than it was 3 days before and it was in a package anyway (sorta like buying last year’s calendar), and it was actually good enough that I would get it next year.

My son and I pondered this question – why don’t restaurants have boogers on their kiddie menus? Kids eat them at the table all the time, don’t they? My daughter wants to know why the French president (Macron) has a name that sounds like a French cookie (macaron)?

I think the concept of fruit at the bottom of the yogurt cup is designed to teach delayed gratification. Now if only they could do that with the M&M’s and Snickers that they toss in the yogurt.

One day this month Jeremy earned $20 selling lemonade on the street. The next morning I was reading the NY Times and mentioned to him that there is the Fresh Air Fund which helps send 3,000 city kids to camp in summer. They get to go maybe once in their lives for 2 weeks. I mentioned that he was going soon to orientation for summer camp, that he was very lucky to be able to go to summer camp and that many kids could not ever go to summer camp without help. I asked him if he wanted to donate his $20 to the Fresh Air Fund, and he agreed. So he is not only a budding entrepreneur but also a philanthropist. By the way, do I need to tell you how much it costs me for him to make $20 selling lemonade? We just replaced a pitcher for $15 for instance.

Sometimes we talk about people who are dead looking down upon their families and smiling at what they see. I think it’s rubbish. Most people would not want to know what happens afterward; especially if while they were alive they didn’t like what they saw their kids doing and especially if you can’t influence what’s going to happen since you’re dead. I felt like this at a recent lunch where I sat at the table and no matter what I said I was completely ignored as if I were speaking from the other side of dead. The above is sorta like those movies where someone wishes they had supernatural powers to know when people were lying and what they were really thinking, and then when they find out the truth they wish they hadn’t known. Do you really want to know what people thought of the outfit you wore to the senior prom? Maybe you look at the picture 30 years later and can figure it out now, but at the time you thought you looked great, right?

Ballroom of Rosewood mansion in Newport
Ballroom of Rosecliff mansion in Newport

Joe’s is a place you go in Miami Beach when you want to take someone out special. It is on the tip of South Beach and it has been in business about 100 years. When Karen and her mum arrived for our wedding 13 years ago, we went there with my parents for dinner on her first night in town. I haven’t been there since. Now, with our kids in tow and having reached an age where they can appreciate it, we returned with my parents for a dinner out. The kids said it was the highlight of their last visit. That and playing with a remote controlled boat in a bubble bath in my mother’s tub.

We went to Newport, Rhode Island for a family weekend. Last time I was there was 2002 before I got married. The kids were sure they would be bored and it would be a city full of old people. They were very pleasantly surprised. We had a nice dinner at the Landing Restaurant — good food, live music and place for sunsets with an upstairs table. They found the mansions interesting (we saw the Breakers and Rosecliff) and they have audio guides with tours geared toward children. A harbor cruise is a fun thing to do for 90 minutes. The Touro Synagogue has services on a Saturday with about 20 people and has been totally restored in the past 10 years. A walk around the historic homes district is pleasant either an hour before sunset or early in the morning. Clark’s Cookhouse has 4 levels; the SkyBar on the top level is fancy and expensive and we preferred the Dining room on the second level with what we thought was a better menu at 60% of the price. Food was excellent and the famous chef Tom Kelly wrote that he had his first job (outside his mother’s restaurant) training here. The Cookhouse and the Landing are both on the waterfront at Bowen’s Wharf right in the center of town, about a 10 minute walk from the Marriott Hotel. Brunch at Castle Hill Inn, a Relais Chateaux property, is excellent; about a 20 minute drive from the center of town. It’s windy there at the tip of the bay and nothing to do there other than eat and snuggle. I’d rather stay in town centrally located and put away the car. Prepare to put your car away for the weekend and use public transport or taxis or just walk around town. One fun thing to do was to walk into a local baseball game under the lights; the kids enjoyed a piece of small-town America. The Marriott Hotel is well located and better than the normal Marriott; great gym, indoor pool, jacuzzi and sauna. Rooms and lobby were renovated recently; Gold status with Marriott gets you breakfast coupons, late checkout and room upgrade. It was a good deal and we’d go again. We took Amtrak to Providence, Rhode Island and drove the last 40 minutes. When you arrive in town driving from Providence, arrive via 195 Exit 8A to MA-24 and RI-114 instead of the big bridge most people go on which gets tied up in traffic during peak periods. Amtrak’s Acela is supposed to get you there faster and maybe it does, but it was almost an hour late getting there and coming back. Stuff on Amtrak just doesn’t work — railroad cars, tracks, coffee machines, etc. Across from the Amtrak station in Providence is a Panera bread shop and a Cheesecake Factory, both sources of good stuff for the train ride.

IMG_0180I was just in Los Angeles for a few days of business. It’s the first time I really used Uber to get around and it is a big difference to a taxi. I took a taxi one way to a meeting at a fare of $25 and 2 hours later in the middle of rush hour took Uber back to the starting place for about $8.  Airport fares are about half using Uber.  Having tried the various hotels in the area such as the Beverly Hills and the Montage, I give high marks to the Peninsula, which is 10 minutes walk from Rodeo Drive and Wilshire, which is where the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons is located. The Peninsula has all the right facilities with a decent gym and rooftop pool, and spa that is open for treatments till 9pm, you can get a villa in the garden, and the food is better than the normal state of excellent that you expect in these kinds of hotels. There are a good number of young people staying there; they have live music in the lobby with a very good pianist, and the rooms are cheerfully decorated with good light. It’s also more intimate with easy in and out. The restaurant’s menu is suitable for a multi-day stay. The rates offer good value for money. The new Waldorf Astoria is a block away but I haven’t checked it out. JetBlue’s Mint service is half the price of the other major airlines and if you choose your seat carefully you can get a private suite with nobody sitting next to you which is the equivalent of first class service. The food and live TV service on the airline is excellent.

The Saturday Night Live line where the White House press secretary says that while Jews may have gone to concentration camps in trains at least they didn’t fly United is probably going to be remembered as one of the best off-color lines in comedy. I wouldn’t want to be on the board of that airline right now. This was the month where that Vietnamese doctor was dragged thru the plane by airport security officers. To some extent the guy had it coming; he said he wasn’t going to leave his seat unless they sent people to remove him. I presume the airline wishes they had just given him $5,000 to get off the plane in the first place.

You know why America is a free country? Jeremy’s homework included this question about the 22nd amendment to the US constitution: Do you believe Presidents should be allowed to serve for more than two terms if they are doing a good job?  He answered “Bad because we have a stupid prez.” If we lived in North Korea, our whole family would have been shot by now. In Turkey or Russia, I suppose we would have been fired from our jobs and sent to re-education camps. In the US, the teacher’s written response was “HA HA This is an interesting year for this question!”

Take Kids to Work Day
Take Kids to Work Day

I made a bet with someone that if Trump is still president after September 1, I owe him dinner for 2. Obviously that means I expect him to be gone by then. The Republicans will dump him because they have no chance of passing anything in Congress as long as Trump is the issue of the day every day. So far what Congress has managed to do has been done with a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats freezing out Trump and the fringes on both the left and right, which is not good because it basically means the executive branch is being bypassed in the lawmaking process. In the past century no major legislation has been passed without the involvement of the executive branch of government. If they can’t pass stuff next year, they will lose their majority in Congress and it will then be the Democrats in control investigating Trump every day until 2020. I assume that Mr Comey (who was once a cop and who knows how to keep good evidentiary records) has enough evidence against Trump to bury him. Foreign countries and the US’s intelligence services will bypass Trump as well because he cannot be trusted and it is a problem when the commander in chief cannot command because he cannot be informed (or worse, he refuses to read his briefing papers or take them seriously, and then is careless with the info he sorta has, which is what probably happened with Trump’s intelligence leak to the Russians). I just don’t see how the US can avoid being seriously compromised in the world with this guy at the helm.

Here’s a book I would like for Malcom Gladwell to write: I’d like to know why we have a country of 300 million people and why the people who run for president or get elected president are so poorly qualified for the office. The Brits and the French can make fun of us, but the Brits have had several lousy leaders in a row and the French got this outlier Macron who might do well but who completely turned over the existing political order. So what is it? Is it that good people refuse to run or weeded out by a system that makes no sense or that lousy people are attracted to run? Or is it something else? Michael Bloomberg’s foundation currently says there is a 55% probability that Trump will be re-elected. He knows numbers; he himself didn’t run because he figured his candidacy would ensure Trump’s election. No matter that he won anyway. You may be wondering why polling seems to keep getting it wrong both in the US and now in the UK. The short reason is that it has become about 10x as hard to get people to answer surveys as it used to be (cellphones having replaced land lines is an important reason) and certain types of people have become almost impossible to reach or to get them to respond, so surveys try to predict data with smaller samples and end up with more mistakes coming out of all the so-called scientific assumptions being made by pollsters.

Mother's Day Breakfast
Mother’s Day Breakfast

I was in a small group meeting with the editor of the Jerusalem Post newspaper, who I found to be intelligent and well poised and informed. He made a few interesting points: Israel does not have a history of pre-emptive strikes against conventional military threats such as the missiles facing it in Lebanon, so unless there is a war, he wouldn’t expect Israel to strike against those missiles pre-emptively even though the threat against the home front is greater than before. In any event, the threat is simply a matter of damage and disruption, but no matter what Hizbullah does from Lebanon, they are not going to take any territory in Israel which is why the Israeli military views it as a limited threat. The Israelis are likely to expand the target list in Lebanon to include the nation’s infrastructure to cause such a war to end quickly. The Israelis view Trump as a guy who likes to make deals because he wants the credit for making the ultimate deal with the Palestinians, but he doesn’t have any ideological basis for it, such as you need to solve the Palestinian issue in order to have peace in the region. Trump is viewed as unpredictable which makes people in the region not want to piss him off. Russia filled the US void in Syria and now Israelis in the military headquarters coordinate air strikes in Syria with the Russians. Since the US has also left a void in the Gulf vis a vis Iran, when the Gulf states want something done in the region, they now call Israel because they see that when they call the Americans to do something they sit on it. Case in point is a ship from Iran going to Yemen; the Americans sat on the news for a week and did nothing; a Gulf country’s intelligence service alerted the Israelis who  acted in 24 hours and the ship turned around back to Iran. Relations with the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt have never been better which is probably why Turkey figured if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.

I was trying to think of something about the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and what it means today. I think the irony is that 50 years ago the French, who had until then been their biggest ally and arms supplier, instituted an arms embargo against the Israelis who wanted French Mirage fighter jets. Today they buy their drones from Israel. Hamas doesn’t want Israel to turn off the electricity to the Gaza strip but Abbas doesn’t want to pay the bill for a Hamas-run territory especially since Abbas and Hamas hate each other more than they hate the Israelis. No Arab will build an electrical power plant in Gaza if Hamas wants to keep shooting rockets at Israel and risk having the plant bombed in the next round of war. The electrical issue is probably what will drive Hamas to deal with Israel more than anything. Otherwise, the whole thing is just nuts.

I don’t think the Russians, Chinese or Iranians are doing all that well, even though Trump is a really great enemy to have. The Russians are not getting anywhere with Ukraine, the Germans and the French are not voting in favor of what the Russians want in Europe, the Asians are scared stiff of both China and Russia, and Syria is a cesspool where both the Iranians and Russians do not have shared interests and therefore are doing each other in. Iran has lots of agreements to do business, but few actual contracts.

I don’t think that Russia conspired with Trump over the presidential election, but I think that Putin did not want Hillary Clinton to win and probably took steps to try and influence the election, which is nothing new and nothing that countries haven’t done for years. I’m not sure that Putin should be thrilled that Trump is in office; Trump is under constant scrutiny and has been effectively neutralized vis a vis Russia. And he probably won’t last very long.

IMG_6120I can’t stand pushy parents who say their kids love all the crazy things they force their kids to do. We just lunched with some parents who had a big donor lean on a hospital in Laos to let their kid “volunteer” for 2 weeks this summer trying to pad her resume for college. The hospital had nothing for this kid to do, but the parents wouldn’t take no for an answer. The mom told us that her daughter was involved in 5 extra-curricular activities at school. I asked when does her daughter have any time to go to class. A math teacher recently told me that 75% of parents at her school try to push their kids into higher math groups and that teachers have a terrible time managing parents, let alone kids. I think it’s irrational and futile – you are setting your kid up for failure and distress if they can’t keep up, and you are essentially providing your kid to serve as the cannon fodder to set the curve for all the other smart kids who will come out on top.

The New York Times recently came out with a one-time-only kids’ edition of the newspaper. It’s the best one I’ve ever seen of this type, and you might look this one up if you have a kid who you want to expose to a newspaper and have them learn how to read one. While on the subject of the NY Times, although it has been painful to be reading the daily news over the past year, the Time has had an energy to its political coverage that I haven’t seen in years. This is a great time to be a newspaper, a guardian of a republic.

Time to get ready for summer. Our kids will be off to sleepaway camp for a 2 week trial. Time to discover what it will be like to have no kids around. Nobody surprising us in our bedroom, or telling us from morning’s first light how bored they are. Dinner for two and no toys all over the place. Maybe a lunch with other adults with wine and unrestrained humor. Can’t wait to find out after these 11 years. Might be boring. Or we might try for 4 weeks next summer. Stay tuned.


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