Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Cafes in the Village are Better Than Cafes on the Upper West Side

It's slightly depressing to be a third year law student with six weeks left of school and to be stuck spending my Thursday night typing away on a school paper past midnight. My spirits have been raised slightly however, by soaking in the atmosphere and people-watching at the West Village cafe I've been sitting in for the last four hours. When I first arrived, I sat down to the right of a group of three German young professionals who may or may not work for the United Nations or for an elementary school with an excessive amount of school-spirit (they kept up a steady stream of conversation in German while interjecting the word "General Assembly" about every 10 minutes). On the other side of me was a kindred spirit engrossed in typing away on her computer and getting work done.

Soon after I sat down I felt transplanted to Tel Aviv (it helped that the cafe is Israeli-owned and everyone that works here is Israeli) when a group of three Israeli guys walked in led by a smooth talking 40-something-year-old with a bit of a paunch and the top three buttons of his shirt open in typical Israeli high fashion. (His two compadres were both younger and skinnier than him but also less talkative). The 3 guys were followed almost immediately by a group of three girls, and Mr. Smoothie wasted no time in introducing himself to them. I gathered from my eavesdropping that the girls were visiting from Austin, TX, that this was their first night on the town in New York, that one of them plays in a klezmer band and that they're all Jewish but none of them speak Hebrew. Well, before I know it the two groups of three have expanded to a happy group of six and the girls from Texas must think that New York is the friendliest place in the country (and just maybe it is tonight, at least in this tiny corner of the city). Sitting next to that group of six was a petite brown eyed girl whose head was dwarfed by her computer screen, but she got in on the chatter for a few minutes and let the G-6 know that her parents are from Jerusalem before she returned to the glow of her computer screen.

By hour three the first informal seating at the cafe was over and everyone went their separate ways. The G-6 were replaced by a lone rastafarian with dreads wrapped up around his head in a bandana, who came in sporting a rather unique all-black outfit with a big sticker on his guitar case of the Israeli flag. An interesting character I'm sure. He plopped himself down on the couch and started plucking away at his guitar entertaining himself but he disappeared a little while ago to burn incense and bounce positive vibes, or maybe just crazy ones, off the walls of his cramped apartment on the Lower East Side.

To my left now, the Germans have been replaced by a fellow law student who I think is a first year, because who else would be studying from their law books in a cafe at 1 in the morning?? The kindred spirit to my right has been replaced by a lively and ever-expanding group of Polish and Danish female models who are waiting out the clock before hitting the club scene. I'm pretty sure that my presence has barely registered on their radar screen, but hey, I'm not complaining.

All this has led me to the oft-repeated conclusion that Village cafes are far superior to the ones in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I live on 99th and Broadway. On the corner of 98th there's a Starbucks. On the corner of 95th there's a Starbucks. On the corner of 93rd there's a Starbucks. I think you get the idea. At this hour, the Starbucks have shuttered their windows for the night and will reopen in time to satisfy their customers' morning coffee additictions. In the meantime, I'm stuck in a cafe in the West Village, writing my paper and soaking in the atmosphere.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In The News Again....

Though this one might not rise to the level of getting my head shot and words of wisdom published in New York Magazine, I couldn't resist sharing my most recent mention in the press. As you'll see, it's all uphill downhill from here and people might actually start thinking I'm someone important. (Don't worry, I'm not letting this get to my head).

One of the political blogs I've become hooked on this primary election season is a blog known as The Fix, written by Chris Cillizza and published on the Washington Post politics website. I'd highly recommend this blog to anyone looking for articulate, easy to read and insightful political analysis; it's one of my favorite sources to get my daily - sometimes hourly - dose of politics updates. The Fix has a tradition of running an online predictions contest on the day of any significant primary vote in the Presidential race. In the blog's comments section, readers are invited to submit their guess for the percentage split of votes between the candidates in both the Democratic and Republican contests and to craft what they think the newspaper headlines will be the morning after the election. Winners are then announced for the most accurate predictions for the Republican and Democratic primaries, and for the best storyline.

On a whim (I don't remember what exactly prompted me to do it, but I think it was a slow day in class), I decided to submit my prediction for the outcome of the Ohio-Texas primaries and jotted down what I thought would be the headline the next morning. Well, today I found out that I won the best storyline!! (Though the actual primary results were available last week, The Fix makes sure to review all the submissions extremely carefully to avoid any possibility of a recount). My grand prize will be an official Fix T-Shirt, which I'm looking forward to wearing proudly. Check out the winners' announcement online by clicking here (I'm identified by my screen name aglasner, in case you're wondering.)

My winning headlines:

Hillary Three-Steps Her Way to Wins in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island as the Democratic Dance Marathon Heads to Pennsylvania.

Huckabee Runs Out Of Steam (and Miracles) - McCain Captures The Crown.

This comes a close second to the time I was mentioned in passing in a government newsletter devoted to the West Wing, one of the best television shows to ever air, but then I at least had my full name disclosed as opposed to just my screen name. The big question now is do I get a small, medium or large t-shirt? Submit your vote in my comments section. The t-shirt size with the highest vote tally will be the one I pick (subject to certain overriding factors such as whether I think it will fit my extremely muscular and sculpted upper body frame).

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Super Tuesday (Reloaded)

I just walked in the door a few minutes ago and turned on CNN to hear Wolf Blitzer announcing that the network was calling the Texas primary for Hillary. The announcement capped a remarkable comeback for Hillary's campaign after a string of primary losses, and I'm sure the spin machines in both camps are in overdrive mode right now.

Here are some quick thoughts on how tonight came about, and what will happen next (while I make a meager attempt at maintaining an objective position):

What Happened?
Instead of being the vehicle for news items about the primary race, the mainstream press has officially become "the story" of this campaign. Six weeks ago, I wrote about the media's newfound conviction in its own ability to persuade public opinion. Much to the media's dismay, it appears I was right. The New York Times was the first newspaper to fall victim to the media's particular brand of hubris when it published an article about John McCain's ties to a lobbyist that came across as a poorly-timed, ill-conceived and unsubstantiated partisan attack on the Republican nominee. A week later, Saturday Night Live aired its skit of a faux Hillary-Obama debate that featured the reporters swooning over Obama while they grilled Hillary to a charred piece of toast. The sketch led to some serious (and perhaps self-indulgent) soul searching on the media's part and put them in a lose-lose situation: Either they make a public show of vetting Obama and concede that they presented a one-sided outlook on the Democratic primary race, or they ignore the SNL sketch and risk the same fate that befell the New York Times.

In the last four days, the mainstream press decided to go with the former option (consciously or unconsciously, I don't know). This change in direction has been evidenced by numerous articles exploring in greater detail Obama's ties to Tony Rezko, a former political supporter and fundraiser whose trial on corruption charges in Chicago began on Monday, and by articles trumpeting details of a meeting between an advisor to Obama and the Canadian embassy, in which Obama's advisor allegedly stated words to the effect that his candidate's public position on NAFTA in Ohio was merely political posturing.

While I personally feel that the media's decision to increase its scrutiny of Obama was overdue and that Hillary has in fact taken the brunt of the negative press, I understand that there's little scientific evidence in support or opposition to my opinion. Regardless, the media's decision to publish more negative articles about Obama makes it vulnerable now to suggestions that reporters are easily manipulated when they feel their image is being tarnished, and that there are no satisfactory measures in place to ensure impartial and detached reporting while on the campaign trail. Of course, all of this could have potentially been avoided had the media conducted a more thorough self-examination before SNL aired its public shaming. Since it failed to do so, Hillary captured crucial momentum in the days leading up to the Texas and Ohio primaries that helped carry her to victories in those states.

What Happens Next?
The short answer to what happens next is that both candidates keep campaigning. Mississippi's primary is coming up on March 11th, which Obama will be sure to win. That victory will help him to stem some of the loss of momentum that he'll wake up to after losing Ohio & Texas. Beyond Mississippi however, Obama and Hillary will continue to battle over super delegates (while I continue to want to be one) and they'll also continue to throw themselves at Bill Richardson and John Edwards to try and secure their endorsements. Pennsylvania, which holds its election on April 22nd, will become the next "must-win primary" and "major-cliffhanger-that-CNN-will-discuss-with-all-of-its-talking-heads-for-hours-and-hours" in what has become a season full of them. While Hillary will need a win in that state in order to keep her candidacy viable, Pennsylvania's demographic composition favors such an outcome.

Perhaps most importantly, in between now and April 22nd, the Democratic Party will need to work out a compromise to ensure that Florida and Michigan's delegates are seated at the party convention in August. The party's decision to punish the two states for holding early primaries by banning them from the convention was never supposed to matter, and everyone assumed that the nominee would have enough of a delegate margin that Florida and Michigan could be invited back to the convention without affecting its outcome. Now that their 300+ delegates will make a difference, however, the Democratic party needs to have some kind of re-vote in Florida and Michigan since neither Obama nor Hillary campaigned in them. (Without a re-vote, the Democrats would be effectively ceding those states to John McCain in the general election because their residents will never go Democratic if the party choses to disenfranchise them from electing the party's nominee). Ironically enough, all of this means that Florida and Michigan will get their wish of having major input on selecting the nominee, which is why they moved their primaries earlier to begin with!

To work out the terms of the re-vote, Howard Dean, the head of the Democratic party who has remained behind the scenes for much of the primary season, must adopt a more visible role to keep both the Obama and Hillary camps satisfied. Dean also needs to dedicate himself to ensuring that the two camps maintain their pledge of party unity even as the primary remains undecided. On March 3rd, Howard Dean warned against an extended primary because he feared it would become divisive. Well, it looks like his wish isn't going to come true. Contrary to Dean's warning, a long Democratic primary has some upsides. For example, it means that John McCain will have to delay in honing down his attack machine until he knows who exactly he'll be facing in the general election. So long as the Democratic candidates adhere to their message of unity and to their seemingly genuine displays of respect for one another's candidacies, a long primary process also reflects extraordinary well on the Democratic Party. It demonstrates to the public that the party can present two highly qualified candidates and choose one of them through a grueling, but fair and democratic election process, which focuses on substantive issues without resorting to party in-fighting. For these reasons, instead of warning against a long primary season, Howard Dean should be touting the successes that both candidates have enjoyed, as well as the extraordinary position in which the Democratic Party now finds itself.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ten Years, Seven Books

Sorry for being silent on the airwaves lately - I've been consumed by schoolwork, campaigning for Hillary (and keeping my fingers crossed for her this Tuesday), and, last but not least, reading the last of the Harry Potter book series. One week ago today, I blazed through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows during the course of a weekend. Now, I know this is relatively old news since most Potter fans already read the book months ago, but I just wanted to take a moment to reminisce on a series of books that have literally captured the hearts and minds of adult and children readers alike, mine included.

The Harry Potter series was most remarkable to me because the story of Harry and his compatriots unfolded in the imaginations of millions of readers in virtual-real time over the course of 10 years. While Harry grew up from an innocent 10-year old to a battle-weary 17-year old, so too did a generation of children who passed through adolescence fighting their own demons (most often in the form of their parents) during those 10 years. Though I started reading the books when I had already graduated from that stage of life - the first book came out in the States in the fall of my sophomore year of college - I too went through a transformation while reading the Harry Potter books, from being a naive college student, to an overworked investment banker, then on to a happy three years as a law student, and, now, with graduation on the horizon, to standing at the prescipice of embarking on my career.

Future readers may not have that opportunity to share in Harry Potter's growing up and I can only too easily envision them speeding through all seven books in the space of a week's time. I probably would have done the same thing if all the books were out when I first started reading them. Nevertheless, I think that's too bad, because reading the books spaced out over time was perhaps the best part of the whole experience.