We talked over a relaxed dinner at an intimate K Street bistro, Romeo and Juliette, and later in his office where, between votes on the House floor, we shared a little brandy – the Spanish brand, Fundador, Ryan’s favorite – to celebrate the imminent recess.
Women are reshaping America’s leadership as evidenced in the November mid-term elections. Now a former First Lady has been packaged as a seductive rock star the likes of Madonna, Cher, Oprah, Beyoncé and now, Michelle. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Jessica Parker are expected to be along as well when Michelle Obama launches her book tour in her hometown of Chicago, Nov. 13. Her inspirational memoir entitled “Becoming” is the first of a two book deal with Crown, part of Penguin Random House.
Americans are living through a period of constant disgruntlement - political, social and historical. No matter what your ethnicity, there’s a statue or a painting of someone in your city or at your school that has to come down, perhaps because of slave-owning, or ancient harm to indigenous people, or womanizing or having too much money. Some people object to the plaque of David Koch on the side of the new fountain he installed in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - never mind that he paid for everything, helping to keep that site the most visited by tourists to our city. Some want Columbus toppled from his perch atop the circle named for him - five centuries is apparently insufficient to forgive his misdeeds to the Indians And nobody wants the name Trump on their building for a million reasons that you surely know by now.
You won’t know this if your information comes mainly from the NYT and the WSJ, but Alyssa Milano (founder of MeToo) has withdrawn from the Women’s March to protest its organizers’ support of Louis Farrakhan. Leader of Nation of Islam, Farrakhan chanted “Death to the U.S” and “Death to Jews” while in Iran last week, while on the domestic front, he denied being an anti-semite and called himself an “anti-termite” instead. Linda Sarsour, a self-described brown Palestinian and Tamika Mallory, an African-American have endorsed the statement that “no Zionist can be a feminist” and Mallory refers to Farrakhan as “goat” - greatest of all time.
There’s more heat in a New York Times putdown of Melania Trump’s wardrobe than in Jason Reitman’s biopic of Gary Hart’s aborted run for a presidential nomination in 1988. Overstuffed with tons of newsroom and campaign chatter, Reitman neglects to give the primary players - Hart and his wife - sufficient opportunity to deal with the complicated and conflicted inner feelings of a man and his wife watching their shot at a brilliant future slip down the drain. And not because of a grand love affair, but rather a casual dalliance with a young and as played here, vapid Donna Rice. In real life, Donna had a fresh–faced prettiness but Reitman casts her as an overly made-up girl who looks more like a lap dancer than a model or pharmaceutical salesman, both of which Donna was.
The upcoming midterm elections are more important this year than perhaps ever. That’s because the country is more divided than in the past. The Democrats are pushing to win the House as the party out of power traditionally does in midterm contests. The Republicans are fighting to keep the Senate. A lot is at stake from the Supreme Court to the stock market, gun violence, healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, immigration policy, China and trade. All are reasons to get out and vote before the Tuesday election.
Woman are running this year in greater numbers—more than 3,200– most on the Democratic side attempting to close the gender gap. A lot is at stake—all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate. America’s future is in the hands of voters.
Roughly 40 percent of voting-age Americans don’t exercise their right to vote — and we often assume disenchantment or indifference keeps them away from the polls. But that’s not always the reason. One in six eligible voters has a disability—that’s more than 34 million people— and for many of those, that is what keeps them away from the polls. The challenges are many.
But what if it is fear that’s keeping people from casting a ballot? It may not be fear of any potential candidate or of which level to pull — although some may claim that’s a problem, too. But there may be a very real fear of voting, of public places, waiting in line, signing your John Hancock in public or just feeling trapped in the voting booth – as an amalgamate of many different fears.
If while standing in line at the polls, your palms get sweaty, your heart pounds, you feel that your legs are on the verge of buckling under, your vision blurs, butterflies take flight in your stomach or your muscles stiffen and you want to run home to a safe place — you should know you are not alone.
About 8 percent of adults in the U.S. have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at any given time, according to NIH the National Center for PTSD. Returning veterans and civilians alike have been diagnosed with this and other anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia (fear of crowded spaces) and claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces). This feeling of being trapped can be incapacitating and paralyzing, both while waiting in line and while in the voting space itself.
Anxiety can be a master manipulator, so people often avoid situations that provoke it. Voting is one we can’t control — not just the election outcome, but our surroundings and often excessive stimuli.
One agoraphobic woman in North Carolina, after voting for the first time, told me she couldn’t remember whom she voted for. But she did recall, “My palms were sweaty. It was like going into a lion’s cage. I felt I had to do it, but then had to get out before he bit me.”
Maryland photographer Stuart Pohost admitted his fear of voting overwhelmed him. “It was the same anxiety I felt when going in for major surgery. I was standing in line at the polls in a perfectly safe place feeling like I’m not safe at all, like I’m going to die, or pass out, or lose control.”
Voting caused him such tremendous anxiety that his therapist once accompanied him to the polls as part of his treatment. “The thing that bothered me about voting was not voting per se, not making the decision,” Pohost said. “The problem was waiting in line, which is a commitment. It was feeling trapped and feeling like I couldn’t leave the line if I wanted to.”
Shannon Evans of Council Bluffs, Iowa, found a solution: “I don’t vote unless I can get an absentee ballot mailed to my house. Too many lines, too many people with unattended children — just the thought makes my head hurt and my skin sweaty.”
Accompanied by her service dog, Pamela Thomas voted in Oklahoma. “My nerves were bad. I was shaking. Buddy, my service dog, tried to get me to leave. I just marked stuff, got my sticker and left. I honestly have no idea who or what I voted for. My brain could not focus on anything. I sat for 15 minutes before I could drive home.” Thomas vowed that the next time, “I will make sure I take a human with me or do an absentee ballot.”
Jodi Aman, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Rochester, New York, and founder of “Give Fear The Boot,” agreed with this plan. “Bring a friend to support you.” She also suggested concentrating on the ceiling or on a spot under the curtain. And “take a few breaths; focus on feeling empowered to take some action.”
“Anything can be a trigger if associated with past trauma,” Aman said. It could be sound, smells, a voting venue in a church if you are a victim of past abuse, or the fear of not making the right decision. “If you messed up a decision in the past, that could create anxiety.”
The chaos of the election and our feeling out of control and overwhelmed also triggers uncertainty. “It triggers us to get ready, and it often means danger. When we have chaos, we crave order.”
Aman’s philosophy is: “Disempower anxiety and empower yourself to take some action.” This advocate of self-compassion penned, “You 1, Anxiety O,” which explores how competition causes anxiety in our culture. “Your vote matters, but it’s not the only vote,” said Aman. “Some anxious people may feel too much responsibility.”
The good news, according to Aman: “Anxiety is usually curable. You can overcome it.” Early voting in some states is a step to mitigate some of the fear. Time will tell how successful it was.
During a fight at the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, twenty correction officers were injured by 16 and 17 year old boys who had been moved from Rikers Island due to a state law requiring that they be treated differently from adults in courts and jails. (”Officers Hurt at Youth Center, WSJ 10/4) Despite the fact that these young men were gang members, City Council members are concerned that staffing the Juvenile Center with correction officers and juvenile counselors is too similar to replicating the jail experience. In other words, 16 and 17 year old hoodlums are still just boys.
“Outsider Faced Culture of Privilege and Alcohol” reads the title of one of the NYT daily attempts to undo the candidacy of Brett Kavanaugh (NYT 9/26/18) It reduces Deborah Ramirez, the woman who can’t be sure that she knows the difference between a plastic penis and a human one, into a half-Puerto Rican student who was the daughter of a telephone company lineman and a medical technician. Rather than praise her accomplishment in qualifying for a scholarship to an expensive Ivy League school on her own merits, it contrasts her with the wealthy Kavanaugh boy, son of a lobbyist and a judge. The only problem is that Martha Kavanaugh did not become a judge until 1995, several years after Brett graduated from Yale Law School and more than a decade after his possible penis got flashed as an undergraduate. In 1983 or 84, at the time that Deborah was sitting in the same circle as those super-privileged white people, the Kavanaugh parents were two hard-working lawyers, one of whom had gone to law school at night while working full time to support his family.
Marilyn Maye, the darling of New York City’s bustling cabaret circuit, is the ultimate entertainer who has perfected and carefully honed her stage skills. Called “the greatest white female singer in the world” by Ella Fitzgerald, Maye is still going strong at 90. Her expressive and interpretive style sets her apart from most current cabaret performers. But it wasn’t until her senior years that she made a comeback. She is now a true inspiration and one of the most active of the 1.9 million nonagenarians in the country.
Imagine Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “Psycho” minus the legendary shower scene. Or Stephen Spielberg’s “Jaws” without the great white shark menacing the beachgoers, or James Cameron’s “Titanic” without the iceberg striking the ship. Without those memorable scenes, each movie would be less compelling and more forgettable.
Heavy-handed and cliche-ridden are the kindest adjectives I can summon for the screenplay of Meg Wolitzer’s novel; since I never read that, I can’t say whether “The Wife” is faithful to the original, but the film bats it out of the ballpark on both scores. The plot concerns a writer/husband who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and his long-suffering writer/wife who turns out to be the actual talent that sparked his otherwise lifeless output. This is not a spoiler because the revelation is obvious at the start from the following tonsorial clues: Glenn Close has a hairdo like Joan of Arc, Jonathan Pryce has wild hair and a scruffy beard, the disturbed son has a nutty comb-forward - uh oh - something’s not right with this family!
Yet another movie about the capture of Adolf Eichman, architect of the Nazis’ Final Solution of the Jewish Question. This one, directed by Chris Weitz, features two Hollywood stars - Ben Kingsley as Eichman and Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin, the Mosad agent most responsible for his capture and, according to this movie, for the murderer’s final cooperation in Israel’s kidnap of an Argentine citizen. Living openly as Ricardo Klement, Eichman had a wife (the unrecognizable and little-used Greta Scacchi) and two children, one a handsome young man and one a toddler A young woman, briefly involved with the former, introduces him to her blind father who quickly figures out his father’s real identity and contacts Mosad with the information that Eichman is alive and well in Argentina.
Despite a series of infelicitous statements on Twitter, Sarah Jeong has been hired as the newest member of The New York Times editorial board. Her tweets included such indecorous comments as “oh man, it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men”, “killallmen”, and at least one unflattering comparison between white people and dogs.
Under the guise of being a reversal of the classic Cinderella story, Crazy Rich Asians gives us a super-smart, pretty Chinese-American woman who is a professor of Economics at NYU in love with a super-smart, handsome Chinese man from Singapore. He has to go home to be best man at a wedding and wants to take her along to meet his family. When they get there, she discovers that he forgot to mention that he is the scion of the Chinese Rockefellers - the wealthiest family with the best real estate, most lavish parties and best known name in that part of the world. Of course she cares only about true love, not money.
Puzzle was a good idea for a small movie about ordinary people whose lives enlarge when they discover gratification from an extraordinary skill for something small. It starts that way with a working class family - father owns an auto-repair shop, mother is a stay-at home housewife, neither son is a shining light Kelly MacDonald plays the part of a woman who has repressed her own feelings for a very long time, going thru the motions of marriage and motherhood by never admitting, analyzing or attempting to change anything. After getting a 1,000 piece puzzle as a random birthday gift, she discovers that she has a talent for this - an innate ability to see how things fit together There is an ironic contrast between her adeptness at this and her inability to see how the pieces of her own life have not served her well.
Recently, a national columnist asked a question to help observe the release of my new book, The Presidents and the Pastime: The History of Baseball and the White House—the first to exhaustively explore the tie between America’s two great institutions: the national pastime and the presidency.
A movie in which Jerusalem symbolizes religious oppression while Berlin represents freedom and liberty is a particularly obscene type of propaganda. Europe frequently compares Israelis to Nazis, claiming that the Jewish state does to Palestinians precisely what the Nazis did to Jews - a blasphemous comparison that an educated person should be ashamed to utter. Yet, here we are viewing “The Cakemaker” and watching Shabbat become synonymous with narrow-minded, even violent religious Jews - people who don’t trust non-Jews and punish those Jews who don’t subscribe to strict orthodoxy. In actuality, only 8% of Israelis identify as ultra-orthodox while 20% of Israelis are Arabs.
On Thursday, June 21, the Times offered a front page article entitled “Incivility Infests Life in the U.S. on Trump’s Cue” , along with a heads-up about “The Art of Hooking Up” that appears on the front page of its Arts section. That review is of an installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale devoted to the “places and practices of casual sex,” specifically gay hookups with “colorful condoms and other sexual accoutrements” scattered on the floor of the pavilion. Although there are 71 participants in this biennale, in keeping with the Times’ devotion to promoting all things gay, this is the one it chose to highlight. More items deemed newsworthy on that day included violence in Nicaragua, the Taliban killing of 30 in Afghanistan and the omission of “horrific details” from the UN report on Syrian chemical attacks.
In its ongoing mission to “epater le bourgeois,” the NYT Style section features an essay by a woman who decides to give sado-masochism a try. (Wanting to Be Dominated, But Not Quite Like That, Aly Tadros 6/10) She tells us about her previous travails - boiler-plate issues with an immigrant father who didn’t understand her, his illness and death, her drinking and her rejection by a previous boyfriend - none of these either extraordinary or interesting. The woman claims not to be a masochist yet she is willing to be bitten hard, whipped with a belt and treated as just one of this man’s submissive playthings outside of his relationship with the woman he lives with and presumably loves. Part of it is explained by her having the freedom to scream, cry and release all the emotions she previously hid or submerged in alcohol, but part is also the titillation of Fifty Shades of Gray and the ongoing acceptance of deviancy as a suitable subject for mainstream media. The subtext is that it’s restorative to behave like a child whose tantrums will be tolerated rather than a grown woman who is expected to control emotional outbursts and deal with common life situations.
In keeping with the logic of Mayor de Blasio and his school chancellor, who both believe that a good solution for black and Latino minorities to get ahead in school is simply to eliminate the standardized test to get into New York’s toughest academies, why not do the same with the La Guardia school for the performing arts? Let’s forget about auditions and portfolios and try to even the number of boys who are admitted since only 26% of the student body is currently male. Why give priority to talent if you believe that intelligence and discipline, as reflected in the ability to ace a standardized test, are not essential pre-requisites for advanced academic work And why not insist that Asians are proportionately represented at La Guardia even if they don’t express as much interest in music and art. Or that girls, who currently account for only 40% of Stuyvesant are similarly favored to even their quota there.
This was Virgil’s opening line in the Aeneid and it came to mind in the brief clip of Morgan Freeman, the latest celebrity apologizer, as he sat across from a comely tv interviewer wearing a short, tight, sleeveless, v-neck dress that had climbed to mid-thigh while she was seated. Unsurprisingly, he stared and commented on its brevity and when she stood and pulled it down, he pleaded with her not to change the object of his gaze She giggled flirtatiously at the time, but apparently thought twice when MeToo seemed a better route to follow and now 80 year old Morgan is in hot water too
Now that the hoopla over the Royal Wedding has simmered down, it’s time to question why - with all the party planners, all the experts at royal protocol, and all the santimony over how old rules were being boldly ejected in favor of a newer more inclusive era - Doria Ragland, the black mother of the Duchess of Sussex was allowed to sit alone throughout the church ceremony. If Prince Charles could walk his future daughter-in-law down the aisle in a show of familial warmth, why wouldn’t he insist that Doria be seated next to him and his wife during the ceremony? And where was Meghan when these plans were made? For an assertive woman who refused to say the word “obey” in her marriage vows, why wouldn’t she demand that her mother, who represented her only relative at this event, be treated like a member of the newly joined family instead of being seated alone like an outcast.
Comedian Tig Notaro, interviewed in the NYTimes, had this to say about the possiblity of disgraced men of influence returning to their various jobs: “If a janitor was so great at cleaning the building but also tended to masturbate in front of people, would the people at that building be like, “yes, he masturbated, but I’ve never seen anyone clean so thoroughly, and I was just wondering when he’s going to get his job back, he so good at it.” No it would be “that’s not acceptable.” It’s fame and power that people are blinded by.” (NYT 5/19)
One of the 21st Century’s most successful advertising campaigns was “The Most Interesting Man in The World” for the Mexican beer, Dos Equis. The ads featured a stylish, bearded middle-aged man and described his fascinating life. It ended this year after a 12-year run and a failed transition to a younger lead actor. But that “interesting man” was a fictional character. If I had to select the real-life “Most Interesting Man in the World”, it would have been Gustav Born, a 96-year-old medical pharmacologist who died last month. His story reaches over centuries and involves some of the world’s most prominent people and events.
Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are certainly not alone among married politicians when we talk about affairs of the heart. In 1958, only one Democrat in Congress lost a seat, and the loser was a woman. There were no steamy revelations about former Rep. Coya Knutson of Oklee, Minn. But there was a conflict of interest even in those innocent days before the Monkey Business and the “Hart” went out of Congressional romance.
Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman and Charlize Theron sound like an unbeatable team of irreverence and straight-shooting. The trailer for Tully similarly manages to cull the smartest dialogue and best reaction shots - so what could go wrong?
You needn’t be an orthodox Jew to feel the insult to religion in this movie. It helps to keep in mind that its writer/director is Sebastian Lelio, the same man who gave us The Fantastic Woman, an Oscar winning film about a transgender woman, but in truth, this movie could have been endorsed by the LGBT movement or the prevailing secular progressive arm of liberal American politics. The plot is simple and revolves around a rebellious drop-out from the orthodox Jewish community in London, the daughter of a renowned rabbi who relocates to NY where she becomes a photographer of society’s fringe inhabitants. Played by Rachel Weisz, we immediately see that she’s a chain smoker - shorthand for cool bad girl - but she returns to London for the sudden death and funeral of her father. Though she presumably lived with her parents until she was a young adult, she shows little familiarity with or tolerance for the rigid customs of this community. This is seen immediately as she reaches out to touch her father’s designated successor, a bearded young rabbi who is not allowed to touch any women but his own wife. We discover early on that Ronit (Rachel) became persona non grata due to a previous lesbian liaison with Esti (Rachel McAdams) who is now the rebbetzin sporting a suitable wig and clothes.
With particularly myopic arrogance, Jesse Green, theater critic of the New York Times, lauds the new production of My Fair Lady as the best one ever because it serves as “an ur-text of the #MeToo movement (NYT 4/20/18) Never mind the genius of George Bernard Shaw or the combined brilliance of Lerner and Lowe - it took director Bartlett Sher to show us “how history -even if it took 100 years - would eventually start to outgrow its brutes, and how it still might do so compassionately by teaching them a lesson.” We all know the famous quote (falsely attributed to Samuel Goldwyn) “If you want to send a message, call Western Union,” but apparently for Jesse Green, a lesson is even more valuable than a message and we can all go to school on the collective wisdom of such luminaries as Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan.
Horror films usually fall into two categories: those that are filled with monsters that threaten us from the outside, and those that are full of psychological resonance and an important interior logic. In the second category belong films by Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick - master manipulators of the form. John Krasinski’s new box office hit belongs squarely in the realm of the arbitrary imposition of an alien force on a defenseless population. A Quiet Place concerns a family with three children trying to survive in a state with blind predators who resemble aliens or dinosaurs and respond only to sound, instantly devouring what they hear and conquer. The family must use sign language to communicate and clearly exist in a state of perpetual fear.
Walking on water—that’s the surreal feeling I had at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in the Texas Hill Country. I arrived late evening to a welcoming, delicious picnic meal—a hint of what was to come! My cabin, one of 40, had a private fountain garden in the rear and a terrace facing the lake. Once I opened the bath salts, the fresh lavender aroma filled the comfy room. The soaking tub faced a lush garden outside and fresh flowers inside, perfect for a tranquil night’s sleep.
Austin has often been called America’s favorite city with its vibrant music and downtown renewal. Like many other guests I was so relaxed at the world class spa resort that once there, I didn’t want to leave—not even for a 30-minute car ride (or water taxi) to check out the downtown music scene. There’s something about the serenity of a lake, the ripple effect, and ions—in this case, the 19-mile long river—that adds another dimension to spa life, wellness and healing.
START THE DAY RIGHT
Although not a breakfast person, I couldn’t resist the avocado toast with crisp bacon and juicy tomato topped with a sunny side up egg in the lakeside Astor Café in the morning. I learned, too, that it was Michael McAdams and William Bucks who purchased the neglected 19-acre property and transformed it into a destination luxury spa and wellness retreat. That was twenty years ago and today it continues to provide excellence in health and wellness. The activity schedule includes not only water activities but also tarot classes, drumming for full body strength, hoop dancing, Pilates, floating meditation or acoustic guitar meditation: Self-improvement in all areas of life for those of us open to learning and unplugging. As difficult as it may be, leave your digital devices at the door. You’ll be relieved you did. You can do as much—or as little—as you wish. Chill in a hammock lakeside, embark on a mindful hike or work with an individual trainer.
After a morning yoga class in the tree house, I felt a call to the lake. Here, during a river cruise, Captain Chuck pointed out Blue Herons nesting in pecan trees along the shoreline during a river cruise. One side of the water is a nature
preserve and the other dotted with handsome limestone houses and a matching two-story boathouse and decks. Later, while peddling a hydro-bike, I watched a lone coot swimming against the lush green landscape. Also available to guests are Howie leg-powered stand-up pedal boards, stand-up paddle boards, and kayaks. Don’t miss this opportunity to walk on water.
HEALTHY INSIDE OUT
Hunger pangs are quickly satisfied: Fresh fruit, smoothies, and homemade frozen yogurt are available anytime—banana cream became a favorite. Enjoy lunch in your robe on the patio by the spa or in the main restaurant, which has the intimate feel of a friend’s lake house. Of course, calorie counts are listed, after all this is a spa resort. Executive Chef Stefane Beauchamp’s nutritiously creative preparations would lead you to think five-star restaurant rather than a spa. The bison burger was delicious at lunch as was the locally caught redfish followed by gluten-free key lime pie at dinner. The organic produce and herbs including 45 varieties of basil are grown on the property or sourced from local purveyors. Be sure to drop in for one of the winning French chef’s fun cooking classes with ample tastings.
Spa treatments are amazing, and like the classes and activities, try one
or all? The Neroli Blossom Sensory Massage and Texas Starry Night Massage were tempting, but I opted for the Weekend Warrior, one of the newly introduced body treatments—80 minutes of a customized deep tissue massage combined with assisted gentle range of motion exercise. My tight muscles felt like putty in the hands of the skilled therapist. Treatments focus on energy healing, organic skin care, water emersion therapies and oxygen facials. After your spa treatment, be sure to relax in the soothing Blue Room with gardens hand-painted on linen wall panels and while there experience meditation through coloring.
Lake Austin Spa has superb personalized service, activities, and treatments without “attitude” for the savvy guest. It’s a healing place for body, mind, and spirit. A piece of that energy is now a part of me. After a few days of pampering, I returned home with a feeling of renewal and a package of the fresh lavender bath salts to mimic that wonderful Zen feeling as though I was immersed in the organic lavender field overlooking the lake. . . What a delightful way to spend Congressional recess.