Gitell.com Says Goodbye

February 8, 2009

I write today with the bittersweet news that I am suspending my primary writing outlet for more than two years, Gitell.com. This website served as an eclectic collection of musings and reporting, on subjects ranging from the 2008 presidential campaign to Middle East politics, great deli to Chinese food.

In the world of blogging such a diverse website is not supposed to succeed. I received my share of lectures from web experts urging me to narrowcast. I shouldn’t just write about pets or cats or black cats, they said, but one-eyed black cats. That was how I could hope to wring money out of the media at a time of transformation and retrenchment, they said. I never heeded that advice. The site fit into no existing blogosphere community – an all but certain way to boost website traffic. I never wanted to generate gruel for the ideologically converted. No. Gitell.com will stand as the repository of quirky interests of a person with plenty of passions.

I’m particularly proud of the response Gitell.com gained in a number of areas. My writing on veterans’ affairs, influenced by my father, garnered a constant stream of visitors. See this piece on the Vietnam War Memorial. Then, there were the pieces I thought of as the web equivalent of a Boston Globe metro column: for example, the story of my neighbor, a witness to the Warsaw Ghetto horror, himself taken to Germany as a slave laborer after participating in the little-remembered Warsaw revolt. Then there are my writings on the people who helped forge the political character of Boston, such as Albie Sherman and Charlie Doyle. And, of course, food. I’ll probably miss that the most.

It’s a tribute to the site and the brilliance of the great departed John Cazale that a post about him is the fourth-most trafficked piece in the history of Gitell.com.

As much as Gitell.com ran contrary to the flow of conventional web thinking, it won more than its fair share of of acclaim and recognition. The site was linked to by Politico and Slate, The New Republic and other sites. My piece on encountering documentarian Ken Burns at Costco was quoted in the print edition of The Washington Post. Another post was excerpted on the op-ed page of The Boston Globe. Amidst the more than 205,000 blogs associated with WordPress, Gitell.com was selected “Blog of the Day” and “Hawt Post” on a number of occasions.

All-in-all, it was a great run. I’m moving on to a terrific opportunity. To all my readers, I thank you for your loyalty and support. Farewell.

EDIT. February 10, 2009. Many have written asking about my new coordinates. The State House News Service reported today that I have joined the new Speaker of the House in Massachusetts, Rep. Robert DeLeo, as his director of communications.

The Neighborhood Ball

January 21, 2009

I’m really enjoying The Neighborhood Ball. Within the first fifty minutes, America was treated to dueling divas. As much as I like Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” Beyonce got the best of her with her sublime performance of “At Last.” President Obama brandished his community organizing credentials when he talked about building neighborhoods across the country.

As for the presence of Queen Latifah, it’s bringing back some very fond memories I have of President Clinton’s inauguration in 1992. Following her performance at the inaugural afterparty at the Old Post Office, I got to congratulate her and chat about the incoming administration.

Yes-We-Cake

January 20, 2009

Yes We Cake

The Fabulous Dana’s culinary contribution to today’s festivities. Read more at YesWeCake.

A Day to Make History: A Look At Prior Inaugural Addresses

January 20, 2009

Given the magnitude of today’s inauguration, there are extremely high expectations for President-Elect Obama’s speech. With the historic nature of his own candidacy, the drastic dislike for President Bush, the economic crisis, the inauguration is drawing the biggest crowds in the Mall anyone has seen in at least a generation — far bigger than anti-war protests even in the midst of an unpopular war.

My sense is that Obama will meet the extremely high expectations set for him. His speech is twinned with the Rev. Martin Luther King III. Because of both Obama’s rhetorical style and coincidence, his big speeches invite comparison to King. He will go back to the themes of his Boston Democratic National Convention speech — change and unity — and tailor it for the economic crisis.

Here’s some of the language Obama could pick from to describe aspects of his election(taken from The Lakeside Press’s collection of Inaugural Addresses.)

What the President’s Election Means During a Financial Meltdown

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity…We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. The have made me the present instrument of their wishes—Franklin Roosevelt, 1933.

Interestingly Roosevelt’s most memorable line from that address came in the fifth sentence of the speech.

Setting Expectations

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in the lifetime of our planet. But let us begin—John F. Kennedy, 1961.

Today, we’ll also get a dash of Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

On Change

There has been a change of government. It began two years ago, when the House of Representatives became Democratic by a decisive majority. It has now been completed. The Senate about to assemble will also be Democratic. The office of president and vice president have been put into the hands of Democrats. What does change mean? That is the question that is uppermost in our minds today…We shall restore, not destroy. We shall deal with our economic system as it is and as it may be modified, not as it might be if we had a clean sheet of paper to write upon; and step by step we shall make it what it should be, in the spirit of those who question their own wisdom…Woodrow Wilson, 1917.

On Unity

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.—Abraham Lincoln, 1864

Finally, I’d suggest that Obama not borrow from the pedestrian epic of William Harry Harrison in 1841. It went on for an hour and forty-five minutes. Here’s a taste.

Upward of half a century has elapsed since the adoption of the present form of government. It would be an object more highly desirable than the gratification of the curiosity of speculative statesmen if its precise situation could be ascertained, a fair exhibit made of the operations of each of its departments, of the powers which they respectively claim and exercise, of the collisions which have occurred between them or between the whole Government and those of the States or either of them. We could then compare our actual condition after fifty years’ trial of our system with what it was in the commencement of its operations and ascertain whether the predictions of the patriots who opposed its adoption or the confident hopes of its advocates have been best realized. The great dread of the former seems to have been that the reserved powers of the States would be absorbed by those of the Federal Government and a consolidated power established, leaving to the States the shadow only of that independent action for which they had so zealously contended and on the preservation of which they relied as the last hope of liberty. Without denying that the result to which they looked with so much apprehension is in the way of being realized, it is obvious that they did not clearly see the mode of its accomplishment. The General Government has seized upon none of the reserved rights of the States. As far as any open warfare may have gone, the State authorities have amply maintained their rights. To a casual observer our system presents no appearance of discord between the different members which compose it. Even the addition of many new ones has produced no jarring. They move in their respective orbits in perfect harmony with the central head and with each other. But there is still an undercurrent at work by which, if not seasonably checked, the worst apprehensions of our antifederal patriots will be realized, and not only will the State authorities be overshadowed by the great increase of power in the executive department of the General Government, but the character of that Government, if not its designation, be essentially and radically changed. This state of things has been in part effected by causes inherent in the Constitution and in part by the never-failing tendency of political power to increase itself.

Harrison’s speech came during a frigid day with a snowstorm. He promptly spent the rest of the day outside greeting well wishers. He caught a cold that day and died of pneumonia a month later.

Waiting for the Stimulus

January 15, 2009

Displaced Okies

As George W. Bush takes the stage for one last time tonight — finally! — a cry threatens to overtake him and even the new president who is the object of so much hope and anticipation. The stimulus. In offices and conference rooms, in anxious dens converted to workspace and breakfast halls, you hear it. Just hang on until the stimulus package kicks in. It’s a refrain that has become part of the public lexicon — part of the sober speeches of the day — Things may be bad now, but the stimulus will get things going again.

All the hope and anticipation for the stimulus plan – being finalized in the House of Representatives today — reminds me of the plight of those displaced Okies seeking work in California after the bank seizure of their farms during the Depression. It’s what John Steinbeck wrote about in The Grapes of Wrath. Back then, the hope centered on jobs in the Golden State, which the farmers learned about via the distribution of handbills. ” ‘We seen them han’bills. I got one right here.’ He took out his purse and from it took a folded orange handbill. In black type it said, ‘Pea Pickers Wanted in California. Good wages. All Season. 800 Pickers Wanted.’ ”

That’s not, however, how it turned out. Here’s Steinbeck’s devastating summation of what happened when they arrived in California.

“When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it — fought with a low wage. If that fella’ll work for thirty cents, I’ll work for twenty-five.

If he’ll take twenty-five, I’ll do it for twenty.

No, me, I’m hungry. I’ll work for fifteen. I’ll work for food. The kids. You ought to see them…Me. I’ll work for a little piece of meat.

And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up.”

I don’t have any reason to believe that our economy won’t get cooking soon — helped along by the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates and President-Elect Obama’s stimulus package. But it is instructive to consider the psychological aspects to a downturn, none greater than depicted in Steinbeck’s classic novel.

Bush’s Farewell

January 12, 2009

Anatomy of a Failed Presidency 

 
President Bush gave his exit interview with the press. I was struck by the extent to which Bush agreed to many of the critiques of his critics. On the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, on his Mission Accomplished photo op, on his handling of Hurricane Katrina, Bush admitted mistakes. For administration members to have even privately acknowledged these  only a few years ago would have been entirely forbidden.

The Right is already at work with its attempt to reassess Bush. See Rich Lowry’s earlier National Review interview with Bush or Charles Krauthammer’s earlier piece. ABC’s Jake Tapper tried to push Bush beyond platitudes at today’s press conference getting him to address not the goals of his policies, but the execution of his plans. Kudo’s to Jake for that.

Bush did say one thing today which I believe will serve him well in his attempt to remake his image. “And the other thing is, when I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage,” Bush said. ” I believe there ought to be, you know, one person in the klieg lights at a time, and I’ve had my time in the klieg lights.”

The best thing Bush can do from the standpoint of his legacy is get off the stage. I’d joke and say he should stay there. That’s too easy, though. Bush fundamentally has to give people time to forget about him.

Right now, Bush faces grim prospects. Publishers are interested in what his wife has to say, but not him. Over time, I’d expect him to put together memoirs — even if doesn’t garner a big advance. A modest presidential library — in contrast to Bill Clinton’s self-monument — a political center at a university, and maybe some work following the domestic model of Jimmy Carter, may slowly help Bush capture some stature. A gesture in the direction of rebuilding New Orleans would be a good place to start — and the right thing to do.

Here’s Bush’s predicament. He’s the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon left office. Yet he lacks Nixon’s tremendous will to come back  as well as Nixon’s brain. His best hope for any semblance of a legacy may be the fact that Americans have short memories.

Bush Packs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council

January 7, 2009

In a rush of appointments prior to leaving office, President Bush is naming key supporters to a number of presidential commissions. Today Bush left his stamp on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, which I wrote about a few weeks back. Here is the list of appointments:

 

Elliot Abrams, of Virginia, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Joshua B. Bolten, of the District of Columbia, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Alan I. Casden, of California, for the remainder of a five-year term expiring 01/15/11;

 

Michael Chertoff, of New Jersey, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

William Danhof, of Michigan, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Sanford Gottesman, of Texas, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Cheryl Feldman Halpern, of New Jersey, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

J. David Heller, of Ohio, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Amy Kaslow, of Maryland, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

M. Ronald Krongold, of Florida, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Michael B. Mukasey, of New York, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;

 

Daniel Silva, of the District of Columbia, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09.

 

The list includes many of Bush’s biggest allies in the Jewish community. Notice Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

What makes Bush’s appointments here interesting is the degree to which the Holocaust Memorial has become an object of bipartisan support — to the point where appointment to its council is considered a political plum with which to reward diehard backers.

There was a time during the Clinton Administration, when conservatives, particularly neocons viewed the Holocaust Memorial with suspicion.  In 1993, Philip Gourevitch (not really a neocon, but writing for the Forward in its conservative incarnation) wrote a groundbreaking piece critical of the memorial in Harpers. Jonathan Rosen critqued it in the New York Times the same year. And my friend Ira Stoll described the museum as a “a playpen for Clinton loyalists” in the Wall Street Journal in 2001.

Now the Bushies will have the Memorial with which to play.

 

Anderson Cooper and the Gaza War

December 30, 2008

Given all the criticism that takes place of the media whenever conflict flares in the Middle East, I have to single Anderson Cooper out for praise. In the midst of his tough questioning of all of his guests, Cooper demonstrated a sense of the context of it.

Here’s Cooper: “To give you a better idea of what Israel is dealing with, here’s the ‘Raw Data’ on Hamas. The group took over Gaza back in June of last year, after winning parliamentary elections the year before. Dating back to 1987, during the first Palestinian uprising, Hamas has never wavered in its commitment to Israel’s destruction, and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and, obviously, Israel.

The organization is believed to have between 15,000 and 20,000 troops, thousands of short-range rockets, and ample funding, some of it coming from Iran.”

Cooper even referenced a CNN report from prior in the year which showed the tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt.

Cooper’s smooth handling of a complicated issue contrasted with a Democratic strategist and Huffington Post contributor, Hillary Rosen, who was very much out of her league.

think the issue, though, is, you know, that there needs to be a — an agreement for a Palestinian state. Barack Obama campaigned on the idea of having a peaceful Palestinian state, living side by side within the — with the state of Israel. And, to do that, you have to go beyond Hamas. You have to deal with this more as a — as Palestinian issue, and not just as a — an issue of the immediate violence.

At this point, President Bush, President-Elect Obama and many Israelis all support a Palestinian state. Right now, the Israelis face two different — and opposing — Palestinian governments, one in the West Bank, the other in Gaza. With whom are they supposed to make peace?

I was also impressed with the perspective of Reza Aslan, who acknowledged that it was a complex problem. Here’s the exchange — which again reflects Cooper’s understanding of what is happening.

COOPER: Reza, where is there room between Hamas and Israel for some sort of agreement? I mean, unless Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist and — and stops firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas, it’s hard to see how any kind of a deal can be struck. 

ASLAN: Well, the truth is that the more elemental problem is to get an agreement not between Hamas and Israel, but between Hamas and Fatah, between the Gaza and the West Bank, because the idea of the two-state solution and of a — of a stable, economically viable Palestinian state is simply a pipe dream, unless we can figure out a way to create some kind of accommodation between these two parts of the Palestinian government. 

I’m also going to refer interested readers to my prior posts on Gaza after a visit to the embattled Israeli city of Sderot, here and here.

Christmas Means Chinese Food

December 24, 2008

When I was growing up back in Hull, there was no bigger treat than a late-night Chinese feast. I’d rip open the white carton containers and grab spare ribs and chicken wings straight out of the hot foil bags adorned with dragons as a fierce wind blew off the ocean and made the windows shake. I’ll be thinking of that memory as I eat my usual Christmas Eve Chinese meal tonight.

Back then the cuisine was what we called “Cantonese.” But it was really much more solid Americanized Chinese food than the food of any region of China. It came, as most Chinese food then did, with little dinner rolls and butter.  (I’ll explain the origin of that New England tradition below.) The restaurant that served the food, Hull’s Sar Ho Village, sadly no longer exists.

 

In honor of the tradition of eating Chinese food at Christmas, I’m going to list some of my favorite places in the area. I invite you to write in with places I may have missed.

All-Around Favorite

Chinatown. Stoughton, MA – When my father visited last month from Las Vegas, he said he hadn’t had a decent Chinese meal in years. I drove him right down to Cobbs Corner. This is a restaurant that has mastered the traditional favorites but offers a great variety of newer dishes as well. I think it excels in freshness and quality. It crosses generation divides. My father went ultra-old school, ordering beef chop suey and boneless spare ribs! The Fabulous Dana has newer tastes with a palate that prefers moo shu and chow fun dishes. I like everything.

Chinatown/Sea Food 

Several years ago I went on a quest for the best salt and pepper squid in Boston. That quest lead me to a basement restaurant in Chinatown, Peach Farm Restaurant. I’ve since had the whole fried fish, lobster, and scores of other dishes here and never been lead astray.

Chinatown/Fast Food

Chinatown Cafe.  262 Harrison Avenue. This place offers incredible value for the taste. I love to get the black pepper beef. It’s also great for the roast duck noodle soup with wontons, a dish that really hits the spot on a cold winter day. I consider this more a lunch spot. You order at the counter and wait for your number to be called.

Weekday Dim Sum

Chau Chau. Dorchester.  This place offers Chinatown-level food with the convenience of free parking and an easily accessible location. I go when I have  a dim sum fix, when I need Chinese food on my way to the South Shore, or when I’m meeting somebody from the Boston Globe. The location is the same one I used to frequent when it was Linda Mae’s.

Real Szechuan

Mary Chung. Central Square. Cambridge. This is the place to go for as authentic Szechuan cuisine as you can get in Boston. I had the spicy beef broth and noodles, a perfect treat for a raw day, and the Suan La Chow Show, a dumpling dish. In addition to the food, this restaurant brought me back to the old Central Square. I remember the Central Square of when my father first moved to Cambridge as a funky, eclectic locale filled with new ethnic restaurants catering to the student community of MIT. (Remember how many Indian restaurants there used to be!) Mary Chung still has that vibe.

Best Alternative to Golden Temple

Mandarin Gourmet. Putterham Circle, South Brookline. I’ve got nothing against Chef Changs on Beacon Street other than its too inconvenient for me to frequent.  No question Golden Temple has amazing quality. But the prices have gotten so out of control that even former Bernie Madoff clients can’t go there any more. I find that Mandarin Gourmet has solid quality for an array of Chinese dishes. The dinner dishes are superior to the luncheon specials. The fine owners of Mandarin Gourmet have more than lived up to the reputation of the predecessor institution, Ho Sai Gai.

Best Newcomer

Kantin. The food court at the Super 88. Packards Corner. Allston. This place offers all the dishes I like at the Chinatown Cafe only with a parking lot.

Now for a final observations and a story. I’m concerned that aside from Asian Americans — many of them foreign born students — I’m not seeing many young people eating Chinese food these days. I’m well aware of the popularity of Thai and Sushi these days, but I could see Chinese food going the way of print journalism in a few decades.

I’ve heard all kinds of people mock the New England practice of serving dinner rolls with Chinese meals. Even as knowledgeable a source and passionate Kowloon aficionado as Howie Carr stated his befuddlement at it — and Howie, for reasons I’ll enumerate, of all people should know better. Back in the early days of Chinese food in Boston, Chinatown abutted Italian bread bakeries. In fact, it still dies. Wedged right between Chinatown and the Boston Herald is Quinzani’s.  Somehow that proximity lead Chinese restauranteurs to buy dinner rolls along with their meals. A sign of how old-school a Chinese restaurant is in Massachusetts is if they still follow this practice. If anyone has any more detail on the origin of this, please let me know.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

 

 

 

More Caroline Kennedy: Supports Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

December 22, 2008

I just left a memorial luncheon for the great David Nyhan, presided over by Ed Jesser and Marty Nolan. The Kennedy Room in Doyle’s was abuzz with talk of Caroline Kennedy’s quasi-candidacy. Seasoned political hand Jim King recounted his efforts on behalf of Ted Kennedy back in 1961!

While I soaked up the political color — more than I can get into here — I received a news flash via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Kennedy had just come out in favor of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Caroline Kennedy expressed support for Israel and for Jerusalem as its capital.

The scion of the Kennedy clan, who recently expressed her interest in assuming the seat of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) should Clinton be confirmed as secretary of state, answered a New York Times political questionnaire on Saturday, her first such policy statement.

Kennedy expressed “strong support for Israel,” the Times reported, “and said an undivided Jerusalem must be the country’s national capital.”

This recalled another aspect of the Senator Moynihan-Hillary Clinton-Caroline Kennedy connection. Moynihan urged Clinton to embrace the cause of Israel as part of her advocacy of New York. She not only agreed, but broke with President Clinton over it. And I scooped the world on it.

Here’s a caution from a pro-Israel activist on this issue. The comment relates to Clinton, but it could possibly apply to Kennedy as well:

Morrie Amitay, who is a former director of Aipac, a Washington lawyer, and a pro-Israel activist, cautioned against reading too much into Mrs. Clinton’s statement. “What a candidate says before they’re elected is fairly meaningless. She’s become a friend of Israel only recently. You do not know what she really believes,” Mr. Amitay said. Pre-election statements on Jerusalem have bedeviled political candidates on both sides of the aisle. Asked about moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by Morton Klein at a private fundraiser in 1999, President Bush, then the governor of Texas, replied, “I’m afraid that might screw up the peace process. I don’t want to screw up the peace process.” An aide later stated Mr. Bush’s intention was to move the embassy to Jerusalem and that he would “set the process in motion as soon as he becomes president.” Neither President Bush nor President Clinton followed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995, which declared the city Israel’s capital and ordered the moving of the embassy to the city.


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