December 23, 2009

Christmas Cards – The Legislative Version

In addition to the wonderful cards we’ve received from friends and family near and far, we’ve also received 'holiday greetings' from our elected representatives in Albany and Washington. While they're not really Christmas cards per se, we get them at this time of year, and I like to pretend they're sent in the true holiday spirit.

There’s a similarity between the cards we sent, and the ones we received from Senator David Valesky, Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, and Congressman Dan Maffei: I paid for all of them! That’s right – they are prepared, printed, and mailed at taxpayer expense. Rep. Maffei’s message is the most transparent of them all - it included a fairly large text box indicating it was my taxes that paid for it.

The mailer from Rep. Maffei was a four-fold, full color glossy brochure full of pictures, copies of headlines from the local papers, and the usual “I’m wonderful; let me count the ways” nonsense. Senator Valesky’s mailer, again in color, is a simpler one-page front and back, with only three pictures of the Senator, plus the formal headshot with the American flag in the background. While he has yet to answer my email, he’s happy to tell me all he’s doing for Syracuse. Other than encouraging me to complete my census form when I receive it in March, the rest of the brochure is all about Dave.

The simplest of all is the one from Bill Magnarelli. It’s not glossy, it’s not four-color, and it’s really intended to educate me on services available to me as a constituent, rather than a press release telling me how wonderful he is. It also has a survey, nine questions for me to tell the Assemblyman what’s important. All of the questions are straightforward, and eight of the nine have very simple, non-opinionated choices to select from in response; but one, it’s a doozy. Check it out:

Q: To what extent should New York pursue the collection of sales tax on cigarettes and gasoline sold on Indian reservations?
A. Pursue collection, with the possibility of violent protests and the need to activate the National Guard.
B. Negotiate a settlement with Indian leaders.

Wow – talk about trying to direct a response! Of course, I’m not sure who’s going to be protesting violently – the gas stations owners? Those who purchase the gas and cigarettes? Elected officials in Albany? – but it sort of makes me want to pick option A just to find out.

I took the liberty of rewriting the choices for some of the other questions, so that the response would be more indicative of the sentiment; these were originally yes/no questions.

Q. Should New York legalize same-sex marriage?
A. Yes, all loving couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits of marriage, and we should no longer treat homosexuals as second-class citizens.
B. No, the primary purpose of marriage is for procreation, and therefore homosexuals need not apply. Marriages between non-procreating heterosexuals should be declared null and void, and all marital benefits rescinded.
C. No, New York should remain in the dark ages and continue to discriminate against same-sex partnerships simply on principle.

Q. Should New York State require chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus?
A. No, people who order three hamburgers layered with processed cheese and ten strips of bacon shoved into a bun and served with a 48-ounce drink and a pound of French fries couldn’t care less about the calories.
B. No, we should not put the calories on the menu, but we should require them on the TV commercials, since more people watch those than read menus anyway.
C. Yes, we should require the calories for chain restaurants where middle class and poor people tend to eat but not for fancy restaurants where rich people eat, because if you can afford the meal, you can afford the calories.
D. Yes, but only for the items on the dollar menus, because in this economy that’s all anyone can afford.
E. Chain restaurants have menus? Who knew?

Q. Do you support allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores?
A. Yes, this is a great opportunity to help grow the wine industry in New York, which currently contributes between $3 -$6 billion to the economy.
B. No

What do you think? How would you answer these questions?

December 21, 2009

Christmas Cards

We're well into the swing of the holiday season here in The Valley. While I still have to wrap, make candy, and make stuff for three holiday gatherings, at least my cards are done. The ones that get mailed went out last Monday, a full week sooner than last year when I just couldn’t get motivated to get them done. This year, we put on some Christmas music and My Sweet Baboo and I sat together and got them done. I think I actually mailed more cards this year than in the past, adding my contribution to the over 2 billion cards mailed each year. I also finished my work cards, sending some via interoffice (shame on me) to our regional offices, and delivering others personally to folks who work in the same building as me.

MSB does the ‘Baboo and Sue’ cards, I do the ‘Sue and Baboo’ cards and that way we cover all the bases. I have several addresses in my PDA but not all of them, the rest are scribbled on a piece of paper that I’ve been using for years just to do cards. Fortunately we didn’t throw away the phone book, as we both used it to get some of the local addresses – the ones we can drive to, but don’t know how to mail to; I suspect most people have a few of those. One of these days I’ll get all of the addresses updated in the PDA.. but I say that every year, and it’s not a high priority yet.

We don’t send pictures or a letter with our cards, it’s just the card with a scribbled holiday greeting and our names. Both of us are non-photogenic - we don’t like having our picture taken. For me, it’s a long-standing dislike going back to when I was a kid, fell off my bike, and scarred my face. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that kids can be mean, and some scars last longer than the visible ones. MSB, on the other hand, has always simply been more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it.

But we love getting other people’s pictures, seeing kids and pets grow up, and we also enjoy the holiday letters. Some are very straight-forward, simply recapping the major events of the year; others manage to fit a year’s worth of living into a reworked Christmas carol, and then there are the ‘long and winding road’ ones, which go on and on and on… and we enjoy them all!

Personally I think the real message of the card is in the sending of it - with or without pictures, with or without a letter, whether mailed or hand-delivered or emailed. Not the printed message contained in the card, but the message that the card itself delivers. Someone’s thinking about you, someone’s wishing you health and happiness, someone cares.

That’s the message everyone needs to hear, don't you think?

December 3, 2009

I Did Not Have Sex with That Man

Just to set the record straight, I was not the brunette that allegedly had a dalliance with Tiger Woods earlier this year when he played at a charity tournament in our neighborhood. Not that I couldn’t have been – after all, it seems like Tiger was pretty available and indiscriminate about some aspects of his personal life.

Watching this whole saga unfold is really just so much déjà vu all over again. Tiger has joined a long list of folks who are apparently blinded by their own celebrity, addicted to what that celebrity brings, and now in the ranks of those tarnished by their ‘celebrity behavior’:

  • Politicians including JFK, Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and Wilbur Mills (remember Fanne Fox?)
  • Newt Gingrich famously taking divorce papers to his wife in the hospital, so he could marry his mistress.
  • More recent flameouts like Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford.
  • Wilt Chamberlain, who boasted that he had slept with 20,000 women.
  • Kobe Bryant who bought his wife that huge apology diamond.
  • Magic Johnson – enough said.
  • David Letterman, who admitted sleeping with people who worked on his show.
  • Any business leader with a trophy wife…any rock start with a groupie…any actor with a ‘sex addiction’…

So, what do all of these have in common? Well, other than men behaving badly, they all have women behaving badly too. For the most part --  maybe not in all cases but for the most part --  it seems the women were willing accomplices, not forced into what they did, as far as we know. And absent accomplices, whether amateurs or professionals (in Spitzer’s case, at least), these guys would have likely found something else to do. 

Instead of going to Vegas for the VIP clubs and the ‘hostesses’ that work at them, or the cocktail waitresses (Michael Phelps), they could have been gambling and helping the economy, for example. They could have been home with their families, or working at soup kitchens, or teaching kids to read or play basketball or golf or to tell funny jokes or sitting around watching the news or reading the tabloids, rather than being the news or tabloid fodder.

The more recent cases also have the public apology component in common. Press conferences, ‘mea culpa’ interviews (Hugh Grant’s on the Tonight Show was a great one), or in Tiger’s case, a statement on his web site, begging for forgiveness and privacy while the family works it out. 

After the apologies come the speculations: will they stay together? Will his career be ruined? Will the sponsors drop them (in the case of athletes, actors and musicians)?

They also have in common a public forgiveness component. For all their foibles, the majority of us are collectively eager to welcome them back after they come clean. We’ll continue to watch them, read them, listen to them, support them. We’ll continue to pay to see them do their jobs, whether it’s giving a speech or playing a game or writing a column or selling books or running for office, even as we study them and remember them for their failures.

The biggest problem for them is of their own making. The biggest problem for us is, why do we put these folks on a pedestal in the first place?